Pentium 4 Falls Short on Enterprise Muscle

WithPentium 4, Intel introduces its first new architecture since the release of thePentium Pro in 1997. The chip promises enhanced performance for multimediaapplications, but there may be few business applications for the processoruntil the next iteration.

Intel isaiming the first wave of Pentium 4s solely at high-end desktops, hoping toattract high-end consumers and some deployments in content creation stations.Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64, says the processor could also findsome work in entry-level file-and-print servers, but cautions, “I don’t thinkyou would see any performance advantage on a file-and-print server.”

The Pentium4 does not support multiprocessing, according to Intel. Multiprocessing abilitydistinguishes workstations from desktops, so there will be no market for thePentium 4 in workstations.

Brookwoodexpects a multiprocessor based on the Pentium 4 architecture to arrive in thefirst quarter of 2001. Xeon-like server chips may not become available untilthe second quarter.

Intel’sinitial releases are 1,500-MHz and 1,400-MHz chips with 256 K of on-chip L2cache. The Pentium 4 also introduces a front side bus (FSB) clocked at 400 MHz,allowing fast access to RAM. The FSB has been cited as the Achilles’ heel ofthe Intel product line -- the fastest Pentium III only offers a 100-MHz FSB.The AMD Athlon, with its 266-MHz FSB could trounce Pentiums in real-worldbenchmarks.

In reality,the Pentium’s 400-MHz FSB supports Quad Data Rate RAM at 100 MHz; the AMD’s266-MHz FSB support Double Data Rate RAM at either 133 MHz or 100 MHz, so theAthlon technically still has a faster bus. The Pentium supports expensiveRambus RAM to get the high FSB clock rate.

Twohardware sites, Tom’s Hardware and Ace’s Hardware, released benchmarks Nov. 20comparing the 1,500-MHz Pentium 4 performance to the 1,200-MHz Athlonperformance. Some applications fared better on the faster Pentium 4, but thelower-clocked AMD processor beat the Pentium 4 on some key benchmarks,including office productivity applications. “Pentium 4 has not enabled Intel toput a lot of distance between their best offerings and AMD’s,” Brookwood says.

One keytest that Tom’s Hardware used to compare the processors was Flask MPEG,software for converting DVD Video to the MPEG-4 compression standard, popularamong movie pirates for copying DVDs to the Video CD format and personal usersbacking up movies to CD-R. The site measured processors by how many frames themachine could convert in a second.

Whenoriginally tested, the 1,200-MHz Athlon was able to convert 6.43 frames persecond (fps). The Pentium 4 converted 3.83 fps. After reading the benchmarks, aGerman Intel engineer e-mailed Tom Pabst, editor of Tom’s Hardware, to pointout that compression software receives performance gains when it is recompiledfor individual processors. Because the Pentium 4 has new multimedia extensions,there was no chance the software was optimized for the processor.

BecauseFlask MPEG is open source, the engineer was able to tweak to the code to takeadvantage of Pentium 4’s new extensions. Pabst used the new code and a versionrecompiled for the Athlon then repeated the benchmarks. In the second round oftesting, the Pentium 4 beat the Athlon 14.03 fps to 11.43 fps. Broadcast videoplays at 30 fps and film plays at 24 fps, so desktop processors are far from convertingDVDs to MPEG4 in real time.

Althoughfew enterprises are likely to set up shop bootlegging DVDs, the tests indicatea short-term weakness for the Pentium 4. Although most software will run on thePentium 4, software vendors will have to support the processor’s extensionsbefore users will be able to see significant performance gains from the chip.

Brookwoodsays vendors such as Adobe Systems, which specialize in content creationsoftware, will be the first to optimize code for the Pentium 4. “Adobe clearlyhas done optimizations to take advantage of Streaming SIMD,” Brookwood says. Hesays users who, for example, apply Photoshop filters will be interested in theproductivity gains Pentium 4 may provide.


IntelCorp., Santa Clara,Calif.

Insight64, Saratoga, Calif.