New Compaq Pentium III offers this: 50 more MHz

TEST DRIVE


Here’s the only reason to rush out and buy a PC with a Pentium III processor: You
get 50 more megahertz of processing speed.


Intel Corp. trumpets the security and Internet features of its newest processor, but in
reality it runs current applications only a bit faster than a 450-MHz Pentium II.


The GCN Lab’s tests of the 500-MHz Compaq Computer Corp. Deskpro EP on GCNdex32TM
math benchmarks show about an 11 percent performance gain compared with the 450-MHz
Pentium II Deskpro EP. That’s a decent gain, but considering the Pentium III system
costs about $250 more, is it worth it? Maybe.


Intel acknowledges that the processor’s 70 new instructions are mostly for games.
Just like the 57 new instructions in the Pentium MMX processor two years ago, the 70 extra
instructions will do nothing until software is written to use them.


The instructions, according to Intel, will give a boost to imaging, 3-D, streaming
audio, video and speech recognition. In the government, such tasks usually run on
specialized workstations, and power users who work in those areas might seriously consider
a Pentium III.


Everyone else—and that’s most of us—can stay with the 450-MHz Pentium II
or the 400-MHz Celeron.


If you’re buying a Pentium III PC, take note of three points:


Graphics and megahertz aside, the Pentium III has two features that might be beneficial
for government security.


The chip’s embedded serial number has received lots of publicity, mostly negative.
It will arrive software-disabled in PCs and servers, but agency security managers might
want it turned on for asset tracking and to ensure that users log into a secure area from
the appropriate PC.


Privacy advocates are pushing Intel to get rid of the serial number, however, so it
might go away.


The second beneficial feature is random number generation via thermal noise. Software
random-number generators are not completely reliable. Measurement of slight resistance
variations within the silicon itself is far more random, which could benefit cryptography
applications.


Compaq sent the lab a system with NT preinstalled because company representatives said
would perform better than Windows 98. An Intel representative said there would be no
difference between the operating systems.


Intel provided two benchmark CD-ROMs to test the Pentium III’s performance. One
was full of games that needed DirectX 6.1, which does not work under NT. The second had a
macro-based benchmark using three applications: Adobe Photoshop 5.0, the Microsoft NetShow
video encoder and Dragon Systems’ NaturallySpeaking Professional 3.52.


NetShow would not work on a Pentium III system. But Photoshop showed a slight
improvement, performing the same tasks 22 seconds faster than on a 450-MHz Pentium
II—a 15 percent gain. NaturallySpeaking did the same task 2 minutes and 43 seconds
faster—a 35 percent gain.


Microsoft Corp. has said Office 2000 will take advantage of the Pentium III
instructions.


I’m still wondering how much more valuable a Pentium III PC will be than a Pentium
II. It boils down to megahertz. Intel has said a 550-MHz Pentium III will come out before
midyear, and a 600-MHz chip is likely to follow.


We’ve seen the last of the Pentium II. Its line ended at 450 MHz.


Compaq has built its standard strong client around the Pentium III. It differs little
in quality from the Pentium II version reviewed six months ago [GCN, Aug. 31, 1998, Page 1].

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