September 2000 Industry Update

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Motherboard Update

Pricing continues to be a concern for motherboard manufacturers as costs for components has risen, and chipset prices seem to be steadily going up. This is particularly an issue for motherboards supporting Athlon processors, because there are currently very few options other than the KT133 and SiS730S. FIC indicated that they hope for the price for the AZ11 to be under $100 by October, which is good news for consumers, since it has already been validated for the 1.1GHz part and would also be cost effective as a Duron solution..

Release dates for DDR capable motherboards continue to slip, however several manufacturers seems confident that they would have product for the Athlon in October – all based upon the AMD 760 chipset. Boards supporting either Registered or Unbuffered DDR modules will be 4-layer, however in order to support both options 6-layers would be required. To help prevent integrity issues, the 4-layer boards will have the signal layers sandwiched between the ground layers (POOL design).

A spokesperson for Tyan indicated that the timings for DDR SDRAM boards are obviously tighter than for SDR SDRAM, but not as complicated as for DRDRAM boards. Since Tyan caters to the workstation, server and high-end desktop market, they are anxious to offer a dual Athlon motherboard, however getting it accepted into the commercial market may be quite a challenge. They see pricing as the critical issue.

FIC marketing indicated that their plan is for all of their offerings to support DDR SDRAM by mid-2001, using the AMD and ALi chipsets for Athlon initially, followed by the VIA chipset for PIII. They have no dual processor motherboards planned at this time.

Slot 1 / Socket 370 boards

As speculated last month, Intel has extended the life of the i440BX through the end of the year. Several motherboard manufacturers indicated that as much as 25% of their production continues to be based upon the BX chipset. These same manufacturers indicated that 60% to 70% of their product uses VIA chipsets, leaving a very small percentage for the other Intel chipsets.

Reports from an Intel motherboard contractor indicate that the i820 only accounts for about 12% of their volume, though the i810 is strong. The i815 chipset has been received very well, but most manufacturers desire the i815E, which is only now shipping in volume. As a result, motherboards based upon this chipset should start appearing en masse this month, allowing manufacturers to reduce their dependence upon the BX.

Though the i850 chipset is scheduled to be released this month, few manufacturers seem to be rushing product to market. In part, this is because the P4 will not be available for another month or two, and the chipset only supports DRDRAM memory. Once the P4 is introduced, boards are expected to begin making their appearance.

DDR capable motherboards for the PIII will likely not be available until December, because VIA appears to be late on their delivery of the PM266. Whether this is due to development issues, or because Intel has convinced them that DDR support should trail the P4 introduction is unknown at this time.

Slot A / Socket A boards

Slot A motherboards are still available in the market, though they have little demand. With the lack of advanced features on the AMD 750 chipset, and the reported problems with the KX133 chipset, users are not willing to spend their hard-earned dollars on ‘old’ technology. There were reportedly about 1.5 million Slot A boards still unsold in June, and though AMD did apparently release a number of Slot A processors in late June/early July, the demand was still very low, leaving manufacturers less than enthusiastic about going to the Socket A platform.

KT133 based boards are now starting to become available in quantity, with resellers reporting good availability of product from Biostar, ASUS, FIC, Gigabyte and MSI. Other manufacturers have plans to release product shortly. There were reports of chipset availability issues early on, apparently because of poor yields. This seems to have been overcome, however there are now some reports of EMI issues as well as shortages of the clock generator from ICST, which is the only clock chip for the chipset.

One of the major issues that concern manufacturers, resellers and OEMs is the fact that there are no alternative chipsets for the Athlon platform. The PIII platform has several available chipsets from both Intel and VIA, which allows manufacturers a lot of flexibility in design and price points. For the Athlon platform, the only viable chipset is the KT133, so prices are locked within a fairly narrow range, with motherboards selling through official channels anywhere from $120 to $170.

This pricing issue has limited the sales of Duron processors in the retail space, and perhaps somewhat in the OEM market. For the same reason that buyers are matching the i815 boards with PIII processors instead of Celerons, the cost of K7 boards means most buyers want to match them up with Tbirds. The release of the KM133 should help to alleviate this problem, though component prices may continue to cause pricing problems.

It appears that the AMD 760 chipset is very close to release, with motherboards anticipated early in Q4 – at least two months before DDR capable PIII boards. It could be a close call as to whether an ALi or AMD based board will be the first to appear, however ALi now seems to be indicating they could experience some delays. This is likely due to come compatibility problems that is covered in the DRAM section. Chances of an SiS based Athlon board this year are very low, and a Micron based board is all but out of the question at this time.

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