Dell, Gateway adopt Intel's extreme chip

Gateway, Dell and a host of smaller manufacturers are introducing desktops that contain Intel's Extreme Edition Pentium 4 for the gaming market on Monday, the latest salvo in the war for desktop performance supremacy. These new PCs are aimed largely at the enthusiast and gamer market. Typically, these buyers want the fastest and best technology on the market, regardless of price. Gateway's new 700GX Gaming PC, for instance, costs $3,299 and features a 160GB hard drive, a 3.2GHz Extreme Pentium 4 and 512MB of memory. Although the market is small in terms of units, the profit margins on gamer PCs can be large. Word-of-mouth recommendations from enthusiasts can also have a substantial effect on the broader consumer market. Some companies, such as Memorex sell "mod" kits--crazy colored fans and diodes--for customizing the look.

The Extreme Edition Pentium 4, which Intel added to its product plans during the summer, runs at 3.2GHz, as fast as an existing version of the Pentium 4, but it contains 2MB of cache, four times as much the existing version of the Pentium 4. With large caches, a substantial amount of data can reside on the processor itself, which reduces access time and performance. The chip also features HyperThreading, which lets the processor execute two separate applications at once. The chip, though, isn't exactly an original bit of engineering. It's virtually identical to a Xeon chip for servers that Intel has been selling for months. The company repackaged the Xeon for desktops, according to analysts, to better compete against the Athlon FX-51 that Advanced Micro Devices released in September. Similarly, the Athlon FX-51, currently available in PCs from Alienware, is itself a repackaged Opteron server chip.

In terms of performance, the Athlon FX-51 has outscored Intel's best on many benchmark tests. (The Athlon FX-51 can run 32- and 64-bit software, but the main performance benefits now come from the integrated memory controller and HyperTransport links.) The Extreme Edition, therefore, should help Intel narrow the performance gap until the delayed Prescott chip arrives.

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