Mainstream dual-core processor

Intel released its first high-end (over $1700) dual-core processor back in April of this year - the Pentium Extreme Edition 840 - but now the company is seeking to satisfy the mainstream market with its new Pentium D series of processors.

Intel is offering this Pentium D range of dual-core processors at 2.8GHz, 3GHz and 3.2GHz clock-speeds. Each chip comes with 1MB of cache per core, 64-bit instructions and has a front-side bus speed of 800MHz. The 3GHz and 3.2GHz versions also have SpeedStep technology, which slows down the CPUs when they're not under heavy load in order to save power and reduce fan noise.

Socket check

The Pentium D series retains the LGA775 socket interface, which is the same as most current Pentium 4 processors. However, be warned that this doesn't mean that it will fit into any motherboard with a 775-pin CPU socket!

Only motherboards that have Intel's new 945G, 945P or NVIDIA's nForce4 SLI for Intel chipsets will be able to run the dual-core Intel chips, which means it is not a simple upgrade path for those of you that may have an existing Intel platform.

PC World examined a Pentium D 2.8GHz chip this month using a pre-production Intel reference motherboard that featured the 945G chipset. This particular chipset supports integrated graphics and audio and is the low-cost solution for an everyday business machine where taxing graphics and multimedia tasks are not part of the everyday workload.

Being the slowest CPU in the Pentium D range, the results we obtained in PC WorldBench 5 do indeed indicate that the Pentium D 2.8GHz CPU is not for the performance user. Despite having two cores, it scored 86 in this benchmark, which is about five points better than a typical Pentium 4 520 machine with a 915P chipset. This performance difference was a result of the multitasking test finishing a little quicker.

That means the Pentium D will give you a slight performance boost over a Hyper-Threaded CPU if you are a heavy multitasker, but will not gain you any extra performance in single-threaded applications.

Feature support

It's important to note that unlike the Pentium 5xx series and Pentium 6xx series of CPUs, the Pentium D series does not have Hyper-Threading. The Pentium Extreme Edition 840 is the only CPU of the new-breed dual-core chips to also support Hyper-Threading. The 945 platform does support the Pentium 5xx and 6xx series of CPUs, but not the Extreme Edition.

An interesting new feature from Intel that is embedded in selected 945G platforms is Intel Active Management Technology. This technology could prove to be a boon for IT administrators as it makes networked systems completely accessible to IT staff, even if the machines are off or in a crashed state, and this technology is touted as being an efficient tracker of company assets and as a tool for remote problem diagnosis.

The 945 platform will be available in several flavours. There will be around six variants of the 945G, which includes integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics, for the mainstream end of the market, while the 945P will be for the enthusiast crowd and won't have integrated graphics. The 945P will have Gigabit Ethernet and FireWire built into it, while only selected 945G models will have these features.

Both the 945G and 945P have a Serial ATA II (SATA II) controller, which is the next generation SATA interface that allows data between the chipset and the hard drive controller to move at up to 300MB per second.

There will also be micro-BTX versions of some of the 945G and 945P platforms, BTX being the latest case specification for Intel motherboards. Pricing for these motherboards will vary depending on the manufacturer model and feature set you choose, but be prepared to fork out at least $200-$250 for one if you plan to use Intel's Pentium D range of chips.

Verdict As it stands, the Pentium D 2.8GHz is not much of an upgrade over existing 2.8GHz Pentium 4 CPUs, but you will get a slight benefit when multitasking. It is a relatively inexpensive dual-core CPU though, retailing around $400, although it does require a new chipset to run on.

Intel Pentium D 820 2.8ghz

Price: $400 Vendor: Intel URL: Specifications: 2.8GHz; 1MB of level 2 cache per core; LGA775 socket interface; 64-bit support; 800MHz front-side bus

Features 7 Value 6 Overall 6

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