To 3.6 GHz and Beyond: Why the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition Is a Yawner for Mac Users

2004 – If June is approaching, Intel must be preparing a newly improved and faster than ever before version of the erstwhile Pentium 4 processor.

The Rumor Mill

Yes, Intel watchers, in a performance breakthrough worthy of the mighty Motorola, the Pentium 4 will move from 3.2 GHz, where it’s been stuck since last summer, to a stupendous 3.6 GHz in June. And if that whopping 12.5% increase in clock speed isn’t enough to make Power Mac G5 users jealous, just wait until you hear what Intel has named their newest, hottest (literally as well as figuratively) CPU:

Pentium 4 Extreme Edition

And I’m not making this up, despite my position as Low End Mac’s official rumor monger (it even says so on my Macworld Expo pass!). Even I never would have believed that a marketing-driven company like Intel would dare to call something as stodgy as a CPU an “extreme edition.”

What’s next, a PowerPC G5 Turbozoom Scorcher?

Okay, the P4EE does move the Pentium family forward a bit more than just a 12.5% faster clock speed might indicate. Using 90nm technology, Intel expects to boost the P4 to 3.8 GHz in August (that’s yet another 5.5% increase) and 4.0 GHz in October (2.26% more blazing speed).

Be still my impatient heart!

Pentium 4 History

Mac users had a real laugh at Intel’s expense when the Pentium 4 became perhaps the first CPU in history to offer less processing power per megahertz than its predecessor. The general consensus was that the P4 offered about 70% as much number crunching power as a Pentium III at the same MHz rating. That means that a 1.5 GHz P4 might or might not outperform a 1 GHz PIII – depending on just what the benchmark is measuring.

Not that this bothered Intel. It was a calculated risk that paid off in spades. Knowing that most people don’t know much about computer hardware – but that everyone knows faster is better – Intel sacrificed efficiency for the marketable advantage of bragging rights in the Megahertz War.

You remember the Megahertz War, don’t you? That’s where Motorola fell flat on its fact trying to produce a 500 MHz G4 so Apple could ship the computers they promised. It only took Moto six months to fulfill that promise.

Intel brought the Pentium 4 to market in November 2000 with plenty of hoopla. The fastest Pentium III was 1 GHz, and the P4 debuted at 1.5 GHz. So what if that was really just as powerful as the PIII at 1 GHz? 1.5 GHz just sounded faster.

By April 2001, the 1.6 GHz P4 was shipping, and in July Intel pushed that to 1.8 GHz. By the end of August 2001, the 2.0 GHz Pentium 4 was available.

Date Speed Increase
2000.11.20 1.5 GHz

n/a

2001.04.23 1.6 GHz

6.7%

2001.07.02 1.8 GHz

5.8%

2001.08.27 2.0 GHz

11.1%

2002.01.07 2.2 GHz

10.0%

2002.04.02 2.4 GHz

9.1%

2002.05.06 2.53 GHz

5.4%

2002.08.26 2.8 GHz

10.7%

2002.11.14 3.06 GHz

9.3%

2003.06.23 3.2 GHz

4.6%

2004.03 3.4 GHz

6.3%

2004.06 3.6 GHz

5.9%

On a year-to-year basis, the P4 was running at a one-third faster clock speed after one year on the market. A year after that CPU speed had improved by just over 50% – and then Intel essentially stagnated at 3.06-3.2 GHz from Nov. 2002 until last month.Remember how long Macs were stuck at 500 MHz – and how long the G5 has been stuck at 2.0 GHz?

How does sixteen months with virtually no forward progress in CPU speed grab you? That’s what Intel has been suffering through.

If Intel hits the 4.0 GHz mark in October, the fastest P4 will be 25% faster than on the P4’s third birthday. I think Intel has run smack dab into Moore’s Law – a situation Mac users know all too well from the 500 MHz G4 era.

But if all goes as IBM has promised, we’ll have dual 3.0 GHz G5s in August, a 50% increase in speed over the course of a single year. Intel hasn’t managed something that impressive since 2002, and it looks like the P4 design may be running out of steam.

Intel, we feel your pain. We waited for the 500 MHz G4 from August 2000 until February 2001 and then longed for anything faster. And then the dam burst, and Apple unveiled a 733 MHz G4 in Jan. 2001.

That July the top-end moved to 867 MHz, and January 2002 saw the advent of the 1 GHz Power Mac. Power Mac G4 performance peaked with a dual CPU 1.42 GHz model in January 2003, and that was replaced by the 2.0 GHz dual processor G5 last summer.

When the P4 shipped in Nov. 2000, the fastest Mac ran at 450 MHz. By Jan. 2003, when the fastest Power Mac G4 was released, the top-end G4 was running at over 3 times the speed of the fastest first generation G4. Over the same period, Intel had gone from 1.5 GHz to 3.06 GHz, just a tiny bit over 2x the speed of the original P4.

Now IBM and Apple are promising a 50% improvement in CPU speed in a single year, but the 4.0 GHz P4 expected in October only has a 25% faster clock speed than today’s P4.

Whatever the reason, we’re seeing far more progress in speeding up the PowerPC family of processors than Intel is getting from their complex Pentium 4 CPUs. If things continue at this rate, Mac may have GHz parity with Intel PCs somewhere around April 2006.

Unlike Intel fans, we don’t celebrate 4.6% and 6.3% speed bumps. 200 MHz more speed simply isn’t that impressive when you’re already running 16 times that fast.

And we’ve still got more efficient processors than they do.

Keep an eye on your rearview mirror, Intel. We’re gaining on you.

– Anne Onymus

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