Intel Pentium 4 Northwood CPU Review

With all the buzz going around about the new Northwood Pentium 4 processors, Intel seems to be on the verge of a large push to regain market share. But is all the hype really true? Come join Cameron "Sov" Johnson as he digs into the newest processor to wear the Intel moniker; namely the Intel Pentium 4 2.2GHz Northwood.
| Jan 27, 2002 at 11:00 pm CST
Rating: 90%Manufacturer: Intel Corporation

Intel Pentium 4 2.2GHz -

The Rise of IntelThe Intel Corporation has been making processors and peripherals for computers for the better part of ten years, and for eight out of those ten years, Intel has led the industry with the fastest processors for desktops, servers and workstations. Before the 386 microprocessor age, 99% of CPUs in PC's were Intel 80286, and even then other companies 286 CPUs were somewhat unreliable.Intel's first 32-bit CPU was the Intel i386DX processor line. Code-named "P9", it supported frequencies of 16Mhz up to 33Mhz (using 16-33MHz FSB). Then in June of 1988, Intel released its cut-down version of the i386DX, named the i386SX. The primary difference between the DX and SX was cache. While the DX line supported no L1 cache and up to 128KB of L2 cache on the motherboard, the SX supported NO L1 or L2 cache at all, making it somewhat slower than its DX counterpart. In response to the AMD 386 and IBM 386 line of CPU, Intel decided that increasing the speeds of its 386 line wasn't enough to keep Intel on top. In April or 1989, Intel released to the public the first CPU with a Math Coprocessor or better known as an FPU. This alone gave Intel the crown for fastest CPU, but Intel didn't stop there. Keeping with Intel's style for new innovative designs, the CPU was given a L1 cache size of 8Kb and a L2 cache access size of up to 512Kb or cache on the supported motherboard, this new creation was dubbed the i486DX.AMD responded to this by releasing their 486 line of CPU, and this proved to be a hit in the low cost market. Intel, not happy losing out to AMD in sales took the i486DX, removed the FPU and sold the chip as the i486SX CPU, taking back what Intel had earned.With bus speeds approaching their limit, Intel, AMD and Cyrix tried to get their CPU's to run faster, but expansion devices like hard disks and video cards became unstable as the faster CPU's pushed the limit of the bus speeds. Intel answered this challenge by introducing what we now know as the clock multiplier into the CPU. This clock multiplier was set to 2x, and Intel named this CPU the i486DX2. The i486DX2 used the bus speed x2 to increase the CPU speed. This step is still implemented today in our latest processors.Continuing with the trend, Intel incorporated a 4x multiplier into its next line of 486 class of CPU. This CPU was named the i486DX4, ranging in speeds from 75MHz to 133MHz. This was the last 486 CPU to be made by Intel.In 1993, Intel released a new bus standard. Known to the world as the P5 bus, this new architecture led to a lot of new processors from Intel and its competitors as we will soon see. The first of Intel's P5 CPU's was the Intel Pentium. The Intel Pentium came in speeds of 60MHz up to 200MHz using 50MHz to 66MHz bus speeds. This new CPU introduced another of the new CPU standards which are still used to this day; divided cache. Divided cache technology incorporated two separate cache chips on the L1 platform; one set for data, one set for instruction. This helped boost the power of the FPU system.With the computer market swinging to the home user rather than just the business user, Intel needed to boost its P5 CPU line to support better gaming. Intel took the existing Pentium CPU and added a new Multimedia Xceleration (MMX) technology. The MMX system was a new set of 50 instructions added to the CPU for handling number crunching. This new CPU was available in speeds of 166Mhz up to 233Mhz, the MMX Pentium was the last P5 CPU made by Intel.Intel's most recent line of CPU's was based on the P6 bus introduced by Intel back in 1995 with the Intel Pentium Pro CPU. The Intel Pentium Pro CPU was released in November 1995. This CPU was the first of Intel's line of CPU's to introduce on-die L2 cache. This new cache technology allowed for faster L2 cache access speeds since the L2 cache of the Pentium Pro ran at the same speed as the CPU's core. The Pentium Pro was built mostly for servers and workstations, but around the time that the Intel Pentium MMX arrived, the Pentium Pro found its way into a few of the home users systems. While this CPU was a good performer with the L2 cache on the CPU, it still lacked the support for MMX applications.With the need for the Pentium Pro to support MMX instructions, Intel took the Pentium Pro CPU, moved the L2 cache off the die and added the MMX instruction set, and in May 1997 Intel gave birth to one of the best CPU's Intel had ever created, the Intel Pentium II. The Pentium II was a Slot 1 based CPU since the cache had to be moved off the die to save on costs. But to increase the speed of the cache by having direct access to the CPU, Intel created a slot connector for the Pentium II. With AMD and its K6-2 and K6-3 taking the value market away, Intel needed a new value market CPU. Intel took the existing Pentium II core and totally removed the L2 cache, naming this new CPU the Intel Celeron. The first wave of Celeron CPU's were a disaster. With no L2 cache the CPU ran slower than the AMD K6-2 and cost more than a K6-3. This didn't go down well so Intel decided to take the Celeron core and add 128KB of on-die L2 cache running at the core clock of the CPU and named it the Celeron A series. The Celeron A series started out in Slot 1 format, however, with the L2 cache integrated into the CPU there was no need for the expensive slot configuration, so the Intel Celeron A moved over to the Socket 370 PPGA connector and has remained there. Intel's newest Celeron CPU, known to us as the Celeron II, is based on the Intel Pentium III FC-PGA package. This new CPU is the same old Celeron core and the same amount of memory. The only difference is the reduction in size of the die and the transfer from 64-bit cache to 256-bit Advanced Transfer Cache (ATC).Intel's fastest and mainstream P6 CPU was and is the Intel Pentium III CPU. The Pentium III started out as a Slot 1 CPU, but later moved to the Socket 370 FC-PGA packaging when the cache was moved from the Slot to the die of the CPU. The Pentium III's main feature over the Intel Pentium II was new multimedia instructions called SSE. These new instructions gave the Pentium III a slight boost in the benchmark department.With the AMD K7 line of processors taking the fame away from Intel during the i820/RDRAM/SDRAM disaster, Intel had to come up with a new CPU in order to take back the crown from AMD. Enter the Intel Pentium 4. The Pentium 4, upon its release, was not greeted with the market sales that Intel would have hoped for. This was due to the Intel Pentium 4 having a weaker FPU that the P3 at 1GHz. The P3 1.0GHz could outperform the Intel Pentium 4 in office applications, and this was not a laughing matter for Intel with the consumers staying away from Pentium 4 and its need for high priced, low performance RDRAM. Releases from VIA of the P4X266, SiS with the 645 and Intel with the i845 created cheaper options for the Pentium 4, and with DirectX 8 supporting Pentium 4 SSE2 optimized instructions, the Pentium 4 has gained some ground. Now Intel has made its next move on the Pentium 4 line; the Northwood core.

Intel Pentium 4 2.2GHz -

ComparisonThe table below shows the comparison of the Pentium 4 cores available compared to the older Pentium 3 and Intel Celeron Tualatin cores:

Intel Pentium 4 2.2GHz -

Features of the NorthwoodCache IncreaseThe Intel Pentium 4 Northwood CPU has stepped up the L2 cache from 256Kbyte of Advanced Transfer Cache, or ATC as it is known, to 512Kbytes, running at the same speed of the CPU core. This gives the Northwood a clear advantage for high memory usage, especially with using DDR SDRAM and SDRAM model boards. While the L2 cache has grown over the Pentium 4 Willamette processor, the L1 cache has remained the same size.Finally the end for the P6 AGL+T busFor most of the past 3 years, Intel have been relying on the P6 bus used by the current P3 and Celeron range. While this bus has been easy to overclock and very stable, it doesn't have the scalability that is required for future processors. Intel has finally decided to step away from the P6 and introduce the new P4 400MHz QDR FSB.The well-known 'FSB' of Pentium 3 is clocked at 133 MHz and able to transfer 64-bits of data per clock, offering a data bandwidth of 8 byte * 133 million/s = 1,066 MB/s. The Pentium 4's system bus is only clocked at 100 MHz and also 64-bit wide, but it is "Quad Data Rate", using the same principle as AGP4x. The new bus can transfer 8 byte x 100 million/s x 4 = 3,200 MB/s. This is obviously a tremendous improvement that even leaves AMD's EV6-bus far behind. The bus of the most recent Athlons is clocked at 133 MHz, 64-bit wide and "Double Data Rate", offering 8 byte x 133 million/s x 2 = 2,133 MB/s. Intel's Pentium 4 CPU is paired with the i850 chipset, a Dual Channel RDRAM solution.The i850 has two independent RDRAM channels which can deliver up to 3.2GB/s max memory bandwidth when used with four RIMM modules. While RDRAM is able to produce such high bandwidth, its memory latency problems and high prices make it practically a dead issue for the home consumer. To this end Intel and other third party vendors have started to produce SDRAM and DDR SDRAM solutions to provide the Pentium 4 with lots of memory bandwidth goodness.Rapid Execution EngineAnother feature of the Pentium 4 which is unique to Intel is the Rapid Execution Engine, or REE for short. The REE works on the principal of two double pumped ALU's and two double pumped AGU's. This allows for the engine to process 2x the amount of a P3 or Athlon CPU.The story looks a lot different for the instructions that cannot be processed by the rapid execution units. Those instructions, or µOPs, need to use the one and only slow ALU's which is not double pumped. The majority of instructions need to use this path, which obviously sounds scary. However, the majority of code is in actual fact consisting of the most simple 'AND', 'OR', 'XOR', 'ADD', instructions, making Intel's "Rapid Execution Engine" design sensible though not particularly amazing. This feature has remained unchanged from the Willamette to the Northwood.SSE2 or Netburst... Whatever you want to call itIntel's name for the Pentium 4's new design is "NetBurst". Like with the Intel Pentium III and its SSE instructions, Intel is trying its hardest to push the idea that Intel's new processor will make your web pages load quicker. Unfortunately, Internet is mostly limited to your modem's maximum speed and the speed of your ISP. The average consumer, however, is not going to know this straight off and it is a perfect way to market the Pentium 4.Another big issue with the Pentium 4's "NetBurst Micro Architecture" is its obvious focus to deliver the highest clock rates. Again, 'NetBurst' shows its roots in Intel's marketing department. While Intel in the past has said "MHz isn't everything", it seems that Intel is trying to ring that bell that they tried to cut down in the days of the Cyrix 6x86 CPU's. As many of you may know by now, the Intel Pentium 4 at the same clock speed can't beat an AMD Athlon in just about every benchmark today. While these benchmark programs aren't SSE2 optimized (yet), it does show that Intel is trying to focus more on the future and not on the present. This could be a very big marketing mistake with most of the hardware community staying away from expensive Pentium 4/RDRAM solutions at the moment. However, if you are one of the hardware junkies like myself who have to have the fastest thing with the highest numbers on it, Intel has taken this crown and continues to do so. At the time of this article, Netburst has allowed Intel to grab 2.2GHz well before AMD.The big change... The DieIntel's Pentium 4 Willamette is available in two packages; Socket 423 and Socket 478 while the Northwood is purely 478 only. While the 478 pin Pentium 4 may sound like it would be a larger CPU, it is actually smaller; about 1/3 the size of a 423 Pentium 4. mPGA pins are about the size of a pin head and spaced less than 1mm apart. Willamette was built on the same core process as its Coppermine P3 and Celeron CPUs were made with, a o.18 micron die. Intel has dropped the core size to that of the new Celeron Tualatin core, 0.13 micron. While the physical features of the Northwood are identical to the Willamette, under the heatspreader lies a tiny die. Consuming only 1.4 to 1.5v rather than the 1.7v that the Willamette core used, this has allowed greater clock speeds for current and future processors.

Intel Pentium 4 2.2GHz -

The Lovely PicturesWe thought that a review is nothing without some lovely pictures to show just what we have in our hands, so strap into that chair for some eye candy.
Now that we can see it, it's time for some testing...

Intel Pentium 4 2.2GHz -

BenchmarksWhile Intel did provide us with an i845 DDR SDRAM motherboard, we were less than impressed with the poor DDR SDRAM performance of the i845D. Due to this, we decided to use Epox's 4T2A3 RDRAM i850 board for our Pentium 4 comparisons.Pentium 4 Northwood Test SystemProcessor1:Intel Pentium 4A 2.0GHzProcessor2:Intel Pentium 4A 2.2GHzMemory:256MB PC800 Kingston RDRAM (4x64MB)Motherboard:Epox 4T2A3 i850 RDRAMVideo Card:Leadtek Winfast GeForce3 Ti500Hard Disk:Seagate Barracuda ATA-III UDMA 100 7200RPMDrivers:nVidia DetXP v23.11, VIA 4in1 4.37, Intel IAASoftware Used:SiSoft Sandra 2002, 3dMark2000, 3dMark2001, Quake III Arena, Star Trek Armada, Star Trek Armada II, Star Trek Voyager Elite ForceResults - SiSoft Sandra 2002 CPU Benchmark
Results - SiSoft Sandra 2002 Multimedia Benchmark
Results - SiSoft Sandra 2002 Memory Benchmark
Results - 3dMark2000 1024x768
Results - 3dMark2001 1024x768
Results - Quake III Arena 1024x768 32-bit Color
Results - Star Trek Armada 1024x768 16-bit Color
Results - Star Trek Voyager Elite Force 1024x768 32-bit Color
Results - Star Trek Armada II 1024x768 32-bit Color

Intel Pentium 4 2.2GHz -

ConclusionSince the Intel Pentium 4's humble beginnings as a Socket 423 RDRAM monster with little to offer, this processor has gained strength in the market sector. Introduction of cheaper platform solutions from VIA, SiS, ALi and even Intel has made the Pentium 4 much more attractive. Even with RDRAM systems, OEM's did not hesitate to introduce the Pentium 4 into the lines, and with i845 SDRAM chipsets, the Pentium 4 has taken the desktop market. While the Willamette was good, it wasn't great. This new Northwood is definitely the big hit that has been in Intel's mind.While I found the Northwood to give better performance that its Willamette brother (due to increasing L2 cache), it still didn't produce earth shattering performance. Stability of the Northwood was remarkable as it took over 100 applications running at the same time to crash the it.Overclocking is the Northwood core's biggest asset. With reduction in voltage and die size, the Northwood sample we received reached a whopping 2.80GHz with only a 0.5v increase. Due to memory restrictions of the RDRAM system, trying to run 133Mhz FSB to give us a 3GHz result wasn't possible; but other chipsets may bring better luckOverall, the Northwood is a full blown step in the right direction for Intel, and shows that they can keep the clock speeds high. This makes them an attractive feature to the first time buyer.- ProsFastStableBuilt in Thermal ProtectionExtreme overclocker- ConsMultiplier is locked; no way to unlockRating - 9/10

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