You'll see a lot of hype surrounding the 3.06GHz Pentium 4, and doubtless you'll see benchmark scores for the new processor. If you do, regard them with a heavy degree of skepticism because all is not rosy with this chip.
Yes, you can benchmark a 3.06GHz system and return some amazing results, but we found glaring problems performing everyday tasks that dropped its speeds from 3GHz to pre-Cambrian 200MHz levels. When benching the 3GHz, it felt like I was trying to benchmark a Pentium MMX on Windows 95.
A cornerstone of PC Authority is the in-depth and thorough examinations that we put products through. We test until we're satisfied. Some products are terrible, and we call it like it is, but if we're unsatisfied with any benchmark results because of a faulty product we won't run a review and you won't read it - otherwise it would be unfair to the product, the manufacturer and you.
However, there's something so fishy with the Hyper-Threaded 3.06GHz Pentium 4 that we're breaking that silence. We received a reference board and chip from Intel (see facing page) that ran our benchmark suite without a hitch. Nice.
We also received a 3GHz Dell Dimension 8250 and a 3GHz HP Presario 6290 both with different custom motherboards. Everything looked good until we tried to benchmark the machines, which is when we ran into our first stumbling block.
Once of the many benchmarks we run is BAPCo's SYSmark2002, an application-based benchmark that comes in two massive self-extracting zip files on two CDs.
These zips extract the benchmark installation files to a directory on the target PC's hard drive, and we install the benchmarks from there. Ignoring the benchmark itself, we couldn't even unzip one of these discs to the machine without it taking over 25 minutes. Even after copying the file to a directory on the drive and unzipping from there took the same time (including five minutes for the first dialog box to appear after double clicking the unzip icon).
Admittedly it can take a while to unzip one of the CDs, but we tried it on a Pentium 4 2.53GHz machine, a Pentium III 666MHz and an Athlon XP 2600+ and the whole process took three to four minutes on each.
In fact, because of these problems, we ended up with two Dell Dimension 8250 machines - which meant that at the time of writing we had every single 8250 system Dell had in the country.
Even after clean installs of the OS the problems persisted. We had exactly the same trouble with the HP Presario.
We could run 3DMark2001 and other benchmarks with no discernable problems, but just unzipping a file?
To verify, we created a 600MB self-extracting zip on another system, and unzipped it on the P4s and received the same results. This shoddy performance was repeated regardless of HT being enabled or disabled.
This does not mean that the Dell or HP systems are bad machines, in fact they look like some of the best value purchases available, but unfortunately there's something inherently wrong with the chipset, processor, drivers or third-party motherboards that needs to be addressed.
We're going to hold off on giving you a definitive evaluation of the two systems until PC Authority, Dell, HP, Microsoft and Intel have sorted out exactly where the problem lies and arrive at a solution.
We'll keep you posted.