|Introduction and Product Specifications|
In recent months, the race between the two major industry playersto bring dual-core processing to the masses has heated up. On April 4th, Intel delivered its first dual-core Pentium offering in the form of the Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 840. AMD was soon to follow, on May 9th, releasing its dual-core Athlon 64 X2 4800+.
While Intel may have been first to deliver a dual-core processor for the masses, AMD's updated X2 processor architecture brought with it the path of least resistance by supporting existing socket 939-based hardware. In fact, AMD's dual-core Athlon 64 X2 requires only a simple BIOS update to support the new processors. Conversely, Intel's new design requires new chipsets to take advantage of its dual-core processor, adding to overall upgrade costs for do-it-yourselfers and another specifically dedicated chipset in the mix for OEMs.
Regardless, today Intel further expands its dual-core Pentium arsenal with the release of the Pentium D 820 and i945G/P chipset. Unlike the high-end i955X Express chipset and Pentium EE 840, these new additions focus more on the mainstream consumer and business-class market. The Pentium D comes in three flavors: the 840 at 3.2GHz, 830 at 3GHz, and the 820 at 2.8GHz. Intel also released two of its own new 945G motherboards to support the Pentium D, in the D945GNT (ATX) and D945GNTP (Micro ATX).
To help us get acquainted with the Pentium D and 945 Chipsets, Intel sent us its latest dual-core processor, the Pentium D 820, along with a D945GTPLR reference motherboard. Running at 2.8GHz, the Pentium D 820 is equipped with dual-processor cores but doesn't support Hyper-Threading, while the D945GTPLR brings new features along with an updated integrated graphics controller. In the pages ahead, we'll go over the finer points of each product in more detail and take a look at the performance profile each brings to the table. First, let's take a quick look at the major features of both the Intel Pentium D 820 and D945GTPLR reference board.
Codenamed "SmithField," the Pentium D is very similar to the Pentium Extreme Edition 840 in many ways. Like the EE 840, the Pentium D sports two execution cores, each equipped with 1MB of L2 cache (2MB Total). The Pentium D also supports Intel Extended Memory 64 Technology for 64-Bit computing, as well as Execute Disable Bit for added security features against certain virus attacks. The main difference between the Pentium EE 840 and the Pentium D is that the Pentium D doesn't support Hyper-Threading technology. Furthermore, the 820 comes in with a lower 95w Thermal Design Power rating. So the Pentium EE 840 holds the top spot as the current fastest dual-core CPU Intel has to offer, while the Pentium D series brings improved multithreaded performance over comparable single-core Pentium 4 processors with Hyper-Threading technology.
As the diagram below demonstrates, with a single-core Pentium 4 with Hyper-Threading, two data threads can be processed across the core at one time in a parallel fashion. This was a major improvement over single-threaded cores, yielding significant performance gains over the earlier designs, especially when multitasking and in multithread-capable applications. With a dual-core Pentium D, however, each core has its own dedicated thread and physical processing resource, significantly improving the efficiency of how workloads are processed.
While the cores reside in a single package, what you essentially have are two distinct processors sharing a common bus. Just like a dual-processor configuration, however, applications need to be coded to take full advantage of both cores simultaneously. Nonetheless, this doesn't mean that two cores are not beneficial with single-threaded applications. One of the dual-core's strengths is its effects on multitasking. For example, it is now much more feasible to encode video while playing a game, working in a word processing application, and browsing the Web simultaneously as each task can be processed in a seperate core. Furthermore, the overall system responsiveness should be improved significantly over single-core processors as system tasks are effectively split between the two cores.
With the Pentium D series processor, Intel brings a more flexible processor to the mainstream consumer. With dual cores and 2MB of L2 cache split between each core, support for 64-bit operating systems, and a complementary new chipset in the i945 series, Intel brings a fairly scalable offering to the table. Next, we'll explore the D945GTPLR system board and the virtues of the i945 chipset in more detail.
|D945GTPLR system board & i945G/P Express Chipset|
Intel's D945GTPLR system board follows the Micro ATX form factor, sporting one 16x PCI-Express, two PCI and a 1x PCI-Express slot. The board is also equipped with 4 SATA and one IDE storage ports while providing four DIMM slots supporting 1GB maximum per slot. The rear of the board has legacy PS2, LPT1, and Serial connections, as well as a VGA connection for the GMA 950 integrated graphics. Intel also provided four USB 2.0 ports with headers on the front of the board to expand to 8 ports. FireWire and Gigabit Ethernet is also standard equipment, as is Intel's High-definition Audio. The Northbridge comes backed with a fairly hefty heatsink held on by a retention clip and is positioned close to the CPU to borrow from the CPU cooler's airflow.
Intel D945GTPLR System Board
The D945GNT model is the full ATX form factor version that integrates an additional 1x PCI Express slot, two more PCI slots, and an additional auxillary fan header. Users can also expect a healthy software complement to back the 945G boards, with over 13 titles included. Our sample icluded such titles as Norton Internet Security 2005, MusicMatch Jukebox, Intervideo Home Theater Silver, and Norton Antivirus, to name a few.
When we line up the existing 955X Express chipset with the new 945G and 945P Express chipsets, we see a lot of similarities among the three. For example, all share the same base configuration in regard to memory type and number of channels. They also bring 1x and 16x PCI Express support across the board, as well as sharing the same ICH7/ICH7R Southbridge and its features.
The 945 series supports the latest Pentium D dual-cores and all LGA775 single-core processors with or without HT technology. Intel added 533MHz FSB to the 945s, bringing greater backward compatibility with existing single-core processors while leaving the door open for future budget-class dual-core CPUs if it sees fit. The 945s drop the ECC support of the 955X Express as well as Intel's lower latency Memory Pipeline Technology, although each maintains support for Intel Flex Memory Technology, which enables dual-channel mode with different-sized DIMMs. The maximum memory complement is cut in half compared to the i955X, with the 945s peaking at 4GB. What the 945 doesn't support is dual-core Hyper-Threaded processors, such as the Pentium Extreme Edition 840.
With the addition of the 945G and 945P Express chipsets, Intel has broadened it dual-core product base to deliver a cost-effective solution to the workstation market. Also, in an effort to deliver further advancements to the business-class customer, the 945 chipset brings greater tools and functionality to give the IT manager broader management control over their workstation responsibilities. In our next segment, we'll offer up a schematic of the 945G and 945P chipsets and highlight some of these professional features Intel worked into its designs.
|i945G/P Express Chipset and GMA 950 Performance|
The 945 series chipsets brings a fair amount of scalability to the everyday consumer and business-class environment. Along with support for virtually all Pentium processors except for the dual-core Pentium EE, the 945 series delivers a major new tool to the professional with Intel Active Management Technology (AMT). 945G/P chipset motherboards equipped with AMT will enable IT professionals to manage a plethora of workstation functions remotely, improving troubleshooting response time, management of system resources, and even recovery of the operating system by restoring from remote images. There is even the ability to manage the installation of the OS remotely. Additionally, with the help of third-party software, AMT will enable IT managers to simplify asset management, allowing for remote inventory of a system's hardware and software. By enabling support personnel to handle these tasks from a single location, the effective response time to problems will reduce overall downtime when issues arise.
Intel has also outfitted the i945G chipset with its new Graphics Media Accelerator 950 graphics core. The GMA 950 brings improved DirectX9 support as well as support for native high-definition displays. The GMA 950 also supports separate Media Expansion Cards and ADD2, which adds Dual Display, DVI, HDTV, and Composite and Component out with a single add-on card. These are all features that previously required a full graphics card upgrade. While integrated graphics is known for using precious CPU cycles, when coupled with a dual-core CPU, the GMA 950 promises better overall performance than its predecessors.
To briefly demonstrate the performance differences with the GMA 950, we ran a quick series of gaming tests, comparing it to a 915G chipset-based board with GMA 900 integrated graphics.
To keep the comparison accurate, we compared the two running a single-core Pentium 4 530J because the 915 doesn't support dual-core CPUs. For good measure, we started off the test with the Pentium D 820 to show performance with a dual-core processor.
Overall, the GMA 950 managed to add a few frames over the GMA 900 in Halo, while the GMA 900 managed a better Half-Life 2 score. When equipped with a dual-core processor, the GMA 950 showed little difference with Halo, while tacking a little over 4 FPS with Half-Life 2. As these quick tests show, the GMA 950 does add slightly better performance over previous Intel graphics solutions, but in the end, gaming is best ventured into with a dedicated add-on 3D graphics card. Having said that, we're certain the 2D core of the GMA950 is up to the task on the desktop.
|Intel Pentium D 820: CPU-Z Info & Overclocking|
To get a closer look at the internals of the Pentium D 820, we loaded the latest version of CPU-Z for more details. As you can see, the processor is based on the "SmithField" core, clocked at 2.8GHz (14x200) and is manufactured using a 90nm process. Other than that, there is nothing we didn't expect to see here. Upon inspection of the cache details, we see the L2 cache reported as 1024KB because CPU-Z is reporting its information on a per-core basis.
Next, we wanted to see what kind of overclocking potential the processor had. Because our Intel reference board doesn't support overclocking, we used the new Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G motherboard based on the Intel 945P chipset. We will be reviewing this board soon, but for now we're focusing in the Pentium D 820's overclocking potential.
Focusing on the CPU, we locked the memory below its peak and then raised the FSB until the system became unresponsive. In the end, we found the peak setting to be a 255MHz FSB, pushing the CPU from 2.8GHz to 3.57GHz. This resulted in an increase of 770MHz or 27.5% with stock cooling. This was a fairly impressive turn out for the Pentium D 820, which ran SANDRA's CPU Burn-In test for 60 minutes straight without a hitch.
Continuing our testing with the Intel D945GTPLR system board, we ran a few thermal readings on the chip at stock speeds to show running temperatures when running at idle and 100% CPU utilization. With no load being applied to the Pentium D 820, the CPU ran at a steady 43C.
Next, we added 100% load by running Prime 95 for almost three hours and found that the system stabilized at an even 63C. Not bad for a pair of Prescott cores under the hood, but certainly thermals are a lot more manageable at 2.8GHz.
|Test System Specifications & SANDRA|
How we configured our test systems: When configuring the test systems for the following tests, we first entered their system BIOS for each board and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High-Performance Defaults." The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows XP Professional (SP2) was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we installed the rest of the necessary drivers and removed Windows Messenger from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were disabled, and we set up a 768MB permanent page file on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance," installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.
We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. SANDRA consists of a set of information and diagnostic utilities that can provide a host of useful information about your hardware and operating system. We ran the four most common modules with the Pentium D and 945G motherboard test bed.
The Pentium D 820's CPU arithmetic score was the best all-around result when comparing the results with the three highest references in SANDRA's database. Floating point testing was second best to the two Pentium 4 Extreme Edition comparison chips, who benefited from a larger dedicated L2 cache complement. With the Multimedia Benchmark, the Pentium D 820 topped the charts, taking a firm lead over all others. Cache and Memory scores were in line with what we would have expected in this test scenario, with an 800MHz FSB and DDR2-533 DRAM.
Next we'll continue our synthetic testing with FutureMark's PCMark04, focusing further on CPU and Memory performance. Moving forward, all of our testing will be accompanied by results of the same test bed with a Pentium 4 630 and a Pentium 4 530J, both of which are clocked at 3GHz. We've also included scores from an Athlon 64 3200+ test bed, configured as similarly as possible, for an additional reference point.
|Futuremark PCMark04 - CPU and Memory Benchmarks|
To get an idea of how each PCMark04 module calculates its score, we've taken a quote from FutureMark's support documentation.
"The CPU test suite is a collection of tests that are run to isolate the performance of the CPU. There are nine tests in all. Two pairs of tests are run multithreaded - each test in the pair is run in its own thread. The remaining five tests are run single threaded. These tests include such functions as file encryption, decryption, compression and decompression, grammar check, audio conversion, WMV and DivX video compression."
Looking at the performance results, the dual-core Pentium D 820 demonstrated a sizeable lead over the Pentium 4 630 and 530J, both of which are clocked 200MHz higher than the 820. What's important to note is that the CPU test is designed with some multithreaded operations, allowing the Pentium D 820 its lead. What is less important is the L2 cache complement as seen when comparing the Pentium 630 with 2MB vs the 530J with 1MB. Rounding out the numbers was the Athlon 64 3200+ with 1MB L2 cache.
"The Memory test suite is a collection of tests that isolate the performance of the memory subsystem. The memory subsystem consists of various devices on the PC. This includes the main memory, the CPU internal cache (known as the L1 cache) and the external cache (known as the L2 cache). As it is difficult to find applications that only stress the memory, we explicitly developed a set of tests geared for this purpose. The tests are written in C++ and assembly. They include: Reading data blocks from memory, Writing data blocks to memory performing copy operations on data blocks, random access to data items and latency testing."
In this test the scores were more balanced, with the Pentium D 820 recording the slowest results of the three Pentium-class chips. What appears to be the main benefit in this test is cache density and clock speeds. The 3200+ with its integrated memory controller closed out the test quite a bit slower than its Pentium counterparts.
While synthetic testing is good at giving us an idea of how a piece of hardware should perform theoretically, to get a clearer picture we need to run more intensive real-world tests.
|CC Winstone & World Bench 5.0: Photoshop 7 & Office XP Modules|
The Veritest Content Creation Winstone 2004 test utilizes the following applications in its benchmark routine. For more information about this test, see this page:
With Content Creation Winstone, some applications are multithreaded, such as Windows Media Encoder 9. We were a bit surprised to see no distinct advantage with the D 820 over its siblings. The processor did manage to equal the score of the 530J, which runs 200MHz faster, but that's nothing major. The Athlon 64 3200+ was right in the mix with the second highest score behind the Peniumt 4 630.
Where Content Creation's results are all inclusive, PC World's World bench has specific modules that can be isolated. For this next round of tests, we focused on three components: Photoshop 7.0.1, Office XP SP2, and Windows Media Encoder 9. This way, because each module may benefit from certain features of a CPU, it will be more evident than with Content Creation.
The Photoshop module proved to be a strong point for the older Athlon 64 3200+. Even clocked 800MHz slower than the dual-core Pentium D, the module completed 30 seconds faster with the 3200+ clocked at 2GHz. All three Pentiums were within a few seconds of each other, with the Pentium D 820 losing slightly to the Hyper-Threaded single-core chips.
With the Office XP SP2 module, the Pentium 4 630 had the upperhand, turning out the best result followed by the 530J. Tied for the slowest results were the Athlon 3200+ and the Pentium D 830, both of which lagged behind the 530J by three seconds. Once again, this test looked to be dominated by clockspeed and L2 cache, with no advantages shown for dual-core processors.
|WB5 Windows Media Encoder 9 & LAME MP3 Encoding Tests|
Completing our World Bench testing, we ran a final bout of the Windows Media Encoder 9 module.
This time around the Pentium D 820 showed what its capable of, easily beating all other processors in the list. With Windows Media Encoder being multithreaded, the application can tap the potentional of both cores, giving it an obvious advantage over the single-core comparison sets. Aside from the dual-core aspect, the test also benefitted from Intel's Hyper-Threading technology, as the Pentium 4 630 and 530J demonstrated, with the 2GHz Athlon 64 3200+ dropping into the last spot.
In our custom Lame MP3 encoding test, we converted a 223MB WAV file to the MP3 format. Processing times are recorded below. Shorter times equate to better performance.
Here we see another example of no real benefits of dual-core processing. In fact, we found the Athlon 64 3200+ completed the test in the shortest amount of time, while the Pentium D 820 took the longest. From the Pentium perspective, the picture implies raw clockspeed and a higher IPC as the key differentiating factor overall.
Kribibench is an advanced software rendering multithreaded application that is extremely CPU dependant. We loaded two separate models that are included with the program and recorded the results in frames per second. First we ran the Sponge Explode Model, which renders 19.2 million polygons, then we loaded the Ultra model, consisting of 16 billion polygons.
In both cases, the Pentium D 820 turned out much higher results than the comparison processors. In both rendering models we are looking at close to a 30% performance advantage with the dual-core 820. After that, the scores reflect clockspeeds and Intel's Hyper-Threading advantages, with the remaining Pentium's virtually and the Athlon 64 3200+ bringing up the rear.
|Cinebench 2003 & 3DMark05 - CPU Test|
The Cinebench 2003 benchmark is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on the commercially available Cinema 4D application. This is a multithreaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The time it took each test system to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below (listed in seconds).
We ran two sets of numbers here, one in single-thread mode and another in the benchmark's multithread mode. Thanks to Hyper-Threading, the two single-core Petiums were able to complete in both tests, but the Athlon 64 3200+ can only execute the single-threaded test.
In the single-thread test, the Athlon 3200+ boasted the best score overall, beating out all three Pentium-class processors. When comparing the three Pentiums in single-threaded testing, clock speed appears to be the name of the game once again. When we shift over to multithreaded testing, the trend reversed completely. Here, the Pentium D 820 simply crushed the Pentium 4 530J and 630. While they did benefit some from Hyper-Threading, clearly two distinct cores are better than one as the Pentium D 820 virtually halved its single-thread results.
FutureMark's 3DMark05 may be a DirectX-based benchmark, but it also offers the option to isolate testing to the CPU with its CPU module. With some aspects of the software rendering supporting multithreaded instructions, 3DMark05 is an excellent test for quantifying CPU performance.
The results we see here reflect two scenarios. The first is the Pentium D 820 taking the lead, as it is better equipped to handle multithreaded applications than the Pentium 630 and 530J with Hyper-Threading. After that, clockspeed and L2 cache come into play, as L2 cache is the only real difference between the 630 and 530, while the 3200+ is the slowest processor of the bunch, according to 3DMark05, at least. However, in terms of real-world gaming peformance, this may not be an accurate representation, as we'll show you in our gaming tests next.
|Unreal Tournament 2004 & Doom 3|
In our final round of testing, we loaded up two popular gaming titles to further test each CPU. By reducing the image quality to its lowest possible level, we effectively remove the effects of the video card rendering load from the test, isolating performance to CPU and Memory.
In both tests, it's all about the clock speed and low latency cache, when comparing the three Pentium processors. The Pentium 630 topped both runs while the 2.8GHz Pentium 820 was the slowest of the three. The Athlon 64 3200+ made a very strong showing, handily beating out all three Pentiums in each test. This wasn't too surprising, as gaming tests are typically a strongpoint for AMD cores these days.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
Performance Summary: In summarizing the Pentium D 820's performance, the processor showed a distinct advantage with multithreaded tests, which almost goes without saying. Both PCMark04 and 3DMark05 had multithreaded components in their respective tests, which the 820 took advantage of and was able to fully exploit. WorldBench's Windows Media Encoder 9, KribiBench, and Cinebench were all decisive victories for the Pentium D 820, as well, especially with Cinebench. When it came to standard, single-threaded tests such as LAME MP3, WorldBench Office XP SP2 module, and our gaming benchmarks, the Pentium D820 had little if any advantage, often falling behind the faster clock speeds and larger L2 cache-equipped Pentium 4 530J, 630, and of course AMD's Athlon 64 3200+.
With the release of the Pentium D series dual cores and the 945G/P series chipsets, Intel can now reach a broader overall market with its dual-core offering. With the target audience being the mainstream consumer and business environment, Intel's latest processor and chipset bring a lot to the game at a reasonable price point. With greater multitasking potential over single-core solutions and the ability to drive 64-bit computing in the future, Intel appears to have a well-balanced combination in the Pentium D and 945G/P chipsets.
From a business perspective, IT professionals can benefit from the 945G/P's Intel's Active Management Technology, while Intel Virtualization Technology will be supported when it comes to market in the near future. By offering tools to improve downtime response and remote repair capabilities and the ability to grow with future advancements, the long-term benefits and cost effectiveness can be very attractive in the business environment.
Pricing for the Pentium D 820 starts at $241 in 1,000-unit lots; pricing for the 830 and 840 models were not available at press time. Compared to the Pentium 4 530J, which retails around $175, and the Pentium 4 630, which comes in at $225, the Pentium D 820 can be an attractive option with room to grow. Surely you'll need to factor in the cost of a new motherboard, but Intel is aiming to keep these costs low, as well, with the 945G chipset starting at $42 in 1,000-unit lots. Although some of the performance metrics we took the new Pentium D 820 through today don't show as much strength for the core, as with single-threaded applications, the market is shifting now to multithreading. This means future strength for the new Pentium D core, which for today could be seen as being left somewhat "untapped" with the current end-user application code base. Either way, at less than $250 for the chip, its a great entry level price point for a dual core processor.