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And so to the Intel P4 1.7 Gig

One for the bloopers tape: 'It is still a little slow..'

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The Intel propaganda machine swung into action as Intel officially unveiled the Pentium 4 1.7. Skipping a generation to move directly from 1.5GHz to 1.7GHz, Intel must have found the hot breath of the chasing pack from AMD a little close for comfort.

1.7 gigahertz? Well at Cebit Intel demonstrated a 1.5GHz chip clocked up to 1.8GHz and in-house we've also been running at 1.8GHz without any special cooling. What does this mean? It shows that Intel have plenty of MHz left in the tank, without requiring a die shrink, and indeed Intel is running at 2GHz-plus in-house, comfortably enough.

On with the show. The London launch was something of a low-key affair with Mark Atkinson, head of OEM Integration, Europe taking the assembled hacks through various use cases which just must have a P4 (running at 1.7GHz, of course).

As we've seen with almost all recent Intel launches, the presentation was heavily buzzword-compliant, and naturally enough we were told we could only play MP3s or surf the web with a P4. So no change in tactics from P2 or P3 launches then...

ISV drips

A couple of software vendors were then wheeled out to show us their wares. Lars of Magix used the opportunity to make our ears bleed by assembling some Europop songs and videos on the fly (very big in Holland apparently). Perhaps the highlight of this show was the admission that "with a lot of video it is still a little slow..."

MGI also demoed its VideoWave software, which is a heavyweight video editing package. A few MTV video clips, captured to MPEG2 were shown, in a Tivo-esque timeshifting demo. Although no firm encoding figures were shown (an area where the P4 would be expected to shine) an off-the-cuff comparison of 6 minutes for a P3-800 vs. 4 minutes for a P4 1.5 was hinted at.

During the entire presentation, no P3 vs. P4 MHz for MHz comparisons were shown, with P3 and P4 benchmarks (represented a % improvement) scores presented with minimal processor speed information. One benchmark I did manage to time for a one minute MPEG1 encode showed the P4 1.7 GHz 16 seconds faster. 16 seconds faster than what? Again this was P3 vs. P4 test, the P3 being 1 GHz flavoured. Not hugely impressive, and we’d love to see clock for clock comparisons here.....

Cheap Talk

Speaking to the Intel guys pre-brief, we gleaned some insight into their plans for the P4 at the other end of the price scale.

With the combination of falling Rambus prices, and the forthcoming SDRAM-supporting Brookdale chipset, Intel is also targeting the low-end of the market too. And with the first iteration of Brookdale silicon struck only last week, you could soon be picking up reasonably-priced P4 systems along with your groceries (think of the Clubcard points).

Of course no performance figures are available yet on how the P4 will perform on SDR/DDR platforms, although we can expect some figures soon. How well does Intel want P4 perform on this configuration, we wonder ? Too good and it could harm the already questionable position of Rambus RDRAM.

Nevertheless within a month of so expect some hard figures to emerge, and we'll be able to see if the P4 quad-pumped architecture is able to fold neatly back into the SDRAM world.

Its fair to say that this was a rather low-key launch, for a processor that only offers a MHz incremental. With Intel making heavy use of buzzwords for the hard sell of the P4 - "The Centre of Your Digital Lifestyle" no less - it's certain that the P4 will find more of a market, especially once the low-end of the value chain is sorted.

With AMD's hand now very strong in the low end (with its super overclockable Duron winning many fans) and the latest 1.33 GHz Athlon winning awards at the high-end, Intel is being squeezed from both sides (as last week's results show).

Ultimately the P4 1.7GHz will become just another commodity processor, as 1.8, 1.9 and 2.0GHz processors are unveiled this year but for now, this is the fastest Intel you can get. Whether it is the fastest processor you can get though, is entirely another matter. ®

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