Pros: Fast, Performs well at overclocking, easy installation, excellent cooling system, 3-year warranty
Cons: Hyper-Threading Technology works only on Windows XP and Linux 2.4.x (or higher) operating system
I remember when I was young I often asked my father What makes an airplane fly? Is it the wing? Is it the slender aerodynamic shape, or the speed exerted by the propeller? For a basic airplane, it is the wing that has a principle impact on its ability to fly. The wings are designed in such a way that the top can reduce air and pressure while the bottom can sustain more pressure to keep the plane glide through the air. Nevertheless, it is the whole ensemble that makes a plane fly. Without the aerodynamic shape, it will have difficulty getting off ground or maintaining stability once airborne. Without the proper speed, the plane will not take to flight.
Likewise, for computers, it is also the whole assembly that makes them work correctly. If you dont have the right motherboard for the processor, the computer will not operate. Despite the required compatible parts that make up a perfect operating computer, I think the Central Processing Unit (CPUthe brain) is the one that differentiates a fast working computer from a slow one.
If you browse through a computer display at Circuit City or at Best Buy, you will notice that a description list always begins with the CPU and its processing speed (rate of thinking or clocking). A few other components such as RAM (Random Access Memory), capacity of hard disk drive and CD/DVD-ROM drives are listed. However, it is always the speed of the processor that these sellers try to impress the customers. There is hardly any mention of what type the motherboard is used on that particular computer. Although this article is not about a motherboard, I want to emphasize that a high quality motherboard is as important as a high quality processor.
Selecting the right processor for your desktop PC for your work can be overwhelming, especially when there are so many to choose from. For AMD motherboard, the supporting processors are Athlon, Duron or Opteron. For Intel motherboard, there are Celeron or Pentium (or Pentium/Xeon and Itanium for workstations and servers).
It seems that people from both camps are defending their ground, claiming that their processor is operating faster. You know, I personally think that competition is a very healthy thing. If it werent for the competition, Intel would not have come up with their new Hyper-Threading Technology (HT Tech). Is this HT Tech Pentium 4 chip really fast? Having used this type of processor, I believe there is some truth in it. I would like to stress that I do not work for any company. I paid for my Pentium 4 HT Tech with my hard-earned cash. Therefore, my review here is not a favor for any company or about raising the flag against the other camp. I use the Pentium processor simply because I have been very happy with it. All the computers I work at school use Pentium processors.
If you are looking to buy a new processor for your Intel chipset motherboard or planing to purchase a desktop PC, I hope in this article you will find some useful insights that may help make your decision easier. In this article, I will explain the technology behind the Pentium 4 processors to a wider audience and the performance of the Hyper-Threading Technology that these processors support.
The P4 Family
Currently, there are a number of Intel Pentium 4 (P4) processors, ranging from clock speed (rate of thinking) at 1.7 to 3.2 GHz. There are three types or versions of P4 processors: 1) P4 regular, 2) P4 HT Tech and 3) P4 HT Tech Extreme Edition. The high performance processors are equipped with the Hyper-Threading Technology (HT Tech), and are the focus of my discussion in this review. I will describe what HT Tech is all about in the following paragraph.
First, let me give you a quick run down of the P4 processors with clock speed and their associated street price. They are grouped in three categories: Extreme HT Tech, HT Tech and Regular:
Pentium 4 HT Tech Extreme Edition:
1. 3.2 GHz, $1050
Pentium 4 with HT Tech:
1. 3.2 GHz, $400
2. 3.0 GHz, $300
3. 2.8 GHz, $210
4. 2.6 GHz, $175
5. 2.4 GHz, $165
Pentium 4 Regular processors are available in clock speed from 2.2 2.8 GHz with price between $100 - $200. The processors with clock speed starting at 1.7 2.7 GHz are Celeron chips based on Pentium 4. They are priced between $50 - $110.
The Physics of the P4 processor
The P4 processor uses three different methods to transfer data into and out of its central processing unit. These are known as system bus; the way they operate is often referred to as Front Side Bus (FSB). Information or signal is being delivered via a quad-pumping technique, so that the rate of data transfer is actually four times faster than its original delivering cycle.
The fastest system bus of the P4 processor uses a 200MHz clocked system bus (or cycle). Through the technology of quad pumping the actual signal being delivered is 800MHz. In other words, this P4 processor has a FSB of 800MHz. It is capable of delivering data at 6.4 GB/s (6.4 Gigabites per second).
The P4 processor with a medium speed system bus uses a 133MHz cycle, yielding a total of 533MHz FSB. Its data delivering capability is 4.2 GB per second.
The P4 processor with a slow system bus uses a 100MHz cycle. As a result of its quad-pumping technique, its FSB is 400MHz, which is capable of delivering data at 3.2 GB per second.
As you can see, the P4 processor with FSB of 800MHz is definitely the one you want if you need to have a fast working CPU. However, the high FSB alone is not enough. The processor must be able to handle high-speed data while signal is being transferred. This is referred to as Advanced Transfer Cache (ATC). All the HT Tech P4 processors use a level 2 (L2) ATC with 512KB, in contrast to 256KB that was previously used on the regular P4 processors.
The P4 HT Tech Extreme Edition uses a level 3 (L3) cache with 2MB memory buffer, enabling a high bandwidth path to memory. The result is a combined super fast processing rate and data transfer. But with the price of over $1000, who would want to buy it? Only power users, such as high-end game players or game developers, would find good use in this high-price processor. So let me go back to discuss the P4 HT Tech.
Another technology that is responsible for the P4 HT Tech to operate at an extremely high speed is the micro-architecture in the microchip. In a semiconductor chip, the PN junction has been fabricated to have a gap measuring 0.13 micrometer (that is, 0.13/1000000 meters, or 0.13x10^-6 meters, referred to as 0.13 micron). At the microscopic level, this is the gap where the flow of electrons and their anti-electrons (positrons or holes) takes place, and how information is being exchanged when processing data. This is quite a great improvement from the die-shrink of 0.18 micron. Smaller gap not only yields higher frequency but also lower power consumption, which means that the CPU is operating at a lower temperature; and this is good for the processor.
There have been talks in the academia a number of years ago (1999) about the gap in the semiconductor chip. Due to the laws of physics, there is a limit to the size or strip between the two junctions. If the gap is made smaller than the limit, electrons at the P side, say, may leak to the other side without ever exchanging information with their holes, and would thus cause chaos to data processing ability. And people have been looking at building faster processors via optical computing.
The Hyper-Threading Technology
The technology of Hyper-Threading is remarkable. In a certain respect, this technology is that alternative way to build faster processors. Without having to change the physical size of the semiconductor gap, the HT Technology works at the level of software programs. It enables them to see two processors working side by side. Processing data can be performed by a two-threading technique (instead of one) and many instructions can be done at the same time, yielding faster response and system performance. The advantage of the HT Technology is for PC users who often perform multitasking, such as running several applications at the same time.
Multitasking is a common usage on todays PCs; you may not realize it. Listening to your Audio CD while at the same time performing a photo editing on your Adobe Photoshop 7.0 application, and while the computer is running a virus scan on the system in the background, you are doing multitasking. It is easier to understand multitasking when you are playing a 3D video game, where many instructions are being processed at the same time.
However, there is a down side to this technology. For Windows operating system, the HT Tech only works on newer versions, particularly Windows XP. Therefore, if you use Windows 95, 98SE or NT 4.0, or even 2000, the HT Tech does not really provide any great advantage on the processing speed.
I recently built a computer for my uncle using P4 HT Tech 2.6 GHz and Asus P4P800 motherboard (865PE) with Windows 2000 Professional installed. Based on the Asus P4P800 manual, it recommends that the HT Tech should be disabled if any operating system other than Windows XP or Linux 2.4.x version (or higher) is used. I have been experimenting with the HT Tech on Windows 2000 and I reserve my judgement for later updates.
For Windows XP Professional, the HT Tech seems to be working as advertised. However, the improvement is so small that you will have to perform extreme multitasking to see the changes. One of the difficulties is that Windows XP Pro is excellent at using a technique called prefetching, by loading up programs at the same time the devices are being tested and initialized. Windows XP Pro recognizes and remembers which hardware and software you use during the previous boot system, and it moves all those software programs and drivers to a location in the hard drive to yield a fast load response. The more you use that hardware or software, the faster it loads the next time you run it.
There is great news for Linux (UNIX) users. The P4 HT Tech supports Red Hat Linux with kernel version 2.4.x or higher. I use two hard disk drives (master and slave) on my computer. I install my Windows XP Professional on one drive and Linux on the other. My motherboard (which you will read below) has BIOS setup program that allows me to configure the system to conveniently boot from any one of these two drives. In a sense, I have two powerful operating systems running on one and the same PC.
Support of Intel chipset for P4 HT Tech
Currently there are quite a number of motherboards that support the P4 HT Tech. These are the 875P, 865G, 865PE, 865P, 850E, 845GE, 845PE, 845GV, 845G2 and 845E chipsets. The P4 HT Tech has a revolutionary new form factor that uses a 478-pin ZIF socket.
For my computer, I use an 865PE chipset by ASUS P4P800 Deluxe series. The P4P800 comes in two versions: Regular and Deluxe. The only difference is that the Deluxe supports RAID connector for IDE devices (RADI 0, RAID 1 or RAID 0 + 1) and it has built-in IEEE 1394 port (Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineering) for high-speed data transfer.
My P4 HT Tech 2.8GHz
Initially, I had planned to get the P4 HT Tech 3.0 GHz processor for my new computer. After making careful comparisons, I have decided to get the 2.8 GHz instead. If you look at the list I gave earlier about the clock speed and price, the P4 HT Tech 2.8 GHz is at the middle of the P4 HT Tech family. In terms of clock speed and reasonable price, it is the perfect candidate. Why pay an extra $100 for the 3.0 GHz, when I can overclock my 2.8 GHz to perform at more than 30% with excellent stability? This means I can have my processor operate at 3.64 GHz. I will say more about overclocking including its pros and cons.
Specifications: Pentium 4 2.8GHz Hyper-Threading Technology
Clock speed: 2.80C GHz (class C)
System bus: 800 MHz FSB
Advanced Transfer Cache: 512KB L2
Installing the CPU onto the motherboard is extremely easy and straightforward, but some precautions should be taken. For example, you should wear an anti-static wrist strap to ground yourself to avoid shocking the chip and kill it. The chip will fit into the motherboard in one orientation only; and it should not be forced into the socket.
The retail CPU comes complete with a heatsink and fan assembly. The CPU heatsink looks almost like a car radiator and performs much like it. With the right orientation, the P4 HT Tech 478-pin chip easily drops into the 478-pin ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) socket on the motherboard. The heatsink sits on top of the processor in full contact and absorbs any heat produced by the CPU during processing. The heat will flow or spread to the plates of the heatsink unit. The fan (directly on top of the heatsink) will cool off the system or keep it at an operating temperature.
The retail P4 HT Tech processor carries a three-year limited warranty. For me, this is an added security for the value of my $213. My first computer was built back in 1997 using Pentium II processor. To this day, that computer (hence the Pentium II) still operates flawlessly. Therefore, I am quite confident that with proper care and usage, this P4 HT Tech will provide services for years to come.
Know Your Processor: If you purchase a new desktop PC and not sure whether the processor supports HT Tech, the seller can provide that information. Or if you really want to be sure, you can enter the computers BIOS setup program to look for that information yourself. I am most certain any motherboard that supports the P4 HT Tech will show complete information of the CPU in its BIOS program, because, with this type of processor, you can enable or disable the Hyper-Threading Technology.
For example, the Intel chipset 865PE motherboard, in its BIOS setup program, shows what type of processor has been installed. If the processor is equipped with HT Tech, the enable/disable option is available. Otherwise, no HT Tech option is shown, and thus the processor is not a HT Tech type.
The support CD-ROM that comes with my Asus P4P800 Deluxe motherboard (865PE) is also the driver for the chipset 875P (Asus P4C800E-Deluxe). They both have similar BIOS setup system, and, therefore, the complete information of the processor will be displayed.
It is very difficult to notice the improved performance under the HT Tech. If you watch DVD movies or listen to your Audio CD, or even use Microsoft Word or any simple application, there is no difference between the HT Tech and non-HT Tech. Even with your regular software applications, you cannot pin point the advantage of the HT Tech, especially if you run them on your Windows XP Professional.
I only use Windows system to perform my photo editing tasks (and of course to visit epinions.com to write this review), such as scanning slide images, putting images into layers using Adobe Photoshop 7.0 and printing them using HP photosmart print software or Roxio PhotoSuite 5.0. With my old computer (using Pentium II 350 MHz, RAM 192 MB), I had to spend hours working on this project.
For example, using Adobe Photoshop 7.0 to put my images in layers takes me 4-7 minutes per image (20-30MB file size). With this large image file, putting 5 or 6 images on one layer is next to impossible, and often takes up to 20-30 minutes before it comes back to tell me that I cannot do that; there goes my 30-minute wait. I had to spend more than half an hour to print 3 4x6-inch photos on an 8.5x11-inch photo paper.
With the P4 HT Tech I can see dramatic improvement in work speed. Now I can easily spend 20-30 minutes doing the same task that I had spent at least 2-3 hours with my P2 computer. The result I found was astounding. At first it was difficult to give credit to the HT Tech, because the 2.8GHz clock speed alone is much faster than my P2 350 MHz. But with this P4 HT Tech (and of course with the combined RAM of 1.024GB and Windows XP Pro), I can work on my image using Adobe Photoshop 7.0 while my HP printer is printing photo images. I often listen to my Audio CD as I work. This multitasking ability was something that I could not do with my P2 350 MHz computer.
With Linux operating system, I really see dramatic changes and improvement in system performance. At school, I use Linux/UNIX operating system 80 percent of the time compared to Windows. Linux system is far more capable (superior to Windows, I should say) at handling complex computations and simulations. Furthermore, Linux supports all kinds of text editors for writing a scientific paper; my favorite is LaTEX, which Im now using to write my thesis.
Multitasking is a common routine for Linux. With my new computer, I can do most of my work at home (and from home). I can run my C++ program in the background, while at the same time I perform other simulations using a different program. This P4 HT Tech really lives up to its promise.
Overclocking: At the beginning, I had done some tests on overclocking my Pentium 4 2.8GHz all the way up to 30%. Running applications on Windows XP Professional, the system is very stable and responsive. I got the same results using Linux. I can set the clock to Auto, Standard or Turbo, or set the ratio manually to increase the clocking speed.
Now, I run my processor at its specified frequency. Not because Im not a big fan of overclocking the processor, my P4 HT Tech is running at an impressive speed at 2.8 GHz already. Why over clock it when I dont see the need to?
Overclocking has a down side; the system can freeze or crash and render inoperative. Working at overclocking speed, the processor will produce more heat, and if you dont have a good cooling system to help the heatsink and its fan to maintain low temperature, the processor could have a short life.
Well, there you have it. I hope this review has been helpful for you, to get a sense of what the new technology of Pentium 4 HT Tech processors have to offer.
I believe the Pentium 4 2.8C GHz Hyper-Threading Technology is a great processor. It is $100 less than the P4 3.00GHz version. For the past two weeks I have been running all kinds of tests, both on Windows XP Pro and Linux. The system has never failed, crashed or hung up. The processor handles extremely well at overclocking; although I would not recommend doing it. You can do it at your own risk.
This past week I have also done a number of tests on my uncles computer with Pentium 4 2.6 GHz HT Tech using Windows 2000 Pro. I still have some unresolved questions and problems with its performance. It has hung up a number of times, perhaps due to overclocking or incompatible Windows operating system for the HT Tech. So far, my reaction has not been absolute positive like my Pentium 4 2.8C GHz. As soon as I complete my test, I would probably post my review of it too. Therefore, I would like to caution people about the Pentium 4 2.6GHz HT Tech FSB 800MHz 512KB L2 cache.
I highly recommend the Pentium 4 2.8C GHz FSB 800MHz 512KB L2 cache with Hyper-Threading Technology. Note the C class followed by the clock number. This C code is also printed on the holographic sticker on the front box (2.80C). There are several versions of the 2.80 GHz. The one I have has the product code (BX80532PG2800DSL6WT) that matches the one listed here at epinions.