The verdict is in: While Intel Corp.'s latest Pentium 4 offers superior multimedia performance, the Pentium III is still the best chip for business applications.
Analysts and hardware review sites gave their stamp of approval to the chip as a gaming microprocessor. But the 1.0-GHz Pentium III actually outperformed a 1.4-GHz Pentium 4 on common business applications, they found.
Furthermore, analysts said, few need a 1.4-GHz Pentium 4 -- or a 1.0-GHz Pentium III, for that matter -- to run a word processing program. Without a performance advantage, the Pentium 4 will likely be restricted to only the consumer market.
"It runs Office fast enough," said Dean McCarron, analyst with Mercury Research Corp., Scottsdale, Ariz. "And for a Quake head, yeah, [the Pentium 4] makes a lot of sense."
On a test system running id Software Inc.'s popular game, Quake 3, the 1.5-GHz Pentium 4 returned a frame rate of 168.7. A 1.0-GHz Pentium III, meanwhile, scored 121.4 fps -- a 39 percent improvement. Mercury tested the chip itself and posted the results on its consumer-oriented website.
Using the WinBench 2000 benchmark, which tracks performance under a business-class environment, the Pentium 4 chip only slightly edged the Pentium III using 3-D-oriented applications, Mercury found.
In 2-D applications, however, the older Pentium III outperformed the Pentium 4 by 28 percent, even though the newer Pentium 4 supposedly is a third faster on clock speed alone.
"For today's buyer, the Pentium 4 simply doesn't make sense," wrote Anand Lal Shimpi, a reviewer that runs the AnandTech website. "It's slower than the competition in just about every area; it's more expensive; it's using an interface that won't be the flagship interface in six to nine months; and it requires a considerable investment outside of the price of the CPU itself."
Shimpi and others pointed out that Pentium III is cheaper; a 1.0-GHz chip costs $465, after Intel's price cuts at the beginning of November. As previously reported, the Pentium 4 costs $819 and $644 for the 1.5-GHz and 1.4-GHz versions, respectively. OEMs must also buy more expensive Direct RDRAM memory, which at retail costs about $240 more than SDRAM for a 128-Mbyte module, analysts noted.
Still, the chip will appeal to some segments of the computing population.