When it comes to sipping daintily from the AC and running cooler, Intel chips are unmatched by anything IBM has to offer. And that’s a handy characteristic to have for a CPU that’s wedged within the narrow confines of a notebook.
But before we get into the nitty-gritty of what the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant’s products will do for you, what they won’t offer is a giant leap in performance on the desktop. Apple’s current G5 is a powerful chip—despite running at slower clock speeds than the processors powering Wintel machines. Slower clocked x86-compatible Athlon 64s from über Intel-rival AMD’s regularly benchmark as fast or faster than Intel’s offerings. (Notebook performance is another matter as you’ll gather when you read about the Pentium M below.)
The Wintel world is cluttered with far more products than the Mac universe and Intel offers a bewilderingly large array of CPUs that vary in cache size, speed, and features. A lot can change in a year, but with a recent flurry of new technology releases from Intel, the first MacIntels should feature one of the following processors—or something very close to them.
Designed for: Desktops and desktop replacement laptops
The best known of Intel’s processors, the P4 was designed to achieve high clock speeds, but it generally does less per clock cycle than competing CPUs. The latest P4s run as fast as 3.8GHz with 1MB or 2MB of cache and an 800MHz front-side bus. They’re also 64-bit courtesy of Intel’s EM64T—a version of the x86-64 64-bit instructions developed by AMD for its Intel-compatible Athlon 64 CPUs. EM64T P4’s perform both 32-bit and 64-bit instructions with equal facility, and, if Apple systems employing them are anything like the PC-side of things, they should support at least 64GB of directly addressable memory.
Some P4 models also feature Hyper-Threading, which creates two virtual CPUs to improve performance when running simultaneous tasks—like applying a Photoshop filter while you’re browsing the Web.
Designed for: Desktops and performance laptops
The Pentium D evolved out of the P4 and, like the G5 and most Intel CPUs, is manufactured using a state-of-the-art 90-nanometer process. The “D” stands for Dual-core which means two execution cores—the heart of a CPU that actually processes the instructions—on the same chip. It’s essentially the same concept as a dual-processor G5, except that the CPUs and support logic are found on a single piece of silicon. With two cores, Pentium D CPUs are especially adept at multi-tasking and all three models (2.8GHz, 3.0GHz, and 3.2GHz) feature the EM64T instruction set, 1MB of cache per core, and an 800MHz front-side bus.
Pentium 4 Extreme Edition
Designed for: Gaming and performance desktops
The newest version of the P4 EE is actually a Pentium D with Hyper-Threading enabled, meaning two physical processor cores split via Hyper-Threading for a total of four virtual CPUs. This latest flagship EE shouldn’t be confused with older EE models, which are single-core P4’s with HT and either a 2MB cache (3.73GHz, 1066MHz front-side bus, 90-nanometer model) or dual 512KB L2 and 2MB L3 caches (3.2Ghz/3.46GHz, 800MHz/1066MHz front-side bus, 130-nanometer models).
Designed for: Laptops
Some think that the 32-bit Pentium M is what Apple was really after from Intel in the short term. The Pentium M isn’t based on the P4 core; it’s a separate animal that does a lot more work per clock cycle. Available in clock speeds from 1.5- to 2.13GHz, it easily outperforms the G4 found in Apple’s fastest notebooks and offers wonderfully parsimonious power consumption. Pentium M notebooks regularly last more than five hours on a single battery charge—something iBook and Powerbook users can currently only dream of.
Designed for: budget desktops, laptops
Celerons are the lower-priced, 32-bit-only cousins of the Pentium that generally suffer a slower front-side bus, less cache or some other performance-inhibiting characteristic. They cost only a little less than low-end Pentium models but you never know what might make an appearance in a budget MacIntel.
[ Jon L. Jacobi is a widely published freelance computer journalist who lives and works the Bay Area. ]
[ EDITOR’S NOTE: A sentence about the EM64T Pentium 4 has been edited to correct a typographical error. ]