New RAM Powers P4 Performance

New RAM powers P4 Performance, Nearly two years after its debut, Intel's Pentium 4 CPU appears poised to finally deliver the performance its high clock speeds have long promised--thanks in part to new technology from oft-maligned memory designer Rambus. Exclusive PC World tests showed that a PC with Intel's 2.8-GHz P4 and new PC1066 RDRAM outperformed two other P4 PCs and an AMD Athlon XP system, all comparable to it except for having more, but slower, memory.

The $2849 Sys Performance 2800 PC scored 129 on PC WorldBench 4, a new high. The Sys completed our tests 5 and 6 percent faster than a $3158 Dell Dimension 8200 and a $2999 Gateway 700XL, which earned modest scores of 122 and 121 despite having 1GB of PC800 RDRAM each. The Sys also outran our AMD Athlon XP 2200+ system, a $3169 Alienware Aurora DDR model with 1GB of 266-MHz DDR, which scored 123.

One note: The Sys ran Windows XP Professional; the others ran Windows XP Home. However, history shows that performance differences between the two are negligible.

It's the Memory

In our July issue Kevin Krewell, a senior analyst at MicroDesign Resources, predicted PC1066 RDRAM--combined with Intel's 533-MHz frontside bus--could help the P4 shine, and that appears to be the case. Expect a 3 to 5 percent boost with PC1066, depending on the application, he says. Intel has yet to validate the memory, but that should happen soon.

The new memory's biggest drawback is its price, Krewell says. RDRAM has traditionally cost more than DDR, and PC1066 is no exception. Pricing for 256MB of Kingston's ValuRAM provides a good illustration: While 266-MHz DDR is $78, PC800 RDRAM is $118 and PC1066 is $159. It was those high prices, and the PC industry's unwillingness to switch to RDRAM, that eventually forced Intel to stray from its early plans to use only RDRAM with the Pentium 4, Krewell says.

The Sys sells for less than our comparison PCs because of its smaller RDRAM allotment and less-robust graphics card (it carried a 64MB NVidia GeForce4 MX 440 board; the others used 128MB NVidia GeForce4 Ti 4600 cards).

Though further testing is required, initial results seem to indicate that systems with a fast P4 and PC1066 RDRAM could soon leave PCs with AMD's current chips in the dust. Plus, expect to see a 3-GHz P4 within a few months.

Of course, AMD won't be standing still: By year's end the company hopes to launch its eighth-generation family of chips, code-named Hammer.

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