Feature Articles

Intel's Pentium XE 965 and 955 Processors

Intel's Pentium XE 965 and 955 Processors


Out with the Smithfield and in with the Presler

Out with the Smithfield and in with the Presler

Intel's first round of dual-core processor offerings took off in July 2005, besting AMD's efforts by nearly a month. Under normal circumstances, having a market lead is always a formidable advantage, but in the case of the Smithfield core used for the first generation of Pentium D processors (800-series), things didn't turn out all that rosy.

First and foremost, the Smithfield was basically a larger Prescott with dual processing cores on the same die; and we all know how well received the Prescott lineup itself was. A normal Prescott core processor was already running very warm and its performance to price ratio was contested easily by AMD's Athlon 64 lineup. With that said, having two more of the exact same cores put together isn't going to resolve any of the existing concerns other than offering a dual-core variety, which does boost performance but not as much as its competitor. Needless to say, heat again was the Achilles heel of the Pentium D 800 series and its performance didn't scale like that of AMD's Athlon 64 X2 series. The exorbitantly priced Pentium Extreme Edition 840 was further hurt by the fact that it was a few hundred dollars dearer than the Pentium D 840 and was identical to the non Extreme Edition in every way but the exclusion of Hyper-Thread technology. As we've explored before, Hyper-Threading for multi-core processors isn't very elegant unless the software is really aware if it's sending a thread for execution to the logical or physical core depending on the processor's state. Also, despite the fact that Intel was retailing their dual-core processors at a more favorable price than AMD, its overall performance and other operating qualities didn't strike the right chord with the more savvy DIY market.

Riding out for many months settling for second place to AMD for its processor lineup, Intel finally brought out a new series of mainstream dual-core processors based on the 65nm process in early Jan 2006. Codenamed Presler, the new core wasn't just a die-shrink of the existing Smithfield as we reveal to you more on the Presler core's improvements on the following page and how it impacts both Intel and yourself as the consumer. As with standard Intel processor model number nomenclature, the newer processors were christened as the 900-series, indicating that the significant changes are to be expected when compared to the existing 800-series. It was also a good start to shed off the poor image that the 800-series cast during their tenure as premium CPUs from Intel. To kick-start our evaluation of the Presler core, we begin with the best of what Intel has to offer, the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 processor and the very recently but quietly introduced Pentium Extreme Edition 965 processor.