iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






May'2001 Digest


It is possible to characterize May with a single word - "mobility". Therefore, contrary to usual, we shall begin not with AMD and Intel, but with VIA and Transmeta.

The first of them has quickened just right at the end of the month, having presented a new variant of it's C3 with E suffix in EBGA package with little better ergonomic parameters. And it has improved the speed of the whole product line - 0.15 micron 750 MHZ processor with 128 KBytes L1 and 64 KBytes L2 cache with cost price of $49. Moreover, 800 MHZ variant of the processor is expected on June, 5, on Computex - C3 promptly catches up Celeron and Duron.

It is no wonder, that the company begins to enter the wide market, having declared that in July C3/Twister combination notebooks will be presented by the majority of the Taiwan computer manufacturers with guiding price about $940-$1250. An excellent debut.

As to Transmeta, that is present on market a little bit longer, it has it's routine. It may be not so good for news chapter, but for the company it's perfect: of all worthy events in May it is possible to mention only the fact that Toshiba has agreed at last to use Crusoe in one of the notebook models, and Sharp has also announced the notebook on this processor. The company has also officially "statuted" relations with AMD: the company has announced licensing x86-64 and HyperTransport architectures. So, not counting various notebooks on RISC processors like Apple machines, we may see the first notebooks on 64-bit processors in the market in the foreseeable future!

However, cooperation means nothing, AMD still continues to compete with Transmeta on the mobile market, and May was marked with the key event for it: the new generation of its mobile processors has been released at last, perhaps, being the largest step in the mobile history of the company after K6-2 - Athlon 4 has appeared in the middle of the month. The processor has Palomino core, supports PowerNow! 2.0 technology, is based on copper 0.18 technical process, has lowered power consumption and clock rates from 850 MHz up to 1 GHz. As usually, Compaq was the first to respond to this event, then there was NEC. HP, Sony, Fujitsu are also expected.

By the way, 1.4 GHz processor (the clock rate awaited from Palomino) for desktop PCs had already appeared for sale in Japan together with 950 MHz Duron, being however, the most usual Thunderbird with FSB266 worth about $300. But chipset and motherboard manufacturers have real Palomino already on hands and not only 1.4, but also 1.5 GHz, as well as new 800-850 MHZ Durons on the Morgan core. AMD has said that the official announcement of the processor is expected in the beginning of June - obviously on Computex on the 4th of this month.

Let's make a small break for society column - in the beginning of May the next Intel's prolongation of AMD license for x86 architecture for the following ten years was announced. It would be strange, if it has not happened. x86 remains that base that keeps PC market despite all recent experiments with it. Accordingly there are mutations like x86-64 or x86 emulation in Merced.

Which, by the way, after so many years of development, has been officially released at last. Right at the end of the month this fairly cheapened processor was released under Itanium trademark this time. As it is expected by Intel, about 25 companies should present more than 35 models on the basis of 733-800 MHz processors with 2-4 MBytes L3 cache and worth $1-4k. However, in any case, it is difficult to expect big commercial system from Merced as it's only a base for McKinley that will become main Intel's attack force to the market of 64-bit processors next year.

As to the server market - another well known processor released in May, i.e. Foster, being Pentium 4 in server embodiment, perhaps, is more actual. Though not everything worked out well: the processor should have been released on the 8th of May, but some packing problems have compelled the company to postpone its release for a couple of weeks, therefore the processor was announced on May, 21 only - under Xeon mark that is an absolutely correct marketing trick as the name sounds much better than today's Pentium III Xeon. The processor, which has been released in several variants (1.4/1.5/1.7 GHz), has at once received support from brand manufacturers of server motherboards (Supermicro, Tyan, Iwill) and servers (HP, NEC, IBM).

By the way, speaking about Pentium 4, the situation is not so cheerful - analytics hastily remake their forecasts: in general opinion, it would be good for Intel to sell even 10 million of these processors instead of 20 as it has been planned for this year. Taking into account that the sales volume was planned in range of 3 million Pentiums 4 for the second quarter, and most likely it will turn out about 1-1.5 millions instead. Accordingly, forecasts of financial results for the second quarter have also been reduced - they have already fallen from 6.6 down to 6.1 billion dollars.

It's just a right time to think the situation over. And to try to compensate losses in the adjacent markets - both mobile Tualatin, featuring clock rates from 850 MHz up to 1.1 GHz, and desktop one, for which the most extensive chipset infrastructure is ready and, besides, SDRAM memory is very cheap, are to be released in July. However, there are already doubts in that everything will work out fine: SVG, the supplier of ultra-violet lithography equipment (for Intel as well) has some problems with 0.13 micron scanners that may cause shipping delays for about four months with all the ensuing consequences for volumes of processor manufacture.

It is necessary to mention just two more companies. The first is Sun, that has signed an agreement with UMC about UltraSPARC IIe manufacture (only Texas Instruments has been manufacturing all UltraSPARCs up to this time), due to what TI can concentrate on senior processors. And the second is Motorola, that has announced MPC7440 (600-700 MHz PowerPC G4 for integrated systems) for the third quarter, and that plans to release 1 GHz PowerPC G4+ for desktops by the end of this year.


First, let's take a general look at the market. It can be characterized with the word 'consolidation'. Cumulative market share of Asus, Gigabyte, MSI and Elitegroup according to the results of the first quarter, has made little more than 60 percents of all volume of manufactured Taiwan motherboards. And taking into account that all four players actively expand manufacture to the continent, to China, increasing manufacture volumes and reducing production cost prices, it is possible to predict the increase up to 70 percents by the end of the year.

There are also internal market wars among these four: Gigabyte and MSI, have appeared between two fires - Asus (traditionally positioned as High-End) and Elitegroup (Low-End) continue to reduce prices (the same Asus, due to use of SiS chipsets, has reduced the average motherboard price down to $60, that is MSI and Gigabyte level), so these companies are compelled to answer adequately, pushing themselves to the same impasse, where memory manufacturers are already in.

By the way, demand gets easier again - in April the sales volume of all four has decreased by 25 percents approximately in comparison with March: Asus has sold one million boards, MSI - 700 thousand, Gigabyte - 650, Elitegroup - about 1.3 million.

As to the prices, there's one more proof that they will continue to drop - active competition between chipset manufacturers. In particular, between VIA and SiS, sharing the market of integrated chipsets used by Taiwan motherboard manufacturers. The results of price wars are already available - PLE133 newcomer already costs a couple of dollars cheaper than i810, featuring more advanced parameters.

Higher picture is similar - Taiwan DDR chipsets, initially costing about $30, have lost the third part of the price: SiS 635T and Apollo Pro 266 have already dropped to $19 mark, the price of Aladdin Pro V has dropped to approximately same level. Taiwan prepares for i845 release.

Nevertheless, despite the price-cutting, everything is not so bad. The same SiS in April has sold boards for the sum of about 33.4 million dollars, approximately the same as in March, and in May it should be the same as well - because of Asus, that has actively started to use SiS chipsets in its motherboards, in particular, DDR SiS 635 and SiS 735.

In May VIA has generally concentrated on AMD processors, compensating the lack of attention to them in previous months when the general attention was paid to Socket-370. This month has brought us inexpensive Twister-K with integrated Savage 4 graphic core (just for Athlon 4, that has appeared in May, and for mobile Duron), and Computex will bring the release of absolutely cheap KLE133 with integrated CyberBlade (AGP 2x) core from Trident - that is the perfect variant for Low-End PCs on Duron.

P4X266 Pentium 4 chipset has some problems - the chipset is almost ready, but VIA doesn't have the license for it yet and thus Intel has all rights to "earnestly request" motherboard manufacturers not to use it. And it is clear, that VIA will hardly get the license before the release of i845...

And there's only ALi left - they promise to release Pentium 4 chipset in the fourth quarter (naturally, with DDR support) along with a new Athlon chipset, featuring AGP 8X support, USB 2.0, and HyperTransport bus for communication between two bridges!

The situation with motherboards reflects all above: all kinds of manufacturers release or prepare to release models for Tualatin: based on Apollo Pro133T, Pro266T, SiS 635T, i815E step B, usually differing from earlier versions by the fact of such support only. First boards based on AMD-761 begin to appear for sale.

Well and certainly there are motherboards, announced simultaneously with Foster, based on i860 - Iwill DX400-SN, Tyan Thunder i860, Supermicro P4DC6. All are dual-processor with 64-bit PCI slots, designed for 8 or 4 (in case of P4DC6) RIMM modules - i860 has four RDRAM channels so the amount of RIMM should be multiple of four.


At last something essential has taken place in the "Rambus against the world" soap opera, just very essential. The first action of Rambus against Infineon has been finished with shattering Rambus defeat - the judge has rejected all 57 accusations sent by Rambus to Infineon concerning various patent violations. However, only few could doubt about it, taking into account personal relations of the judge and Rambus ;-). It is no wonder that just right after the end, Infineon has brought an action against Rambus, accusing it in swindle.

Anyway, the court decision brings an opportunity for any company to sell DDR and SDRAM chips in USA, not being afraid of sanctions from Rambus. It's the first blow to Rambus. And in general, this is the beginning of the end - the judge, that was later examining the suit of Rambus against Micron concerning violation of Rambus patent for the multiplexed memory bus, has made a decision for the benefit of Micron. It based on the precedent created by judge Payne. So, that's all. At least, in USA: jurisprudence precedent is a serious thing. But this applies to USA only, as in Europe all case hearings are ahead.

The second usual theme concerns memory prices, hitting deeper and deeper bottom each month. 64 Mbit are not talked about today - it's time to trace 128 MBit chips. Just one thing to illustrate the situation: in USA for one month the average price for 128 Mbyte PC133 modules has dropped from $35,5 down to $31,07; in Europe - from $35,78 down to $33,29; in Asia - from $35,75 down to $31,59. According TICE, the Taiwan semi-conductor stock exchange, for one month wholesale prices for 128 Mbyte PC133 modules have dropped from $28,50 down to $20!

Results are corresponding: companies begin to postpone construction of the factories working with 12" plates, preferring to concentrate on the transition of already existing ones to 0.15 micron technical process, and planning to begin building factories for processing 300 mm plates only the next year. Just no money. And to get them it is necessary to change to manufacture of large volume chips - if the last year the share of 256 MBit chips manufacture of the largest memory manufacturers has made 3-4 percents, this year this value has already passed 10 percents and will continue to grow. It is possible to expect that by the end of the year of this share will make about 20-25 percents of all DRAM chips.

By the way, DDR prices drop as well. Micron by the middle of the month had time to cut the price for PC2100 modules that it was leveled with the price for PC133 SDRAM modules of similar volume! And Crucial, for example, began retail sales of 256 Mbyte modules for $99, and $79,19 for wholesale. This tendency has developed further - at the end of the month 256 Mbyte modules costed already $65.7 - for both PC2100 and PC133.

It is interesting what will happen with PC2700 modules? As this specification, being transitive from PC2100 to PC3200, is accepted at last. I shall remind, that despite the same voltage, these modules are designed for absolutely another MicroDIMM form-factor, which will be used by PC3200. Thus, taking into account the transition period, PC2700 will be also manufactured both as usual DIMM and SODIMM.


The man of the hour is ATI, but the leader is as usually NVIDIA. Including the amount of news, taking into account, how many companies make cards on the basis of its chips. Accordingly, any news proceeding from this company are being instantly reflected by tens of cards. This time such news generators are GeForce3 and new professional chips from NVIDIA.

As to the first, there are surprises, or at least no bolts from the blue. There are some announcements of new cards, those already announced, appear for sale. In May this happened with Leadtek, Visiontek, Innovision, MSI, Hercules. By the way, Hercules has announced that due to rather small difference in price between GF2 Ultra and GF3, the first will be simply removed from manufacture. Creative has also 'engaged' GF3, not risking anything however - it has gone on ELSA's way, the difference is only that Visiontek makes cards for ELSA, and Creative's OEM partner is MSI. It is interesting to observe eastern 'sloggers' pressing western grands.

The second is the release of two new solutions by NVIDIA: Quadro DCC and Quadro2 EX. As usually, ELSA, having monopoly for professional cards on NVIDIA chips, has at once announced two cards on them - accordingly, GLoria DCC and Synergy 2000. The Quadro DCC is a usual GeForce3; DCC means Digital Content Creators, i.e. for developers. NVIDIA has released the Quadro DCC today so that the whole soft will be debugged and certified for the normal Quadro on the advanced GeForce3 core that will be launched this fall. So, ELSA will promote GLoria DCC cards which are professional not in the full sense of the word, - this is only the tool for developers (and not for professional users) for creation, adaptation, debugging of the software.

Anyway, NVIDIA is not going to lose money on it. The company has a reason to celebrate - incomes for last quarter have made up 240,9, what is millions 62 percents more than for the same quarter a year ago! Against such background entering NASDAQ-100 looks absolutely natural.

As to the man of the hour, it is undoubtedly ATI. The company began modestly enough, having only announced a PCI variant of the All-in-Wonder Radeon - a 32 Mbyte card, having all features of the digital video recorder along with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio out - i.e. everything that is required from a multimedia PC today. And at the end of the month the company has presented itself really seriously, having announced TRUFORM technology. Actually it's about hardware curve acceleration - TRUFORM is supported by DirectX 8.0 and OpenGL. This results in more realistic objects at smaller loading of the graphic processor.

And let's remember the third player who has remained on the market - STMicroelectronics. His business goes well, despite all NVIDIA intrigues, though not so impetuously. Nevertheless, in the beginning of May Hercules has officially announced 4000XT - 32 Mbyte card based on Kyro I, worth about $70-75. And PowerColor, has even allocated a department, engaged in manufacture of cards on STM chips, to the separate company whose trademark will become 'VGA No 1'.

Disk drives

CD-RW market continues to hit new development tops, accordingly, CD-RW drives remain leaders of the given chapter. In May the general stream was created by 16/10/40X models: internal ATAPI from Iomega and Sony, external IEEE1394 drives from TEAC. Someone lagged behind, like MSI, that has presented 12/8/32 drive, someone kept on the edge of progress, like Yamaha with its 20/10/40 LightSpeed CRW2200 line or Plextor, which is expected to release a speed champion in June - 24/10/40 PXW2410A.

As to disks for CD-R drives, the story about Philips demarche against Taiwan manufacturers continues. The license for CD-R manufacture has been withdrawn from the majority of them (except not so important in this case Acer and NanYa). In May there were negotiations with CMC Magnetic, the largest of local CD-R manufacturers, about the restoration of license.

In general, they say that the prices for CD-R disks will increase soon - this summer the average price for CD-R disks may fly up by some times, comparing to those 10 cents to which it dropped once, to 30-35 cents per disk.

The reasons are: memory overproduction like in 1999, 'wash-out' from the market of small and average manufacturers, not capable of sustaining dropped prices, and the following burst of demand, which the industry can't satisfy. In addition, all these patent deductions, according to which manufacturers should now pay Philips, Sony, and Taiyo Yuden 8.3 cents per each disk made, and that is much, taking into account their price.

First signs - Imation has announced about raising prices for all its CD-R disks from the 1st of June. But it has simultaneously sweetened this fact with plans to release 24X disks already in July. TDK also plans to start deliveries of such disks this month, and Mitsumi has already started to sell them.

Speaking about DVD, it is necessary to note backward compatibility of DVD+RW with DVD+R. I.e., DVD+R disks can be both read and written to on any DVD+RW equipment. In that mess on the market of DVD technologies any new attempt to standardize is only welcome.

But as a whole, DVD+RW is still virtual, what can't be said about DVD-RW and DVD-RAM. Just look: Sony has started to sell external DVD-R/RW disk drives with IEEE 1394 interface since the 1st of June, Panasonic has announced DVD-RAM video recorder and various disk drives, including those with USB 2.0 interface! Simultaneously Verbatim has announced the beginning of deliveries of 4.7 GByte DVD-RW disks. But while DVD+RW is limited to announcements, supporters of alternative architectures continue to improve infrastructure for their specifications.

We shall also remember HDDs in this section. But nothing special here actually. Just the new MAM3xxx line from Fujitsu, featuring speed of 89 MBytes/s and 3,5 ms access time and 15000 RPM! Cheetah X15 will have to make some room for this product as it will appear for sale in July.

In the field of technologies, it is necessary to note little theoretical dispute between IBM and Seagate. The first has announced the start of HDD manufacture with usage of technology, potentially allowing to increase write density up to 100 GBit/sq.inch by '2003, that will allow to create HDDs for desktop PCs with about 400 Gbyte of volume. In reply to this Seagate has announced, that their technologies within the nearest several years will potentially allow to reach write density of one terabit (!) per square inch, that leads to the appearance of 1.5 TByte HDDs in the most foreseeable future.

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