From an IT perspective, there isnt much not to like in Intels new "Prescott" microprocessor. Its more efficient than the old processor and it slips, almost unnoticed, into an existing system architecture, which means that there are no image changes required. And while it is always prudent to do a qualification test, the risk if you dont is about as small as it has ever been. This promise kept to IT is one of the things that continues to differentiate Intel in the IT space (only NVIDIA is making an effort to match this promise.)
Kind of like a car that gets a turbocharger, the changes to the chip have little to do with how code is processed, but rather with how quickly things are done. The most obvious change is the move to a faster clock speed, at 3.4 GHz, which shouldnt surprise anyone; however, it is the "turbo-charger" part that makes things a little more interesting.
This is the first mainstream desktop processor from the company using the 90-nm process. This process puts the key components closer together, increasing efficiency and reducing cost, which should translate into lower prices over time for a given level of performance. Thats one nice thing about this market—you continually are getting more for the same price and often for even less.
The next version of Intels Pentium M (the chip used in the companys Centrino bundle), slated for next quarter, will also use this 90-nm process.
This also doubles the cache (level 2, if anyone cares) on the chip, which means more instructions can be retained closer to the processor in ultra-fast memory—increasing the potential performance substantially. This is typically what differentiates a workstation Intel chip (Xeon) from a desktop chip, and workstation chips have a lot of L2 cache. Last year in November Intel released its Extreme Edition processor, which took on die cache, L3 in this case, to 2MB, and the performance jump was stunning. You were basically getting a $3K processor for a third of the price. Granted that price was still $1K or more than many desktop systems sold today, but cutting-edge performance is never cheap.
Here is where things get interesting, if not a little confusing. There will be a number of Pentium 4 parts on the market with unique identifiers likely to confuse you while Intel shifts to the new manufacturing process and new processor.