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PowerPC vs Intel Pentium Processors


Some manufacturers are producing personal computers with the PowerPC in place of an Intel Pentium CPU. Consequently, the market is developed by the two leaders, and, despite differing capacities, various technical goals and suitability for personal PC industry, these are regarded to be the most rival competent in the sphere of PC Central Processor Units. Originally, it is known that various emulation software is available for executing Pentium software on the PowerPC-based machines, consequently, the capabilities of both systems may be compared by the means of software.

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This paper aims to compare the Pentium and PowerPC CPUs in terms of their capabilities, their performance, and their suitability for use in personal computing. Thus, discussing the circumstances under which one or the other would be more suitable as a PC on someone’s desk will be the main objective, and the necessary recommendations and conclusions on the terms of business performance of both companies in the context of the capacities of their products will be given.

The technical characteristics and capacities, provided in the current paper will be regarded as the central criteria of estimation the two rivalries. Thus, all the considerations and conclusions will be made based on comparison of the independent studies.

The processors will be analyzed separately, and the final part of the paper will be dedicated to conclusions and resumes of the researches and analyses.

Power PC Processors

First of all, it should be stated that Power PC system is generally designed in accordance with Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) principles. This means that the processor is intended to perform simpler tasks, with the highest effectiveness possible. Halhed (2004) states that such design makes it possible to apply the processor for the superscalar implementation. As it is stated in May (2006, p. 183):

A superscalar CPU architecture implements a form of parallelism called instruction-level parallelism within a single processor. It allows faster CPU throughput than would otherwise be possible at the same clock rate. A superscalar processor executes more than one instruction during a clock cycle by simultaneously dispatching multiple instructions to redundant functional units on the processor. Each functional unit is not a separate CPU core but an execution resource within a single CPU such as an arithmetic logic unit, a bit shifter, or a multiplier.

In the light of this consideration, it should be emphasized that this feature makes the processor suitable for a wide range of assignments, thus, it is a good perspective for home PC.

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The technical features of Power PC 32 and 64 implementations are the following:

  • The processor architecture provides support for big-endian and little-endian modes (the switch between modes is performed at run-time). 970-based Macintosh computers use this feature for extending the range of the performed tasks, nevertheless holding the RISC principle for their systems.
  • Single-precision design creates the more suitable environment for processing the tasks with the floating-point, in distinction with double-precision forms. Apple co ordered the line of processors with the additional floating-point instructions, as single-precision design, which was originally used is hard to implement in the home-based PC systems.
  • Originally, there is a complete 64-bit specification that is backward compatible with the 32-bit mode
  • The 970 series entails a fused multiply-add, thus, decreasing the operation time, required for operations with integers.
  • The most important features that were added are the new memory management architecture, which is intended for replacing the paged memory management architecture for the applications, which are originally important for the proper functioning of the hardware. It is called the Book-e technology, which is generally regarded as an application software that is compatible with existing PowerPC implementations, nevertheless, it requires specific modifications of the operating system.

Consequently, the features, which are included in the majority of the models within a line, make the line suitable for the home PC use. Some of the features will not be required for the range of assignments, which are common for a home PC, nevertheless, the capacities and capabilities, projected for this CPU will positively affect the general performance.

On the other hand, the line lacks some important features, as they were considered too complex and useless. The fact is that, some of the features can be easily emulated by the operating system, if required, nevertheless, such emulation is not sufficiently effective, in comparison with the original functions. Thus, as May (2006) emphasizes, the processor now lacks the following instructions:

  • Conditional moves
  • Load and store instructions for the quad-precision floating-point data type
  • String instructions

Consequently, the features, required for the home PC application were not touched, and all the capacities, added, or removed did not affect the overall quality of performing the projected assignments.

The technical characteristics, and the matters of compatibility , should be emphasized that the processor is mainly designed for UNIX-based systems, as the System V Application Binary Interface is generally intended for compiled application programs. As Zucker and Karhi (2008, p. 12) emphasize in their research: “Its purpose (System V ABI) is to establish a standard binary interface for application programs on systems that implement the interfaces defined in the System V Interface Definition.” In the light of this perspective, 970 PowerPC processor seems too complex for the home use, nevertheless, it does not mean that it can not be used in such systems. Its multitasking seems to be an optimal solution for any type of system.

The architecture of the processor system is of particular importance for such type of research, thus, it should be stated that it is intended to operate in either of the two modes: Big-Endian or Little-Endian. Zucker and Karhi (2008, p. 18) state the following considerations on this issue:

This ABI specification really defines two binary interfaces, a Big-Endian ABI and a Little-Endian ABI. Programs and (in general) data produced by programs that run on an implementation of the Big-Endian interface are not portable to an implementation of the Little-Endian interface, and vice versa.

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The fact is that, IBM had already had the negative experience of implementing the PowerPC processors into the IBM computers. The key reason for this incident was associated with the matter, that Microsoft Windows operating system was not ready to function on the systems with PowerPC implemented. MS Windows, which is known as the most user-friendly operating system, is the most widely spread system all over the world, and average users choose PCs with Windows installed. Thus, the marketing strategy and business capabilities made PowerPC processors less suitable for wide users.

IBM tried to solve the problem by creating the OS/2 system, intended to work with PowerPC. Originally, it took IBM two years to rewrite the system, and, when it was finished, the market of the home-oriented Operating Systems was totally occupied.

Apple solved the problem of incompatibility by choosing the way of complete restructuring and editing the Mac OS operating system especially for the PowerPC architecture. 680×0 emulator that could run 68 K-based applications was added to the OS, thus, apple managed to occupy the wide segment of the home PCs market.

Summarizing up the allover review and analysis of the PowerPC processors, it should be stated that despite the lack of some specific characteristics, which are required for home use oriented systems, the range of systems, suitable for PowerPC processors is still rather extensive.

  • Apple’s Macintosh System 7.1.2 through Mac OS X 10.5.8.
  • Linux
    • CRUX PPC, with 32 and 64-bit releases
    • Debian. The developers recommend using the 32-bit “PowerPC” port on 64-bit systems (with an appropriate 64-bit kernel). (May, 2006)
    • Fedora with 32 and 64 bit PowerPC releases
    • Gentoo Linux.
    • MkLinux, Mach-kernel-based supply for older Macs.
    • OpenSUSE, Full support for PowerMacs (32 & 64bit), PS3/Cell, and IBM POWER systems.
    • Red Hat Enterprise Linux
    • Slackintosh
    • Ubuntu versions released after 6.10
    • Yellow Dog Linux, 32-bit native, 64-bit in beta
  • NetBSD, port designations for PowerPC systems
    • ofppc released
    • macppc released
    • evbppc released
    • pmppc released
    • mvmeppc released
    • bebox experimental
    • amigappc very experimental
  • FreeBSD, 32-bit PowerPC released port
  • OpenBSD, 32-bit macppc released port
  • Windows NT 3.51 and 4.0 also supported PowerPC processors
  • ReactOS is also being ported to the Power ISA.
  • AmigaOS 4
  • MorphOS
  • Plan 9
  • IBM i5/OS
  • Solaris 2.5.1 PowerPC edition on the PReP platform
  • OpenSolaris, experimental
  • BeOS R5 Pro (BeBox, Macintosh and clones)
  • Haiku, experimental
  • AuroraUX is an operating system based on OpenSolaris (Development And/or Delivery Platforms, 2008)

The recommendations, which should be given on the matters of using the PowerPC processors will be associated with the matters of proper selection of the Operating System, which will be used with home-oriented aims. Thus, most of the enlisted OS is not suitable for home use, and is intended to be operated by experienced users with at least basic knowledge of programming and command-line operations.

Intel Pentium Processor

To begin with, it should be emphasized that the original Pentium processors are 32- and 64-bit microprocessors Designed and produced by Intel. The main feature of Intel-based processors is the micro-architecture. Moore (2007, p. 119) states the following notion on this matter:

Its micro-architecture was a direct extension of the 80486 architecture with dual integer pipelines, a faster FPU, wider data bus, and features for further reduced address calculation latency. Thus, it was the origin of the Pentium 4 generation microprocessors. The NetBurst micro-architecture was implemented in these processors, the key feature of which was Hyper-Pipelined Technology – 20-stage pipeline that was two times longer than in previous generation of Pentium processors. While longer pipelines are less efficient than shorter ones, they allow the CPU to reach higher frequencies, and thus increase CPU performance.

Originally, in order to make the highly competitive product, Intel Pentium Processors were featured with lots of useful functions. The fact is that, these functions make them suitable for a wide range of tasking, as for the home oriented use, and application in most operational systems (in contrast with the PowerPC processors, which are intended for a restricted range of Operation Systems). These are the mentioned features:

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  • Trace Execution Cache
  • Advanced Transfer Cache
  • Enhanced Branch prediction
  • Quad Data Rate bus
  • Hyper-Threading technology.

It should be stated, that when it was first released, Pentium 4 architecture included 144 new SIMD (Single Instruction Multiple Data) instructions which are known as SSE2. Later versions of Pentium 4 processors are also featured with this technical capacity, nevertheless, they are designed on the basis of 64-bit instructions (EM64T). (Legit Processor Reviews, 2009)

The line of Pentium 4 Processors presupposes the following characteristics:

Architecture Cash Clock Speed Front Side Bus Dual Core Intel Vizualization Technology Hyper-Threading Technology Inter EM64T Execute Disable Bit
Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 965 65nm LGA775 2X2MB L2 3.73 GHz 1066 MHz
Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 955 65nm LGA775 2X2MB L2 3.46 GHz 1066 MHz
Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 90 nm LGA775 2X2MB L2 3.20 GHz 800 MHz

The latest line of Pentium 4 processors is featured with the fastest single-core processors, with the clock speed of 3.73 GHz. Added with a 1066MHz front-side bus, this processor may be regarded as the most universal processor in the world. It is aimed at working in the majority of programming environments, under the widest range of Operating Systems, and for various home use-oriented assignments.

Following the research by Legit Processor Reviews (2009), there is strong necessity to emphasize that the latest models of processors by Intel may be selected either by professionals, or by students for quicker work and quicker performance. Thus, the following statement is emphasized:

Intel recommends using the Delta EPS12V 600W DPS-600MB M power supply or equivalent with a 2×4 (instead of a 2×2) 12V2 connector to provide headroom and allow for more current and power to be delivered to the processor. The processor and power specifications provided with the Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 955 still apply to the new Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 965. Now that we know what the Intel 965 is all about let’s take a look at the new stepping. (Legit Processor Reviews, 2009)

Micro-architecture is the essential advantage, which allows Intel to cooperate with different companies, engaged in portable technologies sphere. Thus, the necessity to enter the sphere of portable technologies, Intel was forced to elaborate the M series of Pentium 4 processors. The necessity was originated by the fact, that Pentium 4 processors ran too hot, required too much power, and, consequently, discharged the batteries very quickly. The actions required essential rapidness, as AMD had already represented Athlon 64 and mobile Turion. Consequently, the model can not be regarded as a successful one, and has numerous drawbacks, such as mistakes in switching process between big-endian and little-endian modes. (Zucker and Karhi, 2008).

Nevertheless, the second generation of M processors, based on the previous experience of mobile and portable processors, exceeds Athlon 64 in numerous features, such as energy consumption, and in the terms of performance. Notebooks (2007, p. 89) journal review gives the following data:

The Pentium M is based on an older P6 architecture, the same key design elements which in fact powered Intel processors from the venerable Pentium Pro right through to the Pentium III. Intel reverted back to this tried and true processor core architecture because it was more efficient than the Pentium 4 NetBurst architecture.

Nevertheless, in spite of the micro size, the serial bus is fully compatible with the Pentium 4 system bus, nevertheless, the socket 479 of Pentium M processor differs from socket 478 Pentium, designed for desktop computer systems. Thus, the M series is not intended for home-oriented use, taking into consideration the fact of the original aim of this line. These models are mainly used in industrial computer technologies, as these are designed for the extreme precision, and require definite tasking, which is not attributable to home PCs. Originally, it is confirmed in the research by Desktop PCs (2007, p. 490):

PCSTATS has seen a few Pentium M based computers pass our test bench, the most notable being a Shuttle xPC SD11G5 small form factor PC. Desktop computer products for the mobile Pentium M (socket 479) processor remain specialized, but owing to its superior performance against a Pentium 4, reduced heat output, and lower power demands socket 479 desktop components are being scooped up by enthusiasts quite readily.


As a result of the provided research, the conclusion, that should be highlighted is that both representatives of the processor market have reached various goals, in spite of pursuing the same aims. The fact is that, the technical characteristics of both producers are close to the latest requirements of the time to the PC systems, nevertheless, PowerPC just lost its opportunity to become a leader. As for the technical characteristics, it should be emphasized that these are suitable for the restricted range of operational systems, which are originally poorly suitable for home-oriented use. In the light of this fact, it should be emphasized that PowerPC may be regarded as the perfect tool for running under UNIX-based systems, which are suitable for administration and programming for UNIX systems. Instructions, which the PowerPC processors are featured with, make these processors the reliable units of the computer system, nevertheless, PowerPC did not succeed in the sphere of portable technologies, consequently, it is steadily losing its position.

As for Intel Pentium processors, most researchers and testers agree that it is the reliable tool for the majority of programming environments, which is featured with the high technical characteristics and the sufficient safety factor. The temporary lag in the sphere of portable technologies was compensated by close to perfect line of M series processors. Nevertheless, this series is not intended for the home use, and due to its high price, is used mainly in industry, industrial programming, and control. The high precision level of these processors makes them reliable and durable enough for performing the industrial tasks. Pentium 4 processors are regarded as the suitable variant for the wide range of home use, and these are suitable for the majority of Operating systems, and are featured with high technical capacities.


Desktop PCs. (2007). T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), 27(11), 138.

Development And/or Delivery Platforms. (2008). T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), 21(9), 8.

Halhed, B. R. (2004). Intel on the Conferencing Market. Business Communications Review, 24, 62.

Legit Processor Reviews (2009) Intel Pentium Processor 965 Extreme Edition Review. Web.

May, C. (2006) “The PowerPC Architecture: A Specification for A New Family of RISC Processors” Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.

Moore, G. E. (2007). Intel – Memories and the Microprocessor. Daedalus, 125(2), 55.

Notebooks. (2007). T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), 28(2), 122.

Willis, W. (2008). SYS Performance AX-500P3 Pentium IV PC. T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), 27(1), 74.

Zucker, S., Karhi, K. (2008) System v Application Binary Interface PowerPC Processor Supplement Sunsoft, Sun Micosystems Inc. California.

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