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PC Buyers Guide - 11th May 2002

By: TweakTown Staff | Guides | Posted: May 11, 2002 4:00 am



- Intel Pentium 4 2.53GHz - 133MHz FSB (Northwood B)


Times on list: New


Intel's website for this product



Intel's rise back to the top of the CPU ladder took a long time, as the P4 Willamette certainly wasn't the world's fastest processor. The original Pentium 4 (Willamette) couldn't keep up with AMD produced processors, and some of the lower clocked P4's were being beaten by Pentium 3's in certain applications. When the Athlon XP was released, the P4 Willamette fell even further behind, and Intel had to do something. Their answer was the Pentium 4 Northwood. The Northwood is essentially the same as a Willamette, so it supports the 400MHz FSB (100MHz Quad Pumped), SSE2 and runs in Socket 478 format, but Intel has added an additional 256Kb of L2 Cache to give a total of 512Kb, and a die shrink to 0.13micron core.


The next evolution of the P4 Northwood was the move to a FSB (Front Side Bus) of 133MHz, quad pumped, which gives a very handy 533MHz effective. This processor hasn't been included in this guide for one main reason, availability, not just on the CPU, but i850E boards, and PC1066 RDRAM. While the processor does exist in the retail market, they are extremely hard to get. Another issue is the lack of motherboards that have out of the box support for a 133MHz FSB. At the current time, this is limited to the i850E, with the i845G coming soon. To take advantage of the extra bandwidth, the i850E really needs to use PC1066 RDRAM, which is also extremely hard to get. Without it, the extra speed given by the increased FSB speed often isn't realized. That said, the current PC800 RDRAM can usually be overclocked to the PC1066 standard, and the i845D motherboard included in this guide can be overclocked to 133MHz FSB reasonably easily.


These changes from the Willamette to the Northwood core have worked wonders for Intel, and the Pentium 4 has regained the speed crown, although not by too much. The extra cache has really allowed the P4 to catch up to, and then pass the Athlon XP's performance, with the extra FSB speed taking it even further. The die shrink has reduced voltage requirements, and thus heat, which give Intel the ability to scale the chip higher, and mean overclocking is much, much easier.


Talking of Northwood overclocking, the 1.6GHz variant is almost certainly guaranteed to overclock to 2GHz +, and the 2.4GHz model can get past 2.6GHz with decent cooling. The downside of this chip? The price! AUD$1400...ouch! However, this section is the top of the line processor, so money isn't an issue.


- Find the best price on Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz (Northwood)!


- AMD Athlon XP 1900+


Times on list: 3 (Last edition it was 66MHz slower…)


AMD's website for this product



Thankfully for us Athlon lovers, all versions of the P4 are beaten by the Athlon XP at lower clock speeds. The Athlon XP (Palomino) was the processor released after the Thunderbird by AMD, and was quite heavily redesigned. A lot of things were changed, but the things that stayed were the 266MHz FSB (133MHz DDR), 128KB of L1 cache and the 256KB L2 cache. The things that were introduced centered on the hyped QuantiSpeed Architecture, which is basically a name given to special things the processor has that lead to it being able to carry out more instructions per clock cycle (IPC). This boils down to it doing things like Hardware data prefetching, which give it the ability to do more IPC's per clock cycle. This then leads to the slightly confusing PR rating system. The PR system is designed to show users what the performance of the processor is really like, as most people who purchase a CPU think the more megahertz, the more speed. An example is my XP 1600+ processor. The processor is actually running at 1400MHz, but because it can carry out more IPC's than a P4, AMD thinks its performance is equal to a P4 running at 1600MHz. This actually holds out to be fairly true, and is usually underestimated!


Anyway, why did I choose this processor? The choice of processors is only really between the Athlon XP's, as at lower clock speeds they easily account for the comparative Pentium 4. I chose the XP 1900+ because of its excellent price/performance ratio. The extra speed in this processor, compared to the 1800+ here last time, is a measly 66MHz. However, the price has dropped, and a 1900+ can be found for a few measly dollars more than the 1800+, making the 1900+ an excellent choice. The performance of the 1900+ isn't that far behind the 2100+ (currently the fastest AMD processor) and it costs half as much. Add to that the above average overclocking ability of the 1900+ and you have yourself a winner, especially when placed with the right motherboard and RAM.


One thing to note is the impending release of the Athlon XP based on the Thoroughbred core. This processor only has a die shrink to 0.13 microns, but its introduction should reduce the price of other AMD chips. It may be worth waiting a few weeks or a month until the Thoroughbred has hit the stores.


- Find the best price on AMD Athlon XP 1900+!


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