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Intel Pentium III


Intel Pentium III logo: Image courtesy of Intel Corporation

The Pentium II's long reign at the top of the "x86" processor hierarchy has finally come to an end. The usurper, the new Intel Pentium III processor. What exactly is this newcomer? What does it bring to the already crowded Processor marketplace? What advantages does it have over its illustrious predecessor? Will it see off the challenge of the great pretender to the throne, AMD? There are many questions this new chip raises.

Well, to find out more, read on.


What exactly is the Pentium III?

The Pentium III at first sight may inspire some cynicism from the seasoned PC user. It is not a new generation of CPU design as the name appears to imply. The PIII is at the centre just another iteration of the existing and very sucessful P6 line of processors (ie. Pentium Pro, Pentium II, Celeron). Whereas the Pentium was Intel's 5th generation offering, its mainstrean P6 (the original being the niche market Pentium Pro) was branded the Pentium II as a means of clear product demarkation. The Pentium III is not a Intel's 7th generation chip, as we will have to wait until the release of the Willamette for that.

The Pentium III is to the Pentium II what the Pentium MMX was to the original Pentium. It is a processor which sees its core enhanced by the addition of 70 new instructions designed to enhance 3D and multi-media applications. Entitled Streaming SIMD (pronounced "sim D" I am reliably informed by Intel), these instructions are designed to enhance the already impressive floating point capability of the P6 design.

SSE

As already stated, the big difference the Pentium III has over its older P6 siblings is the inclusion of SSE instructions. Some may think that this feels like a repetition of the MMX flop of only two years ago. Intel brought MMX to the market amid bright lights, dancing Bunny People™ and general hyperbole. It was a huge marketing success with everyone wanting the little MMX logo next to the Intel Inside sticker on their PC. The problem though was that Intel just assumed developers would take up these new instructions and implement them in their applications......they didn't. MMX was by 1998 a huge flop and the little MMX logo on the Intel Inside stickers slowly disappeared from view.

Now older and wiser, Intel has chosen not to make the same mistake twice. Even before its launch SSE has already got considerable industry support with many new applications being designed to take full advantage of these new instructions. SSE it appears will turn out to be something tangible, and not just the marketing exercise MMX was. What SSE does, like AMD's "3D Now!" is to accelerate many of the floating point geometry instructions carried out by the CPU before passing the instructions over to the display adaptor. This significantly increases the output of the display adaptor, thus enhancing 3D performance.

Already beaten to the marketplace in Streaming SIMD instructions by AMD's "3DNow!", SSE has much ground to make up for Intel over its fast rising competitor. To make up for lost ground, SSE had to be significantly better than "3DNow!". On first sight, it appears that SSE has the edge over "3DNow", especially in its current K6-2 & III guises. SSE has fewer constraints than "3DNow!" and uses a wider variety of instructions to carry out its tasks. This though is speculation as it will be hard to compare until there are a variety of applications which take advantage of both these instruction sets.


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