iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






March '2001 Digest


AMD is doubtless the main news generator this month with its newly released Palomino. The beginning seemed usual, hearings about the release have appeared some two months before the actual date and have turned out to be false, the appearance of the processor for sale some weeks before its official release - first in Europe and then in Japan.

However, the last hearing about CeBit has appeared truthful. Well, processor manufacturers quite often use this exhibition to attract attention. This time AMD and VIA have taken the advantage of this possibility. But let's talk about the first of them now. It has officially has announced the new Palomino kernel, having demonstrated its potential in a standard way, having shown the operation of 1.5 GHz air cooled processor. The announced processor in complete correspondence with waitings has been released in two variants: 1.3 GHz (FSB 200 MHz) and 1.33 GHz (FSB 266 MHz).

However, the previous Thunderbird kernel is expected to be the base of processors up to 1.46 GHz, completely justifying the forecast, made by us in due course about the potential of this kernel, and smoothly conceding the place for Palomino. By the way, the speed of 1.533 GHz, shown by it on CeBit, will be reached for mass production in the third quarter only.

However, almost the greater interest has been caused by a mobile variant of Palomino, which still haven't found its place in any finished products, but this is already at hand. And the eyewitnesses of PowerNow 2.0 demonstrations are just delighted, and the chipsets level support is expected to be as mass as it's never been.

Nevertheless, Intel remains the leader in this area for now. First, already having mobile Pentium III 1 GHz, released this month, and the more economic processors like ultra economic Pentium III 500 MHz. And Intel is not going to donate this rank to anybody. Dell already demonstrates the prototype of 0.13 micron mobile Tualatin notebook, and the start of new Intel's Banias mobile CPU, designed from the blank, has already been planned for the end of the next year, perhaps for the first time being not a simple alteration of the "desktop" processor.

And for a new threat from Transmeta, that is usage of Crusoe in economic servers, Intel has quickly responded with the same Pentium III 500 MHz. Transmeta, whose business is not so good now (for example, Dave Ditzel's leaving the position of the company's chairman), tries to hold on, promising to release 0.13 micron Crusoe TM5800 in the second half of the year, which will consume very small amount of energy (about 0.5 W) and which will be used in mobile engineering. The company seems to get back to the basis.

However, there is another threat that is VIA. Which has not only presented Cyrix III on Samuel II kernel on CeBit, mostly oriented for the mobile market (0.15 micron now, and 0.13 micron in the end of the year), I mean Ñ3. One should get used to the fact that after the release of this processor VIA has refused to use Cyrix trademark. So, not only Samuel II with clock rates from 750 MHz has been represented on CeBit in March, but also Matthew chip, combining Samuel II kernel, SavageMX graphics kernel and Apollo Pro 266 northern bridge that has been shown on WinHEC.

It will be interesting to find out how much the system on its basis will cost. Taking into account that today Duron 600 already costs cheaper than Cyrix III 600 MHz, and the prices continue to lower: first, we shall recollect the appreciable price lowerings from both AMD and Intel right at the beginning of one month, and also AMD's price lowerings at the end of one month bound to the release of Athlon 1.3 GHz. VIA should hurry.

And speaking about attractives: Celeron's tweaking continues - Intel has raised kernel power to 1.75 V. The release of new complete Pentium III Xeon with 2 MBytes L2 cache. No more CPUs are planned on this kernel, Foster 1.4 GHz will become the next. And at last it is necessary to remind that the serious speed boost is expected on April 15 for Intel's processors in particular, and for all x86 processors in general - the release of Pentium 4 1.7 GHz.


Traditionally, CeBit has more effect in this sphere than in previous. The explanation is simple and logical - the same enthusiasm and the larger number of players (and models for each of them). But except for CeBit there also were other interesting things, and we shall begin with chipset manufacturers.

VIA is the leader as usual. It's sale volumes has grown by ten percents and has become more than one hundred millions dollars per month only for the previous month. However, nobody should be surprised with this fact as the company earns what it really deserves, advancing its production like nobody else. Among the March events that deserve attention there is the beginning of KT133E production that is the economic version of KT133, supporting new AMD's processors, and the beginning of motherboard manufacturers' transition to it (for example, Abit KT7E).

We shall recollect Matthew once again, whose destiny is hardly predictable today, but nevertheless, it's obviously better than Timna in due course. Wasn't the new formfactor - ultra compact ITX (215 X 191 mm) for systems with Value Internet Architecture Initiative - offered for it on CeBit?

On the other price flank there an answer to Pentium 4/RDRAM combination - the offer of 128 Mbyte DDR SDRAM in a package with VIA chipsets for the price much smaller than these two objects cost in the open market. This offer has got some recall from motherboard manufacturers for sure. E.g. Soltek, Chaintech, EPoX have exhibited special solutions with these cards along with 128 MBytes DDR for the special price.

As to Pentium 4, VIA have declared that it is going to release a chipset for Pentium 4 whether it will get the license from Intel for its release or not. It seems it'll get it anyway, though something depends on Brookdale. If Intel will be able to offer the solution for Pentium 4/DDR with a good price/productivity ratio, it will be able to try to return itself positions in the chipset market.

By the way, i845, was shown on CeBit, in PC133 SDRAM variant naturally - it's early to demonstrate DDR variant, the first will be released only in the third quarter, and DDR support will appear prior to the beginning of the next year.

i815E(P) (read as 'B-stepping') with Tualatin support has been simultaneously demonstrated. Not a long time remains until the release (the deliveries will begin in May), and the number of cards on its basis has been already shown accordingly. However, this was simple, taking into account almost the same designs. And now the manufacturers can concentrate on i815P, released at the end of one month that is a variant of i815EP with ICH instead of ICH2, i.e. ATA/66 instead of ATA/100 is supported. Some dollars cheaper, it's another variant for the extension of i815 motherboard lines.

But let's get back to Pentium 4. Exactly to chipsets for it. And to be even more exact - to i850 chipset that still remains the only supporting this processor. 4T2A2 from EPoX, WT70 from DFI, TH7-RAID from ABIT slowly become more widespread, however, it is obvious that i850 won't beat any records in sales volumes. Maybe the more accessible i845 will do this.

On the other hand of the spectrum there are server chipsets not even for Pentium 4, but for Foster, its server variant. And i860, the multiprocessor motherboards on the basis of which have already been demonstrated on CeBit by such brands like IWill, Tyan or SuperMicro. ServerWorks also plans to release the similar chipset - their Grand Champion should appear in the third quarter. But it will support DDR SDRAM unlike i860. Much in server manufacturers' choice will depend on how the prices for DDR SDRAM and RDRAM will lower.

And now ServerWorks has released another HE-SL chipset for Intel CPUs with DDR support. It's for Pentium III, but it also supports 64-bit 66 MHz PCI, AGP Pro and PC2100 DDR - today the manufacturers obviously prefer the last to RDRAM.

And again we shall return to Pentium 4. SiS, unlike VIA, has signed the agreement with Intel in the beginning of the month about cross-country licensing, having thus received the access to the bus used by Pentium 4. Though, it is necessary to say that SiS has not rushed to release a chipset for it on the very next day, having postponed it for some quarters. And now the company has got back to its usual business of releasing integrated chipsets for Celeron/Pentium III and Duron/Athlon.

The company has demonstrated the following DDR chipsets on CeBit: 735/635, SDR 730S/630S and has also declared about the release of their diverse variations within a month: 635T (DDR PC1600, PC2100) and 633T (SDRAM PC133), where T means Tualatin support, SiS730SE is SiS 730S SDR variant for Socket-A processors, but it's more economic at the expense of cut out AGP port - there's only built-in video. But price is corresponding - $15-18! At the same time under such pressure from above the prices on already slightly out-of-date SiS 630 and SiS 730 were seriously reduced in March. And namely they should make a kernel SiS's present sales. By the way, the past month the company was going to sell 2 million chipsets.

Only ALi has remained overlooked of all the classics, but only due to absense of anything interesting from it. There's only a new Aladdin Pro 5T chipset (Tualatin again) that is a complete copy of existing Aladdin Pro, but with support of the new processor, and the real mass deliveries will begin along with others - in the second quarter.

It is natural that the motherboard manufacturers felt free on CeBit, but again it is difficult to name anything interesting. KT133A, KL133, KM133, KT266, AMD760 - for Athlon and Duron. PL133, PM133, Apollo Pro266, i815EP - for Pentium III and Celeron. Nothing deserving attention. And, basically, that's not so bad: the market is stabilized, price wars are ahead.


Well, what talks about memory without quarrels around Rambus? It's traditionally the first number in our show, the thunderstorm of the industry. And the situation around it is not absolutely clear. On the one hand, unconditionally, all depends on the result of the court processes. And here the sky clouds above Rambus, at least the judge carrying on the act in court, has perceived Infineon's arguments at the listening, and, according to hearings, this process can be won by the german company. But then Rambus has thrown another ace on the table - a document, according to which, Infineon, known as Siemens Semiconductor in 1992, is accused in "deliberate copying" of Rambus's technology.

It's clear that these legal quarrels will go on for a long period, and Matsushita in the meantime has became the eighth company to license Rambus's SDR and DDR interfaces, and the first to sign such agreement without the license for RDRAM. It is necessary to remind that seven of these eight are Japanese.

Nevertheless, DDR already becomes the obvious market leader. We have recently seen that prices for PC1600 and PC2100 DDR SDRAM became almost the same, that VIA, together with Nanya and Micron, has began the mass company of cut-priced DDR chipset/memory bundle advancement. We can see the DDR market growth - Kingston has began the release of 128-512 MBytes PC2100 units, Transcend has declared the end of testing its DDR NSTL units, Nanya - AMD and VIA, and Apacer had already demonstrated the prototypes of PC2600 DDR SDRAM units on CeBit that is a DDR standard of the following generation coming to replace today's PC1600 and 2100.

In general, this month has brought some very interesting forecasts on the subject of DDR SDRAM. In Samsung's opinion, the price of DDR and SDR chips production should become equal at transition to 0.13 micron technical process, and Micron has developed this subject, having assumed that the price for PC133 and PC2100 units can become equal in the present quarter. One more interesting thing from the same area - Nanya has declared that it had managed to achieve more than 80-percent effective release for PC2100 chips!

Hyundai Electronics, that has presented samples of 0.18 micron PC2100 chips, name DDR the "national memory", asserting that this year it will take 15-20% of DRAM market (and 85% in 2005). And the most interesting thing is that independent analysts basically agree with these numbers. "With saving of the existing tendencies" as always.

More exactly we talk not about Hyundai Electronics, but about Hynix Semiconductor ("high" and "electronics") - the company is at last re-structurized without all possible ballast and the link to the Hyundai head concern. The company has lots of debts and problems as well as some positive moments. For example, it is necessary to recollect the signing of the agreement at the end of month about the delivery of DDR units for Compaq and HP, and there are similar ones with Gateway and IBM in the schedules. In '2001 Hynix is going to deliver DDR units for the sum of 380 millions dollars.

While the situation with memory is still far from ideal, the company tries to make all efforts possible in the given situation, reprofiling DRAM production lines for SRAM. In March the company has started to produce 8 Mbit SRAM chips for mobile telephones, PDAs, etc. As to DRAM, its production has been reduced to minimum, at least on the factory in USA.

We've come to another traditional subject of this chapter - SDRAM prices. And they, having fallen to the very bottom in beginning of the month, despite of all remarks from analysts that are always optimistic, will continue to lower. Nevertheless, the analysts were right - prices start to stabilize, lowering inertially in many respects, and probably they'll begin to raise in April. The fiscal year is completed for Micron and Japanese, which do not now have the necessity of dumping to achieve good financial indexations. And the whole computer market starts to raise, providing the increase of memory demand in particular, that inevitably leads to more or less price rising.


All is quite traditional here as well - the main news generator is NVIDIA, who has presented even three new solutions - MX-100, MX-200 and MX-400 to replace GF2 MX for videocard manufacturers. Exactly the last two of them gained all the attention as MX-100 has not recalled any enthusiasm, having appeared to be worse than Vanta in the terms of perfomance and more expensive as well. So now there are only MX-200, slower than original MX, but also cheaper, and more productive MX-400 in the schedules.

On the other hand, it is nevertheless necessary to consider NVIDIA's rise of the prices for TNT line with the purpose to make the manufacturers to proceed on MX-100. Though the price/quality ratio is a little bit smaller, but still it's GPU. And no need to say that no one needs it. What if so. But when the game manufacturers will be sure that their game, oriented to the geometrical coprocessor, will run on any system.

Though these games will be played mostly on either MX-400 or GeForce2/GeForce3. Though the situation is a little more tangled here than in the low set. The transition to GeForce3 continues - Visiontek, Asus, Prolink, Gainward, Innovision. And on the other hand there's, for example, ABIT, who isn't going to produce a card on this chip as soon as possible, motivating it by a stiff price of GF3, by doubts that NVIDIA will provide needed deliveries, also by availability of games for this chip now.

And not only this. NVIDIA itself has recommended the manufacturers to postpone the deliveries of these cards due to one simple reason - there are no good drivers for GeForce 3 now. And also due to the fact that TSMC has started the industrial production of 0.15 micron GeForce 3 variant only in the end of the month. So the main stream of announcements should be awaited in April/May.

And now NVIDIA already plans to stop GeForce2 GTS production to replace it with the faster GeForce2 Pro. The manufacturers react accordingly, switching to production of cards on the basis of this chip. E.g. Thunder GTS Pro from ELSA.

And what about other chip manufacturers, for example, ATI? Just nothing: well, it has offered the Radeon SE - a little faster (240-250 MHz) variant of Radeon with 4 ns memory - and that's all as we shall not take into account the Radeon II, which is planned for the fourth quarter only. No wonder that in the last financial quarter ATI has suffered losses again (26.1 million dollars), traditionally referring to the recession in the global PC market. And simultaneously with this, the company has purchase the division of professional SonicBlue accelerators - FGL Graphics, that releases cards under FireGL brand.

But the cost of the bargain is only 10 millions dollars. For some reason it has reminded me when 3dfx, suffering from continuous finance outflow, has purchased GigaPixel shortly before its end.

By the way, the affected subject pulls another two after it - 3dfx, whose shareholders have officially liquidated the company at the end of the month, and S3, whose graphic chips are not to be considered seriously anymore. The proof has followed in middle of March - SuperSavage on the Paramount kernel. It's a good competitor to Radeon Mobility and GF2 Go on the mobile market, but S3 has surely lost it's place on the market of desktop chips.

And STM still tries to hold on - in the beginning of March the company has announced the new KYRO II chip. Again without T&L, with about 175 MHz kernel and memory frequency, the cards on it have been already declared by two companies, Hercules and Videologic. What's that? The beginning of the end?

Disk drives

This month was unusually active, thanks to CeBit and CD-RW drive manufacturers, that have demonstrated a huge number of new models. And if the last year's CeBit had the 16/10/40X drive prototypes as the main "sight", this one had 20/10/40 models presented, and three companies: Sanyo, TDK and Waitec have demonstrated the new champions - 24/10/40X CD-RW drives. No need to speak about 12/10/32 and 16/10/40 models as there were plenty of them in all designs with all interfaces. As to interfaces, we shall mark that models with USB 2.0 connection were present at the exhibition, it seems that soon PC FireWire will get another serious blow.

By the way, the increasing popularity of writing drives can become rather malicious for the users - under the forecasts of the analysts, the demand for them will increase for 100-150 percents this year, and the manufacturers of CD-R/ÑD-RW disks may simply not endure the increased demand for their production.

Especially, if to take into account the legal factors like Philips's complaint for the Taiwan manufacturers and the license war. Well, if speaking about Philips and disks: the company has announced the new Thermo Balanced Writing (TBW) technology on CeBit, that provides the greater recording quality expressed in the greater durability, smaller requirements to drives quality, etc.

Back to drives. CeBit has presented more than enough combines capable of reading DVD and recording CD disks - this begins to be important nowadays. The similar models have been released by HP, Asus, Philips, Ricoh, Memorex this month. And Matsushita has already presented a portable model of the similar device. Probably, the size of the production of similar models will be increased to the end of the year, also due to the Infineon chip, introduced on CeBit, that for the first time combines all necessary features for DVD/CD-RW drives creation, moreover with TrueX support (if the manufacturer wants it to realize it).

As to writing DVD drives, it is necessary to mark three events here: the announcement of DVR-A03 DVD-R/RW drive by Pioneer, which price is less than 1000 euro from the very start. The next announcement of the DVD+RW alliance about the beginning of deliveries of these devices already in the summer (in what we can trust this time). And the beginning of Hitachi 4.7 GBytes DVD-RW disks sales under the Maxell brand (however, it's more to the first than to the second).

In general, if there was a task to choose the most interesting device that was shown this month in the field of optical disk drives, it would probably be the drive by Sony - 12/8/32X CRX-200 E-RP. It's the first drive with DDCD support, i.e. with a capability of recording 1.3 GBytes double density disks. It is necessary to wish this technology good luck as the autumn will show us the already understandable situation.

Having finished with drives, it is possible to proceed to hard disks, which number was a bit larger this month for the same reason. CeBit has given food for any taste. A mobile user? Please take 1.8" 5 and 10 GBytes 4,200 rpm hard disks from Toshiba or 48 GBytes 5,400 rpm champion from IBM - TravelStar 48GH. Need maximum speed? No problemo, take the fastest 36 GBytes Cheetah X15-36LP with spindle rotation rate of 15,000 rpm, average search time 3.6ms and interfaces up to Ultra320 SCSI and Fibre Channel 2 Gbit. Something more simple? Here's the 80 GBytes 7,200 rpm Caviar (at last WD has caught up IBM and Maxtor) and Samsung SpinPoint V30 with 30 GBytes slices (30 and 60 Gbytes accordingly) and the speed of 5,400 rpm. Simply for everybody.

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