When Intel launched its Pentium III, 450MHz was a lot of processing cycles. Nowadays it's not uncommon for gamers to be shuffling around the pretty locations of their favourite shooter whilst running at 900MHz, or even 1GHz. But would we be here now if it weren't for Advanced Micro Devices? In the last year or so their Athlon processor has changed the face of the CPU market. Far from being the unreliable, badly performing runners-up of times past, they are now the bane of chip-giant Intel's existance, and an incredibly close second in the processor race. Until today, their 1.2GHz Athlon was the fastest thing on the market. But now, numerically at least, things have changed. The reason for this change, as the more observant of you may have noticed, is that Intel have launched their next generation of microprocessor architecture in the form of the Pentium 4, and its bedfellow, the 850 "Tehema" chipset. Clocking in at 1.4 and 1.5GHz, the processor should represent the very pinnacle of performance, thanks to its new buzzword featureset which includes such eye-openers as Hyper Pipelined Technology, a Rapid Execution Engine, Execution Trace Cache and a 400MHz system bus. The new "NetBurst" architecture is a cut above the rest, and utilizes some radical new procedures to achieve the same effect as before - only better. Explanations of how the processor works have been springing up all over the net, including this technically lavish article at Anandtech as well as Tom's more visual approach. For those who are more interested in how it performs, people's favourite HardOCP have the lowdown, with an excess of common and uncommon benchmarks to try and show how the P4 1.5GHz performs in relation to a 1.1GHz Athlon. The news? For all its ALU Integer performance and its impressive new architecture, it doesn't actually score much more highly than an Athlon of 400MHz less, and as further benchmarks elsewhere show (including these, plucked from The Register's large collection of stories on the subject), in some tests, it was even beaten! Its superiority over the PIII is unquestioned, but judging by today's stories, performance wise, an equally specced Athlon would indeed pip it to the post.. So the only thing left really to consider is how the processor squares up in terms of price, and what you will actually need to upgrade your system to use it. The answer is a touch frightening. We recommend you sit down if not already seated, or at the very least grab hold of the armrest. Stateside, the Pentium 4 1.4GHz processor will cost you $644, and its big brother the 1.5GHz $819. That's not for a board plus CPU or anything cushy like that, that is the price for the processor alone. Over here it will be £849.95 for the 1.4GHz and £999.95 for the 1.5GHz parts. Couple that with a motherboard and you've already spent nearly £1200. But that's not all.. since Intel is still contractually bound to RAMBUS, its development of the 850 chipset has concentrated upon its use, and as such we shall not see a board using anything other than that company's memory perhaps until the second half of 2001. The RIMMs then, which you are forced to buy in multiples of two will set you back another £150 at least. And not content with that, thanks to some high-draw power consumption, Intel recommend you pick up a new power supply to boot, using the new ATX12V specification ( outlined here on HardOCP). The list of approved models is surprisingly short, but if you intend to buy a P4 you'd better take them into consideration. But upgrading your motherboard, processor, RAM and power supply (and possibly case) at the same time is going to require a very hefty outlay. As such this writer isn't convinced many DIY upgraders will bother with the Pentium 4. Especially considering the Athlon's relative performance, which in some cases is clearly superior. Whether or not the case will be the same when third party manufacturers start providing DDR/SDRAM P4 solutions is not clear, but at this point, the only P4s one would expect to see in this Christmas' PCs are those shipped direct from OEMs.
Sony's revised model is reassuringly non-controversial.
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