Pentium 4 will improve with age, analyst says

Systems with Intel's own 1-GHz Pentium III often outperform PCs with the Pentium 4 in tests run by MicroDesign Resources, senior analyst Kevin Krewell noted at a Microprocessor Report seminar Thursday.

Also, a PC using AMD's 1.2-GHz Athlon paired with DDR SDRAM outruns the P4 by even larger margins in most tests, Krewell says. The P4's best performance comes in streaming media applications. (These results are consistent with PCWorld.com's own test results.) It's frustrating that systems with the early versions of the P4 aren't performing better, Krewell says. "They put a lot of work into it and the fact that they couldn't do better [at launch] is disappointing," he says.

Competition also starts slowly

AMD's major P4 challenger is its 1.2-GHz Athlon with a 266-MHz front side bus that uses high-speed DDR memory, but it too has encountered problems. The first US system with the 266-MHz DDR is from MicronPC.com. The company recently announced a delay in product shipments due to a system glitch. No systems had yet gone to customers.

The problem involves noise generated by the high-speed processor, the AMD 760 chip set, and the DDR memory combined, says Paul Desmond, MicronPC.com spokesperson. The parts aren't flawed, but the noise causes the processor to lock in 2 to 5 per cent of the systems, he says.

Additional system filters will correct the problem, but it will take time, Desmond says. That means systems ordered as early as November 6 and scheduled to ship by January 24 may not ship until February 12, he says.

The P4 will probably not hit its stride before then, according to Krewell. When the P4 scales to higher frequencies, it will start outperforming its rivals significantly, he adds. Higher speeds will allow it to better use its fast 400-MHz front side bus, he says.

Intel says the Pentium 4 will reach 2 GHz by the third quarter of 2001. But while 1 GHz was a magic number, some people may consider 2 GHz overkill even a year from now, he says.

Intel plugs PIII

In the meantime, Intel seems to be pushing its PIII chips more than the P4 for the holidays, Krewell says, noting the repetitive airing of PIII television commercials with the Blue Man Group.

In fact, Intel has pushed the P4 very little so far, Krewell notes. Perhaps Intel doesn't want to advertise heavily and then run out of chips, he suggests. Intel introduced the part late in the year and hasn't ramped up manufacturing yet, he says.

If prospective buyers can't find a 1.5-GHz P4, they may be more likely to consider systems with AMD's Athlon running at 1.1 and 1.2 GHz, Krewell says. Instead of promoting a possibly short supply of P4s and risking losing customers to the competition, Intel is pushing them toward the now-plentiful PIII-based systems.

Krewell also suggests that Intel has delayed the rerelease of its recalled 1.13-GHz PIII processor because it might outperform current P4s.

"The theory is if the 1-GHz PIII performs as well as the 1.4-GHz P4, the 1.13-GHz PIII would outperform it," he says. Intel plans to rerelease the 1.13GHz PIII in the second quarter of 2001, Krewell says. By then, he expects faster P4s with better performance will appear as well.

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Tom Mainelli

PC World
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