Intel Boards a Faster Bus

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Intel is expected to release a faster version of its powerful but expensive Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor this week, alongside the introduction of a chip set that uses a faster front-side bus to connect the processor and the memory.

As expected, the introduction of the 3.46-GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and the Intel 925XE chip set results in the most powerful desktop PC engine Intel has to offer. It also sets the stage for similar processors that are expected over the coming year from the Santa Clara, California, company.

The Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is basically the same as the Pentium 4 desktop processor, but it features 2MB of Level 3 cache compared to the 1MB of Level 2 cache on the Pentium 4. Cache memory is used to store frequently accessed data close to the processor, where it can be accessed more quickly than data stored in the main memory, improving performance.

Intel has decided to stop relying on increases in clock speed to improve processor performance and instead to use increased amounts of cache and multicore designs to create more powerful chips. The company recently canceled plans to release a 4-GHz version of its Pentium 4 processor in the first quarter of next year, saying it would increase the cache of Pentium 4 processors to 2MB to improve performance and then release dual-core processors, expected by the end of 2005.

System performance will also improve with the new 1066-MHz front-side bus on the 925XE chip set. Previously, Intel's fastest front-side bus topped out at 800 MHz, but the introduction of the faster bus means Intel has a faster link between the processor and the memory.

High-End Systems

The Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is extremely expensive. The new 3.46-GHz processor costs $999 in 1000-unit quantities, compared to $417 for the most powerful Pentium 4 processor in Intel's lineup. For that reason, the chip is generally marketed to gamers and PC enthusiasts who are willing to pay extra for the highest available level of performance, and it is not available as widely as the Pentium 4.

Dell plans to release a new version of its Dimension XPS gaming desktop PC this week, alongside the new Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and 925XE chip set. The system comes with a new chassis and the ability to add as many as three 400GB hard drives that can be used in a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) configuration.

A base configuration costs $2749 with the 3.46-GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, 512MB of 533-MHz DDR2 (double data rate 2) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), and an 80GB hard drive.

Hewlett-Packard and Gateway will not have systems based on the new technology immediately available. The companies are evaluating the technology before making a decision on when or if they will release new products with the chip, according to HP and Gateway spokespeople.

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