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The Empire Strikes Back - Intel
Краткое содержание статьи: Exactly four weeks ago AMD unveiled their new K6 CPU. On the launch day AMD was even proudly presenting a K6 at 266 MHz and the whole word was applauding to this new powerful competitor of the 'almost-monopolist' Intel

The Empire Strikes Back - Intel's Pentium II CPU


Редакция THG,  30 апреля 1997


Introduction

Exactly four weeks ago AMD unveiled their new K6 CPU. On the launch day AMD was even proudly presenting a K6 at 266 MHz and the whole word was applauding to this new powerful competitor of the 'almost-monopolist' Intel. The performance of the K6 is very promising and for the first time the PC users in the world were directing their interest away from Intel to AMD. Now since the first four weeks are over, we had to learn that there still isn't any K6 at 266 MHz available at all. Even in the US people are struggling to get a K6 233 and in Europe and the rest of the world you hardly get any K6 CPUs at all.

Now since my review of the first Klamath CPU from the beginning of this year and all the fuss that happened after its release, Intel hasn't been lazy. They knew that they had to come out with something really decent, because the first impressions of the Klamath/Pentium II CPU weren't exactly impressive, they got a lot of bad press and the K6's performance was good enough to get a lot of attention as well. The core of the Pentium II is still not very much different from its predecessor Pentium Pro, but it doesn't include any level two cache anymore and so a considerable performance boost over the Pentium Pro is only achievable through higher clock rates. Since my first Klamath review Intel has certainly improved the chip itself, but also increased the clock rates up to now 300 MHz.

Just in case you haven't read my first Klamath review yet, here again the facts about the Pentium II:

Facts about the Intel Pentium II:

  • The Pentium II doesn't include any second level cache anymore as its predecessor Pentium Pro. This is due to production costs, since in case only one die in the Pentium Pro is not functioning in the post-bonding CPU tests, the whole CPU has to be thrown away. The chips can only be tested after the bonding and at this stage it's too late to use one of the two components anymore.
    External L2 cache means less L2 cache performance. The Pentium Pro runs its internal L2 cache at clock speed, the Pentium II will run its external special BSRAM (burst static RAM) cache only at half the clock speed, which makes this cache considerably slower than in the Pentium Pro.
  • The external bus speed of the Pentium II will still be only 66 MHz, the bus speed we know well from Pentium and Pentium Pro CPUs. Obviously Intel doesn't seem to plan higher bus speeds before the release of the next CPU, the Deschutes.
  • The Pentium II will come as a cartridge for the new so called 'Slot One' motherboard slot. We all expected it anyway - we will need new motherboards for the Pentium II. On this slot card there will be the L2 cache as well, which is planned to be 512 and later also 256 kB in size. The old Pentium Pro can also be used on these new boards, via a special CPU card with a Socket 8. This CPU card can be build by motherboard manufacturers, but they'll have to pay a considerable price for each card, since the 'Slot One' is patented by Intel.
  • The CPU speed of the first Pentium II will be 233, 266 and 300 MHz . This makes a multiplier of 3.5 x 66 MHz for the 233 version, with a multiplier of x1.75 for the L2 cache, a 4 x 66 MHz for the 266 MHz version, with a L2 cache multiplier of x2 and so on. On some exhibitions Intel has shown a Pentium II 400 MHz (water cooled), but it's unclear at which speed the level 2 cache was running then.
  • The Pentium II ('Klamath') will now have segment register caches, which will improve the poor 16 bit performance known from the Pentium Pro. Hence the Pentium II will run 16 bit programs and mixed 16/32 bit OSs like Windows95 somewhat faster than the Pentium Pro.
  • The first level cache of the Pentium II will be increased to 16 kB data and 16 kB instruction cache. The Pentium II will have more write buffers as well. These two things increase the L1 cache performance of the Pentium II and help reduce the Pentium II's disadvantage of its slower external L2 cache.
  • Due to less production costs, the Pentium II ('Klamath') could be even cheaper than the Pentium Pro. However, we'll have to wait for its release to be sure about this. I personally doubt this! Some sources say that the production costs of the Pentium II are only 25% of the costs to produce a Pentium Pro.
  • We might get the same trouble with the Pentium II availability as we currently have with the K6. Sources say that Intel currently doesn't have any interest in cutting down the (considerably high) prices of the Pentium II (rumors say that the Pentium II 300 will cost $2000 !!), because they are completely unable to satisfy the market with enough Pentium II CPUs.

The Performance of the Intel Pentium II

The Pentium II has now to compete against two CPUs. It's older brother the Pentium Pro, which has the advantage of an internal 2nd level cache and the new AMD K6, which has been showing to be a worthy competitor against even the high end Intel CPUs.

The Windows 95 Performance of the Pentium II

WINDOWS 95

Pentium II 300

Pentium II 266

Pentium II 233

Pentium Pro 200

K6 233

K6 200

K6 166

Pentium MMX 200

Business Winstone 97

64.5

60.9

57.8

52.4

55.3

51.9

48.6

50.2

Highend Winstone 97

31.7

29.8

27.8

24.8

23.6

22.2

20.1

22.4

Business Winmark 97

124

107

103

84.2

98.1

89.7

78.5

91.4

WinQuake 1.09 Timedemo2 640x480

32.7

30.0

27.0

23.4

15.5

13.9

12.6

15.9


The Windows 95 Performance of the Pentium II

The Windows 95 performance is the only sector where the lead of the Pentium II isn't that all clear. The Pentium II 233 is only a little bit faster than the AMD K6 233, but the faster clock speeds are still far above any competition. However here in this sector the Pentium II could be defeated by a improved K6 as well as the upcoming M2. It will stay interesting for Windows 95 users.

The Windows NT Performance of the Pentium II

Windows NT is like all the other 32 bit operating systems the way to go for the future. Memphis includes already quite a bit more NT code than Windows 95 and sooner or later 32 bit software and operating systems will be the standard. Hence the performance under a 32 bit OS like Windows NT is most important.

WINDOWS NT 4.0

Pentium II 300

Pentium II 266

Pentium II 233

Pentium Pro 200

K6 233

K6 200

K6 166

Pentium MMX 200

Business Winstone 97

86.5

83.4

78.4

71.2

71

67.6

63.3

64.3

Highend Winstone 97

37.7

35.3

32.2

29.2

26.9

24.5

22

24.2

Business Winmark 97

139

128

117

104

104

93.5

83.6

87.5

Winbench 97 CPU Mark16

600

533

466

360

465

414

362

423

Winbench 97 CPU Mark32

815

722

632

554

559

513

466

420


The Windows NT Performance of the Pentium II

You can see that 32 bit OS environments are exactly what the Pentium II loves, just as well as his predecessor and close brother Pentium Pro. The distance to the K6 is vast and so you won't have to have many doubts that the Pentium II is the CPU for hard working 32 bit servers or workstations, unless you want to have a look at Digital's Alpha CPU. You can see that Intel has particularly improved the Pentium II's 32 bit performance over the fairly poor results of the first look Klamath from the beginning of this year. Under Windows NT, the Pentium II will give AMD quite a bit of a headache, because the K6 will still have a good way to go if it wants to compete to the Pentium II under this kind of OS. Even if you overclock a K6 to 250 MHz, you can't even reach the NT performance of the Pentium II 233.

The High End Winstone shows that the Pentium II is also the way to go in case you need lots of CAD or rendering power. This is so far one of the weaknesses of the K6, as well as its lack of multi CPU support. It's a matter of fact that the real high end user will have to go for a Pentium II system. Intel's plans have worked out another time.

The DOS Performance of the Pentium II

DOS

Pentium II 300

Pentium II 266

Pentium II 233

Pentium Pro 200

K6 233

K6 200

K6 166

Pentium MMX 200

Quake 1.06 Timedemo2 640x480

29.9

27.6

25.0

21.9

14.2

13.4

12.2

15.7

PC Player DOS 3D Benchmark

44

39.8

35.3

31

26.4

25.1

23.1

23.1

3DBench

500

500

500

333.3

250

250

200

166.6

Chris Dial's 3D Bench

82.5

75.2

67.5

49.6

38.4

35.3

31.7

40.7


The DOS Performance of the Pentium II

The DOS Gaming Performance of the Pentium II is simply earth shattering. I'm sure that nobody is still thinking I'm any kind of close to Intel, but I have to say what's the truth here. Looking at the Quake results makes you almost feel sorry for AMD, since the results of the Pentium II are more than double in Quake as well as in Chris Dial's 3D Bench - both heavily FPU depending benchmarks. Even the almost 'FPU-free' and hence most realistic benchmark of the PC Player Magazine shows that for real game junkies there's no other CPU than the Pentium II.

The MMX Performance of the Pentium II

Intel Media Benchmark

Pentium II 300

Pentium II 266

Pentium II 233

Pentium Pro 200

K6 233

K6 200

K6 166

Pentium MMX 200

Overall

392.28

357.99

312.83

194

246.52

214.46

181.58

246.57

Video

341.84

315.33

276.61

160.22

308.54

269.14

228.71

252.07

Image Processing

1250.27

1148.14

1051.64

219.7

697.16

605.07

527.55

684.98

3D

312.14

283.34

247.49

211.55

141.07

122.15

102.77

159.78

Audio

510.09

459.95

395.88

232.32

273.22

238.11

200.79

326.58


The MMX Performance of the Pentium II

As you can see, the Pentium II has the lead here as well. The only exception where AMD's K6 is looking pretty good is the video sector. Here the K6 233 comes pretty close to the Pentium II 266. This is interesting for people who are e.g. looking into DVD videos or any other video usage of the PC. The image processing is a big strength of the Pentium II and the 3D graphics, which mainly depend on the FPU performance rather than MMX (as you can see at the MMX-less Pentium Pro result) are also very strong in the Pentium II.

How I've Tested

Common for all tests was the following configuration:

  • 64 MB RAM
  • Matrox Millennium 4 MB, BIOS 2.5
  • Quantum Fireball 1280 for Windows 95 and DOS Tests
  • Seagate Cheetah ST34501W at DPT PM2144UW plus RC4040 w/32 MB EDO RAM for Windows NT Tests

The K6 ran on different boards depending on the test configuration:

  • Windows 95 (Build 950, Matrox Millennium Driver 3.41) and DOS Tests:
    • Asus TX97 with 512 kB cache and 12ns Corsair SDRAM for 66 MHz bus speed
  • Windows NT (Build 1381(Service Pack 2)., Matrox Millennium Driver 3.06) Tests:
    • FIC PA-2011 with 1 MB L2 cache and 10ns Toshiba SDRAM for 66 MHz bus speed

The Pentium MMX ran under the following conditions:

  • Windows 95 (Build 950, Matrox Millennium Driver 3.41), Windows NT (Build 1381(Service Pack 2). Matrox Millennium Driver 3.06) and DOS Tests:
    • Abit IT5H rev. 1.01 with 512 kB L2 cache and 50ns Micron EDO RAMfor 66 MHz bus speed

The Pentium Pro (256 kB L2 cache) ran on

  • Windows 95 (Build 950, Matrox Millennium Driver 3.41), Windows NT (Build 1381(Service Pack 2)., Matrox Millennium Driver 3.06) and DOS Tests:
    • Asus P/I-P65UP5 plus C/P6ND with 50ns Micron EDO RAM

The Pentium II (512 kB L2 cache) ran on

  • Windows 95 (Build 950, Matrox Millennium Driver 3.41), Windows NT (Build 1381(Service Pack 2)., Matrox Millennium Driver 3.06) and DOS Tests:
    • AOpen AX6F with 50ns Micron EDO RAM

All CPUs were tested on the motherboards that offered best performance for the particular CPU at the time of the test, later motherboards may offer better performance (e.g. Abit PX5 runs the K6 under WinNT at 71.2 and is hence the new leader for K6 boards under NT).

Winstone, Winbench and IMB ran for each operation system under 1024x768x65536x75. Each Winstone test was ran 3 times to get reliable results.

Summary

The world is back to normal. Intel's managers can sleep quietly again. The Pentium II shows that Intel is still the leader in the CPU market. The Pentium II 233 is already quite powerful, but at 300 MHz, the Pentium II blows away every competitor and this although it's still using the good old 66 MHz bus speed. It seems as if there's quite a bit to expect still, since this test was run on a board with the well known 440FX Natoma chipset. AGP and SDRAM support will speed up the Pentium II systems even more and there will soon be the successor called 'Deschutes', which is meant to run at 100 MHz bus speed and even higher clock speeds than 300 MHz. However my internal sources within AMD tell me that there is still a whole lot to expect from the K6, actually much more than anybody would think of. Hence I doubt that Intel will have any time to rest now, but they shouldn't anyway, in case they are following their Emperor, ahem, CEO Andy Grove's guide line: The paranoid will survive, or translated: Let's get the Death Star finished, Lord Vader, so that we can smash these rebels! ;-)

The question is now, what will happen in the computer market? Will the Pentium II be a success? I'm not able to look into the future, but I have quite a few doubts that the Pentium II will have a jump start. Its price is considerably higher than any other CPU and you have to add the price of a new motherboard that's more expensive than a Socket 7 board as well. The Deschutes is meant to be released in about 9 months time and I haven't come across any boards with the eagerly awaited 440LX or even 440BX chipset anywhere yet. I wonder if it is smart to pay $400 for a Pentium II board with the good old 440FX chipset, that won't support AGP or SDRAM. If the 440LX chipset will come out soon is still unclear, but who is keen on spending another $400 in a few months time, to be able to take advantage of the AGP and SDRAM? This is the reason why I think that it will take a while until the Pentium II will become really popular. Until then, AMD has enough time to sell its K6 and improve that chip so that it's powerful enough to take on the Pentium II even at 300 MHz level. It could even be that the AMD chipset with AGP support will come out earlier than the Intel 440LX chipset. At this stage the K6 could be much more powerful than it's now and then a lot of people will be very unhappy with their freshly achieved Pentium II boards and CPUs.

Anyhow, we will be much smarter in a few months time. For now one thing is clear: The Pentium II has won back the crown of the fastest CPU in PC systems. So if you want to have a top notch system now, you can enjoy spending a whole lot of money by getting a Pentium II system. We will see what the Rebel Alliance of AMD, Cyrix, IBM and Digital can hold against this. Will the Force be with them ... ?




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