November 1999 Industry Update

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Though only three weeks have passed since the last update, much has happened in the industry. This is certainly turning out to be quite an interesting 2nd half of the year, and it promises to continue in that mode for awhile. Later this month is Comdex in Las Vegas, and we are sure to see some interesting announcements from that venue.

Though memory prices were still a topic of interest, the focus changed to chipsets and processors during the past few weeks as announcements and rumors flew. Here is a recap of the most significant issues…

Motherboard Update

With the imminent re-release of the i820 chipset, it is likely that most manufacturers will be releasing product based on this chipset by mid- to late December. The major change for users is that there will be a maximum of 2 RIMM slots (limiting the maximum memory to 512MB), and it will not be possible to have both RIMM and DIMM on the same board (formerly called the 2+2 configuration). This means that boards will support *only* DRDRAM or *only* SDRAM (PC100, of course). Intel has indicated that they will have a final design guide for manufacturers the week of December 6.

One ‘minor’ issue will be the board design. The recommended changes will mean higher costs for manufacturers (and therefore higher retail prices), as well as reduced flexibility for the user. If some manufacturers decide to ignore these guidelines for cost containment may do so at the expense of stability – so beware! The technical requirements say the board must have a ‘consistent margin of &gt48 mV, with the following guidelines provided for increasing margin:

  • Vref divider resistor – change from 2% to 1%
  • Vterm minimum – raise from 1.71 to 1.80 volts
  • Vdd power delivery – improve through better decoupling
  • Avoid low margin configurations through BIOS restrictions
  • Increase board to 6 layers

Motherboard choices to support the AMD Athlon are still fairly limited, though improving. FIC is still the premier manufacturer, with the SD11 but MSI and ASUS appear to be shipping as well. One very interesting development is that while ASUS has a board available (K7M), they are not officially marketing it and have indicated that it is an OEM only product. Retailers have indicated that they have been told not to sell the board under ASUS’ name. While no official explanation has been provided for this, to the best of my knowledge, it would certainly appear to be an attempt by ASUS to avoid problems with Intel. As the top Tier One motherboard manufacturer it would seem that ASUS has the most to lose by upsetting Intel, and Intel has a strong motivation to keep ASUS ‘in line’.

One interesting development is the lawsuit Intel has brought against VIA and a handful of others – including FIC and Everex. This lawsuit claims that VIA and these companies are illegally using patented Intel technology, specifically with the Apollo Pro133 and Pro133A chipsets. This lawsuit seems to be more of a ‘warning’ to manufacturers to stay in the Intel fold, considering IBM, Compaq, HP, AOpen, Soyo and many other large manufacturers have not been named, even though they are using the same chipset.


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