Intel releases speed-bumped microprocessors on a fairly regular basis, but this week's introduction of new Pentium 4 processors represents a more significant performance gain than usual. Yes, the clock speeds are faster (the new chips run at 2.53GHz, 2.26GHz, and 2.4GHz), but the release's big gains are a new 533MHz system bus and support for 1066MHz Rambus RDRAM memory. These advances edge Intel's offerings beyond rival AMD and distance the PC world dramatically from the Macintosh's aging Power PC designs, which are mired with top CPU speeds of 1GHz and lowly 133MHz system bus and memory speeds.

"The latest Pentium 4 processors deliver the versatility to improve everything from gaming to the use of cutting-edge business tools," said Louis Burns, vice president and general manager of Intel's Desktop Platforms Group. "For example, PCs based on the new Pentium 4 processor at 2.53GHz can convert songs into MP3 format almost six times faster than the quickest PCs of 3 years ago--a tremendous time savings for end users."

How fast are systems based on the new Pentium 4 processor chips? According to Intel, such systems can encode MPEG-4 video five times faster than typical Pentium III systems and can achieve seven times the frame rate in popular 3-D games. And compared to the top system of a year ago, the 1.7GHz Pentium 4 processor, the new systems are 40 percent faster in both these areas. After testing the new CPUs against AMD's fastest offering, the Athlon XP 2100+, hardware-performance site Tom's Hardware gave the nod to the new Pentium 4 processors as well, noting that in all 25 benchmark tests the Intel came out ahead of the AMD. PC companies such as Compaq, Dell, and Gateway are already selling systems based on the new chips.