Intel has lifted the embargo on its Pentium 4 chip - it's out today. But for the moment users won’t see much of an improvement, until software is written specially for it and the chips get even faster.

P4 is a leap forward in terms of building chips, but today’s applications aren’t built to best use it so home users will probably not see much improvement in baseline speed. PC Advisor gets first crack at a P4 system in this month’s issue, a Dell 8100.

Intel was due to launch the P4 back in October, but had some technical problems with the chipset. It claims now to have resolved these issues. Dell’s 8100 performed to only above-average standards, but has been given a general thumbs-up.

“Although we had expected greater performance, for the money it is still good machine,” says Will Head, senior reviews writer at PC Advisor. “When it comes to areas like video manipulation, the P4 is undeniably faster than the competition.”

One of the advances made on the PIII is Intel’s NetBurst Microarchitecture. NetBurst incorporates a number of elements that increase the processor’s ability to handle instructions more efficiently.

NetBurst also features a 400MHz system bus plus additional instructions for multimedia, called Streaming SIMD (Single Instruction Multiple Data) Extension 2 (SSE2). SSE2 builds on the original SSE technology by adding 144 new instructions, including support for 128bit arithmetic.

In anticipation, Intel has slashed prices on its desktop Pentium III and Celeron processors by as much as a third. These chip price cuts could be good news for PC buyers. Intel's 1GHz Pentium III processor price will drop by 31 percent, while the 933MHz Pentium III drops 32 percent to $348. The 866MHz version will sell for $241, a discount of 33 percent.