How fast is the PIII? Don't ask
But graphics apps' performance jumps by as much as a third, vendors acknowledge.
February 22, 1999
by Peggy Watt
(IDG) -- Intel's much-touted Pentium III processor is enhanced, efficient, and fast -- but don't ask how fast. Intel issued a gag order on software vendors showing applications optimized for the new chip at the Pentium III Processor Preview Day in San Jose, California, Wednesday.
The event was a software-only showcase, but the new applications ran on an anonymous gallery of new PIII systems. The hardware vendors, who will unveil their PIII systems next week when the chip officially debuts, were silent participants.
And even the eager software vendors couldn't detail what the hardware does for their software -- especially, how fast it does it.
"Intel prohibited us from making any specific comments about speed," said one software developer sheepishly. "We can't give numbers. We can just say it's faster. Tremendously faster. Dramatically faster."
That is, from 10 to 33 percent faster, admitted a few developers who were coaxed into estimating how much the Pentium III boosted their programs' performance.
"When you get to the level of subpixel rendering, you can see the improvement," said Brent McKendry, product marketing manager for Ulead Systems' Video Studio, a video-editing application. Some three-dimensional transition effects particularly benefit from the chip, he said.
"The response is better" when a Pentium III carries out the commands, McKendry said. "You can move the cursor to change the angle and have an instant response. The older systems had a delay in redrawing the image."
Cool 3D, another Ulead product, which designs video with special effects like animation and textures, runs significantly faster on a PIII machine, said Steve Stautzenbach, vice president of sales and marketing. In fact, the developer is enhancing the software to offer some new effects because the faster chip can handle the calculations.
Generally, programs that get the greatest boost are those that do intensive mathematical calculations to render complex images.
"The PIII definitely helps with rendering, because that operation has a lot of floating-point calculations that the chip can handle," said Philip Staiger, a product manager with TGS. The company's AMAPI 3D is a three-dimensional image modeler that generates high-resolution graphics and integrates variables of light, shadows, textures, and movement. It relies heavily on floating-point calculations.
Unlike Virtual Reality Modeling Language, which sends geometric information to generate images, AMAPI sends mathematical descriptions, which the PIII can handle adeptly, company representatives said.
"There was no way to do this kind of operation reasonably before the PIII," Staiger said.
Graphics programs are clearly the biggest beneficiaries of the PIII's prowess, analysts said.
The added speed and 70 new instructions make 3D games come alive and voice recognition sing.
"If your main focus is 3D gaming, then [the PIII] is going to be worth the investment, but if you're a mainstream PC applications user you aren't going to see a huge boost in performance," said Linley Gwennap, an analyst at Micro Design Resources.
"The P-III is an evolutionary advance, not a revolutionary one," said Dean McCarron, an analyst with Mercury Research.
However, both agreed that as Intel boosts the Pentium III's clock speeds and caching, the chip could make a more evident difference. Intel Wednesday announced a 550-MHz chip scheduled to ship in the second quarter. Analysts expect the PIII to reach speeds of up to 800-MHz. And later versions of the PIII expected this year will include 256KB of integrated cache, which will improve performance substantially. In some cases Intel's Pentium II chips contain more cache, but because the cache is located on a separate piece of silicon it is less efficient.
Tom Spring of PC World Online also contributed to this report.
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