The 2-Gigahertz Pentium 4 is Intel Corp.'s photo-op this week.
Launched today amid the Intel Developers Forum klieg lights, the 2GHz processor cracks a psychological barrier. But maybe not much more.
This isn't meant to denigrate the chip, which continues an awesome processor speed race. But amidst the hoopla, you can't help asking just what an extra 100Mhz clock rate brings above a companion P4 chip unveiled at the same time, or myriad gigahertz and megahertz processors still in the channel. And it begs the question: exactly who needs 2 billion instructions a cycle?
Not corporate businesses, who account for two-thirds of the total PC market. Most business applications run just fine on much lower frequency PCs. And IT managers aren't yet sold on the Intel pitch about multi-gigahertz processors running streaming video and audio, which they fear only will divert company users to the very entertainment and game applications that Intel touts.
Someday businesses will join the streaming Internet world, but by then the 2GHz P4 will be only a memory.
Not the normal home PC user, who has most of the processor power needed now. If John and Suzie Q. haven't been wooed by P4 processors at lower speeds in the current PC slump, it's doubtful cracking the 2GHz barrier makes a big difference.
Gamers and power users for sure will like the extra speed. But this niche market doesn't equate to the marketing hype conjured up by Intel in reaching the 2GHz bar.
One thing 2GHz buys Intel is offsetting much of the P4 performance penalty against archrival's Advanced Micro Devices' high-end but lower-frequency Athlon processors.
As well documented, the large 20-stage pipeline that gives P4 its impressive speed also slows down throughput because of prefetch mispredictions requiring the long pipeline to be purged and refilled. But the higher the P4 speed, the faster the misprediction is corrected.
Since AMD's top Athlon speed is now 1.5GHz, the performance differential becomes far less a selling point against the P4. But then neither chip maker has had much luck making its sales pitch in the market. Intel's continued boosting up the MPU frequency scale has yet to revive the lagging PC market. And AMD's counter-pitch on performance throughput has been a hard sell as well.
Next month when Intel brings out its 845 SDRAM chipset, we will have the absurdity of a 2GHz P4 that can be connected to routine PC133 memory. Of course, few in their right mind would ever buy such a mismatched PC configuration -- the 845 PC133 chipset is Intel's belated attempt to push the P4 into the lower mainstream market strata.
Now a 2GHz P4 with double data rate SDRAM, especially the new 333MHz 2.4-megabyte/second modules, makes real sense. Unfortunately for whatever reason you care to ponder, Intel won't have a P4 DDR chipset for at least another four months. And it is doing everything possible to keep Via Technologies, the Taiwan chipset competitor, from offering its P4 DDR version before then.
For now Intel's gig at IDF may be playing to mixed reviews.