Prescott flunks benchmark tests

The new chip paves the way for faster clock speeds, but its current version is generally slower and hotter than predecessors and the competition

Intel's new Prescott-based Pentium 4 has debuted with performance measurements mostly slightly below that of its predecessor, Northwood, and below its main competition, AMD's Athlon64, according to ZDNet benchmark tests published on Monday.

Read the full report: "Intel Prescott: the benchmarks".

The results come as little surprise to testers, as new Intel chips usually debut with lower performance than their predecessors at the same clock speed. However, the results call into question Intel's strategy of marketing on clock speed rather than performance, particularly since Prescott must dissipate significantly more power than Northwood and the Athlon64, according to testers.

"As far as Intel's marketing department is concerned, 'megahertz sells'," said ZDNet's Kai Schmerer in the review. "With its extended 31-stage pipeline, the Prescott Pentium 4 is generally slightly slower than its predecessor, despite having double the cache. But the longer pipeline means that Intel can continue to drive up Prescott's clock speed."

The Prescott system tested dissipated significantly more power than comparable chips under a full load, coming in at nearly 250 watts, compared with nearly 200 watts for a Northwood system and about 168 watts for a comparable Athlon64 system. Power dissipation affects how systems are designed, because hotter chips must use more powerful fans and other cooling technology to dissipate power.

For content creation tasks, AMD's chip beat its Intel competition, with Prescott clocking in faster than Northwood despite its extended pipeline. Other tests, including Internet performance and game load times, generally found AMD's chip performed better than Intel's offerings, with Northwood performing slightly better than Prescott.

Schmerer said the high power dissipation levels for Prescott could be a cause for concern, particularly with clock speeds preparing for an upward ramp. "At 3.2GHz no other desktop processor requires as much power as the Prescott Pentium 4, which should reach 4GHz by the end of 2004," he said. The situation has led some industry observers to suggest that Intel will adapt its far more efficient Pentium M mobile chip (see ZDNet UK's Tech Guide: "Inside Intel's Pentium M/Centrino") for desktop use.