Power Consumption, Heat and Conclusions

Power Consumption

In recent history Intel has not been a name associated with a low power consumption desktop product.  The move from 90nm to 65nm process technology though should offer some relief from the extremely high power numbers we have seen on Intel’s Pentium line of CPUs.

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And lo’ and behold — ’tis true!  The new Pentium XE 955 processor actually consumes less power than the older Pentium XE 840.  Considering it is using nearly 150 million addtional transistors, runs at a 246 MHz faster clock speed and has twice the L2 cache, this is a pretty impressive feat for Intel’s first forray into 65nm technology.  The Pentium 955 still isn’t the power dream that AMD’s X2 processors hvae turned out to be, but it is definitely an improvement.

Heat

One of the more common jokes about the recent Pentium architectures revolves around the terms “processor” and “space heater”.  The Pentium 955 processor doesn’t deviate from this mantra very much, as you can see from the power consumption numbers above, those it does improve on them somewhat.  Interestingly, our first 955 CPU and 975X motherboard samples had some big time heat issues that involved temperatures on the CPU die reaching in the 90s C on boot up and a whole lot of CPU throttling in order to keep the CPU from turning itself off.  This obviously caused some performance issues (scores in 3DMark05 would be as low as 7200 instead of the 8200 they should be) as the CPU was forced to slow itself down in order to NOT melt.

After talking over the Intel reps as well as Scott over at Tech Report, Intel sent out a second CPU/board combo to me with the thought that the motherboard temperature reading device might be the issue.  After swapping out those components, the temperatures the BIOS reported never went above the 80C mark and all seems to be working well.  I am willing to write off the issue as a board/BIOS issue as long as I do not hear of similar problems continuing to exist in production boards or replaced press samples.

Conclusions

The Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955 processor and the accompanying 975X chipset mark yet another attempt by Intel to retake some lost ground on the performance computing and enthusiast level market.  Will this new 65nm processor help Intel’s “hardcore” audience?

Performance

The Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955 processor performed extremely well in the majority of our quick benchmark suite out running the first quad-logical core processor, the Intel Pentium XE 840 CPU.  With a faster clock speed, faster front-side bus, twice the L2 cache and just extra mojo, the 955 powered its way through the tests with some impressive numbers.  The results were not ALL roses though, as the still-impressive AMD X2 processors continue to hold the performance crown in some key areas like gaming tests. 

Intel’s dominance can be seen in those tests that we ran that really took advantage of more than even two simultaneous threads.  The four logical processors that come with a dual-core, Hyper Threaded processor can really make quick work in those scenarios.  How often a user finds themselves in situations like that though will likely determine the value of the Pentium Extreme Edition line of processors to each individual user.

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If you are a heavy multi-tasker, and have looked out our multi-tasking benchmark results on the previous three pages, you will doubt see that Intel has a big advantage in this area thanks to Hyper-Threading on dual-cores.  While the performance of the Pentium 955 was impressive in other areas as well, these tests really show us where the Intel architecture can shine and bring performance levels that AMD can’t yet touch. 

Price

The Pentium 955 processor is set to be available in the middle of January next year with a street price of $999.  High performance out-of-the-box has never been cheap, has it?  The chances are good that we will see actual prices a bit under the MSRP of $999 but not by a whole lot quite yet.  What makes this price even harder to swallow is that with the recent price drops from AMD, the X2 4800+ processor can be found for under $800 at nearly two dozen online e-tailers.  Most people are aware that AMD will be launching their new FX-60 processor at the beginning of next year that will bring dual-core technology to AMD’s flagship FX line for the first time and a street price of a $1000 is more than likely there as well.

The 975X Chipset

The 975X chipset doesn’t bring a whole lot to the story here, other than support for this new processor and “pending” support for SLI and CrossFire.  If Intel can get both NVIDIA and ATI to play nicely with their chipsets, Intel may have a big success on their hands (as big as a Pentium-platform success could be in a gaming scenario).  Having a single board support both competing multi-GPU platforms would be a welcome change to the current situation of platform dependencies.

65nm – the real story?

One other interesting and important aspect of this launch is the realization that Intel is actually ahead of schedule on their 65nm technology releases.  Presler wasn’t expected until Q1 2006, and though we are close to that today, as frequent delays are almost a regular occurence, Intel should be commened for this release.  Even more importantly is the knowledge that much of Intel’s future CPU technologies, and those NOT based on the NetBurst architecture, are going to be dependent on the success of the 65nm process that Intel has developed.  Early release of a processor on new technology that has shown great performance per watt could spell trouble for AMD; if not today, then several months from now.

Final Thoughts

The Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955 processor brings a new level of performance to Intel’s desktop products and ups the ante on performance in heavily multi-tasked environments.  The technology is mostly a repeat of what we have seen in Intel’s Pentium line up before, but with a 1066 MHz FSB, 4 MB of L2 cache and 65nm technology, the Pentium 955 may really add to something greater than the sum of its parts.  

Be sure to use our price checking engine to find the best prices on the Intel Pentium XE 840 CPU, and anything else you may want to buy!

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