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Intel's Pentium 4 1.7GHz processor

Clock 'n' load

The release of this new, faster Pentium 4 presents us with the opportunity to re-examine some of those issues, and to unearth some stones we've left unturned. New versions of many benchmark programs have become available recently, and we've updated our test suite to reflect that fact. Also, the market has changed in a number of ways since the Pentium 4 first launched. The question of whether to buy a Pentium 4 now is a little different than it was a few months ago. We'll explore why that is.

We're also going to take a look at how this new Pentium 4 performs on some tests you may not have seen used before. We think the results will be revealing.

The chips
We'll be pitting the new P4 against the latest from AMD, the 1.33GHz Athlon. Both the 1.7GHz Pentium 4 and the 1.33GHz Athlon are minor revisions with higher clock speeds, not radically new processors. Although it may sound strange to put a 1.33GHz processor head-to-head with a competitor with a 400MHz advantage, we've already established that clock speed isn't everything. The 1.2GHz Athlon laid a pretty good whuppin' on the 1.5GHz Pentium 4 last time around.

The Pentium 4 has an unusual characteristic: it executes a relatively low number of instructions per clock, or IPC. The P4's low-IPC design is part of the reason it's able to achieve such high clock rates. Now, a processor having a relatively low IPC isn't necessarily a bad thing. Nor is a high IPC necessarily a good thing, because a high-IPC chip may be limited in terms of clock frequencies. At the end of the day, what matters is performance, which is dictated by both a processor's clock frequency and the number of instructions it can execute per clock. On that front, the Pentium 4 1.7GHz is appropriately matched against the 1.33GHz Athlon.

With that out of the way, let's have a look at our contenders.

The Athlon 1.33GHz with its exposed core (left) and the P4 1.7GHz with its metal cap (right)

The undersides of the Athlon (left) and P4 (right)

The only real change with the 1.7GHz Pentium 4 Intel supplied us for testing was a redesigned heatsink/fan combo. The two designs are very similar, with a big, copper block at the base and thin metal fins sprouting up off of that. The heatsink for the Pentium 4 1.7GHz, though, has shorter fins and a bigger fan, like so:

The P4 1.5GHz heatsink/fan combo (left) and the P4 1.7GHz HSF (right).
The 1.7GHz version has more active, less passive cooling.

To keep this beast cool at higher clock speeds, Intel decided on more active cooling at the expense of some passive cooling. The two heatsink/fan units are the same height.