May 2001 Industry Update

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Motherboards and Chipsets

Though Intel slashed prices of the P4 last month, it has not had any appreciable effect on sales of P4 motherboards, according to several manufacturers. A recent article claimed that ASUS and Gigabyte have ramped production of P4 boards, and production for i850 based boards exceeds that of DDR based boards. The implication is that demand has increased since the Intel price cuts, however other reports have indicated that ASUS increased production based upon forecasts vs. actual demand. Though not all results are back, a recent survey sent to motherboard makers has indicated P4 boards are still 1% or less of their total production.

It appears that Intel has created a dilemma for the motherboard makers, who are already being squeezed in the PC slowdown. With the imminent release of the i845 chipset, a 478-pin package for Northwood, the question is whether to make a Socket 423/i845 motherboard to support Willamette or not. In addition, Intel is said to be considering a 478-pin package for Willamette, which would likely cause all unsold Socket 423 boards to sit on the shelves forever. This is not an attractive option for motherboard manufacturers, and it was actually suggested to me that recent reports from Taiwan were really marketing campaigns disguised as news reports in an attempt to drum up some interest in the current Socket 423 boards.

Unfortunately for VIA, they seem to have seriously shot themselves in the foot by delaying their DDR chipsets, and by releasing the KT133A a few months earlier. Since there is very little performance improvement with the KT266 over the KT133A, most consumers seem happy to hang on to their SDRAM modules and wait for something better to come along. This is probably the first serious misstep by VIA in over a year, and may have cost them some market share this year. VIA is reportedly trying very hard to peddle the KT266 to motherboard makers, who are having none of it.

Most motherboard makers are indicating between 5% and 20% of their unit sales are DDR based boards (for both PIII and Athon), with the smaller vendors claiming the larger percentage, and most of those based on either the AMD 760 or ALi MaGiK1 chipset. The top motherboard makers are all reducing their production of DDR boards because there just doesn’t seem to be any demand. In fact, over 90% of all shipments currently are either PIII or Athlon motherboards supporting SDRAM.

SiS recently announced the availability of the 735 chipset, which has been hailed by some as the king of DDR chipsets. Looking at benchmarks, the performance is generally only a few percent better than the KT266 and others, so it is unlikely that it will generate a great deal of interest from manufacturers at this point, particularly in light of the situation SiS is currently in with regards to production capabilities, and with DDR losing some of its glamour. While they do have their fab online and functional, the quantities they can supply at this time are insufficient to satisfy any real demand. Most likely we will see a few products from smaller manufacturers who are more than happy to chase niche markets.

NVidia has indicated that they are almost ready to introduce their Crush chipset, which seems to have captured the imagination of many hobbyists and reviewers, however it remains to be seen what impact NVidia will actually have this year in the chipset market. For those who are dreaming of dual Athlon systems, the AMD 760MP chipset should also make an official appearance in the next week or two on a Tyan motherboard

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