A new high-speed train won't get you to your destination any faster if it's running on old tracks: tunnels and bridges must be upgraded, switches and crossings improved, and bends straightened. The same holds true for chips and chipsets. Think of the chip, or the central processing unit (CPU), as the train engine and the chipset as the tracks that link the CPU and your PC's various subsystems. As CPUs get faster, so must the paths between the CPU and the memory, the graphics card and the hard drive. Intel's new 875P chipset, code-named Canterwood, replaces the 850E chipset for the performance class of PCs. It features a number of improvements, including its most important feature: support for dual-channel DDR400 memory, or memory that runs at 400MHz on two independent paths. Also significant is the increased speed of the frontside bus (FSB) -- the main link between the CPU and the memory. The 875P supports a 800MHz FSB, up from the 533MHz FSB of the previous-generation 850E chipset.
In many respects, the 875P is identical to Intel's forthcoming Springdale chipset, which will launch next month for the mainstream PC market. Both have an 800MHz FSB and offer support for dual-channel DDR400 memory, Serial ATA, AGP 8X, Gigabit Ethernet and Intel's own Hyper-Threading technology. In fact, both chipsets are manufactured using the same 0.13-micron process. But only those components that pass Intel's stringent requirements, including optimum timing (Intel calls this Performance Acceleration Technology, or PAT), are qualified as 875P. Intel has different requirements for those components that will qualify as Springdale. What's a new chipset without a new processor? To accompany the 875P chipset, Intel has introduced a new 3GHz Pentium 4. This differs from the 3.06GHz processor released last November in that it can take advantage of the new 800MHz FSB. It may be 0.06GHz slower, but the new 3GHz P4 generally outperforms the older version in our tests because of its speedier system bus and support for faster memory -- pretty much guaranteeing improved performance at digital video editing and 3D gaming.