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Intel's Pentium 4 3.2GHz processor

The latest drop in the bucket

IT'S TIME ONCE AGAIN for the drip-drip-drip progression foretold by Moore's law to release another drop. After a breathtaking flurry of new chipset releases, including the 875P and 865 family, and after backfilling its processor line to include Hyper-Threading and 800MHz bus support across all its speed grades, Intel is ready to move its Pentium 4's top clock speed up a notch, to 3.2GHz. Perhaps you're thinking it's a little too soon for yet another Pentium 4 upgrade, but in truth, Intel hasn't ratcheted up the P4's top clock speed since last November, when the Pentium 4 3.06GHz debuted as the first P4 with Hyper-Threading support.

Since then, as in Dick Gephardt's campaign headquarters, all the activity has been elsewhere. Intel has upgraded its lineup of Pentium 4 processors and chipsets with an 800MHz bus, dual-channel DDR400 memory, ubiquitous Hyper-Threading, AGP 8X, and Serial ATA—to name just some of the improvements. The Pentium 4 platform practically pulses with bandwidth everywhere, and performance is up as a result.

We found the Pentium 4 3.0GHz chip to be a little bit faster overall than AMD's latest, the Athlon XP 3200+, in our last round of tests. Still, with a new 400MHz front-side bus and its own dual-DDR400 chipset in the nForce2 Ultra 400, the Athlon XP 3200+ is no slouch. The Athlon turned in the highest scores in many tests, and put up a heck of a fight for the overall crown.

Now we come to the new 3.2GHz version of the Pentium 4. Suppose with me, if you will, what might happen when the manufacturer of the world's fastest desktop processor turns up the clock speed from 3000MHz to 3200MHz. Lower interest rates? The scent of almond? (What the devil does one say about 200 more megahertz?)

Uhm, sorry about that. As I was saying, we're expecting the Pentium 4 3.2GHz to take its rightful place at the top of the x86 pecking order. The P4 3.2GHz may be more of the same, but like faithful patrons of the local Luby's, we're generally in favor of getting more of a good thing. As always, we've loaded up our test bench with a gaggle of the new P4's competitors and forebears, and the results follow, so read on.

The unassuming Pentium 4 3.2GHz processor