February 2000 Industry Update

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i820 based motherboards are now beginning to appear in the DIY market, however the demand is quite low because of the lack of DRDRAM modules (and pricing). In fact, one source that works closely with Intel reported to us that the VC820 and OR840 boards are being discontinued, at least for DIY market (there are likely contractual issues with OEMs that would prevent them from being discontinued altogether). It also appears that Intel reduced their forecast for motherboards in Q1 by as much as 20%, causing Asian contractors quite a bit of concern.

i810E based boards seem to be doing better with both OEMs and in the DIY market for low cost systems (what Intel calls the ‘Value’ market), mostly due to memory availability. The biggest complaint in the DIY market is that there is no way to install an upgrade for the graphics. This is what the i815 is intended to address. I expect that when i815E boards are available, this platform will become very popular, probably ensuring the demise of the i820 (in the short term, anyway), and taking quite a bit of the market from the i810E (depending upon cost, of course). This is one possible reason that manufacturers have been told that volume shipments of the i815E won’t happen soon. One possible glitch in this scenario is that pricing for the i815 is actually higher than the i820 by almost double! This smells like there might be some trouble here for Intel.

i440BX based boards still appear to be quite popular in the DIY market, and in the commercial space as well. Intel seems to recognize this, and may actually push the EOL date for this by a few months (speculation on my part). Without DRDRAM availability, the i820 chipset simply cannot be expected to replace the i440BX anytime soon, and Intel has to be aware of this, one would think.

The VIA Apollo Pro133A chipset is steadily gaining popularity, and boards are beginning to appear for the DIY market. Tests in our own lab have shown that this platform performs very favorably compared to the i820 and i440BX platform, and stability appears to be extremely good – on par with either of the Intel chipsets. It would appear that Intel will really need to pay attention to this, as VIA could actually become the market leader in chipsets this year (assuming they can ramp their production) – particularly if the i440BX is actually discontinued before a viable replacement is made available. According to the latest estimates, VIA will ship over 3.2 million chipsets in March.

While the KX-133 chipset has been available for over a month, Intel is still apparently applying pressure to motherboard manufacturers, causing at least one to produce a model under a fake manufacturer name (name withheld to protect the marketplace). There are several manufacturers who have released product in Asia, but it seems that they are extremely rare in the U.S. marketplace. One vendor reported to us that Epox should be making their KX-133 board available very soon, but most seem to be targeting late February or March. This would make sense, since AMD has yet to begin shipments of Athlons from their Dresden fab (Fab 30), so supplies are still not sufficient for motherboard manufacturers to begin flooding the market with product.

Motherboards with SiS and ALi chipsets seem to be very rare, and equally unpopular. It seems that the market is avoiding the integrated solutions, even from Intel. The price may be lower, but the flexibility isn’t there. Until ‘Internet appliances’ become very popular, these chipset manufacturers may want to rethink their strategy.

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