Finally... 1066FSB Arrives

The move from the Intel 865/875 chipsets to the more recent 915/925 chipsets brought noted improvements across the board that no one could ignore. Today (Halloween by chance) is the day that Intel makes public the updated 925X chipset and the new processor that can capitalize on it. Enter the 925XE Express Chipset and Pentium 4 Processor Extreme Edition with HT Technology at 3. 46GHz (13x266MHz). For those of you who don't know the Intel Pentium 4 processor has been running at a Front Side Bus (FSB) of 800MHz for some time now. To achieve this speed Intel was running the FSB quad pumped at 200MHz. Since the FSB dictates how much data can travel between the CPU and chipset, an increase is logical to gain overall system performance. Today Intel raises the bar on FSB performance and for the first time breaks the 1GHz barrier by running the FSB quad pumped at 266MHz, thus arriving at a FSB of 1066MHz.

The increase to a 1066MHz FSB will be the first time DDR2 memory will officially run in sync at DDR2 533MHz. Plus, now that DDR2 memory has matured seeing 3-3-3-8 timings with PC2-4200 memory is common. It is no shocker that Enthusiasts have been waiting months for this chipset, but we found it interesting that many companies have also been waiting on the 925XE chipset. The most noticeable is ABIT, who is going to launch the first ABIT-Fatal1ty gamer motherboard based on the 925XE chipset, thus gambling the success of their new product line off this chipset. The long-awaited FSB speed increase has arrived! Was it worth the wait?

If you look at what Intel has said about their Socket 775 it is their long term solution platform. They have made public comments at the Intel Developer Forum and other events that the 915/925 chipset family will more than likely power Intel's next generation dual core processors. These new processors are expected to come out in mid 2005 -- best guess would be late Q2 or early Q3. Between now and then the Intel 925XE looks to be the Intel enthusiasts' chipset of choice for their next system build.

The New Intel 3.46GHz EE 1066FSB Processor:

The new Intel 3.46EE processor is based on the old 130nm Northwood core (also known as P4 "C"). It comes with 2mb of L3 Cache and does not have SSE3 or XD-BIT instructions. The 3.46GHz processor only differs from the previous generation Extreme Editions by being able to run at 266MHz on the FSB.  We actually tried to run our "old" 3.4EE at 13x266MHz and it failed to successfully load Windows at such speeds.  The new Intel 3.46EE is basically a cream of the crop Extreme Edition processor that can run at a high front side bus frequency. 

Let's take a look at pricing for 1,000-Unit quantities and also compare the new 3.46GHz EE to some other socket 775 prices.

As you can tell the new Pentium 4 3.46EE is not close to the price range for any college student (wouldn't it be nice if Intel offered student discounts like Microsoft??), but is priced just like the original P4 3.4EE when it came out several months ago at $999. That happens to be more than double the Intel 560 processor, which is the flagship of the "mainstream" Intel socket 775 processors.

Below are some shots of our Intel 3.46GHz EE processor running on our test bed.


Intel 3.46EE CPU Specs


Intel 3.46EE Cache

While the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition will be the first and currently only processor to work with the new quad-pumped system bus at 266 MHz there are more processors coming. Intel also affirmed that its Pentium 4 Extreme Edition (EE) 3.73GHz and 600-series desktop CPUs, which should be launched in the first quarter of next year, will feature Intel's Extended Memory 64 Technology, or Intel EM64T. We asked about XD-BIT (Execute Disable bit) and were told not to expect any of the current P4 EE's to come with it, just the Prescott processors with a 'J'-suffix will have XD-Bit enabled. All the enthusiasts looking for a "mainstream" cost efficient 1066FSB processor will have to wait till the 600 series is launched!

Let's move on and see what the new Intel reference board offers.

The New Reference Board

After seeing the pricing on the processor let me give you a little good news. The pricing on the new Intel 925XE chipset has been set at $50. This is a small price premium for the new chipset and should not have any impact on the street pricing on any brand of motherboards. To put it nice and simple the Intel D925XECV2 board will be priced the same as the current D925XCV1 boards. So if you are building an Intel system the 925XE chipset is the way to go for the time being. The image below shows something interesting we saw in the early stages of BIOS development on the new Intel 925XE boards

It looks like Intel was tinkering with the idea of adding DDR2 667MHz support to the new Intel D925XECV2 motherboard. Note I used the word tinkering and not implemented... If the board was set to run at a SDRAM Frequency of 667MHz the board would fail to post after the BIOS setting was saved. Discouraged, but still excited to see this idea in the BIOS we contacted some motherboard manufacturers and it looks like they got the function working properly. ABIT-USA's marketing department confirmed that the ABIT 925XE board will include the 667MHz option. They were not sure if it worked 100%, but went on to say that it ABIT has the resources and abilities to make sure it is by the time consumers get it in their hands. It should prove interesting to see if ASUS, MSI and others will also include this setting. I'm sure that DDR2 667 will be run on this chipset, but it will not be validated by Intel.

Above is a screen shot of the desktop control center that allows you to check on your motherboard settings.  Something of interest is the fact that Intel now allows you to overclock the board 10%!  This is more than previous Intel boards could be overclocked, so it looks like Intel is starting to broaden their thoughts for allowing users to overclock their products.

Let's take a look at several quick benchmarks and see how the performance fairs and jump to the conclusion.  Since no major changes have taken place on the CPU or Chipset we have done a "short" benchmarking section.

Test Setup & Benchmarking

Individual Test Systems:

Testing Procedure:

All testing was done on a fresh install of Windows XP Professional build 2600 with Service Pack 1A and DirectX 9.0b. All benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running. No overclocking was done on the video card during any of this review. We did disable the Firewire, and LAN features if found in the BIOS menu for all the testing completed during this review.

Memory Bandwidth Testing:

Everest 1.51:

Everest 1.51 is a professional system information, diagnostics and benchmarking program for Win32 platforms. It extracts details of all components of the PC. It also tests the actual read and write speeds of your memory to give a fairly accurate look of true memory performance.

Read Scores:

Write Scores:

 

Sisoft; Sandra 2004:

Sisoft Sandra 2004 is designed to test the theoretical power of a complete system and individual components. The numbers taken though are, again, purely theoretical and may not represent real world performance. Higher numbers represent better performance in memory bandwidth.

Results: It's fairly obvious that the 533MHz DDR2 memory found on our Intel test systems running at 3-3-3-8 improved with the new 1066FSB. It is also pretty obvious that the Athlon 64 with low latency DDR1 memory is not having any problems competing against DDR2 memory.

 

Benchmarking Cont.

Synthetic Testing:

FutureMark; 3dmark2005:

Professional Testing:

MAXON; CINEBENCH 2003:

CINEBENCH 2003 is the free benchmarking tool for Windows and Mac OS based on the powerful 3D software CINEMA 4D R8. The tool is set to deliver accurate benchmarks by testing not only a computer's raw processing speed but also all other areas that affect system performance such as OpenGL, multithreading, multiprocessors and Intel's new HT Technology. Again, higher Frames/Second and lower rendering time in seconds equal better performance.

FutureMark; Bapco SYSmark2004:

SYSmark2004 provides an application-based benchmark that accurately reflects usage patterns for business users in the areas of Internet Content Creation and Office Productivity.

Doom 3 & Conclusion

DOOM 3

Results: This chart shows why AMD Athlon 64 processors have become the CPU of choice for gamers over the past year. The under $300 Athlon 64 3500+ Socket 939 processor is only one frame per second away from the most expensive desktop CPU that Intel makes -- the $999 3.46EE!

 



Nathan Kirsch's Thoughts:

It is clear that by raising the front side bus to 1066MHz Intel was able to get a small performance increase out of the Pentium 4 processor.  It is something that is logical to do and to be honest this is something the overclocking community has been doing for some time.  Enthusiasts have always lowered down the multiplayer and raised the front side bus.  The only thing that is different this time is that Intel is doing it! 

As some of our benchmarks showed the AMD 4000+ and even the sub $300 3500+ processors proved to be a challenge for the $999 flagship of the Intel processor lineup. This brings up the whole price versus performance situation.  While Intel may not like how close some of the scores are, I'm sure the consumer does! Besides, competition between AMD and Intel is good and is something that was not there just a couple years ago.  

Overclockers should love this new Intel chipset.  This motherboard will work on 800 and 1066 FSB processors, so if you're looking to overclock an entry level Socket T Prescott processor this is the board for you.  ASUS and ABIT have both mentioned to us that their Intel 925XE boards should be great for gamers and enthusiasts looking to overclock.  I guess time will tell once those boards hit the market.

Legit Bottom Line:

The Intel 925XE chipset and the 1066FSB 3.46EE Processor are a step in the right direction for Intel.  If you were waiting for the new chipsets to come that support 800 and 1066 FSB processors your wait is over and it should hold you over and work with the new dual core processors!