Intel's extreme measures
If AMD can pull a workstation/server-class chip into the desktop market in order to capture the performance lead, Intel should be able to do the same, right? Well, that's exactly what Intel decided to do, and apparently the decision was made very recently. Late last week, the Pentium 4 3.2GHz Extreme Edition arrived at my doorstep, innocently proclaiming its willingness to be benchmarked against whatever AMD had to offer. This processor is basically a rebadged Xeon MP chip, but then again the Xeon is just a rebadged Pentium 4, so it all comes back around somehow. The net result is a Pentium 4 that runs at 3.2GHz with the usual 512K of L2 cacheplus a whopping 2MB of on-chip L3 cache. Unlike true Xeon chips, the Extreme Edition fits into plain ol' Socket 478 Pentium 4 motherboards. We plugged it into our Abit IC7-G test mobo, and it worked fine without need of a BIOS update or anything else.
I mentioned earlier that the additional cache on the Athlon 64 should help performance in some applications, but not in all of them. The same is true for the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, but with a larger cache, there's a better chance an application's working data set will fit inside it. Intel is aiming at gamers with this chip, as AMD is with the Athon 64 FX-51, and that fact alone should tell you something about how the added cache is likely to affect performance.
Intel says the Extreme Edition should ship around about November, which is just the right time to ship a new model space heater. At 178 million transistors, this Edition is most definitely Extreme. The die size is an impressive 237 square millimeters, or just about the size of Vermont. Still, the Extreme Edition seems like a sweet proposition. With Hyper-Threading and all of that cache, the user experience just puttering around on the desktop or playing with productivity apps should be creamy smooth indeed. The Extreme's price has yet to be announced.
By the way, we have no qualms about Intel horning in on AMD's product launch. AMD has done the same to Intel in the past, and besides, Intel's decision to pull a killer server chip into the desktop market is very much welcome to us. In the end, consumers benefit. There is also the distinct possibility that the Extreme Edition is Intel's way not just of competing, but of avoiding embarrassment. You'll see what I mean by that when we get into the benchmark scores shortly.
The question I have is whether Intel will remain committed to future Extreme Edition processors. AMD has proclaimed its commitment to keeping the Athlon 64 FX on top. In fact, AMD has been releasing low-volume high-end parts since a year ago, with the T-bred 2800+ chip, which was never available via retail. These products aren't a good value proposition, but they do give well-funded enthusiasts a chance to grab the latest technology before everybody else. I'm curious to see whether Intel will play this game long term.