Pentium III offers significant gains in speed

The new Pentium III from Intel Corp. offers users an impressive increase in speed over the Pentium II, especially with multimedia applications that take advantage of the processor's new instruction sets, the FCW Test Center has found.

The 500 MHz Pentium III, which was developed especially for such data-intensive applications, will increase the speed of these applications by as much as a third. While some of the increase can be attributed to the processor's higher clock speed, much of the reason the Pentium III rips through the programs faster has to do with the Pentium III's 70 new Streaming SIMD instructions. The instructions are designed to speed performance of digital imaging, 3-D processing, streaming audio and video and other multimedia applications.

For example, running Dragon Systems Inc.'s Naturally Speaking Version 3.52 voice recognition software, the Pentium III managed commands in 330.22 seconds, which was 35.8 percent faster than the 514.07 seconds it took a 450 MHz Pentium II to run through the program. The Pentium III system also executed commands faster in Photoshop 5.0, Adobe Systems Inc.'s high-end graphics manipulation program. It performed Photoshop commands in 207.37 seconds, which was 95.5 seconds, or 31.6 percent, faster than the Pentium II. In regard to streaming media software, the Pentium III system executed Microsoft Corp.'s Netshow 3.0 commands in 141 seconds, a reduction of 37.1 percent from the 224.1 seconds it took the Pentium II to execute the same commands. Keep in mind, however, that the benchmark was provided for our use by Intel.

The test center found that the Pentium III ran standard business applications a bit faster than the Pentium II, increasing speeds by 16.6 percent. Furthermore, we found that the Pentium III was on average 34.8 percent faster on programs optimized to be run on systems based on the Pentium III.

So What's New?

The new Pentium III processor uses the 440BX chipset, a 100 MHz multiple-transaction front-side bus and 512K of Level 2 cache. Not only is the Pentium III faster; it now has a new instruction set and a processor serial number. And while the Pentium III still uses MMX technology, advanced multimedia calculations are aided by Streaming SIMD Extensions.

Intel announced that many software applications have been written to take advantage of the new multimedia Streaming SIMD Extensions. Software designers including Adobe, Computer Associates International Inc., Network Associates and Avid Technology Inc. are working on World Wide Web-enabled applications, electronic-business tools, Web development programs and other application classes.

Other vendors are working on applications, such as Active Firewall, Net Shield and Virus Scan 4.5 from Network Associates and Sentinel Armor and Sentinel Track from Rainbow Technologies Inc., that are designed to take advantage of the Pentium III's processor serial number, which, if switched on, allows a Web site to identify a user.

This feature has caused the greatest uproar over the Pentium III. While privacy groups duke it out with Intel over implementation specifics, here is how the processor serial number actually works: During each processor's construction, Intel programs random numbers into silicon devices in the chip. The serial number can be managed by a utility that will turn serial number recognition on or off. The serial number does not broadcast itself while the computer is networked. Rather, a Web site must send an applet to a user's PC and would then read the serial number if it has been switched on.

Some privacy groups are worried that Intel will match serial numbers to customers. However, Intel said it has no such plans. Intel stresses that users have control over whether the serial number is turned on or off and that external software programs designed to read the serial number cannot turn on a disabled serial number.

The processor serial number is the first in a series of security initiatives aimed at the desktop. Intel hopes the serial number will aid in applications that require security capabilities and user authentication, such as e-commerce and other Internet transactions as well as infrastructure, asset and information management.

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How We Tested the Pentium III

We tested a 450 MHz Pentium II-based system and a 500 MHz Pentium III-based system using the same configuration from the same company. Each system used 128M of RAM, had a 13G hard drive and ran Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 4 loaded. We ran Business Applications Performance Corp.'s SYSmark/98 on both systems and used a video resolution of 1,024 x 768 at 65,000 colors.

But to take advantage of the Pentium III's new features, we had to run another benchmark with applications optimized for the new graphics extensions in the Pentium III. This benchmark was provided by Intel and ran Dragon Systems Inc.'s Naturally Speaking Version 3.52 speech recognition software; Adobe Systems Inc.'s Photoshop 5.0 high-end graphics manipulations program and Microsoft's Netshow 3.0 streaming media software. Each software product was optimized to run on a Pentium III.

Also, bear in mind that Microsoft Corp. Windows 98 or Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 4 plus a special DLL file is required so that new products optimized to run on the Pentium III can take advantage of the Streaming SIMD Extensions.

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