Intel’s Pentium 4 3.2GHz processor

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

A big, greasy caveat
Some of the numbers you’re about to see below are a little funky. Actually, the numbers are fine, but I’ve kind of forced them into our scheme, so I’d best explain myself. You see, I’ve graphed some of the benchmark results with line graphs, as we have done in our graphics card reviews in the past. The idea in doing so is to show CPU scaling at different clock speeds and with different processor revisions. For the Intel chips, I have two groups, the older Pentium 4 chips with 533MHz front-side busses, and the new ones with the 800MHz bus. I’ve matched up the Athlon XP’s model numbers to the Pentium 4’s clock speeds for the sake of comparison, too, so we have three series on each line graph.

One of those series, though, includes a couple of P4 chips that don’t quite line up. For the “2600” speed/model number, I’ve included the P4 2.53GHz, and for the “3000” speed/model number, I’ve included the P4 3.06GHz. In both cases, these chips are 66MHz off the expected speed—the slower one is under, and the fast over. As a result, the blue line on our CPU scaling graphs, which represents 533MHz-bus Pentium 4 chips, tends to tilt a little more than it should in a perfect comparative scenario. Keep that in mind when you’re looking at how these older P4 chips scale with clock speed.

Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least twice, and the results were averaged.

Our test systems were configured like so:

Athlon XP 3200+ Athlon XP 2500-3000+ Pentium 4 2.53-3.06GHz Pentium 4 2.4-3.0GHz
Processor Athlon XP ‘Barton’ 3200+ 2.2GHz Athlon XP ‘Thoroughbred’ 2600+ 2.083GHz
Athlon XP ‘Barton’ 2500+ 1.83GHz
Athlon XP ‘Barton’ 2800+ 2.083GHz
Athlon XP ‘Barton’ 3000+ 2.166GHz
Pentium 4 2.53GHz
Pentium 4 2.8GHz
Pentium 4 3.06GHz
Pentium 4 ‘C’ 2.4GHz
Pentium 4 ‘C’ 2.6GHz
Pentium 4 ‘C’ 2.8GHz
Pentium 4 3.0GHz
Pentium 4 3.2GHz
Front-side bus 400MHz (200MHz DDR) 333MHz (166MHz DDR) 533MHz (133MHz quad-pumped) 800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped)
Motherboard Asus A7N8X Deluxe v2.0 Asus A7N8X Deluxe v2.0 Aopen AX4R Plus Intel D875PBZ
North bridge nForce2 SPP nForce2 SPP 82845G MCH 82875P MCH
South bridge nForce2 MCP-T nForce2 MCP-T 82801DB ICH4 82801ER ICH5R
Chipset drivers 2.03 2.03 Intel Application Accelerator 2.3 Intel Application Accelerator for RAID 3.0
Memory size 512MB (2 DIMMs) 512MB (2 DIMMs) 512MB (2 DIMMs) 512MB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair TwinX XMS3200LL DDR SDRAM at 400MHz Corsair TwinX XMS3200LL DDR SDRAM at 333MHz Corsair TwinX XMS3200LL DDR SDRAM at 266MHz Kingmax DDR-400 SDRAM at 400MHz
Hard drive Seagate Barracuda V 120GB ATA/100 Seagate Barracuda V 120GB ATA/100 Seagate Barracuda V 120GB ATA/100 Seagate Barracuda V 120GB SATA 150
Graphics ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB (7.84 drivers)
Sound Creative SoundBlaster Live!
OS Microsoft Windows XP Professional
OS updates Service Pack 1, DirectX 9

All tests on the Pentium 4 ‘C’, 3.0GHz, 3.06GHz, and 3.2GHz systems were run with Hyper-Threading enabled. The other Pentium 4 chips tested here don’t support Hyper-Threading.

Thanks to Corsair for providing us with memory for our testing. If you’re looking to tweak out your system to the max and maybe overclock it a little, Corsair’s RAM is definitely worth considering.

The test systems’ Windows desktops were set at 1024×768 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Benchmark results

Memory performance
Just to satisfy that geeky urge, we generally kick things off with some synthetic memory bandwidth benchmarks. The release of the P4 3.2GHz gives the Pentium 4 yet another chance to show off one of its greatest strengths, as you’ll see below.

All of the chips you see bunched up at the top there with the really long bars are Pentium 4 chips with 800MHz front-side bus speeds. Those chips are all running on Intel’s 875P chipset with 6.4GB/s of bus and memory bandwidth available to them. (As you can see, the lower speed grades with 800MHz bus support are given a “C” tag to distinguish them from older P4 chips.) The older Pentium 4 chips still have a faster front-side bus than any of the Athlon XP chips, so they come ahead of the Athlons.

By popular demand, fancy-looking Linpack graphs are back in force. This one shows the entire memory hierarchy, save storage devices. As the matrix size grows, Linpack’s floating-point math calculations have to be performed in L1 cache, then L2 cache, then in main memory. You can see how performance drops as we move from cache into main memory. For certain types of FP math calculations with really large datasets, the Pentium 4 is very tough to beat because of its exceptional memory bandwidth.

Cachemem tells a similar story with a little more granularity than Sandra, showing us read speed, write speed, and memory access latency. All of these systems have very low latency memory subsystems, relatively speaking.

Now we’ll bust out the freaky 3D graphs to get a closer look at the output from Cachemem’s latency tests. To keep things interesting, I’ve colored the different block sizes depending on whether they fit into a processor’s cache. Yellow is L1 cache; light orange is L2 cache; and dark orange is main memory.

You can see how the 800MHz bus benefits the Pentium 4 3.0GHz and 3.2GHz chips versus the P4 3.06GHz on a 533MHz bus. Despite its relatively slower front-side bus clock speed, the Athlon XP is also very quick getting to memory—especially the 3200+ with a 400MHz bus.

Business Winstone

Despite all the P4’s advantages in memory bandwidth and clock speed, the Athlon XP still rules this test. The “Barton” chips with 512K of L2 cache are especially fast here. The P4 3.2GHz just barely edges out the Barton-based Athlon XP 2500+. Content Creation Winstone

The results here are complicated by the fact that CCWS2002 performance suffers when Hyper-Threading is enabled. Generally, Hyper-Threading helps performance, and where it doesn’t, it usually doesn’t slow things down. However, Hyper-Threading does involve some overhead (managing two logical processors in the OS) and resource sharing (of L2 cache memory, L2 cache bandwidth, registers, and the like). Sometimes, that means lower performance, which is the case here. You can see the drop in the blue line from the P4 2.8GHz (without HT) to the P4 3.06GHz (with HT). I expect that with Hyper-Threading disabled, the P4 3.2GHz would be beating out the Athlon XP 3200+, but we prefer to test the way we’d want to use the processor, and we’d definitely want to use HT-ready P4s with Hyper-Threading enabled.

Incidentally, we mentioned last time out that we were considering whether to include results for the new 2003 version of Content Creation Winstone, which doesn’t suffer from the same Hyper-Threading performance problems. After mulling it over a while, we decided to start using this test, possibly in conjunction with the 2002 edition for a while. However, time constraints prevented us from including Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2003 among our results this time around. We’ll try to include it next time out.

LAME MP3 encoding
We used LAME 3.92 to encode a 101MB 16-bit, 44KHz audio file into a very high-quality MP3. The exact command-line options we used were:

lame –alt-preset extreme file.wav file.mp3

Unfortunately, LAME isn’t multithreaded, so Hyper-Threading probably won’t help.

The Pentium 4’s traditional strength in media encoding tasks continues here. You can see how clock speeds matter more than anything else on the Pentium 4 chips. The Athlon XP, which has only received modest clock speed boosts in the past nine months, doesn’t grow much faster as model numbers ramp up. DivX video encoding

Video encoding tasks are especially well accelerated by the Pentium 4. The DivX encoder loves the P4’s SSE2 instructions, and Hyper-Threading is a big gain here, too. Of course, memory bandwidth plays a big role, as well. As a result, the Athlon XP 3200+ needs 66 seconds more in order to encode the same video clip as the Pentium 4 3.2GHz. Speech recognition
Sphinx is a high-quality speech recognition routine that needs the latest computer hardware to run at speeds close to real-time processing. We use two different versions, built with two different compilers, in an attempt to ensure we’re getting the best possible performance.

There are two goals with Sphinx. The first is to run it faster than real time, so real-time speech recognition is possible. The second, more ambitious goal is to run it at about 0.8 times real time, where additional CPU overhead is available for other sorts of processing, enabling Sphinx-driven real-time applications.

Obviously, the new Pentium 4 chips are all very well suited for Sphinx speech recognition. The Athlon XP 3200+ can’t even touch the Pentium 4 “C” 2.4GHz.

Cinebench 2003 lighting and rendering
Cinebench is based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D modeling, rendering, and animation app. This new revision of Cinebench measures performance in a number of ways, including 3D rendering, software shading, and OpenGL shading with and without hardware acceleration.

Cinebench 2003 is multithreaded, so it takes advantage of Hyper-Threading. For the P4 ‘C’, 3.2GHz, 3.06GHz, and 3.0GHz systems, I’ve reported the multithreaded rendering test result, which was always better than the single-threaded result. For the Athlon XP and the older P4 chips, I’ve reported the single-CPU result.

The Pentium 4 3.2GHz takes the top spot once more. With Hyper-Threading and higher clock speeds, the Intel chips are opening up a widening lead over the AMD chips in this test.

The Pentium 4 3.2GHz takes two out of three of the remaining Cinebench tests. However, the Athlon XP 3200+ puts up more of a fight, staying near the top of the pack in the software shading tests and achieving the highest score in the hardware-accelerated shading test.

Quake III Arena

The P4 3.2GHz shatters the 400 fps barrier in Quake III Arena, and all but one of the Pentium 4 chips beat out the Athlon XP 3200+. 3DMark03

3DMark03 is obviously bound by graphics card performance more than anything else. The P4 3.2GHz is fastest here, but by a mighty narrow margin.

The pack separates nicely in 3DMark03’s CPU tests, as one might hope. When that happens, the Pentium 4 processors come out on top of the AMD chips—but only with the faster 800MHz bus. Serious Sam SE

After months of humiliation at the hands of the Athlon XP in Serious Sam SE, the Pentium 4 3.2GHz finally manages to take the top spot here. This one used to be the Athlon XP’s home turf, but no more.

Comanche 4

Comanche 4 continues to be a tough one, but the P4 3.2GHz’s extra 200MHz helps it eke out another 3 frames per second or so. Once again, the Athlon XP is left in the dust. Unreal Tournament 2003

The Pentium 4 scales up quite linearly with clock speed in UT2003, and the P4’s new 800MHz bus again gives it the edge over the Athlon XP.

SPECviewperf workstation graphics
SPECviewperf simulates the graphics loads generated by various professional design, modeling, and engineering applications.

The viewperf tests are a clean sweep for the P4 3.2GHz. The Athlon XP 3200+ used to rule the DX test, but the P4’s new speed bump just took that away.

Conclusions
Having just written this review in one sitting with several pints of caffeine coursing through my veins, I have a hazy recollection of having just described a series of very bad things happening to an Athlon XP processor at the hands of Intel’s newest Pentium 4. Not pretty.

Clearly, Intel has the upper hand right now in desktop processors, and the situation doesn’t seem likely to change until, perhaps, when AMD delivers its new Athlon 64 processor this fall. I’m also struck—again—by how well the lower speed grades of the Pentium 4 perform now that they have a faster bus and Hyper-Threading support. As always, the top-of-the-line Pentium 4 3.2GHz is going to be very expensive for a little while, and the slower variants will be more affordable. AMD may be able to remain competitive for the next few months by undercutting Intel’s prices.

Right now, the Pentium 4 3.2GHz doesn’t look like much of a value. Ok, that’s a bit of an understatement. Preliminary listings at online vendors currently show the P4 3.2GHz somewhere north of $700. When I first saw that price, something pulmonary went wrong for a split second there. By contrast, the Pentium 4 3.0GHz is hovering around $400, and the Athlon XP 3200+ show up at about $440. I’ll let you decide whether having the absolute fastest chip available is worth paying the premium.

I also reserve the right to mock you for paying $300 for an extra 200MHz.

Those prices indicate a bit of trouble for AMD. The Pentium 4 2.8GHz generally matches or outperforms the Athlon XP 3200+, and the P4 2.8GHz is selling for around $275, or over $160 less than the 3200+. Unless AMD recognizes that its ratings system has been blown up by advances in Pentium 4 clock-for-clock performance and lowers prices accordingly, the question for many PC enthusiasts may no longer be whether to buy an Intel or AMD, but simply which Pentium 4 chip to buy.

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