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Hyper-Threading Has Its Limits

The Hyper-Threading technology in Intel's new 3.06GHz Pentium 4 fools the operating system into thinking there are twice as many processors, but customers need to be educated that the chip is not twice as powerful.

Hyper-Threading increases performance by about 12 percent, according to measurements conducted by the CRN Test Center. In its testing, Intel claims performance boosts of about 26 percent at the high end.

Currently, only Microsoft Windows XP and the latest Linux kernels support Hyper-Threading. Intel does not recommend Windows 2000 for systems with Hyper-Threading and would not comment on the possibility of a patch for that operating system. To follow Intel's recommendations, most end users will have to upgrade their OS license to use the new Pentium 4.

Obviously, the architecture favors multithreaded applications, particularly if they rely on multiple CPU subsystems at similar levels. A good rule of thumb is applications that benefit from dual-processor architecture will benefit from Hyper-Threading, but to a much lesser extent. Examples include Adobe Photoshop, most CAD programs and video-encoding programs.

The technology also favors running multiple applications concurrently, especially those emphasizing different CPU resources; for example, while using Microsoft PowerPoint during a virus scan.

For testing, the Test Center built a system consisting of a 3.06GHz Pentium 4, a D850EMVR motherboard, 512 Mbytes of PC1066-32 memory, an nVidia GeForce 3 Ti 500 video card, an Adaptec 29160 Ultra160 SCSI controller and an 18-Gbyte Fujitsu MAM3184 hard drive. A DV-to-AVI video clip was encoded for DVD using the Main Concept MPEG Encoder V1.3 with Hyper-Threading enabled and disabled to test performance differences.

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