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Footnote to Pentium 4 launch

Ronald Hanaki
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Monday saw a flurry of Pentium 4 reviews. At the risk of further saturation, here is a footnote. In addition to their hands-on preview over at Gamecenter, C|Net has a note of a BIOS problem that delayed this processor. tnaw_xtennis follows up their analysis of SPEC by considering more benchmarks in a piece entitled “The Sweet Spots of Pentium 4 at Present.” Although the current benchmarks show fair to middling performance, the key to the P4’s success lies in the widespread adoption of SSE / SSE2 by software developers. SSE / SSE2 (flat register) is a clear shift away from x87 (stack register). The Register has the latest on a newly optimized version of SiSoft Sandra 2001 with SSE2 and DDR support. Yet even if something like MS Excel was optimized for SSE2 there would be no dramatic performance increase. Heavy 3D applications, video-streaming, and multi-tasking applications need to be optimized for SSE2 to enable P4 to strut its stuff. Intel is still Chipzilla, but this is not going to be easy. With the 386, Intel was saved by companies like Compaq and Microsoft. Running on Compaq’s 386 machines, Microsoft’s Windows was able to take advantage of what the 386 had to offer. In my opinion, what complicates the adoption of SSE / SSE2 is the industry’s transition to the IA-64 which will begin next year. This is where Intel and AMD show a clear divergence. The 64-bit Itanium will be able to run 32-bit x86 applications through a translator. This means slower performance, clock for clock. AMD’s 64-bit Clawhammer will be able to run existing x86 instructions natively and will also get SSE2 support. The next two years will be interesting to watch.

In any event, the Pentium 4 made its debut with demonstrations of a 3D version of Macromedia’s Shockwave and a 3D shooting game called “Gun Varkry.” You can see a fifteen second MPEG of the latter here. According to PC Watch, Intel marketing director Anand Chandrasekher (another Anand?) is stating that a 2.0 GHz Pentium 4 will make its appearance in Q3 2001. Intel will make its transition to the 0.13 micron process in Q4 2001. It sounds extremely bullish but Intel is predicting that 50% of mainstream PCs will be Pentium 4 based at the end of 2001. ASCII 24 is reporting that some time at the end of 2001 to the beginning of 2002 will mark the appearance of a mobile Pentium 4.

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