Intel boards a faster bus

Intel is releasing a faster version of its powerful but expensive Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor alongside the introduction of a chipset that uses a faster front-side bus to connect the processor and the memory.

As expected, the introduction of the 3.46GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and the Intel 925XE chipset results in the most powerful desktop PC engine Intel has to offer. It also sets the stage for similar processors that are expected over the coming year.

The Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is basically the same as the Pentium 4 desktop processor, but it features 2MB of Level 3 cache compared to the 1MB of Level 2 cache on the Pentium 4. Cache memory is used to store frequently accessed data close to the processor, where it can be accessed more quickly than data stored in the main memory, improving performance.

Intel has decided to stop relying on increases in clock speed to improve processor performance and instead to use increased amounts of cache and multi-core designs to create more powerful chips. The company recently cancelled plans to release a 4GHz version of its Pentium 4 processor in the first quarter of next year, and said it would increase the cache of Pentium 4 processors to 2MB to improve performance and then release dual-core processors, expected by the end of 2005.

System performance will also improve with the new 1066MHz front-side bus on the 925XE chipset. Previously, Intel's fastest front-side bus topped out at 800MHz, but the introduction of the faster bus means Intel has a faster link between the processor and the memory.

The Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is extremely expensive. The new 3.46GHz processor costs $US999 in 1000-unit quantities, compared to $US417 for the most powerful Pentium 4 processor in Intel's line-up. For that reason, the chip is generally marketed to gamers and PC enthusiasts who are willing to pay extra for the highest available level of performance, and it is not available as widely as the Pentium 4.

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