March 2000 Industry Update

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This past month was a rather interesting one. Intel wowed people at IDF with their 1.5GHz Willamette demo, and then gave Rambus stock a boost by proclaiming eternal love for the technology. Rumors have been flying lately with speculation about who will announce their 1GHz processor first, and then who will actually *ship* a 1GHz processor first. Information about DDR chipsets from someone besides VIA makes things even more interesting. Even if you normally don’t read these updates, this month is a ‘must’…

Chipset Update

Intel Chipsets

The i820 chipset issues continue to plague Intel, as they revealed last month that it doesn’t function properly in ECC mode when using the MTH to support SDRAM. This does not bode well for the future of the i820 chipset, including the i820E. Currently there is very little demand from OEMs (other than Dell), and the DIY market has all but rejected this chipset

What is really interesting is that Dell released a statement claiming that they would not go to AMD processors because of the ‘stability’ problems with supporting chipsets, amongst other things. This makes one wonder whether Michael Dell is being given his lines on cue cards provided by Intel, or if he simply has lost touch with what is actually going on in the marketplace. Of course, calling those who build and upgrade their own systems ‘lunatics’ might be a clue about his mentality and integrity, considering his roots.

There is very little news on the i815 (Solano) and i815E (Solano II) chipsets this month. All motherboard manufacturers indicate that this chipset will not be available in any reasonable quantity until Q3. It is unknown whether this is an intentional strategy to try and force OEMs to the i820 chipset or not, but that is the suspicion.

The i440BX chipset is either in short supply, or isn’t – depending upon whom you talk to. It turns out that there are only about 4 motherboard manufacturers who purchase direct from Intel. Not surprisingly, these same manufacturers are amongst the top 5 and all offer primarily Intel based boards. The remaining manufacturers purchase through distributors, and they are having a much more difficult time getting sufficient quantities of the BX chipset. Fortunately for them, OEMs are moving to non-Intel chipsets in large quantities (except for Dell, of course).

The speculation on this situation is that Intel is also using the BX chipset as a way of trying to force the smaller manufacturers towards the i820, or get them out of the market. The strategy may be backfiring, however, as VIA is gaining an ever larger percentage of the market.

VIA Chipsets

Demand for the Apollo Pro133A chipset continues to grow very strongly with OEMs, and even the DIY market seems to be getting more comfortable with it. There have been no issues with these chipsets, even with AGP 4x. The performance is getting close to the Intel equivalent chipsets, as well. In fact, even the staunchest of pro-Intel motherboard manufacturers are offering VIA based boards and they are all reporting that somewhere between 40% and 70% of all motherboards shipped have a VIA chipset.

As a result of this situation, it appears that VIA is focusing most of their resources on supporting the P6 chipsets to grab even more market share. This would appear to be a good business move, because VIA actually has an opportunity to end up with greater market share than Intel – unless, of course, Intel heads them off at the pass later this year . It is entirely possible that Willamette could debut earlier than expected, and VIA does not have a license for the P7 bus.

Unfortunately, because VIA has limited resources, the focus on the P6 chipsets means that less attention is paid to the KX133. On the other hand, since the KX133 is essentially the Apollo Pro133 chipset with an EV6 bus, there are few compatibility and stability issues to deal with.

What the limited focus has meant is that the rollout is not ramping quite as quickly as first intended. In addition, it appears that there is only one clock chip for the Athlon, and it reportedly has some loading problems when 3 DIMM slots are populated.

Looking farther ahead, VIA is expected to have a Socket A Athlon chipset by mid-Q2 (April/May), a P6 chipset with DDR in late Q2 (June, most likely), followed by a DDR chipset for the Athlon in Q3.

Other Chipsets

According to sources close to Micron, a P6 chipset supporting DDR is expected from SiS a little later this year (Q3 perhaps). This is good news for the DDR supporters, as it will give an alternative to the VIA based chipsets. In addition, SiS will be providing an Athlon chipset in Q3 that will support Socket A, 4x AGP and UMA (which can be disabled).

ALi will also be releasing an Athlon chipset what will support Slot A, DDR and 4x AGP early in Q4 (apparently supporting the Mustang processor). This chipset will not support UMA, as it is intended for the high-end market.

Finally, AMD will be releasing their next generation chipset (AMD 770) in Q4, which will be a high-end chipset with DDR support, 4x AGP and will be SMP (2-way) capable. This is essentially the AMD 760 chipset with additional functionality. It definitely appears that AMD is in the chipset market for the long haul, which is a very good strategy if they want to continue to compete head-to-head with Intel.

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