Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz CPU Review

Intel announced one more Pentium 4 processor supporting 800MHz bus and Hyper-Threading technology, which proved to be the today’s fastest desktop processor. This is the last Pentium 4 based on Northwood core, but it nevertheless managed to simply destroy poor Athlon XP 3200+.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
06/23/2003 | 12:10 AM

Before the summer vacations begin, both leading processor manufacturers, AMD and Intel, launched their new models of the latest CPU generations targeted for high-performance PCs. AMD was the first one to make the last step forward before the next qualitative stage. About a month ago they released their Athlon XP 3200+, which is supposed to be the fastest representative of the Athlon XP family (read our AMD Athlon XP 3200+ CPU with 400MHz Bus Review for more details). All AMD’s ongoing plans in this market sector are connected with the next generation Athlon 64 processor based on new x86-64 architecture, which is due in September. Intel made a short pause and introduced its last 0.13micron Pentium 4 processor on Northwood core only today. This last model in the famous processor family will be Pentium 4 3.2GHz. After that it will take about three months before Intel announces a new desktop processor based on Prescott core in Q4. due to higher clock frequencies and enhanced core architecture, Intel will be able to raise the performance bar for the desktop solutions quite tangibly. But it will happen only in Q4 2003...


We would like to point out that during the long-lasting competition between Pentium 4 and Athlon architectures, Intel’s solution proved more scalable. Since the times of the first Pentium 4 processor, a lot of production technologies have come to replace the older ones, and the core frequency has more than doubled. Today the use of 0.13micron technology allows reaching 3.2GHz core clock. As for AMD, they got stuck at 2.2GHz and can’t boast processor working frequencies that high. And even though you see how more powerful Athlon XP is than Pentium 4 working at the same actual core frequency, the difference in core clock rates has become too big and started affecting the situation in the market a lot. In other words, Athlon XP 3200+ working at the actual 2.2GHz can hardly be called a fully-fledged competitor to Pentium 4 3.2GHz.

The graph below illustrates the core frequencies growth during the last three years for both processor families: Athlon and Pentium 4:

As we see, 2.2GHz is an insuperable hindrance for AMD, which can be overcome only in H2 2004 in the best case, when AMD completes the transition of its facilities to 90nm production technology. Until then, even the new generation Athlon 64 processors will still have low core frequencies (see our exclusive Athlon 64 Performance Preview for more details). It is still hard to say whether they will be able to compete on equal terms with Prescott based Intel solutions. However, it looks as if AMD were about to have serious problems. Prescott with its larger L1 and L2 caches, enhanced Hyper-Threading technology and higher working frequencies can become a much more attractive buy than Athlon 64.

As for Pentium 4 CPUs, their scalability is something you can only envy. Pentium 4 core frequency has been growing smoothly from the very first processor launch. This summer and fall we will live through a short period of calm, which has been caused by the necessity to introduce new manufacturing technology. However, it shouldn’t tell on the general situation in the processor market. The use of efficient Hyper-Threading technology and faster 800MHz processor bus, allows Intel’s CPUs to outpace the rivalry products from AMD so greatly, that the company has no need to worry until AMD Athlon 64 start spreading really widely.

The graph above also illustrates the nearest plans of both: AMD and Intel in terms of CPU announcements. Well, it looks as if AMD could hardly hope to change the market situation in its favor. The competition on equal terms with Intel is no longer the case, and the company returns to the “catching up” position. Anyway, it is still too early to make any long-term forecasts. We suggest having patience and waiting for Athlon 64 to come out. However, very restrained reaction of the software developers to AMD64 technology, allows us to suppose that there is no revolution to come when the new generation AMD processors arrive.

Closer Look: Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz

New Pentium 4 3.2GHz processor announced today, on June 23, doesn’t boast anything new from the technological point of view. It is the same Northwood working at 800MHz bus and supporting Hyper-Threading technology. In other words, this processor is absolutely identical (except the core frequency) to Pentium 4 3.0GHz launched in April.

Like its predecessors, Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz processor
uses D1 core stepping.

The only thing we should definitely mention regarding the new Pentium 4 Northwood based processor announcement, is the even higher heat dissipation. Now the typical heat dissipation of the Pentium 4 3.2GHz processor equals 85W, and the maximum heat dissipation exceeds 100W. That is why you should be very careful when selecting a PC case for a system with the new Pentium 4 3.2GHz inside. One fan is certainly too little for a system like that. Moreover, you should make sure that the air flow around the CPU is active enough to provide 42oC around the CPU heatsink, not more.

And we would like to remind you once again that the newly announced Pentium 4 3.2GHz is the last Intel CPU made with 0.13micron production technology and intended for high-performance desktop systems. The next processor for this type of systems will be based on the new Prescott core manufactured with 90nm technology. So, the heat dissipation of the future processors will definitely be lower and Pentium 4 3.2GHz will undoubtedly remain an indisputable leader in heat dissipation.

The official price of the new Pentium 4 3.2GHz is $637, which means that this is the most expensive desktop processor today. Moreover, Intel recommends using the new processor together with not very low-cost mainboards based on i875P chipset. Although, we know that you can disregard this requirement: many less expensive mainboards on i865PE provide the same performance level due to the activated PAT Technology (see our ASUS P4P Mainboard Review).

Testbed and Methods

The test session should show s how fast the new Pentium 4 3.2GHz is compared with the predecessors and with the fastest competitors from AMD Athlon XP processor family. This way, there were the following testing participants besides our Pentium 4 3.2GHz: Pentium 4 3.0GHz, Athlon XP 3200+ and Athlon XP 3000+. We ran all tests for Pentium 4 on a system built with i875P (Canterwood) based mainboard with dual-channel DDR400. For Athlon XP we used a mainboard on the today’s fastest NVIDIA nForce2 400 Ultra chipset.

As a result, our testbeds looked as follows:


Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz (800MHz bus)
Intel Pentium 4 3.0GHz (800MHz bus)

AMD Athlon 3200+ (2.2GHz, 400MHz bus)
AMD Athlon 3000+ (2.17GHz, 333MHz bus)


ASUS P4C800 Deluxe

ASUS A7N8X Deluxe 2.0


SDRAM (2 x 256MB)

Graphics card

ATI RADEON 9700 PRO (Catalyst 3.4 driver)


Western Digital Raptor WD360GD


Performance: Office and Content Creation Applications

First of all, we as usual ran the tests in office and digital content creation applications. For this purpose we used Winstone test package.

In Business Winstone 2002, which includes all top business applications, the laurels belonged to Athlon XP processor family, which turned out much faster than the competitors from Intel. This is a typical situation for this benchmark due to Athlon XP architectural peculiarities as well as bigger cache-memory of the Barton based processors. Since the L2 cache of Barton based Athlon XP CPUs is an exclusive one, the L2 cache size equals 640KB.

In the complex Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2003 measuring the systems performance in applications working with digital content, the situation is somewhat different. Pentium 4 processors with NetBurst architecture and fast bus featuring 6.4GB/sec bandwidth leave the top Athlon XP processor models far behind.

Performance: Streaming Data Processing

Most applications working with streaming data are known for being faster in systems with Pentium 4 processors. This is exactly the case when NetBurst architecture can show its best. Therefore, the result obtained in WinRAR 3.2 shouldn’t seem surprising to you. The fastest Pentium 4 models appear much faster in data compression than the top Athlon XP CPUs.

We observed a similar situation during mp3-files encoding with LAME 3.93 codec. By the way, this codec supports multi-threading that is why Hyper-Threading technology helped Pentium 4 processors to win here. As a result, Pentium 4 3.2GHz appeared about 20% faster than Athlon XP 3200+.

Here we also included the results of AVI-movie encoding into MPEG-2 format with the help of one of the best Canopus Procoder 1.5 coder. Strange a sit might seem, but Athlon XP appeared a little faster here. However, Athlon XP owes its victory to faster floating-point unit. As we see, SSE2 instructions of Pentium 4 processors can hardly be considered an alternative here, even though the performance gap between the two rivalry families is not that big at all.

Video encoding into MPEG-4 format is another example of Hyper-Threading and 800MHz bus efficiency in certain tasks. Pentium 4 3.2GHz proved about 20% faster than Athlon XP 3200+ here.

When we encode video data with the help of Windows Media Encoder9, the situation is very similar. This application is optimized for SSE2 instructions and suits excellently for NetBurst architecture. That is why it is not at all surprising that Intel processors are again at the top of the diagram.

Performance: Gaming Applications

As soon as they released the patch for 3DMark03 application, the performance of Pentium 4 grew higher compared with that of Athlon XP. However, the overall picture remained unchanged: Pentium 4 processors have always been the leaders here.

Pentium 4 once again proved its leadership in the total scores of 3DMark03. Although the gap is not that big this time, mostly because 3DMark03 is a graphics subsystem test.

When Pentium 4 acquired 800MHz bus, it defeated Athlon XP in the older 3DMark2001 version, too. Moreover, they managed to get quite far ahead: they are about 6% faster.

In Quake3 Pentium 4 is traditionally faster than Athlon XP, so the results are pretty expected.

The similar situation takes place in Return to Castle Wolfenstein. It is pretty logical, because this game is based on Quake3 engine.

One of the few applications where Athlon XP retains the leading position is Unreal Tournament 2003. We would like to point out that all modern games do not support Hyper-Threading that is why the new Pentium 4 processors cannot reveal their potential to the full extent.

And in Serious Sam 2 Athlon XP 3200+ is not longer ahead. When the new Intel CPU came out, the laurels went over to Pentium 4 3.2GHz.

Although the new game called Splinter Cell is based on the same engine as Unreal Tournament 2003, it runs faster on Intel processors.

All in all, we have to admit that the fastest processor for contemporary 3D games today is Pentium 4 3.2GHz, which outpaces Athlon XP 3200+ in most gaming benchmarks. The situation changes very rapidly. Not so long ago, the top Athlon XP models were as fast in games as Intel solutions. Not anymore...

Performance: 3D Rendering

Since 3ds max 5.1 used in this part of our test session is well-optimized for multi-threading, Pentium 4 is ahead due to Hyper-Threading technology support, which allows it to process two data streams at a time. It appears very far ahead of the rivals. Even the today’s fastest Athlon XP 3200+ processor can’t compete with the new Pentium 4 3.2GHz.

We could say absolutely the same thing about the rendering speed in Lightwave 7.5. Although in some scenes, such as Sunset, for instance, Athlon XP processors look not bad at all. However, these scenes are very few.

It is very hard for Athlon XP processors to compete with Pentium 4 in rendering tasks, because Pentium 4 can process two data streams simultaneously. Unfortunately, AMD doesn’t plan to introduce any technologies similar to Intel’s Hyper-Threading even in the future Athlon 64 CPUs.

The POV-Ray 3.5 looks the same as previous tests results.

Performance: Scientific Applications

To test the new processors performing scientific calculations we took ScienceMark 2.0 (read more about it here). This benchmark supports multi-threading, all SIMD-instructions, including MMX, 3DNow!, SSE and SSE2.

It has been known for a long time that Athlon XP processors are good in math1ematical modeling and cryptography. These results are another proof of this fact. Although, even here Athlon XP loses little by little its advantage over the competitor. For example, the new Pentium 4 3.2GHz managed to win the first prize in Molecular Dynamics test.

Besides ScienceMark test, we decided to test our processors in the MD@home Russian distributed computing client, dealing with the calculations of olygopeptides dynamic features (olygopeptides are protein fragments). These calculations will be a very helpful contribution into fundamental protein studies.

As we see, the new Pentium 4 processor copes much faster with molecular dynamics tasks than Athlon XP. Again, this is Hyper-Threading technology that helps here. Unfortunately, the MD@home client doesn’t support multi-threading, however, if you launch two client programs in parallel on a system with processors supporting Hyper-Threading, you will get a more than 40% performance increase.


The carried out test session shows clearly that Intel managed to defeat AMD this time. The last Northwood based processor is faster in most tests than the fastest AMD processor. Lately Intel has increased the CPU core frequencies quite a lot, speeded up the bus and introduced the tricky Hyper-Threading technology ensuring an additional performance gain in some applications. AMD, however, didn’t have any more technological and architectural opportunities to increase the core frequency of its processors, so their CPUs are not fast enough to compete with Intel on equal terms. Even the launching of the new Barton core wouldn’t help: the last Pentium 4 models are still evidently faster than the top Athlon XP models. As a result, Pentium 4 3.2GHz deserves being called the today’s fastest desktop processor. This situation is most likely to last at least until September, when AMD should finally announce its so long-awaited Athlon 64 processors.

We would also like to stress that AMD’s current rating system used for processor marking should not be considered a proper comparison criterion. The enhancements introduced in the new Pentium 4, such as 800MHz bus and Hyper-Threading technology, made this processor indisputably faster than Athlon XP 3200+.

Well, we are going to wait for the fall and to watch very closely all those new products Intel and AMD should announce at that time. The new Prescott and Athlon 64 are very likely to make the competition in the CPU market even more exciting. And now Intel ousts AMD into the Value segment, where they actually feel at home, we should say. Celeron is definitely no rival to Athlon XP.