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Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955 & 975X Express Chipset: 65nm is Here
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Date: Dec 27, 2005
Section:Processors
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction & Specifications

Intel has been relatively quiet over the last eight months or so, since the initial release of the dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition 840 processor back in early April of this year. The company has released an entire line of dual-core 'Pentium D' processors since then, and have also introduced a number of new core logic chipsets as well, including the recently released 975X Express chipset.  However, they've been content to have the 3.2GHz Pentium Extreme Edition 840 as their flagship desktop processor for quite some time.

Courtesy of its dual Hyper-Threading enabled execution cores, the 3.2GHz Pentium Extreme Edition 840 was a high performing CPU in many multi-threaded applications, but it was clearly outperformed by AMD's high-end Athlon 64 X2 processors, especially in gaming scenarios where the processor's second core wasn't fully utilized. With today's official introduction of the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 processor though, Intel aims to close the performance gap between its flagship processor and AMD's. The new Pentium Extreme Edition 955 improves upon the older Pentium Extreme Edition 840 in virtually every meaningful way. The 955XE is clocked higher, 3.46GHz vs. 3.2GHz, it features double the amount of L2 cache, 4MB vs. 2MB, and it has a faster front side bus as well, 1066MHz vs. 800MHz. The Pentium Extreme Edition 955 is also manufactured using Intel's new 65nm process, which lowers the processor's power requirements and makes them less expensive for Intel to produce. On the surface, the new Pentium Extreme Edition 955 has a lot going for it. What do you say we fire it up, and see how it performs against the best AMD has to offer?  We thought you'd like that.

Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955
Specifications & Features
·_3.46GHz Dual Core Processor
·_1066MHz "Quad-Pumped" frontside bus
·_.065-micron manufacturing process
·_Hyper-Threading Technology
·_4MB on-chip, full-speed L2 cache - 2MB for each core
·_Intel EM64T Extensions - 64-bit computing
·_Execute Disable Bit - For enhanced security
·_Streaming SIMD Extensions - SSE2, SSE3
·_Supported by the Intel i975X Express chipset
·_LGA775 Packaging - Land Grid Array

·_1.20 - 1.33V operating voltage range
·_130 watts TPD (Thermal Design Power)
·_Die Size: Approximately 140mm2
·_Approximately 376M Transistors

Presler / Cedar Mill Die

There are a number of products related to the brand new Pentium Extreme Edition 955 that we've evaluated over the past year or so here at HotHardware. To fully understand some of the technologies at work on the Pentium Extreme Edition platform, we suggest taking a look at few of these recent articles for detailed explanations of some of the features common to Intel's legacy products and the 955XE processor and 975X Express chipset:

Pentium D 820 & i945G/P Chipset Evaluation
Pentium Extreme Edition 840 Preview
Pentium 6xx Series & 3.73GHz Pentium Extreme Edition Review

We outline Intel's AMT (Active Management Technology) and IVT (Intel Virtualization Technology), among other things, in our Pentium D 820 7 i945G/P evaluation, and cover more features of Intel's dual-core processors in our Pentium Extreme Edition 840 preview. And in the Pentium 6xx series & 3.73GHz Pentium Extreme Edition review, we detail some of the features common to the Prescott 2M and Presler / Cedar Mill execution cores.

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Processor & Process Details

The big story with regard to Presler and the Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955 processor, is Intel's move to a smaller, more advanced 65nm manufacturing process, well ahead of rival AMD. Pentium processors based on the Prescott core, and dual-core Smithfield based CPUs, were built using the company's 'Strained SI' 90nm manufacturing process. But moving forward, the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 and future Intel Desktop, Mobile, and Server processors will be manufactured using this new 65nm process, which should help Intel get more usable dice from a single 300mm wafer, which should in-turn allow the company to introduce lower-priced processors while maintaining their bottom line.

It is well known that Intel's manufacturing capabilities are second to none in the industry. The chart above shows the pace at which Intel has introduced new technology generations. As you can see, roughly every two years for the past couple of decades, Intel has consistently introduced new manufacturing processes that have allowed them to scale their processors to higher clock speeds, incorporate larger caches, and introduce new core technologies, among other things.

With their new 65nm process, Intel is quick to point out that their current transistor technology is unmatched in the industry. The image above, produced using an electron microscope, shows the minuscule 1.2nm distance between a Polysilicon gate and the Silicon substrate, and the 35nm gate length of a typical 65nm generation transistor manufactured on Intel's line.

The Pentium Extreme Edition 955
Dual-Core at 65nm

      

The cooler included with the new Pentium Extreme Edition 955 processor looks much like the model bundled with previous LGA775 based Pentium processors. This cooler is slightly taller and has more individual fins, however. The cooler is made of aluminum, with a solid copper core, and is equipped with a variable speed fan. It is mounted using the same four plastic push-pins as previous Intel LGA775 coolers.

      

If you're familiar with any of Intel's LGA775 based processors and lets face it, if you're a HotHardware reader you probably are, the new Pentium Extreme Edition 955 will look very familiar to you. The 955XE shares the same integrated heat spreader and packaging as previous Pentiums, but underneath that heat spreader and on the processor's underside it is very different. As you can see, the underside of the CPU is adorned with a multitude of capacitors, many more than older Intel CPUs. And underneath the heat spreader are two distinct Cedar Mill dies (two Cedar Mill dies = one Presler), connected through the processor's packaging substrate. If you recall, the Smithfield core used on the Extreme Edition 840 was basically two Prescott cores linked together to form one large die. Incorporating two individual dies onto one package like this, should help Intel with yields on the 955XE and other dual-core Presler based processors, because the dies can come from two different parts of the same wafer, or even two different wafers altogether.

      

We fired up the latest version of CPU-Z and Task Manager to visually illustrate some of the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 processor's main features. Because this is a dual-core CPU, and each individual core has Hyper-Threading enabled, the 955XE appears as four virtual processors in a supported operating system like Windows XP. Each core is clocked at 3.46GHz and rides along on a 1066MHz front side bus (266MHz quad-pumped). Each core is equipped with 2MB of full-speed L2 cache, for a grand total of 4MB. And the CPU requires a mere 1.2v - 1.33v to operate. Please note that CPU-Z only reports the details from a single core, so the details in the third screenshot above are identical for the second core. We should also note that the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 has full support for Intel's Virtualization technology, which gives users the ability to run multiple operating systems in independant environments, full support for EM64T to run 64-bit operating systems, and the Execute Disable Bit to prevent against certain types of malware driven buffer-overflow attacks.

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The D975XBX & 975X Express Chipset

To test the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 processor, Intel supplied us with one of their new D975XBX motherboards, which is based on the recently released 975X Express chipset. Unlike previous Intel desktop motherboards though, the D975XBX is loaded with "enthusiast" oriented features that give user's the ability to alter voltages and bus speeds, to easily overclock the CPU. Take a look - this isn't a motherboard you'd expect to come directly from Intel.

The D975XBX & 975X Express Chipset
Multi-GPU Support & More
Processor
·_Support for Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition (LGA775 / 800MHz system bus)
·_Support for Intel Pentium 4 Processor Extreme Edition supporting Hyper-Threading Technology (LGA775 / 1066MHz system bus)
·_Support for Intel Pentium D Processor (LGA775 / 800MHz system bus)
·_Support for Intel Pentium 4 Processor supporting Hyper-Threading Technology (LGA775 / 800MHz system bus)

Memory
·_Four 240-pin DDR2 SDRAM Dual Inline Memory Module (DIMM) sockets
·_Support for 667 and 533 MHz DDR2 DIMMs
·_Support for up to 8 GB of system memory
·_Support for ECC and non-ECC memory

Chipset
·_Intel 975X Express Chipset

I/O Control
·_Legacy I/O controller for diskette drive, serial, parallel, and PS/2 ports

Audio
·_Intel High Definition Audio subsystem
LAN Support
·_Gigabit (10/100/1000 Mbits/sec) LAN subsystem using the Intel 82573E/82573L Gigabit Ethernet Controller

Peripheral Interfaces
·_Eight USB 2.0 ports
·_One serial port
·_One parallel port
·_Four Serial ATA interfaces with RAID support
·_One parallel ATA IDE interface with UDMA 33, ATA-66/100 support
·_One diskette drive interface
·_PS/2 keyboard port
·
_PS/2 mouse port

Expansion Capabilities
·_Two PCI Conventional bus add-in card connectors (SMBus routed to both PCI Conventional bus add-in card connectors)

·_One Primary PCI Express x16 (electrical x16 or x8) bus add-in card connector

·_One Secondary PCI Express x16 (electrical x8) bus add-in card connector

·_One PCI Express x16 (electrical x4) bus add-in card connector

The D975XBX's features and specifications read like some of the enthusiast-class boards that come from partners like Asus or Abit. The board features three physical PCI Express X16 slots (with varying electrical connections) and supports ATI's CrossFire multi-GPU technology. NVIDIA's SLI technology isn't support just yet, however. Perhaps NVIDIA will enable SLI in a future driver release. By simply inserting a second video card, the first and second PEG slots' PCI Express lane configuration is automatically changed to a 8x8 configuration.

The D975XBX has a 5-phase power array and each FET in the array is adorned with a relatively large aluminum "flame" heatsink. And the Northbridge and Southbridge are also equipped with their own aluminum heatsinks as well. Four of the board's SATA ports are controlled by the ICH7R Southbridge and the other four by a Silicon Image controller. Its got 4 DDR2 DIMM slots, Gigabit Ethernet, and HD Audio support courtesy of a Sigmatel CODEC.

   

We snapped a couple of pictures of the D975XBX's BIOS to show off the main menu and some of the board's overclocking features. Intel does incorporate a few disclaimers, and buries the menu a few levels deep in the Advanced portion of the system setup section of the BIOS, but the overclocking features are there. As you can see, the CPU's multiplier can be altered, as can the front side bus speed, and numerous voltages.


At the hearts of the D975XBX motherboard is Intel's 975X Express chipset. The 975X Express is very similar to the older 955, but the 82975X Northbridge that's part of chipset has a more flexible PCI Express lane configuration. The 975X Express chipset supports all Intel LGA755 processors with 800MHz / 1066MHz bus speeds, and supports up to 8GB of DDR2-533 or DDR2-667 RAM (with or without ECC). The memory controller also incorporates Intel's "Memory Pipeline Technology" which accelerates transfers between the system memory and CPU.

The second component in the 975X chipset, the ICH7R Southbridge, has full support for Intel's Matrix Storage Technology (RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10), Intel Active Management Technology, and High Definition audio. The ICH7R is also equipped with 8 USB 2.0 ports, and Intel PRO/1000 Gigabit LAN support.

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Our Test Systems & SiSoft SANDRA

How we configured our test systems: When configuring the test systems for this review, we first entered their respective system BIOSes 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 drivers necessary for our components, and removed Windows Messenger from the system.  Auto-Updating and System Restore were then 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.

Test System Specifications
"Intel & AMD Inside!"
SYSTEM 1:
Pentium Extreme Edition 955
(3.46GHz)
Pentium Extreme Edition 840
(3.2GHz)
3.73GHz Pentium Extreme Edition

Intel "BadAxe" Motherboard
(i975x Chipset)

2x512MB Corsair DDR2-667
CL 3-2-2-8

GeForce 7800 GTX
On-board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro SP2
Intel INF 7.2.2.1006

NVIDIA Forceware v81.95
DirectX 9.0c
SYSTEM 2:
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+
(2.4GHz)
AMD Athlon 64 FX-57
(2.8GHz)

Asus AN832-SLI
(NVIDIA nForce 4 SLIX16)

2x512MB Corsair PC3200
CL 2-2-2-5

GeForce 7800 GTX
On-board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro SP2
nForce 4 Drivers v6.82
NVIDIA Forceware v81.95
DirectX 9.0c

 

Preliminary Benchmarks with SiSoft SANDRA 2005
Synthetic Testing

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 four of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2005 suite (CPU, Multimedia, Cache, and Memory) with the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 installed into our test rig.  All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speeds of 3.46GHz.


CPU Arithmetic Benchmark
Pentium Extreme Edition 955

3.46GHz

Multimedia Benchmark
Pentium Extreme Edition 955

3.46GHz

CPU Cache Benchmark
Pentium Extreme Edition 955

3.46GHz (DDR2667)

Memory Benchmark
Pentium Extreme Edition 955

3.46GHz (DDR2667)

According to SANDRA, the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 is quite a performer. The CPU Arithmetic benchmark puts the 955XE at the head of the pack in regard to FPU performance, and only the Athlon 64 4800+ manages a higher score in the ALU test. In the multimedia benchmark, however, the 955XE ruled the roost besting all of the other reference processors in SANDRA's database. The Cache & Memory benchmark shows the 955XE performing much like a Pentium 6xx series processor, and the memory bandwidth benchmark reported peak bandwidth scores over 6GB/s.

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PCMark05: CPU & Memory

For our next round of synthetic benchmarks, we ran the CPU and Memory performance modules built into Futuremark's PCMark05.  We incorporated PCMark05 into our benchmark suite soon after its release, and have found it to be even more robust in terms of test features than its predecessor.  That said, the CPU and Memory test modules we use for comparison are very similar to the 04 version of the test suite.  For those interested in more than just the graphs, we've got a couple of quotes directly from Futuremark that explain exactly what these tests do, and how they work.

Futuremark PCMark05
More Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks

"The CPU test suite is a collection of tests that are run to isolate the performance of the CPU. The CPU Test Suite also includes multithreading: two of the test scenarios are run multithreaded; the other including two simultaneous tests and the other running four tests simultaneously. The remaining six tests are run single threaded. Operations include, File Compression/Decompression, Encryption/Decryption, Image Decompression, and Audio Compression" - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.

PCMark05's CPU performance module is a multi-threaded test that benefits from not only the second core on the Pentium Extreme Edition 955, but the fact that each core is Hyper-Threading enabled. That makes the 955XE appear as four virtual 3.46GHz processors to a benchmark like this one, hence the high score. According to PCMark05 the 955XE outscores AMD's flagship Athlon 64 4800+ by almost 1100 points, or approximately 22%.


"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."  - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.

The scores reported by PCMark05's memory performance module are all over the map for a couple of reasons. The single-core Athlon 64-FX57 and 3.73GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition post the highest scores because they don't share a memory controller with a second execution core. and the Pentium Extreme Edition 955's higher-clocked bus (1066MHz vs. 800MHz) allow it to jump way ahead of the 840XE, placing it third in this test.

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Office XP SP2 & Photoshop 7

PC World Magazine's WorldBench 5.0 is a new breed of Business and Professional application benchmark, that has replaced the aging and no-longer supported Content Creation and Business Winstone tests in our suite. WorldBench 5.0 consists of a number of performance modules that each utilize one, or a group of, popular applications to gauge performance.  Below we have the results from WB 5's Office XP SP2 and Photoshop 7 modules, recorded in seconds.  Lower times indicate better performance here, so the shorter the bar the better.

PC World's World Bench 5.0: Office XP SP2 & Photoshop 7 Modules
More Real-World Application Performance

 

Worldbench 5.0's Office XP SP2 performance module reports relatively similar performance for all of the processors we tested. This test isn't very threaded, nor does it require massive amounts of CPU horsepower. As such, only 20 seconds (roughly 3.9%) separate the highest and lowest performing systems.

The Photoshop 7 test is somewhat more taxing, but it too isn't completely multi-threaded, save for a few of the filters applied at various points during the benchmark. The Athlon 64 FX-57 is the best performer here, besting the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 by 48 seconds, or about 16.8%. The 955XE is the highest performing Intel processor, however. Even the 3.73GHz almost 300MHz higher clock speed doesn't give it enough of an edge to outrun the new 955XE.

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3ds Max & WME Standalone

We continued our testing of the new Pentium Extreme Edition 955 processor with a few more tests that are part of the Worldbench 5.0 suite. Up next we have some performance results of WB 5.0's 3Ds Max (Direct 3D) test. A number of different 3D objects are rendered and animated in this test, and the entire time to needed to complete the tasks is recorded. As is the case with all of the individual Worldbench tests, a lower score here indicated better performance.

PC World's World Bench 5.0: 3ds Max
More Real-World Application Performance

AMD's Athlons once again show their mettle, and outpace the best Intel currently has to offer by significant margins. AMD's flagship singe-core processor, the FX-57, was the top dog here with a score of 220, followed closely behind by the dual-core Athlon 64 X2 4800+ which clocked in at 231 seconds. The 3.73GHz Pentium Extreme Edition finished in third, with the new 955XE right behind it at. The 955XE took 44 seconds longer to finish than the FX-57, and 33 second longer than the 4800+, differences of 20% and 14%, respectively.

Windows Media Encoder 9
Digital Video Encoding

For our next text, we moved onto a benchmark based on Windows Media Encoder 9.  PC WorldBench 5's Windows Media Encoding test reports encoding times in seconds, and like the tests above and on the previous page, lower times indicate better performance.

Windows Media Encode 9 is a multi-threaded application that benefits greatly by the additional processing horsepower offered by a second execution core. In this test, the new Pentium Extreme Edition 955 clearly outpaces the Athlon 64 FX-57, 840XE, and 3.73GHz XE by a margins of 23 seconds, 25 seconds, and 57 seconds. The dual-core AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ though performed exceptionally well here, besting the 955XE by 34 seconds, or roughly 13%.

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WME Multi-Tasking & LAME MT

We continued our testing of the new Pentium Extreme Edition 955 with another Windows Media Encoder benchmark, but this test is very different from the one on the previous page. In this test, which is also part of the Worldbench 5.0 suite, a video is encoded using Windows Media Encoder, while an instance of the Mozilla browser is running and navigating through various cached pages. Because the system is multi-tasking with two different applications, this test is more taxing than the one on the previous page, hence the longer times reported below.

Windows Media Encoder 9 & Mozilla Multi-Tasking
More Digital Video Encoding

Although the new Pentium Extreme Edition 955 is built using a pair of Hyper-Threading enabled execution cores, and can process four threads simultaneously, it was significantly outperformed by both of the Athlons in this test, including the single core FX-57. With its score of 546, the 955 XE is the "fastest" Intel processor here by far, but it wasn't able to come close to either Athlon, and falls behind the less expensive X2 4800+ by a full 190 seconds.

LAME MT MP3 Encoding Test
Converting a Large WAV To MP3

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a very popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis, to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a never-ending Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below. Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.

The Pentium Extreme Edition 955 performed well in our custom LAME MT benchmark. In single-thread mode all of the systems tested finished the encoding process within 12 seconds of each other, with the 955XE placing in the middle of the pack. But in multi-thread mode, the new Extreme Edition took the top spot by, outpacing the 4800+ by 10 seconds. If ripping / encoding CDs, the 955XE is a screamer.

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KribiBench v1.1

Next we ran Kribibench, a 3D rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development.  Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer.  A 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU, and the average frame rate is reported.  We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and a gargantuan "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polys...

Kribibench v1.1
Details: www.adeptdevelopment.com

 

Intel's and AMD's current flagship dual-core processors performed best in the two Kribibench tests we ran. In the demanding, but less-taxing, "Sponge-Explode" test, the Athlon 64 4800+ posted an impressive 4.47 frames per second, outpacing all others by a heft margin. When rendering the monstrous "Ultra" model though, the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 was the fastest of the bunch. It's margin of victory of .063 FPS was much smaller than the Athlon's, however.

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Cinebench 2003 & 3DMark05: CPU

The Cinebench 2003 benchmark is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test, based on the commercially available Cinema 4D application.  This is a multi-threaded, 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). 

Cinebench 2003 Performance Tests
3D Modeling & Rendering Tests

When running Cinebench 2003's single-CPU test, the Athlon 64 FX-57 and X2 4800+ outperform anything from the Intel camp by margins ranging from about six seconds, to as much as 28 seconds. Take advantage of Hyper-Threading and the second execution core though, and the Pentiums perform much better. In fact, in the multi-threaded test, the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 was the fastest of all the processors we tested, besting the Athlon 64 X2 4800+ by a half a second.

Futuremark 3DMark05 - CPU Test
Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance

3DMark05's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded "gaming related" DirectX metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are generated with a software renderer, which is dependant on the host CPU's performance.  This means that the calculations normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the central processor.  The number of frames generated per second in each test are used to determine the final score.

The CPU test built-into 3DMark05 is another multi-threaded test that shows the benefits of a dual-core processor. In this test, the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 posted the highest score of the bunch, nudging past the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ by 180 points, or roughly 2.7%, and smoking both of the other Pentiums by margins of 678 and 1368.

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Low-Res Gaming: HL2 & Quake 4

To start our in-game testing, we did some low-resolution benchmarking with Half Life 2.  When testing a processor with HL 2, we use a specific set of game engine initialization settings that ensure all of the systems are being benchmarked with the exact same in-game settings and graphical options.  Like the other in-game tests in this review, we used low-quality graphical settings and a low screen resolution to isolate CPU and memory performance.

Benchmarks with Half Life 2: Low-Res / Low Quality
DirectX 9 Gaming Performance

Clearly, Half Life 2 runs faster on AMD's Athlons, as is evident by the 30-40+ frame per second advantages for the FX-57 and X2 4800+. The new Pentium Extreme Edition 955 did manage to jump ahead of the other Intel processors in this test though, besting the higher-clocked, single-core 3.73GHz Extreme Edition by about 7 FPS, and the 840XE by about 25 FPS.

Benchmarks with Quake 4 v1.05: Low Quality
OpenGL Gaming Performance

For our next game test, we benchmarked all of the test systems using a custom single-player Quake 4 timedemo. Here, we installed the new v1.05 patch which is SMP capable, cranked the resolution down to 640 x 480, and configured the game to run at its "Low-Quality" graphics setting. Although Quake 4 typically taxes today's high-end GPUs, when it's configured at these minimal settings it too is more CPU and memory-bound than anything else.

Our custom Quake 4 benchmark tells basically the same story as our Half Life 2 test. As you can see, the Athlons were once again the fastest of the bunch, outperforming anything from the Intel camp by 12-30 frames per second. The Pentium Extreme Edition 955 was the fastest of the Intel processors though.

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Hi-Res Gaming: HL2 & Quake 4

We took a different approach for this next batch of in-game benchmarks. In a recent poll of our readers, we found that 1280x1024 is the most popular resolution that our readers use to play their games. So, for this next set of tests we configured Half Life 2 and Quake 4 to run at that resolution with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled, and re-ran our benchmarks.

Benchmarks with Half Life 2: Mainstream Settings
DirectX 9 Gaming Performance

Although the framerates are lower, this Half Life 2 benchmark tells basically the same story as the one on the previous page. The Athlon 64 FX-57 was clearly the fastest CPU we tested, followed by the Athlon 64 X2 4800+, and then the Pentium Extreme Edition 955. The 840XE and 3.73GHz XE finished behind the 955.

Benchmarks with Quake 4: Mainstream settings
OpenGL Gaming Performance

When we re-ran our custom Quake 4 benchmark at a higher resolution with anti-aliasing enabled, the test systems were clearly limited by the 256MB GeForce 7800 GTXs we used. The Intel powered systems all posted the same framerate, as did the AMD powered systems. What may be surprising is that this time around, the Intel based systems were technically the "fastest", although only .6 FPS separated them from the AMD based systems. In GPU-bound circumstances, the type of CPU used in the system has a minimal impact on performance in most circumstances.

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Power Consumption & Overclocking

We have a few final data points we'd like to cover before bringing this article to a close. Throughout all of our benchmarking, we monitored how much power our Intel based test system was consuming using a power meter, and also did a little overclocking. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and running under load. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption here, not just the power being drawn by the video cards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
It's All About the Watts

The move to a "smaller", more advanced manufacturing process usually means higher clock speeds, and lower power requirements. When Intel moved from a 130nm to a 90nm manufacturing process though, their processors based on the Prescott core ran much hotter, and consumed much more power than expected. This time around, as Intel moves to an even more advanced 65nm manufacturing process, the new Presler core performs more in-line with what you'd expect.

While idling, the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 consumed only 7 more watts than the 840XE, even though the 955 is clocked over 200MHz higher and has a faster bus as well. When running with a full load, however, the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 was much more "green". The 955XE actually consumed 35 fewer watts than the 840XE, and only 20 more watts than the single core 3.73GHz Extreme Edition. Clearly, AMD's Athlons are even more power efficient though.

Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955 Overclocking Experiment
Simply faster with a higher multiplier

As we usually do anytime a new processor enters the lab, we spent some quality time overclocking the new Pentium Extreme Edition 955 to see what kind of clock speed headroom was left in its tank. Because the Extreme Edition 955 has an unlocked multiplier and Intel's D975XBX "BadAxe" motherboard has the ability to alter the processor's multiplier via the system BIOS, that's how we ended up overclocking the 955XE.

By default, the 955XE's multiplier is set to 13 with a 266MHz quad-pumped front side bus (effective speed of 1066MHz). So, to overclock the CPU without affecting any other system clocks, we bumped up our processors core voltage to 1.45v and raised the multiplier until the test system was no longer stable.

Initially, we thought we had one monster of an overclocker on our hands as our test system had no trouble booting into Windows with an effective core clock speed of over 4.5GHz. Performance was terrible at this clock speed, however, because the processor was running so hot it would immediately begin throttling. We should note that all overclocking was done with the stock CPU cooler, so this clock speed could potentially have been stable had we used more exotic cooling. By setting the multiplier to 16 and leaving the FSB at its default frequency though, we had no trouble overclocking the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 to over 4.2GHz, an impressive increase of about 800MHz.

Overclocking the processor this high meant much higher temperatures and increased power consumption, however. While idling at this clock speed, our test system consumed 227 watts of power and while running under a full load that number jumped to 334 watts. Unfortunately, we don't have terribly accurate overclocked temperatures to report though, because Intel's Desktop Control Center software wasn't compatible with the motherboard we used for testing. We did immediately reset the system and enter the hardware monitoring section of the BIOS for a few tests and saw temperatures ranging from the mid 70s to mid 80s Celsius.

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Our Summary & Conclusion

Benchmark Summary: The Pentium Extreme Edition 955 processor performed well overall throughout our entire battery of benchmarks. Due to the processor's relatively high-clock speed, dual execution cores, HT technology and 1066MHz bus, the synthetic benchmarks, 3D rendering tests, and audio encoding tests ran best on the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 / D975XBX platform.  However, most of the gaming tests, content creation and desktop applications, and the video encoding tests ran best on the AMD Athlon 64 X2 / NF4 SLIX16 combo.

Although Intel has announced that their Netburst architecture will be abandoned sometime in the second half of 2006, in favor of a new architecture with lower power requirements and a shorter pipeline, there is still some life left in Netburst. Over the next few weeks and months, Intel will be introducing not only the Pentium Extreme Edition 955, but a number Presler based dual-core processors at speeds ranging from 2.8GHz on up to 3.4GHz. These new dual-core CPUs will all feature dual-2MB L2 caches (4MB total), and will all be built using Intel 65nm manufacturing process, which should appeal to the overclockers among you. Intel will also be releasing a whole line of new single-core processors based on the Cedar Mill core which should not only be less expensive than current Pentium 6xx series processors, but also less power hungry and very overclockable as well.

Intel tells us the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 will be available on January 16, for an MSRP of $999. At just a hair under a grand, the 955XE certainly isn't cheap, but of course we've become accustomed to paying a premium for the most powerful desktop processors from both Intel and AMD upon initial launch. The Pentium Extreme Edition 955 handily outpaced the single-core 3.73GHz Extreme Edition in the vast majority of the tests we ran, and it outpaced the dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition 840 in every single test, occasionally by a significant margin thanks to its higher core clock speeds, faster bus, and 4MB of L2 cache. The Pentium Extreme Edition 955 also consumed far less power than the 840 XE, which means the 955 offers far better performance per watt as well. Ultimately, although the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 improves upon Intel's previous flagship dual-core offering in virtually every way, AMD still has an edge in our opinion with the Athlon 64 X2. The Athon 64 X2 4800+ was the faster CPU in a majority of our real-world tests, and it consumed less power to boot. Intel's future looks bright, however. It's clear that their new 65nm manufacturing process is quickly ramping up. If the company is able to introduced higher-clocked Preslers and release their next-gen architecture sooner than initial estimates, '06 could be a very good year for Intel.

_Dual-Core with HT
_64-Bit Support
_Audio Encoding Performance
_Lower Power Consumption than Smithfield
_65nm Manufacturing Process
_Pricey
_AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ Still Faster Overall

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