The Intel Pentium 4 6xx series and 3.73GHz Extreme Edition processors are the first Intel desktop processors to feature 64-bit processing.
Intel may not have been the first x86 processor manufacturer to bring 64-bit computing to the desktop, but the company has still managed to release its EMT64 processors several months ahead of Longhorn, the highly anticipated 64-bit Windows operating system that will finally make full use of those 64-bit desktop processor capabilities. At this point, Intel can claim that it's merely fashionably late to the 64-bit party, since everyone is still impatiently waiting for the guest of honor to arrive from Redmond.
Look carefully. This Pentium 4 has EMT64 technology hidden inside!
The Intel Pentium 4 6xx series and 3.73GHz Extreme Edition processors are the first Intel desktop processors to feature 64-bit processing, or EMT64 as Intel calls it. AMD introduced its 64-bit Athlon 64 processor almost a year and a half ago, but consumers won't see any 64-bit performance until Microsoft finally releases Longhorn.
Current 32-bit processors such as the earlier Intel Pentium 4 models and the AMD Athlon XP can only process data in 32-bit pieces. A 64-bit processor such as the Pentium 4 with EMT64 and the Athlon 64 can process chunks of data twice as large. Audio and video processing applications are the obvious programs that will be able to take immediate advantage of the increased precision, but we'll see more applications migrate over to 64-bit once Microsoft switches to Longhorn.
Even though the actual chip designs are different, the Pentium 4 EMT64 and AMD Athlon 64 processors should be able to run the same 64-bit applications, because they share similar instruction sets. Intel introduced 64-bit processing with its Itanium line of workstation and server processors a few years ago, but the Itanium isn't compatible with current 32-bit desktop software applications. The new Pentium 4 6xx and Extreme Edition processors with EMT64 will be able to run a normal 32-bit environment like Windows XP just fine, so you'll be safe with buying a processor now, and you'll have the freedom to upgrade to 64-bit software in the future. That sales point should sound familiar, because AMD uses the same argument to market the Athlon 64, which can also run 32-bit programs without a problem.
Intel will produce both types of chips using the 90nm manufacturing process, and the two processor types share the same 135mm square die size, 169 million transistor count, and LGA775 form factor. Intel has been producing Pentium 4 5xx chips on the 90nm process for a while now, but the previous 3.46GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor used the older 130nm process. Both of the new processors now feature 2MB of L2 cache, which will help increase performance by allowing the processor to keep more data close at hand.
The Pentium 4 6xx processors feature the familiar 800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped) FSB, and the 3.73GHz Extreme Edition will continue using the 1066MHz (266 quad-pumped) FSB introduced with the 3.46GHz Extreme Edition processor. The Pentium 4 6xx series processors will be able to work with all of the i915 and i925 chipset variations, but you'll specifically need the i925XE chipset to support the Extreme Edition's 1066MHz FSB. However, Intel did advise us to flash our motherboards with a new BIOS to enable EMT64 support for the new processors.
The Pentium 4 has a 135mm square die size and 169 million transistors.
Both processors also feature Intel's Execute Disable Bit security technology, which prevents buffer overflow attacks that could compromise a system. A buffer overflow attack basically forces a memory buffer overflow that can sneak malicious code into system memory. AMD has offered similar Enhanced Virus Protection technology in its desktop processors since last year. Users must have Windows XP SP2 installed to enable the protection offered by both processor manufacturers.
Intel has also brought its Enhanced Intel SpeedStep (EIST) technology to the Pentium 4 6xx processor series. EIST was originally developed to improve power efficiency in mobile processors, and Intel has added it to the 6xx series to help reduce power consumption. Enabled under Windows XP SP2, EIST allows the operating system to dynamically lower or increase the CPU clock frequency depending on the processing workload. The OS can reduce the CPU speed while you're just browsing the Web and then throttle the CPU back up to full speed when you launch Half-Life 2. The power-stepping technology will help reduce power consumption, heat output, and fan noise.
You may have noticed that the new Pentium 4 6xx and Extreme Edition processor editions share very similar physical characteristics--that's because both processors are now based on the same Prescott silicon. Aside from clock speeds, the only differences are that the Extreme Edition supports the 1066MHz FSB and doesn't have the EIST that's available on the 6xx series. Intel tells us that the EIST power savings on the 1066MHz FSB didn't justify the inclusion of the feature and that users in that market segment aren't very concerned with the power savings.
Intel tells us that while the Pentium 4 and Extreme Edition lines seem to be converging on the single-core side, the Extreme Edition will become "more extreme" once we get to dual core. The dual-core Pentium Processor Extreme Edition will feature two cores with HyperThreading support for hot, four-thread action. The normal "Smithfield" dual-core processor will run with only two threads since it won't have the HyperThreading support.
You need a good video card and a fast processor to get the best gaming performance. We paired our test processors up with the ATI Radeon X850 to minimize the graphics bottleneck as much as possible. We could have limited ourselves to CPU specific tests, but we stuck with gaming related benchmarks since the games we play use both the CPU and the video card. We used Windows XP Professional for all of our benchmarks. We experimented with Windows XP-64 Professional RC2, but, given the lack of 64-bit optimized software and the beta status of various graphics drivers, any numbers taken on the 64-bit platform would be premature.
Intel's new Pentium 4 processors performed well in comparison to the AMD Athlon 64 4000+. The Pentium 4 processors also have HyperThreading which helps immensely if you're the type that likes to have multiple programs running at the same time. The $650 Athlon 64 4000+ will still be more affordable than the new 3.73GHz Extreme Edition, which Intel will sell to distributors for $999 in 1,000 quantity lots. The 3.6GHz Pentium 4 660 will wholesale for $605. Intel will fill out the rest of its 6xx product line with the 3.4GHz Pentium 4 650, the 3.2GHz Pentium 4 640, and the 3.0GHz Pentium 4 630, respectively priced at $401, $272, and $224 in 1,000 unit lots. Overall, the new Intel 6xx and Extreme Edition processors are worthy additions to the Pentium 4 line, but we have to wait until the official Longhorn release before we can fairly judge 64-bit performance.