Massive Attack: Performance Tests of 14 Processors Priced at $200+

We tested 14 processors priced starting at $200 and up. In our huge test session took part the following solutions: AMD Athlon 64 3400+, 3200+, 3000+; AMD Athlon 64 FX-51; AMD Athlon XP 3200+, 3000+; Intel Pentium 4 3.4, 3.2, 3.0 (Northwood core); Intel Pentium 4 3.4E, 3.2E, 3.0E (Prescott core); Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4, 3.2. You can’t miss this!

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
02/01/2004 | 12:02 PM

The today’s announcement of many new Intel processors made a few corrections to the current situation in the CPU market. Intel really launched 7 new CPUs targeted for the mainstream and high-end market segments. Among the newcomers there are faster Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, the top CPU on Northwood core, and the entire family of new Pentium 4 processors with the new Prescott core. Since the changes in the market promise to be really drastic, we decided to carry out a massive test session of all the new processor models, where they could compete with their predecessors and rivals from AMD.


Within this test session and performance analysis we will compare the speed of 14 different newest processors positioned as solutions for the mainstream and high-end market. The list of testing participants includes the representatives of the following processor families available in the today’s CPU market and priced at $200 and more: Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, Intel Pentium 4 (Northwood), Intel Pentium 4 (Prescott), AMD Athlon 64 FX, AMD Athlon 64 and AMD Athlon XP.

Testing Participants

According to the selection criteria we set for this test session, the following processors were selected to participate:

We have already reviewed many of the above mentioned processor models, so if you would like to get more details about any of them, please check our CPU section. As for the newcomers announced today, we have devoted the whole new article to the peculiarities of the freshly launched Prescott core. It is called Intel Prescott: One More Willamette-Like Slow Processor or a Worthy Piece? As for Pentium 4 (Northwood) 3.4GHz and Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz, they are the overclocked versions of the previous models of these processor families. These two CPUs are based on 0.13micron cores, and are evidently the last CPU models on these cores (Northwood and Gallatin, respectively). Yes, as we have already mentioned in the previous article, Pentium4  processor family will continue into this world on the new Prescott core manufactured with 90nm technology process, while Pentium 4 Extreme Edition with the working frequencies exceeding 3.4GHz is not on the roadmap at all yet.

From left to right:
Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, Intel Pentium 4 (Northwood), Intel Pentium 4 (Prescott),
AMD Athlon 64 FX, AMD Athlon 64, AMD Athlon XP

The comparative table below contains the major specifications of the tested CPUs for your information:


Intel Pentium 4 3.4E, 3.2E, 3.0E

Intel Pentium 4 3.4, 3.2, 3.0

Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4, 3.2

AMD Athlon 64 3400+, 3200+, 3000+.

AMD Athlon 64 FX-51

AMD Athlon XP 3200+, 3000+

Processor core








Socket 478

Socket 478

Socket 478

Socket 754

Socket 940

Socket A


3.4, 3.2, 3.0GHz

3.4, 3.2, 3.0GHz

3.4, 3.2GHz

2.2, 2.0GHz


2.2, 2.0GHz

Production technology

0.09micron, «strained» silicon



0.13micron, SOI

0.13micron, SOI


Number of transistors







Die size

L1 data cache







L1 instructions cache

12000 uops

12000 uops

12000 uops




L2 cache




1024KB, 512KB by 3000+ model



L3 cache







SIMD instructions




SSE2/ SSE/ 3DNow!

SSE2/ SSE/ 3DNow!

SSE/ 3DNow!

x86-64 support







Integrated memory controller




Single-channel, DDR SDRAM

Dual-channel, registered DDR SDRAM



And important aspect, which matters a lot not only when you are making a buying decision, but also when you are trying to evaluate the future potential of the CPU is the price. The processors we tested are officially priced from $200 to $1000 that is why I suggest that you check their price before we pass over to the benchmarks results. This will also help us to understand the positioning of Intel and AMD processors relative to each other.

Despite the fact that Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and Athlon 64 FX are similarly positioned by both companies as solutions for extreme gamers and hardware enthusiasts, who care most of all about performance, the pricing strategies applied to these processor families by both companies are completely different. Intel prices its Extreme Edition solutions around $1000, while AMD makes its Athlon 64 FX-51 only twice as expensive as the top Athlon 64 CPU. As a result, we simply cannot compare the prices of Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and Athlon 64 FX: Intel’s extreme processors are about $200-$250 more expensive.

As for the mainstream processor families, AMD and Intel appeared surprisingly unanimous: Athlon 64 3400+ costs the same as Pentium 4 3.4GHz. The same correspondence can be observed for 3200+ and 3000+ models as well. I would also like to draw your attention to one more very interesting fact: Pentium 4 processors on Northwood and Prescott cores working at the same clock frequencies cost the same amount of money, even though their architectures and features are very different.

As for AMD Athlon XP processor family, it goes right below the “youngest Athlon 64”. Although AMD promises to continue supporting Socket A processors for quite a long time, this processor family has evidently started moving towards low-end.

Testbed and Methods

We used the following equipment for our test systems:


Performance in Gaming Applications

The performance in gaming applications is a pretty important factor for many users. Moreover, extreme processor models such as Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and Athlon 64 FX are positioned by the manufacturers as gaming CPUs. That is why the results of gaming benchmarks open our today’s test session.

As you remember, AMD processors have always been the leaders in 3DMark 2001, however, now the faster Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz processor changed the situation. This particular CPU from Intel is the fastest according to 3DMark 2001.

I would also like to point out that Pentium 4 processors on the new Prescott core are a little faster than their predecessors on Northwood core (working at the same clock frequency), according to this benchmark. However, I cannot state that the new core boasts a significant performance advantage: the performance difference is only 1%. It is definitely too little to outpace the competitors from AMD: according to 3DMark 2001 Athlon 64 defeats Pentium 4 in all weight categories.

Faster model of the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition with a 2MB L3 caches and 3.4GHz clock frequency is an indisputable leader according to CPU Score results of 3DMark03, too. As for the new Prescott core, it again doesn’t manage to speed up Pentium 4 processor, so that they could run any faster than those on Northwood core.

The similar picture can be observed in the 3DMark03 Total Score test. The L3 cache added to the Northwood core makes Pentium 4 Extreme Edition the fastest processors according to this test. As for Prescott, it manages to win just a little bit from Northwood, even though it also boasts larger cache-memory.

Aquamark3 benchmark built on a real gaming engine is remarkable for its support of Hyper-Threading technology. So far there are not so many games that can boast this unique feature, although this situation is very likely to change in the nearest future, because many software developers have already announced their intention to implement Hyper-Threading support in their upcoming gaming engines. The results obtained in this benchmark show that Intel processors supporting Hyper-Threading technology are definitely faster in Aquamark3 than their rivals from AMD, such as Athlon 64 and Athlon XP, which have no Hyper-Threading support.

I would also like to point out that it is the first time we come across a situation when the new processors on the freshly launched Prescott core yield in performance to those based on Northwood. This is probably the direct consequence of the fact that all improvements made to the core cannot make up for the negative influence imposed by longer execution pipeline of the new 90nm core.

It looked as if Athlon 64 could change the situation in Quake3 in its favor and outperform the eternal leaders from Intel there. However, the launching of Pentium 4 Extreme Edition didn’t give AMD CPUs any chance to do so. Moreover, the performance of the new Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz looks simply unattainable for the competitors.

By the way, we have to state once again that the old Pentium 4 processors on Northwood core outperform Pentium 4 on the new Prescott, working at the same core clock frequency. Moreover, in this case Prescott lags 2% behind.

In the well-known Comanche 4 game Prescott gets into an even worse situation. The performance difference between the new Pentium 4 core and Northwood working at the same clock frequency is simply catastrophic: Prescott is 14% slower! But luckily Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is also based on Northwood core. Therefore, Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz again managed to assert Intel’s honor in this test.

However, there is quite a bit of games where even the performance of Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz is not enough for successful competition with AMD CPUs. The four diagrams above are all examples illustrating this point: Unreal Tournament 2003, Gun Metal, X2 – The Threat and Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. Moreover, in three of these four games we see that Pentium 4 processors on the new Prescott core perform slower than Pentium 4 processors based on the older Northwood core. The only exception is Tomb Raider, where Prescott core manages to show its best.

As a result, we have to admit that Northwood core performs better in contemporary games than the new Prescott. In other words, now that the maximum working frequencies of Pentium 4 processors on Northwood and Prescott are the same, it makes more sense for gamers to decide the older Northwood, which stood successfully the test of time. Even though the new core boasts larger cache-memory and a number of other improvements, it performs slower in most cases because of the too long execution pipeline. However, if we also consider the offerings from AMD, it becomes absolutely clear that Athlon 64 processors will win the gamers’ hearts, because their price-to-performance ratio in 3D games is considerably more attractive today.

As for the new Pentium 4 extreme Edition 3.4GHz, it proves really worth the money you pay for it in a number of games. But at the same time, there is another group of games, where Athlon 64 3400+ and Athlon FX-51 defeat the new extreme processor completely. And I should say that this second group is not any smaller than the first one. Besides, if we take into account the price of this CPU, we will have no more doubts that Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz positioned by Intel as a hardcore gaming solution, will hardly become a good choice even for this user-group.

Performance in Office and Digital Content Creation Applications

As usual, here we are going to share the results obtained in Winstone test packages. Now we are using newer versions of these benchmarks released in the end of 2003. They are Business Winstone 2004 and Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004.

Business Winstone 2004 is a benchmark, which shows the average performance of the tested platforms during work in regular office applications. The test imitates the everyday work of an average user in a bunch of widely spread programs and displays the result basing on the time it took the programs to complete the tasks. The list of applications used in this benchmark for proper performance analysis is pretty long and includes Microsoft Access 2002 SP-2, Microsoft Excel 2002 SP-2, Microsoft FrontPage 2002 SP-2, Microsoft Outlook 2002 SP-2, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002 SP-2, Microsoft Project 2002, Microsoft Word 2002 SP-2, WinZip 8.1 SR-1 and Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition 2003.

Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 is very similar to Business Winstone 2004, however, it uses absolutely different applications. All of them are intended for creation and processing of images, audio and video streams. The complete list of applications includes a number of popular and widely spread professional tools, such as Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1, Adobe Premiere 6.50, Macromedia Director MX 9.0, Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 6.1, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9 Version, NewTek LightWave 3D 7.5b and Steinberg WaveLab 4.0f.

Even higher working frequency of the new Pentium 4 XE didn’t allow this processor to catch up with AMD Athlon 64, which works much faster in digital content creation applications and common office programs due to its shorter pipeline.

But Prescott based processors performed very well in Business Winstone 2004 and Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004. They managed to slightly outperform their Northwood based predecessors working at the same core clock rate.

This test is also based on real algorithms. During this test the system performs: ZIP archiving, spell-checking with the help of Link Grammar Parsing Library, web-sites rendering in Internet Explorer 6.0, image conversion into JPEG format, mp3 files decoding with  the help of Ogg Vorbis library, video decoding with Windows Media encoder 9 and DivX 5.0.5, 2D graphics primitives processing, work in 3D via Microsoft DirectX 9 with Havok Physics engine 2.1 physical modeling system, anti-virus checking with F-Secure Anti-Virus, info encoding and decoding with Blowfish Algorithm. However, since PCMark04 is evidently optimized for CPUs with Hyper-Threading technology, the upper part of the diagram is occupied by Intel processors. Among the most interesting observations I would like to mention the fact that Pentium 4 processor on Prescott core is a little bit faster than Pentium 4 on Northwood core according to PCMark04.

Performance in Multi-Threaded Tasks

The new Business Winstone 2004 test package allows evaluating the performance of the tested systems under multi-threaded workload, which is created by a few simultaneously running applications. Since the CPUs we tested support Hyper-Threading technology, which speeds them up when they process multiple threads at a time, we couldn’t help taking a closer look at their performance in this type of benchmarks.

In this test we use the regular file copying as a background process. At the same time, we measure the systems performance in Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer applications. As we can see, this combination of applications Is no serious workload for AMD processors, which do not support Hyper-Threading. However, the results obtained in this test are quite funny, I should say. Pentium 4 processors on the good old Northwood core demonstrate the highest performance of all. They outperform not only the new Prescott, but also the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition!

Now let’s find out what happens under a serious multi-threaded workload.

In this case the background process is a more serious task: the working WinZIP archiving utility. At the same time we have Word and Excel running. It looks as if this is the best chance for Hyper-Threading technology to show what it is really worth. However, all the upper part of the diagram belongs to AMD processors. As for the competition between Northwood and Prescott, the latter copes with the task a bit faster than its predecessor.

This is actually the hardest test, as we have Norton AntiVirus software running in the background and the whole bunch of office applications, such as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Project, Microsoft Access, Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft FrontPage and WinZip. And only in this case Intel processors supporting Hyper-Threading manage to defeat AMD competitors and become indisputable winners. This way, it is evident that AMD Athlon 64 processors can easily cope with simple multi-threaded tasks. However, when it comes to more serious workloads, Hyper-Threading technology proves highly efficient.

I would also like to note that here Prescott is again faster than Northwood. No wonder actually. First, it boasts improved Hyper-Threading technology compared with that in Northwood. And second, larger cache-memory helps a lot for simultaneous processing of several tasks, because the processor resources are split for all tasks in progress.

Performance in Archiving Utilities

The results obtained in WinRAR are pretty interesting.  Among Intel processors the fastest ones in this type of tasks appeared Prescott based CPUs. The 90nm solutions owe this victory to enhanced data prefetcher, which is exactly what they need here. Prescott core outperforms not only Pentium 4 on the older Northwood, but also the CPUs from the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition family, which is a pure nonsense especially considering the price of the latter.

However, despite all these progressive data algorithms implemented in the new Prescott, Athlon 64 processors win in this test, because they boast the lowest latency during memory addressing.

The situation in another archiving utility, 7-zip is slightly different. It can be explained by the fact that the latest versions of 7-zip support multi-threading really efficiently. As a result, processors with Pentium 4 architecture compress the data much faster in 7-zip. Also I should again mention good performance of Prescott based CPUs, which proved 5-6% faster than the Northwood based ones working at the same clock frequencies.

When the data is extracted from archives in 7-zip, the situation with processors ranking appears absolutely different. All AMD processors outperform Intel’s solutions, and Prescott can’t boast the performance as high as in the two previous tests any more.

Performance in Audio and Video Content Encoding Applications

Since NetBurst architecture is very efficient for streaming data processing, Pentium 4 processors feel at home in audio and video content encoding applications. However, Prescott puzzled us here: Pentium 4 processors on the new core somehow fall far behind their predecessors on Northwood core everywhere except data encoding with DivX codec. So, I believe that the new SSE3 instructions, which should soon appear in video and audio codecs, will only help Prescott to catch up with their Northwood based fellows, but will hardly provide them with any advantage in this type of tasks.

Performance in Scientific Applications

To test the CPUs in scientific applications we used a new beta-version of the ScienceMark 2.0 test package, which measures how fast the tested platforms can solve real math1ematic modeling tasks.

It is not at all surprising that AMD processors perform best of all here, we have already got used to this. There is another surprising thing though: dramatically low results demonstrated by Prescott based CPUs.

Moreover, we have also tested the performance of our today’s racers in a popular symbol calculations package aka Mathematica 5.0 from Wolfram Research.

We do not see anything new here: NetBurst architecture is quite weak in scientific tasks. Moreover, Enhanced NetBurst of the Prescott core is twice as weak in these applications. No other comments on my part.

Performance in 3ds max and Cinema4D

To test the CPUs performance during final rendering we used a new sixth version of 3ds max. Besides the rendering speed for a single frame, we also measured the animation rendering speed with simultaneous recording of the results into an avi-file.

We have already mentioned that Pentium 4 processors are winning the single frame final rendering tests (mostly due to Hyper-Threading technology), while CPUs with AMD64 architecture are ahead during movie rendering. There is another interesting thing: Prescott is again lagging behind Northwood, with the gap being the biggest exactly during single-frame rendering.

During final rendering tests in CINEMA 4D Pentium 4 on Prescott core again demonstrated very poor performance.

As for the performance of the new Intel core in OpenGL mode, there is nothing to complain about here. Pentium 4 (Prescott) is considerably faster than Pentium 4 (Northwood). Moreover, this advantage is so huge that in some cases Pentium 4 3.4E turns out even faster than Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz with a 2MB L3 cache.

Performance in Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop CS 8.0 is a very popular graphics application used mostly for 2D graphics editing that is why we paid special attention to the performance of our today’s testing participants in this application. We used PSBench7 benchmark with a 100MB image to be processed.

The results demonstrated by Prescott in Adobe Photoshop CS 8.0 are not encouraging at al: we have to state that it is again lagging behind Northwood.

Here are more detailed results illustrating how fast various Photoshop CS 8.0 filters are performed on different systems. The table below shows time in seconds:

Click to enlarge

Performance during Software Development

Besides the already familiar benchmarks we have also included one new test in our today’s test session. Namely, we checked how fast our testing participants would compile the projects in Visual C++ .NET, which is a very popular software development interface. For our measurements we used the source code of the Emule client with the added source code for a few libraries necessary at the compilation stage: crypto51, CxImage, zlibstat. We measured the time in two compilation modes: “Debug” – the version with the debugging info included into the final code, and “Release” – creation of the final product with processing speed and code size.

First of all, I would like to say that Athlon 64 perform software compilation notably faster. Even Intel’s fastest Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz cannot compete with the leaders from AMD in this test. If we compare the performance of Pentium 4 processors on different cores, we will see that the leadership in this case belongs to Prescott, as it compilers faster.

Performance Summary

In order to sum up all the benchmark results in a more illustrative and easy to analyze way, we decided to split them according to the application type and calculate the average CPU performance coefficient for each type of tasks. This way, we will be able to show you what tasks this or that processor is best suited for.

The gigantic diagram below is the result of our attempt to make it easier :) Note that since the results in all tests are too different, we calculated the geometrical mean of the CPUs performance and then normalized the values taking the performance of Pentium 4 (Northwood) 3.2GHz as a reference point equal to 1. on the diagram below the higher is the value the better is the result.

I don’t think I need to comment on that.


Actually we have already shown everything regarding the performance of our testing participants in different types of applications. Now I would like to express some ideas about the prospects and value of the existing processor families.

Intel Pentium 4 (Prescott). At present this processor family from Intel based on the new 90nm core doesn’t demonstrate any worthy advantages over the predecessors. Although, we didn’t expect much today, to tell the truth. Prescott core was first of all developed to allow Intel increase the core clock frequency potential of its Pentium 4 processor family. The current models, however, cannot boast high working frequencies compared with Northwood. Therefore, Prescott based processors are often even slower than those on a 130nm Northwood core. In fact, there are only two types of tasks where improved NetBurst architecture of the Prescott core shows its advantages. They are data compression and compilation. In all other cases, Northwood based CPUs run as fast as Prescott based ones, or even faster.

Intel Pentium 4 (Northwood). Northwood family also acquired a new model working at 3.4GHz. Therefore, the clock frequencies of the today’s top Prescott and Northwood CPUs are equal. Their prices are also equal. Taking into account this fact we have to admit that Northwood should become a better buy today. And it is not only about performance, although the 130nm core provides a tangible advantage in games, audio and video encoding applications, image editing and final rendering, and is quite fast in scientific calculations. Northwood based CPUs dissipate considerably less heat, and their overclocking potential is not that much worse than that of the Prescott based processors.

Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. However, those users who care about high performance in the first place, could take a look at another processor family from Intel – Pentium 4 XE. Based on Northwood core equipped with a 2MB L3 cache, Pentium 4 XE is much faster than Northwood based processors, and definitely Prescott based ones. However, when you pay around $1000 for a CPU, you want to get not just good, but simply matchless performance. However, we cannot use this word to describe the performance of Intel Pentium 4 XE: the competing solutions from AMD sometimes outpace even the top model with 3.4GHz core clock.

AMD Athlon XP. This processor family is little by little leaving the stage. These processors can no longer offer competitive performance level, although the prices of the top models remain quite high.

AMD Athlon 64. The major solution AMD offers for the mainstream market today appears pretty attractive. Athlon 64 is very fast in many applications outperforming Pentium 4 and even Pentium 4 Extreme Edition in some of them. Moreover, these CPUs have a very strong hidden trump: they support 64bit mode, which might become very useful as soon as corresponding software comes out. However, there are two types of tasks where Athlon 64 is no rival to Intel’s solutions: audio/video encoding and Photoshop. If it were not for these tasks, we would have every right to call Athlon 64 the best CPU in the today’s market.

AMD Athlon 64 FX. High-End processor family from AMD is targeted for the same user-group as Intel Pentium 4 XE, but is priced somewhat lower than the competitor. As for the performance, Athlon 64 FX-51 is sometimes even faster than Pentium 4 XE 3.4GHz. So, I would call Athlon 64 FX a better offer than Intel’s Pentium 4 XE from the price-to-performance point of view. However, you shouldn’t forget that Athlon 64 FX-51 has the same weak spots as the regular Athlon 64: it is pretty slow during media encoding and in Photoshop. Moreover, Athlon 64 3400+ is twice as inexpensive as the FX model, however, it performs really close to the high-end CPU from AMD.