By Rob Enderle  |  Posted 2004-02-06 Print this article Print

At the high end of the line remains the P4 Extreme Edition; however, it is still based on the old manufacturing process, doesnt have the new instructions and remains relatively expensive. On the other hand, it is still a workstation-class chip at desktop prices, and the price is more reasonable then a workstation part for modeling, financial analysis, multi-media and graphics work. Next down is the new Prescott part designated P4E, which includes the new process, 1MB L2 cache, and the new instruction set for gaming. Strangely enough, for gamers, this is likely a better value now then the Extreme Edition part because it will anticipate future games with the instruction, and at the same price to the OEM as the P4C described below, it likely is a good value at volume (in low quantities the P4C may be cheaper, depending on relative inventories and OEM pricing.) This will change by mid-year, but early on this part should used where there isnt an absolute need to keep hardware specifications constant. If you must keep a constant hardware specification, the P4C is likely the part for you, although it is based on the old process and has half the L2 cache. Basically this is the old P4 with HT technology part and with a new "C" added to the name.
Following that is the P4A, basically a P4E without hyperthreading and with a slower front-side bus (533 MHz vs. 800 MHz.) Hyperthreading is one of the big technologies that differentiates Intel in the desktop space; it allows one processor, under certain circumstances, to act like two. This becomes most noticeable with applications like Microsoft Outlook XP (Outlook 2003 doesnt seem to need this capability as much) and background utilities like virus checkers. With the latest Trojan virus disrupting the world as I write this, the processors with hyperthreading just became much more important and for a marginal additional cost (and no compatibility penalty that Im aware of) the better choice.
Finally we have the basic vanilla P4, a workshorse chip, with the old process and no hyperthreading. Think of it as a Celeron with more cache. If you see a P4 system for under $600, it probably has this chip, which is best for those who just need the basics. (Though, from Intel, Celeron systems are likely an even better value at this end of the market). Manufacturers, particularly those using the old parts, may decide not to use the letter designations. So to spec this part properly call out the L2 cache size. You could call out hyperthreading, but this is an Intel only-technology and you dont want to lock out AMD-based systems because even if you dont choose them their inclusion will drive down the bid price. Further, Athlon64 systems will also have 1MB of L2 cache and be competitively priced with systems based on Intels new chip. Now with any new part from Intel there are two shoes; the new processor is the first, the second is a new chipset, and that is where the amazing changes are expected. Intels new chipset promises instant-on, improved system security and will generally come coupled with Gigabit Ethernet components and better power management. It will provide the closest thing to instant on-and-off we have had to date. However, this will also be a major change, requiring full compliance testing and, as always, those who get their images from OEMs will experience far fewer problems with these new systems then those who do their own imaging. The latter group will need to wait, likely until 2005, before deploying the complete system widely. In addition, in 2005, we will begin testing the next new operating system from Microsoft, and this complete new platform will be the best way to see just how good this new OS actually is, since the two will go through tuning to best work together. But that is the future and, in the present, for most, that means this announcement, while interesting, isnt disruptive for 2004. And given the disruptions we face on a day-to-day basis, maybe that is the strongest value of all with this new line. Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology.

Rob Enderle Rob Enderle Enderle Group 389 Photinia Lane San Jose, CA 95127

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