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Pentium III:

Is it worth your gaming dollar?

Every time a new processor is released,   gamers must cut through the hype and figure out if the new processor is worth their money. The recent release of the Pentium III has left many people confused on which new processor to choose for their gaming machine. Want to know whether the Pentium III is worth your money? Read ahead to find out.

The Pentium 3 is the first retail chip to support Intel’s SIMD instruction set. SIMD (Single Instruction Multiple Data) is Intel’s answer to AMD’s 3D-NOW! Instruction set. SIMD supports advanced 3D calculations, voice recognition and the Intel Processor Serial Numbering System. This new set of instructions is supposed to be more comprehensive than AMD’s 3D-NOW! Instruction set.

When I first took the Pentium III out of the box, I noticed that the chip had a new casing design. The new casing design looks like a cross between a Celeron and one-half of a Pentium 2 case. Beyond that minor difference, the Pentium III looks no different than a Pentium II or Celeron processor. In order to get the processor working on my motherboard, I had to go to the homepage of my motherboard manufacturer and download new Bios. Before you decide you want to flash your motherboard, make sure you know you have the right Bios BEFORE you flash it. If you flash the Bios wrong or put in the wrong Bios revision, your motherboard will become a very expensive paperweight. With the new Bios in place, the Pentium III booted right up and recognized with no problems.

After a fresh Windows 98 installation, I was ready to proceed with the processor benchmarks. The fresh install was used so that each processor I tried would work to its full potential. The four processors I decided on for benchmarks were as follows: A Pentium III 450, a Celeron 400 running at 450 (75mhz bus), a Pentium 2 350, and a Celeron 333 running at 333. The benchmarks I chose were a varied lot so as to give me an Idea how the processor would perform in general applications and games. The test machine included the following components: Soyo SY-6BA+ motherboard, Viper 550, 128 Megs Ram, Sonic Impact S90 soundcard, Teac 32x CD-ROM, Western Digital 6.4 Gig UDMA Hard Drive, and Windows 98. After running the benchmarks and taking the average of the three trials for each processor, here are the numbers that were produced:

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As you can see, the Pentium III doesn’t perform much better in real world applications than a Celeron 400 clocked at 450. The only area in which the Pentium III really outperformed the Celeron was the CPU 32 benchmarks. This performance gain was most likely due to the larger cache on the Pentium III, which allows more of the test to fit into the cache. On the Floating Point Unit tests (FPU) it was easy to see why the faster cache on the Celeron makes such a difference. Floating point operations generally are small enough to fit into the cache on the Celeron, allowing it to run at full core speed which offsets the larger cache on the Pentium 2 and 3. Quake 2 Benchmarks showed that without the SIMD instructions active, the Pentium III barely outperforms the Celeron 400 @ 450.

After considering the numbers, it was easy to decide whether the $700 price tag of the Pentium III was worth the performance gained over the $175 Celeron 400 clocked at 450. In my opinion, without support for the SIMD instructions, the Pentium III isn’t worth buying now. Most gamers would be better off looking into more RAM, SCSI hard drives, or a better video card before looking at the P III. When more definite support of the SIMD instruction set is programmed into games, the P III may be the processor of choice. At the moment however, the Celeron still reigns supreme for price vs. performance.

-Tom Monter