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Mention of the Pentium 4 is commonly met with disgust from a certain portion of techies, the Pentium III was a far superior CPU they will tell you. Tech reviews from the time seem to affirm this and the early Pentium 4’s looked to be outperformed by both AMD’s Athlon XP chips and the older Intel Pentium 3 but how bad really was the early Pentium 4?

Its actually not that uncommon for a new CPU architecture to be outdone by the last models of the previous generation. There are several examples of this in the history of CPU development. For instance the AMD 386DX-40 was faster then the early 486’s and late 486 chips like the AMD 133mhz 5×86 (a 486 in all but name) easily outshines the original Pentiums. Why then is there such distaste for the first generation of “Willamette” core Pentium 4 CPUs? When Intel developed the Pentium 4 they used a new architecture called NetBurst which differed from the P6 architecture of the Pentium II and III before it. Many felt Intel would of done better to continue to evolve the P6 architecture and that NetBurst was good for gaining higher mhz numbers (which consumers paid attention to) but not giving better performance relative to those numbers. Once the Northwood cores hit the market in 2ghz+ speeds performance of the Pentium 4 became quite good but I believe most of the hate for the Pentium 4 is centered around those early Socket 423 Willamette core P4’s and these are what I wanted to test. Were the Willamette Pentiums 4s as bad as they say?

Before we start the article proper though I want to make a point very clear. This article is ONLY focusing on the Willamette based Pentium 4 as it operated with high end era correct parts within the end of 2000 and into 2001. It is not meant to represent the overall Pentium 4 line such as later Northwood, Prescott ect… chip revisions. It is also not meant to represent the full potential of the 1.5ghz Willamette CPU, as in using overpowered GPU’s and drivers from much later time periods as not to bottleneck the CPU. One example of this would be taking the machine below and installing a Geforce 6 or 7, a GPU released far after the 1.5ghz Willamette and then seeing how it performs. Also please keep in mind software optimized for the Pentium 4 and thus taking advantage of SSE2 instructions was not widely available in 2000/2001 which is the time period we are looking at for this build.

I frequently read about how the Pentium III easily stomped the Willamette based Pentium 4 CPUs in performance and I wanted to test this myself. To this end I decided to build the ultimate year 2000 Pentium 4 machine. The Pentium 4 did come out in late 2000 but probably wasn’t readily available to consumers until 2001 but I thought it would be fun create a year 2000 specific machine using the best parts that money could buy at the time. I’d like to think maybe it could of been a very expensive high end Christmas present assembled in December of 2000.


For a case I just went with a beige white case that I felt was very representative of the time. I kept things pretty simple with bay drives and limited my build to a pretty standard 1.44mb floppy drive as well as a DVD drive manufactured in 1999. At this point CD-ROM drives would of still been very common but I went with DVD since that would of been the high end and they were widely available in 2000. I believe this drive is a x12 speed but x16 speed drives were available. For a hard drive I’m using a ATA-100 40gb Quantum Fireball AS drive from early 2000.

Motherboard – Obviously the star of this build is going to be the socket 423 motherboard. Socket 423 was the original socket for the Pentium 4 and was a very short lived socket type only being in production a very short time before the Pentium 4 moved on to socket 478. Because of this, socket 423 boards tend to be pretty hard to find these days and can command a high price on the internet. Socket 423 supported the 1.3ghz to 2.0ghz Willamette based Pentium 4s. Intel quickly realized this socket was not adequate for higher clocked CPU’s so it was ditched fairly quickly for socket 478.

The motherboard I choose was the Legend QDI Plantinix 4x board largely on the bases of its availability to me to purchase and its unconventional look with RAM placement. The QDI Plantinix motherboard features RIMM slots for RDRAM (will get to that shortly) as well as an AGP x4 slot and an Intel 850 chipset.

1 ) Usually I mark the PSU connector as an afterthought but socket 423 is actually a bit picky about its power supplies. Socket 423 boards along with a standard 20 pin and 4 pin ATX +12 volt connector requires a supply with a 6 pin AUX power connector. It kind of looks like one half of an old AT power connector and plugs in next to the 20 pin connector.

This connector is necessary to properly power the socket 423 board and CPU. It’s not a very common connector to find on power supplies but I had the most luck searching under “Pentium 4 PSU” in eBay searches. These power supplies will all be fairly old at this point like mine and I had to go through 2 supplies to get a working unit. I failed to find an adapter to add an AUX connection to a more modern supply but they may exist.

2 ) CPU – Socket 423 supported all the Willamette CPUs which were produced in speeds of 1.3ghz to 2ghz. In 2000 only two Pentium 4s were available, the 1.4ghz and 1.5ghz version. The slowest 1.3ghz CPU interestingly was not released until very early January 2001. Originally I used a 1.3ghz CPU as seen in the image below just to see how slow the slowest P4 actually was but later decided to upgrade to the 1.5ghz model after discovering the performance difference in games was only 1-3 FPS in most cases and to make a truer year 2000 machine.

Except for the 200mhz speed difference and indication of clock speed on the chip the 1.3ghz CPU shown above and the 1.5ghz CPU installed on my motherboard look exactly the same. All Willamette P4s have 256kb of full speed  L2 cache on die which is the same as most of the Pentium III CPUs (exceptions being some of the Tualatin models and the early slot 1 Pentium III’s which had 512kb of half speed L2 cache). Later the L2 cache would be bumped up to 512kb on the Northwoods and even higher on later model P4 chips.

Socket 423 CPUs are rather large coming in a little bigger then a Coppermine Pentium III and much bigger then the later Northwood P4 as seen below

(CPU’s from left to right, Coppermine Pentium III, Willamette Pentium 4, Northwood Pentium 4)

3 ) RAM – Most socket 423 boards also used an unusual and (in the realm of consumer PC motherboards) short lived RAM type known as RDRAM or Rambus DRAM. RDRAM was expected to be the next PC memory standard replacing SDRAM  but was eventually beaten by DDR memory. In the days of the early Pentium 4 though Intel had licensed the use of RDRAM with its chipsets so RIMM slots (Rambus in-line Memory Module) showed up on many socket 423 boards. Also to note is that even though RDRAM is primarily associated with early Pentium 4 motherboards it can also be found on a few Pentium III PC’s such as the Dell Dimension XPS B733r.

RDRAM was both very expensive and ran quite hot. It was so pricey that Intel had to subsidies it and include it with certain motherboards. It also required a heat spreader be attached due to the heat it produced. It was found that the relatively small performance increase in some areas did not justify the cost and RDRAM was quickly replaced in the coming years by DDR which in general was faster, cheaper and ran cooler.

The Legend QDI Plantinix 4x board supports up to 2GB of RDRAM but since I’m going to be running Windows 98se I’m only going to a max of 512mb via four PC800 128mb sticks.

The Legend QDI Plantinix 4x has one of the most unusual RAM slot orientations I’ve seen in a post 1980’s motherboard with two slots being in a typical close side by side configuration close to the CPU and another slot spaced further away with a fourth slot being completely perpendicular to the other three. I’m not sure why they went with this setup other then maybe as a space saving feature. This board is also very picky about RAM as well as placement and sizes. RDRAM requires it be installed in sets of two and any unused slots require a “CRIMM” or dummy RAM be inserted as a terminator.

4 ) CNR Slot – CNR or Communications and Networking Riser was another Pentium 4 era slot that was quickly phased out of personnel computers. It was primarily intended for networking and audio cards.

5) IDE – Two ATA-100 IDE connectors for connecting IDE devices (two devices each) like hard drives and CD/DVD ROM drives.

6) Floppy – standard floppy drive connector.

Now for my sound and video card selections for the top of the line in 2000.

Sound – For a sound card I went with the Creative Sound Blaster Live! which was sort of the default sound card of the time.

The card I have installed in the Value version manufactured in 2000 but other then lacking an extended I/O connector and having color coded ports as opposed to gold is identical to the regular version. The Live! cards also supported EAX (Environmental Audio Extensions) 1.0 and 2.0 which many games of the time supported. An Aureal based card would of been another sound option but I feel the Live! cards are a little more compatible feature wise and more representative of 2000.

Video – Finally we have the graphics card. This was actually a very easy decision as the top dog of 2000 was easily the Geforce 2 Ultra.

The AGP x4 Geforce 2 Ultra was pretty much unanimously sighted as the most powerful graphics card of 2000 and in some circumstances even proved faster then the initial Geforce 3 card that preceded it. The Ultra came with 32mb of video memory and was clocked higher then the base model GF2 GTS and GF2 Pro beating out both of the competing Voodoo 5500 and Radeon DDR cards.

One thing to note is that finding a Geforce 2 Ultra can sometimes be a challenge since they can be sought after but also because certain other Geforce cards can almost look identical.

So with that out of the way lets look at some benchmarks to see if the Willamette Pentium 4 really does drag this beast of a year 2000 machine down. To compare I wanted to use a fairly contemporary machine so I choose my Dell Dimension 4100 from 2001 as the competition. This PC will be running the exact same video and sound card as the Pentium 4 PC. The CPU I have installed is a 1ghz Coppermine Pentium III released in 2000 and also using the old P6 CPU architecture.

Both machines are also using the same video drivers (version 45.23) as well as Power Strip 2.78 in order to disable Vsync. Driver version 45.23 are later drivers from around 2003 but unfortunately drivers from 2000 were giving me direct x errors and to be honest I didn’t feel like dealing with it. differences should be minor. Both machines are also running Windows 98se and using 512MB of RAM. I am also using “Optimal default” BIOS settings on both machines and have double checked to make sure L1 and L2 cache is enabled. The first test I wanted to run was just a few synthetic benchmarks just to get a feel of the two systems. The benchmarks I ran were 3DMark 2000 and 20001se as well as PCP Bench Version 2.10. All tests were run at a resolution of 1024 x 768 with 32 bit color. This was a high but reasonable resolution for the time.

Initial Benchmarks put the Pentium III ahead by a wide margin in 3D Mark 2000 and with only a slight lead in 3D Mark 2001se. Not looking good for the Pentium 4 so far. For PCP Bench the results were

PCP Bench V. 2.10

Pentium III – 119.7 FPS

Pentium 4 – 84.9 FPS

So once again in PCP Bench the Pentium III handily beats the 500mhz faster P4.

Lastly I wanted to run some gaming benchmarks as I feel they give a better idea of performance so I ran six different game benchmarks multipal times on each machine to get a average. The results are.

In four of the six games the Pentium III easily bests the higher clocked Pentium 4. The only two exceptions being the demanding Comanche 4 bench where we basically have a tie due to margin of error and the Expendable benchmark where the Pentium 4 only pulls ahead by about 3 FPS.

Keep in mind results may vary depending on the motherboard used. To be completely honest I was surprised at how much better the Pentium III performed to the point I went back and reran the benchmark tests on the P4 system just to confirm the findings. According to every test I’ve run along with real world usage I’ve had with both machines it appears the talk of the early P4s being noticeably inferior to the previous generation was in fact true at least when looked at in the very early years using period parts and when running in higher resolutions. Now in truth the Willamette based Pentium 4’s may not deserve the hate they tend to get. In my experience the chips have been fairly stable and do run basic tasks just fine. They also when paired with a powerful graphics card of the time like the Geforce 2 tend to run games of the early 2000’s just fine on moderate settings or even high and at 800 x 600 resolution depending on the game. The Pentium III on the other hand just tends to do tasks a little better. This isn’t even mentioning the more capable Tualatin based Pentium III’s with double the L2 cache and 400mhz more clock speed then my 1ghz Coppermine CPU.

One important thing that is worth noting about the early Pentium 4’s is that software in the early 2000’s had yet to take advantage of the P4’s SSE2 instructions and thus in the early days of the 2000’s software was not optimized for the Pentium 4 CPU. There is also the matter of controversy of the time around Intel fudging the benchmark results to favor the Pentium 4 over the Athlon and Pentium III which eventually led to a class action lawsuit. In the end though there is a reason Intel quickly abandoned socket 423.

Other games tested were GTA III, Halo and Far Cry. GTA III chugged along at default settings with about 20 FPS at 1360 x 768 but hit the frame limiter cap at a pretty consistent 30 FPS when resolution was brought down to 800 x 600. Far Cry ran more or less fine at 1024 x 768 on medium settings at around 30 FPS with dips in the mid to low 20’s when several enemies were on screen or there was a large explosion. Turning the Resolution down to 800 x 600 gave better results with FPS hitting as high as the 50’s at points and rarely dipping into the mid 20’s when a lot was going on. Halo seemed to be unplayable at 1024 x 768 but at 640 x 480 and everything set to high it was playable. A more powerful graphics card will obviously improve results but is out of the scope of a “year 2000 build”.

In the year 2000 and 2001 as well it does appear you were better off either sticking to your Pentium III or going the AMD route with the Athlon XP. I don’t feel the Pentium 4 really became competitive until the later Northwood cores started clocking over 2ghz and especially with the 2.5ghz hyperthreading models. I’d certainly be interested in how much difference a 2ghz Willamette makes against the Pentium III or even an early Northwood against a 1ghz Pentium III but that’s a matter for another article.

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