Intel’s Pentium 4 – A Worthy Successor?

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Test Setup

As noted, Intel sent out a D850MD mainboard, which is Micro ATX, uses the 850 chipset, has integrated sound, an AGP slot and three PCI slots. It also has two memory banks accepting up to four RDRAM RIMM modules, integrated 10/100 LAN and an optional CRN slot (not fitted on the test unit). The rear I/O panel is a non standard layout, but Intel includes a panel with the mainboard that should fit most cases. The I/O panel has PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, 4 USB connectors, sound in & out along with a mic. port and a RJ connector for the LAN. As with any current chipset and mainboard, the IDE ports support up to 4 IDE devices in ATA/100 mode and the AGP slot supports 4X mode. There is also a connector for CD sound in and a header for installing 2 more USB ports (for a front panel). There isn’t much to set or adjust in the BIOS, and to enter the BIOS you must move the CMOS jumper and make your changes and then move the jumper back. I’d guess that is to keep users out of the CMOS settings unless they really need to be there. Also included is a CD with all the drivers, .inf updates and utilities that need to be installed. Hardware monitoring is also supported, including CPU cooling fan speed. It was very easy to use and straightforward to setup. Pretty much a standard but well thought out current mainboard, but more geared toward a system builder than the enthusiast.

When I opened the box I was surprised by the very large CPU heatsink that almost fell to my feet (guess I opened the box from the wrong side?), and was immediately intrigued by the very small CPU mounted on the Mainboard. So I popped off the CPU to take a look at what turns out to be a very nice small and tight package. The CPU is about two thirds the size of a Pentium III, and like the latest Tualatin core version of the P3, the 478 pin P4 has a metal heat spreader mounted on top. AMD could take a lesson here. By using a similar setup they could solve the problem of end users damaging the top of a very fragile CPU core when installing the cooler. The CPU cooler retention device is also quite nice. No more hooking on to tabs on the side of the CPU socket. It has a frame that mounts in 4 holes in the Mainboard, the CPU cooler mounts onto it and is then locked into place with two levers… very nice. Both the heatsink and fan are quite large and do the job of keeping the CPU cool. One thing I noticed right away was how quiet the system was, which is quite a change from the high speed Athlon CPUs I’m used to.

What can I say about the CPU? Well, its 2.0GHz speed makes it the fastest (at least in pure clock speed) x86 CPU available at this time. It uses a 400MHz FSB, but like the AMD Athlon that is not an actual clock speed, but the effective through put speed. Intel uses a 100MHz Clock and four operations per cycle, so don’t be looking for a 400MHz clock speed! There are a number of new features, and rather than go into a technical explanation of them I’ll try to just cover the major changes. If you want to read the details you can find it all at . Intel uses what they call “NetBurst ™ micro-architecture, allowing for higher performance and clock speeds. One major enhancement that might interest some users it the implementation of the new SSE2 instructions.

I used two 128MB PC800 RDRAM RIMM’s to test with, and along with that I had to fit two continuity modules in the empty bank. Just to show you that even those of us that work with products every day slip occasionally: When Dean said he was going to send the mainboard and CPU over for me to test, I decided to order up some new RDRAM. The only one I had was a 64MB PC600 I’d used when first testing an i820 based mainboard, and that just wasn’t going to do it for this test. So I assumed (bad thing to do…) that I could use one 256MB PC800 RIMM and a continuity module, just like the i820 would allow me to do, and leave the second bank empty. How wrong I could be! Seems you have to fill one bank with 2 RIMM’s and the other with 2 continuity modules to boot. In my defense, Dean had neglected to send the manuals that had come from Intel with the Mainboard. Even worse was that my memory supplier had no continuity modules in stock. Then I called a component supplier, and they also didn’t have any. Lucky for us Dean had some. Seems that they may come with most Mainboards, but I suggest you check just in case. Also the RIMM’s have to be installed in pairs, so either get two or four memory modules, and if you have just two make sure you have two continuity modules also. PC800 is pretty much the norm these days, but you can use slower speeds if you wish. As for pricing, its not too bad these days. I paid over $600 for the 64MB of PC600 when it first came out, now 128MB cost well under $50 wholesale, so like I said cost just isn’t an issue any longer. Continuity modules should be under $10.

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