In a few weeks it is exactly two years ago we pushed a Pentium 4 processor beyond 3GHz for the first time, without help of any phase change or other cooling device other than the stock Intel heatsink. We actually managed to push this Pentium 4 with a rated clockspeed of 3.06GHz to 3.49GHz, with the 850e chipset and 512MB of PC1066 RDRAM running at a 150MHz FSB. If we compare that to today's processors, 3.49 GHz is still respectable, although back in 2002 we expected to see clockspeeds well in excess of 4GHz by now. Actually we've seen many chipsets, processors and technologies come and go over the past two years and expected to have a system today that would put the performance of this '02 system to shame.
In reality the performance of this two year old PC is only held back by the fact that the chipset lacks AGP 8X support, which means it is a few percent slower in graphics benchmarks compared to the latest PCI-E chipsets. In terms of memory or chipset performance it can hold its own, even when compared to Intel's latest i925 chipset featuring DDR2 memory. Surprising, because when we compare this '02 system to a '00 system the difference is remarkable. The fastest PC in '00 was equipped with about a 800MHz Pentium III, PC133 SDRAM or PC800 RDRAM memory and could not hold a candle next to the '02 Pentium 4. So despite all of the new technologies such as Serial ATA, HyperThreading and 64-bit instruction sets that were introduced over the past two years, the net result is only a slight increase in performance.
Realistically the only part of a PC that has consistently been getting faster is the graphics card. Today we're at a point where there's more processing power and number of transistors in a graphics processor than in any Intel or AMD desktop processor. Could it be because one of the driving forces behind graphics processor development is that the engineers are not bound by any standards they have to adhere to, other than the interface connector and the output signals? All desktop processors manufactured by Intel and AMD to date have to support the x86 and 386 instruction sets that are now well over two decades old. And although we've come a long way since the 8086 isn't it about time we abandon these old instruction sets and start from scratch?