September 2000 Industry Update

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Chipset Update

On Sept 1, Intel released a new roadmap for OEMs. As has been the case for the past few years, several items have been changed from the previous roadmap, with some items being pushed back and others being pushed forward. Just a short while ago, Bert McComas of Inquest Market Researchpublished some details about this new roadmap.

Intel publishes at least two different variations of the roadmap – one for OEMs and the other for resellers. The OEM roadmap typically covers at least 18 months, while the reseller roadmap usually only covers the next 12 months. Several years ago, these OEM roadmaps were very reliable, however with the increased competition from AMD, there are now changes every quarter. As should be expected, the farther out the information provided covers, the less reliable it is.

Intel Chipsets

Desktop – According to the newest roadmap, the i850 chipset (formerly codenamed Tehama) will debut this month, ahead of the Pentium 4 release, as the follow on of the i820/i820E chipsets. Though the roadmap document provides no details of the features, the i850 will reportedly include a quad-100MHz data bus (400MHz effective data rate), UDMA/100, and will only support Direct Rambus DRAM memory.

The i820 will be completely replaced by the i850 only two quarters later – by Q2 ’01. Interestingly, the i850 has an even shorter lifespan ahead of it – being abruptly replaced by the Tehama-E and Brookdale chipsets before the end of Q3 ’01. Tehama-E will include all the features of the i850, but will have a new I/O Controller Hub, named ICH3. Brookdale will reportedly support SDRAM instead of DRDRAM, and there are some rumors it may include DDR support as well.

Two other chipsets will be discontinued by the end of the year – the venerable i440BX and the i810. With the launch of the i815 chipset, Intel has finally produced a reasonable successor to the BX chipset, however it too will soon be replaced. The i810 will give way completely to the i810E and i810E2, as well as Timna (at the very low end). In Q2 ’01, the Almador chipset will appear and is scheduled to totally replace the i815E within two quarters (end of Q3 ’01).

As most followers of the industry know by now, Intel has broken the desktop market into several major segments (Performance, Mainstream and Value), with sub-categories within these based on various price points. The top segment in the desktop market is the ‘performance’ segment, with system prices above $2000. Intel is obviously concerned that the P4 coupled with DRDRAM will be too expensive to compete successfully in this segment, so they are offering a special ‘credit’ program for buyers of P4 processors.

The credit will run for only two quarters, starting at $70 per processor in Q4 and dropping to $60 in Q1 ’01. This offer will only be valid for OEMs and Distributors who offer a ‘bundled box’ solution. The official company line is that this credit will “facilitate the volume ramp of Pentium 4 processor based systems”, by:

  • Offsetting the Bill of Materials cost premiums associated with DRDRAM
  • Bringing the system cost of Pentium 4 based systems below $2500 in Q4.

A few manufacturers have expressed some puzzlement at this credit program, wondering why Intel did not simply drop the price of the processors by this amount. It would appear that Intel is on the horns of a minor dilemma with the strong competition from AMD, whose systems currently use SDRAM. Pentium 4 processors will already be introduced at a lower price point than lower clocked Pentium III processors, so dropping the price even further would create problems in their ASP going forward. In addition, the continuing higher cost of DRDRAM vs. SDRAM will be keeping system prices higher.

Intel’s credit program appears to be set up to help get systems in the marketplace quickly, while assuming that DRDRAM prices will finally fall to within only a few percent of SDRAM prices early next year. Given the recent trend in memory pricing, this looks to be a reasonable assumption. There has also been some speculation that this is a token effort by Intel to appear supportive of DRDRAM, while preparing other solutions for later next year.

Though no details are provided on the official roadmap, manufacturers have indicated that Intel has made a few potentially important modifications. First, the Tehama chipset will reportedly support only a single processor vs. the dual-processor speculated on previously. Also, the Almador chipset appears to no longer be slated to support DDR SDRAM, with one comment on the roadmap stating it’s release is a ‘requirement for the Tualatin release’ – meaning it is intended for the ‘mainstream’ market. One interesting bit of info given in Bert McComas’ article is that Intel intends to convert the Display Cache Controller feature of the i810/i815 from SDRAM to DRDRAM on the Almador.

Mobile – In this space, the i440MX and ZX (Celeron) and i440BX (PIII) are the only chipsets offered by Intel. In Q1 ’01, the i815E-M will begin replacing all of these chipsets, followed in Q3 by the Timna-M and Almador-M (PIII).

Server/Workstation – in 1997, Intel acquired a company that provided chipsets for 8-way servers. The technology they acquired is now used in their own Profusion chipset (Read details on this here). In Q4, Intel will release the i460GX, followed by the i870 chipset early in 2002. The roadmap shows that third-party manufacturers, such as ServerWorks provide the bulk of the dual and 4-way chipsets for servers.

In the workstation market, Intel has again divided it into several segments – Technical Computing (Quad processor, over $7500), Performance (Dual processor, over $5000), Volume (Dual Processor, over $3500) and Entry (both Uni and Dual processor, over $2000).

The chipset intended for the Technical Computing and Performance segments is the i460GX. In the Volume segment, the i860 (codename Colusa) will replace the i840 chipset in Q1 2001. The i860 will have the same features as the i850, except it will support dual processors, and will support more memory. The Entry segment will be served by the i850 chipset.

VIA Chipsets

Reports out of Taiwan indicate that there is still a substantial number of KX133 chipsets floating around. It is unlikely that these will ever be used, so someone is going to be eating the cost – and it doesn’t appear to be either VIA or AMD.

There are also reports that KT133 chipset volume is lower than anticipated. AMD was apparently expecting 10M chipset in Q3 (all platforms), but this appears unlikely. One report indicated that only 300,000 KT133 were delivered in July, and the belief is that VIA will deliver about 2.5 Million for the entire quarter.

As suggested last month, VIA appears to be chasing the volume market (Intel processors) and with production capacity somewhat limited, this means AMD may be the one that suffers. In addition, with P4 licensing issues and a pending lawsuit, there appears to be a reasonable chance that VIA will try to appease Intel by limiting K7 chipset production.

One bit of evidence to support this is reports that the KM133 chipset has slipped into November, and the KT266 chipset (DDR chipset for Athlon) will trail the PM266 chipset by as much as six months.

Chipsets supporting the Pentium II/III are still selling very strongly for VIA, with motherboard manufacturers indicating that the percentage of board shipped (both to OEMs and to the retail channel) with VIA chipsets continues to increase.

Other Chipsets

In questioning an AMD source regarding the VIA concerns, it was suggested that AMD is comfortable with their ability to supply OEMs with all the 750/760 chipsets necessary to fulfill the target shipments for processors given earlier this year. It was also suggested that most OEMs use the AMD chipset, so any VIA chipset shortages would primarily affect the retail channel.

The AMD760 chipset is scheduled to debut this month, though motherboards will likely not appear until October. Based upon recent announced delays in the ALi chipset, it appears the AMD will have the first working DDR chipset. The AMD source I spoke with indicated that they are still on target to ship ‘in the 2nd half of the year’, hinting that October/November is a likely timeframe.

It is unclear whether the AMD 760MP will be released in time for motherboards to appear this year, but currently it looks unlikely. My AMD source indicated that they are being very careful with their dual processor implementation, as this will be critical for acceptance into the commercial market. 4-way support is not even under public discussion at this time, although there is a 3rd party manufacturer (API?) supposedly working on this.

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