Intel has turned the crank again, and this month will release its latest microprocessor -- the Pentium III (code-named Katmai). The first of the new CPUs will run as fast as 500 MHz, and tests by the PC World Test Centre rank PIII-powered systems as the fastest Windows 98 systems we've yet seen.
But there's more to the PIII than raw megahertz. Intel has added 70 new processor instructions, called Streaming SIMD Extensions. Programs that take advantage of these new instructions get a sizable performance boost. One graphics package tested significantly faster on a 500MHz PIII system. Games, graphics, Internet plug-ins and speech recognition applications can take particularly good advantage of the new instructions.
Intel's newest Pentium is not a generational jump from the PII. In fact, the 450MHz PIII systems ran not much faster than 450MHz Pentium IIs in our tests. The Pentium III is essentially a Pentium II processor, with the same 512KB off-chip secondary cache and 100MHz system bus. The biggest speed boost comes when software is rewritten to take advantage of the Streaming SIMD Extensions. Existing software will run no faster on a PIII-450 system than on a PII-450.
But as we've said, the PIII-500 systems we saw ran faster than any Windows 98 systems we've tested. Gamers in particular will appreciate the speed boost, especially with software tuned to the new instructions. Our tests indicated that a PIII system can handle more visual detail and higher resolutions at 40 frames per second.
Another notable feature is the unique, hard-coded ID number Intel assigns to each chip. Intel announced this Processor ID in January as a tool for corporate asset management and e-commerce, but privacy advocates in the US cried foul. The company has since agreed to set the ID default to Off.
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