Intel has announced (i.e. not launched) its 3.06GHz Pentium 4 processor, making another psychological breakthrough before its main competitor could. But unlike previous "speed bumps", the 3.06GHz chip integrates a new feature called Hyper Threading, which allows the CPU to operate on two program threads simultaneously. Armed with a supported OS (all flavours of XP are mentioned, but not 2000), programs on the host computer written to take advantage can be distributed to two "virtual" processors. Intel reckons this feature offers performance gains of up to 30 per cent.
However current applications will show no improvement, and game developers aren't going to be optimising games for Hyper Threading in all likelihood. Intel points out that it's more a case of speeding up the simultaneous running of two programs, and that if you like to, say, burn CDRs while you play your latest PC game, you can probably do that with greater ease now. As such, general computing practices should benefit.
But Intel isn't going the Hyper Threading route alone. NVIDIA at least have jumped on the bandwagon, announcing on Friday that its next-generation GPUs (NV30 and co.) will take advantage of the new routine, and it estimates that this should "significantly elevate the level of graphics performance". NVIDIA veepee of marketing Dan Vivoli reckons 3D games are amongst those applications that will now see the benefits.
Intel says Hyper Threading is supported by the i850E, i845PE and i845GE chipsets, and GameSpot points out that initial tests show compatibility with VIA's P4X400.
Apart from that, the 3.06GHz chip is little more than 266MHz update to the 2.8GHz Northwood core, 0.13-micron processed CPU Intel released just recently. As you may recall though, the 2.8 alone was capable of troubling AMD's Athlon XP 2800+, and AMD still hasn't managed to release that.
The Pentium 4 3.06GHz has yet to hit retail chains in the UK, but we're told it should be soon. Expect to see it at £350 or above.