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[ The PC Guide | Articles and Editorials | Industry Update: February 2001 ]

Chipset Update

This year promises to be a very interesting one in the industry, with Nvidia and ATI entering the chipset market. This will bring the number of manufacturers making desktop motherboard chipsets to at least 7 (including VIA, Intel, AMD, ALi and SiS). ATI was recently licensed for the P4 bus, though the other manufacturers mentioned (except AMD) are also reportedly negotiating with Intel. At the high-end, ServerWorks was also licensed for the P4 bus, and Micron appears to be negotiating as well.

Though there has been a lot of press regarding the Mamba chipset that Micron has demoed, a spokesperson for Micron indicated that they are still not aggressively pursuing the chipset market, and will only make this chipset commercially available if there is some demand. It is more likely that they will manufacture chipsets/motherboards for specific customers catering to the high-end market, as they have done in the past.

VIA Chipsets

KT133A is getting a very good reception from end users, and motherboard makers are seeing a strong demand. Unfortunately, VIA apparently did not anticipate this demand because they are not able to fill all orders. One source indicated that orders are only being filled at around 40%. It has been suggested that this is to prevent cannibalizing of DDR chipset sales, since VIA is a bit later out of the gate with this than many had hoped (including VIA, most likely).

Another suggestion has been that the KT133A may be in for a very short life span and replaced by the 'KT133E'. What is a KT133E? The only information I have at present is that it may cost $6~7 less than a KT133A, but should offer the same features. Expected shipping of the KT133E is Early March.

One reliable source claimed that the KT133A is still not in full volume production yet so supply is scarce. The scheduled volume production is set to coincide with AMD's release of the 266MHz FSB CPU's - late February to mid March. Apparently mentality here is that you don't need (and dealers wont buy) a 266MHz FSB MoBo until the CPU is available

It has also been suggested that KM133 Socket A chipset with integrated video and support for an AGP slot may be replaced by the KL133. This is the same basic chipset, but it has no support for an AGP slot. More than likely, these will coexist, similar to Intel's i815E and i815G. Expected shipping of motherboards using the KL133 chipset is end of February to early of March. The reason for this move is the lower cost of the chipset and motherboard if there is no support for an AGP slot. AMD seems to be anxiously waiting an integrated Socket A motherboard to spur Duron sales at the low end, and may have encouraged VIA to make this move.

Intel Chipsets - Desktop

In Q3 this year, Intel is encouraging manufacturers to move to the 478-pin Socket. This will still use the i850 chipset, but some previously unused pins will be utilized by the ‘Northwood’ processor, making it unusable with existing 423-pin socket motherboards. The i850 chipset will be relegated primarily to the high-end desktop and low-end workstation market, while the upcoming Brookdale chipset will satisfy the mainstream desktop market.

According to the most recent Intel roadmap, the Brookdale chipset supporting SDRAM will be introduced in mid-Q3, and the DDR version will appear in Q1 ’02, however recent reports claim that Intel has already pushed the DDR chipset forward into Q4 of this year. If true, this might indicate that Intel is feeling they have lost some momentum by offering only a DRDRAM based chipset this year, and need to get DDR support as quickly as possible.

The i815E chipset will be updated to support Tualatin ('B' Stepping) in Q2, and the i815G will be introduced in Q3. The 'G' version will eliminate the support for an AGP slot, allowing for a cheaper chipset and motherboard. In Q1 2002, the i810E will be enhanced to support Tualatin, which will by then be a low-end processor.

Intel Chipsets – Workstation/Server

By the end of Q3 this year, both the i820 and i840 chipsets will no longer be offered, with i850 and Brookdale taking their place in the low-end and mid-range workstation market. This is because Pentium 4 will be the workstation/server processor for these markets instead of PIII. The i860 will debut in Q2 to support Foster, and will be replaced one year later by the Prestonia and Placer chipsets. The current roadmap (as of January 23) also shows the i460GX chipset supporting the Itanium starting in Q1 of this year, to be replaced in Q3 by i870 (for McKinley).

Other Chipsets

Though many seem to be anticipating that the AMD 760MP chipset will be ready and on products by March, some manufacturers are expressing doubt it will actually be available until May or June. This is mainly because so much attention has been paid to the AMD 760 and DDR stability/compatibility issues. A few of the people I spoke with were somewhat critical of this situation, and said they think AMD will have a much more difficult time breaking into the high-end market with this product because of the perception is has created. It is even possible that AMD will focus their efforts in this regard on the 'Hammer line instead of the K7.

One important bit of information is that the reported 'bug' in the AMD 760 chipset has apparently turned out to be a motherboard design issue rather than a chipset issue. High speeds and high pin-counts create 'ringing' or ground bounce, which creates noise on the circuit. This is the issue that was reported back in October (excessive noise at 266MHz), and it seems that the fix has been to use better components. The AMD reference boards did not experience the problem, so motherboard makers are now reportedly using the same components with good success.

After being the first to announce (vs. ship) DDR chipsets for both PIII and Athlon, ALi became the first chipset manufacturer to announce mobile DDR chipsets for Athlon (CyberMaGiK) and PIII (CyberAladdin) with integrated Trident 3D graphics. After all but sitting out the chipset race for the past few years, ALi is taking advantage of VIA's late intro of an Athlon DDR chipset, and Intel's complete lack of DDR support.

As has been reported and discussed on a number of publications, ATI and Nvidia are designing motherboard chipsets for the PC market. Though they seem to be highly anticipated, there are many issues to deal with, and designing a quality chipset is not so easy, as VIA, ALi and SiS have realized. I would not expect these companies to have much impact on the market this year, though they may have some surprises in store.

Next: Motherboard Update

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