June 2000 Industry Update

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Chipset Update

VIA Chipsets

Last month, AMD revealed that the KX133 chipset would not support the Slot A Thunderbird processors, and the K75 was being discontinued. This should have left VIA holding a large inventory of chipsets as manufacturers suddenly backed away from plans to make motherboards, but coincidentally VIA apparently lost most of their April production due to packaging problems.

As expected, May orders for the KX133 plummeted, but it looks like some motherboard manufactures will still be left with a fair amount of inventory because of the situation. Many of the anticipated boards, such as the FIC SK11, will never see the light of day. Others, particularly the smaller manufacturers, are producing in small quantities, hoping that the supply of Slot A Athlons does not dry up too quickly.

VIA was involved with another minor issue with their KZ133 chipset. It turns out that KZ is used in Germany as an abbreviation for Concentration Camps, such as those used in WWII. In order to prevent any political fallout, VIA changed the name to KT133. AMD reportedly requested 300,000 chipsets for June, but VIA was reportedly having trouble making the transition that quickly. It looks like volume shipments will occur later this month.

Correction: One of my sources indicated that the KX266 chipset End Correction, which will support DDR, should be in volume production by July or August. This is a bit earlier than I was being told even as recently as March. Officially, AMD and VIA are saying that DDR chipsets will be available in “the 2nd half”, but there are hints that the problems with DRDRAM have caused some of the manufacturers to accelerate plans, so a mid-Q3 launch does not appear to be out of the question.

Intel Chipsets

The i440BX chipset appears to have gotten a bit of a new lease on life with the renewed availability of Katmai processors (as reported last month). Motherboard manufacturers have seen interest in their BX based boards increase, which has slowed the market erosion Intel was experiencing in this area. This trend should continue through the end of Q3.

The i820 suffered a major black eye with the announcement that the MTH (support of SDRAM) caused data integrity problems, forcing Intel to recall that version of the chipset. However, as a result of Intel offering to replace the ‘Cape Cod’ boards with ‘Vancouver’ boards, there has been a sudden increased interest in the i820 chipset (and DRDRAM). Unfortunately, this is very likely a short term phenomenon, though the marketing people will be sure to get every ounce of mileage possible from it.

As expected, the i815 has been ‘released’, but in limited quantities. Initially, boards made from this chipset are supposed to go only to OEMs, with ‘consumer’ boards being withheld until about September. Several early reviews of boards based upon this chipset have failed to show any spectacular results, so acceptance in the marketplace is likely to be lukewarm, particularly with most eyes looking towards DDR in a few months.

In another blow to the chipset group, the Timna chipset was delayed because of the MTH debacle, which has become yet another dark cloud over the chipset group. There have been some reports that the motherboard people are not happy at all with the chipset people, causing some internal strife. Whatever the actual facts, it is apparent that the chipset situation is deteriorating fairly rapidly, putting all the pressure on the upcoming Tehama chipset for the Willamette.

Other Chipsets

Though there has been some concern from AMD regarding the ability of VIA to provide adequate chipsets for the Tbird/Duron rollout this month, it has been reported that the AMD 750 chipset will work with these new processors simply by adding an ASIC. This takes a lot of the pressure off AMD, particularly since SiS and ALi are not yet ready to fill the void.

As revealed earlier this month, ALi has re-entered the chipset arena with a vengance. No fewer than 10 different Northbridge chips will be introduced over the next year that will contain DDR support for both Athlon and Coppermine processors. It is interesting to note that there are none on the roadmap that will support DRDRAM. It was suggested a short while ago that AMD was cozying up to ALi, because they are not comfortable with the amount of time it took for VIA to roll out the KX133. This could be a bit of a problem if VIA decides to stop actively supporting AMD, as there are several motherboard manufacturers who are not exactly thrilled with ALi because of past unresolved chipset problems.

It was expected that SiS would also enter the race very soon, however they made one very serious tactical mistake. Though they have been using TSM to manufacture their chipsets, they decided that they would need their own Fab to ensure product availability. This apparently pissed off TSM, who promptly voided their contract with SiS. It seems that TSM prefers customers that are completely fabless, and decided to give the capacity to someone else (possibly VIA). SiS is now moving forward with their plans to build the new fab, but in the meantime most of their plans have been pushed back as they struggle to find a way to fulfill their commitments and move forward with their plans. It is likely that we won’t see anything of significance from SiS until late in the year, or possibly even later.

Despite much noise being made last month about Micron entering the chipset market, they have assured me that they really would prefer not to do this. Basically, their attitude is that they will do whatever is required to enable the DDR platform, including offer commercial chipsets, if that is required. However, they would prefer that the existing chipset manufacturers make the chipsets, so that Micron can focus upon what they do best, which is to sell memory. In other words, do not hold your breath waiting for Micron chipsets to appear on motherboards, because there is a good chance it will never happen. However, if VIA cannot build a stable chipset, ALi cannot get manufacturers to use their product, and SiS cannot find a way to manufacture chipsets soon – then we will see Micron take matters into their own hands…

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