iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






June '2001 Hardware Digest


Computex was traditionally a rich source of new processors announcements. Namely those long-awaited. Just like a production cycle. VIA C3, a new processor on Ezra core, became one of such long expected novelties. This 0.13 micron chip, manufactured by TSMC, will appear on the market at once, both for desktop PCs, and for mobile computers. Clock rates start from 800 MHZ, and as usual we might expect more than low prices for this new chip.

"From bad to worse". At the end of this year samples of C4 or C5X (Nehemiah) will see the light, it will feature 17-step pipeline, 128/256 Kilobytes of L1/L2 cache and SSE module. Clock rates will start from 1.2 GHZ. And VIA will again proceed to new technical process in the next generation - 0.10 micron with usage of copper conductors - C5Y (Esther). Accordingly, estimated clock rate of this CPU, to be released in the second half of the year 2002, will make 2 GHZ. It's clear that there will be both desktop, and mobile versions.

Crusoe will be lagging behind by that time for sure… In the second half of '2002 the company plans to release 256-bit processor, made by the same TSMC, but still with 0.13 micron technical process and with clock rates of more than 1 GHZ. The same time Transmeta will develop another long expected product announced at the end of the month - TM5800. It starts with 700-800 MHZ clock rate with 512 Kilobytes of L2 cache; in the first half of the next year the clock rate of TM5800 will increase up to 1 GHZ, and the Code Morphing Software (CMS) patch will be upgraded from version 4.2 to 4.3. This will result in increased productivity per megahertz and in further economy increase.

About economy by the way. Simultaneously with the release of new processor, Transmeta has agreed with Epson upon cooperation in this area - companies will engage in the development of Internet boxes with usage of energy saving technologies created by both partners. Then they will engage in chipset creation and other similar things for Crusoe. Naturally, on the basis of mutual patent exchange.

In the meantime, notebook manufacturers master new limits: in the middle of the month models, based on Athlon 4, were released - they feature the same HP's Pavilion based on 1 GHZ processor with rather impressing parameters: 256 Mbytes, 15" TFT, 20 GBytes HDD, DVD/CD-RW drive), worth just $2,200.

However, there's another expected interesting processor from this company that has also been presented on Computex - Athlon MP - its first desktop processor with Palomino core. It's an interesting move of company's marketing policy, taking into account that Athlon and Duron, being already repetitiously produced and sold, can work in multiprocessor systems. Unless MP, according to the company, works better in these systems where the amount of processors exceeds one - due to more effective instruction multisequencing. In any case, manufacturers still behave cautiously enough toward this new product, for example, IBM and Compaq, producing computers both on the basis of usual, and mobile processors of the company, have decided to refrain from releasing dual-processor systems based on Athlon MP - AMD still lacks image in this market sector.

And everything's nice with desktop system processors - AMD has consolidated it's grip much stronger, and it's position is only emphasized with the release of the next couple of processors in the beginning of the month - 1.4 GHZ Athlon and 950 MHZ Duron. Compaq, HP and Micron, as well as other grands, have presented computers based on them with pleasure. By the way, due to announcement of these $253 and $122 products, Duron 900 has fallen down to $90 at once, and 1.2 GHZ Athlon has broken the limit of $200 from above.

Intel was not officially noted on Computex, though it's product range was wide and pleasant: namely there were all possible variants of 0.13 micron processors. It's was the first time for 0.13 micron Pentium 4 (Northwood) to be presented, though just as the sample on stands of i845 board manufacturers. It will take a long time before these CPUs will be repetitiously produced.

Intel Pentium III 1.13 GHZ has appeared on the "roadmap" again with Tualatin core, and it has immediately appeared for sale at quick Japanese sellers. It has even the place to work - i815EP step B motherboards have already started to appear for sale in the same places. Officially, the first 0.13 micron processors were announced by Intel at the end of the month on TechX NY (former PC Expo): mobile Pentium III-M and server Pentium III-S. It is unclear about servers, but notebooks, based on the new processor and 830 chipset line, are expected in the third quarter.

By the way, speaking about mobile processors, it is necessary to mark rather serious prices reduction for them in the second half of the month - Celeron 800 has fallen from $170 down to $107, it's 750 MHz variant - from $134 down to $91, and the 650 MHZ variant - from $96 down to $75. Who said that competition is bad?

There is only two news from society column, and both are connected with Intel. The first is the freezing of another factory construction: it was officially announced about the cancelling of factory construction in Kyriat Ghat, that should produce Pentium 4 and about 150 other chips and that should cost Intel $3,5 billion. It's not the first sad experience for the company as in March they had to freeze 2 billion construction of Fab 24 in Ireland, and then in a week they made a decision about suspension of 500 million project of entering another production line in Fab 17 in Hudson, USA. No money.

Perhaps they spent all funds on the purchase of Compaq's Alpha department? On the 25th of June companies signed the large-scale long-term cooperation agreement, upon which Compaq becomes leading partner of Intel in the advancing of its 64-bit systems. In it's turn, Intel receives unlimited access to Compaq technologies, used in Alpha and NonStop Himalaya servers. So, by '2004 Compaq is going to completely proceed it's servers to Itanium processors. Will Samsung be able to push this processor further to the market alone? Hardly. Rest in peace, Alpha? :-(


It's clear that this time motherboards section became even more saturated than usual, thanks to Computex, that's traditionally turned in this direction. Naturally, there were lots of announcements and new products, but the majority of boards turned out to be on just announced chipsets. First of all I shall name i815 B-Step, a kind of original consumer goods: there are more than enough motherboards for future Tualatin already. All largest manufacturers from MSI and ESC to ABIT and Supermicro were active. Acorp traditionally showed dual-processor motherboards, based on this chipset: these motherboards have already appeared in Japan, same as in our lab :-).

The higher level is occupied by motherboards, based on i845 Brookdale, announced on the same Computex, but despite this, these motherboards were released very widely. And in spite of the fact that today i845 officially supports SDRAM only, about the half of manufacturers have also presented motherboards with DDR DIMM slots, having logically judged that they mustn't wait for winter when Intel will allow its chipset to support DDR.

And P4X266 will not be released soon - Intel still refuses to give VIA the license for it. Nevertheless, the company has announced this chipset and for the first time has shown it on Computex, and a number of manufacturers had already showed us motherboards on its basis. Mass motherboard deliveries, as we have expected, should start in the third quarter. If there are no absolutely serious objections from Intel. However, in due time, non-authorized release of Apollo Pro133 has turned out almost all right for VIA, but had frazzled their nerves out. This time Intel also won't be glad about the start of P4X266 without it's permission - first, the chipset itself is capable of undermining i845's positions and, taking into account that it's price is expected to be $10-15 less…

Well at least everything's OK with KT266, there are several new motherboards on it: 7VJD2 from Chaintech, K7T266 Pro-RU from MSI, SL-75DRV-X from Soltek - they are new modifications of already released motherboards on this chipset. By the way, new ones will be available soon - a new faster and more stable version of this chipset is expected in July, it may even be named like KT266A or something.

There are no problems with motherboards on Apollo Pro266 and Apollo Pro133 as well - both are completely covered by VIA's license. But it's fun that only MSI has acted in this area in June, having released, accordingly, Pro266 Plus-I and Pro266T Master-R on Apollo Pro266 and 694T Pro and 694D Pro-2 IR (dual-processor) on Apollo Pro133A. "T" means Tualatin support in both cases.

And especially there may not be any problems with ALi, that already has the license for Pentium 4 system bus and that has announced the M1671 chipset for Pentium 4 on Computex, that is the first official product announced not by Intel. Naturally with DDR support.

However, in due time, when it was about PC133 support, everything was happening the same way - Intel was categorically against it, VIA was not to receive the license under any circumstances, but its competitors received it without problems. As a result Intel surrendered and added PC133 support to i815, that became best-seller at once, and chipsets with PC133 support from ALi and SiS were not even seen on the market, VIA produced Apollo Pro133, without the license. The chipset had tremendous success. Legal quarrels followed. Intel recognized the actual state of affairs and licensed VIA all necessary technologies. Very similar to present situation, isn't it?

Returning back to a theme of potential tops, announced on Computex, it is necessary to mention NVIDIA nForce, i.e. Crush, we've been speaking for more than a half-year. There's no need to say much about new chipset, as everything has already been discussed in our review. It is necessary just to recollect the fact that there are ASUS, ABIT, GigaByte and MSI (all were noted by releases of videocards on NVIDIA chips) in NVIDIA's partner list, and that the first boards on this chipset - A7N266-V - will appear in the third quarter. We can only estimate possible price in $120-150 range.

Another new chipset, announced on Computex, is designed for dual-processor systems, based on AMD processors. Certainly, it is about AMD 760-MP - the first multiprocessor chipset from AMD. The external functionality differs little from AMD-760, but it is more powerful on the deeper system layer, as it's designed for two processors. The same Computex brought us first motherboards on this basis. The first is Thunder K7, naturally from Tyan, AMD's official partner for this chipset, another is from Asus - A7M266-D which should appear for sale this month.


This month was not consolatory for memory manufacturers. Recession, recession and again recession. And closer to the end of the month there was just an abyss fall. To illustrate this hare are few figures from TICE: if in the beginning of the month the price of 64 MBit PC133 SDRAM chip was $1.1-1.25, and that of 128 Mbit one - $2.25-2.55 (accordingly, the price of 64 MBytes chip was $10.5 and that of 128 Mb one was $18.25) by the end of the month, just the deep fall, the price for 64 Mbit chips has passed dollar mark and reached $0.95-1.05, the price for 128 Mbit chips has passed two-dollar mark and made $1.92-2.12. And, besides, the cost price of the chip makes $2.5-3 for the majority of manufacturers.

The result is available: Samsung has reduced the profit forecast for the second quarter from 620 billion wons down to 500 billion wons, that makes less than half of the first quarter profit (1,25 trillion). Hynix, having received 68,7 billion wons profit in the first quarter, expects 50 billion wons losses in the current quarter. Infineon, according to estimations, might lose $500 million in the second quarter that will be the worse result for company's history. Micron has announced $301 million losses (after taxes deduction) for the third financial quarter which has finished for the company on May, 31, 2001. It sounds bad. It seems like "Dive-bomber chronicle" describes the situation best. We remember well the same long dive two years ago - it has finished by market collapse followed by price jump.

But meanwhile the market still continues to follow the same self-destructive route. According to Nanya, Winbond and Mosel Vitelic, stocks of these companies already exceed incomes, received in the first quarter, that directly specifies serious reduction of DRAM liquidity. Winbond, for example, having received $205 million income in the first quarter, now has $219 million stocks, Mosel's figures make $109,8 million and $112,3 accordingly. And it's real frightening for Nanya - $94,1 million and $162,7 million accordingly. What will companies do in this situation? Correct, they'll sell these stocks by hook or crook. No need to explain consequences of this policy on the memory prices in the near future.

But there are some gleams of hope as well. For example, the same Hynix has announced the intention to lower volumes of producing DRAM chips by 20% right at the end of the month to stop the "bloodiest" industry price war. They promised "psychological crisis " of customers' minds in two weeks, OK, we're waiting for the middle of July. Another way out method - to pass to other memory types in general. The same Hynix, always holding to DDR SDRAM, has announced the intention to snip about 75% of this market off. An interesting, but unreal intention it is, they sleep and dream about being leaders of DDR market. All of them - Infineon, Nanya and Micron…

And about Micron. Crucial, it's retail division, has again decided to dump in June and has reduced prices for DDR modules even more: 256 Mbyte PC2100 module costs $59.4, 128 Mbyte one - $31.5. As usually, the same price is stated for PC133 SDRAM modules of the company. You say 75%?..

By the way, these 75% of DDR market - is it much or not? It depends on. This year, for example, SDRAM share will make 89%, according to Infineon's forecasts, whereas DDR and RDRAM will have only 5% of the whole memory market. But in the following year SDRAM share will make already 63%, whereas DDR will grow up to 31% due to mass appearance of motherboards with support DDR and further DDR price reduction, superseding SDRAM from the market. Accordingly, RDRAM share will make only 6% of the whole market. This tendency will only develop, and Infineon expects the following by '2005: 12% - SDRAM, 65% - DDR, 23% - new DRAM technologies.

However, Rambus disagrees with such forecast. According to the company, RDRAM chips' clock rate will reach 1200 MHz by '2005, and bus bandwidth will make 9,6 GBytes/s; the manufacture of 32-bit and 64-bit modules will begin alongside with the manufacture of 16-bit modules. However, in case RDRAM survives, it will have to compete with DDR-II already, which preliminary specifications were authorized by JEDEC right at the end of June. Repetition works with this memory type should begin by the end of '2003 as 400 MHz and 533 MHz chips featuring 3.2 and 4.3 GByte/s bandwidth accordingly,. And then… Then it will be time for those new DRAM technologies. DDR-III development will be conducted already together with Advanced DRAM Technology group.

But today we shall mark PC2700 memory modules of intermediate DDR generation, demonstrated by Melco Inc. at Computex. I shall remind that these modules use new MicroDIMM form-factor, incompatible with anything, with a view to pass to DDR-II. But the fact is that Melco has shown these modules working in a usual DDR board with usage of special adapters. So, the way's free.

The last thing to mention is already known 4 GBit memory module, shown by Samsung on VLSI Technology Symposium. The company has shown it some times already, but this doesn't this achievement less noticable: 0.11 micron chip has 645 sq. mm. area and it's production will start only in '2004, when the technical process will be finally "polished".


What cards of what company were mentioned most often this month? Right you are, GeForce3 of NVIDIA. Since there was nothing else to mention - other companies grow dim near this monster, that constantly releases new products. There was nothing special in June actually - it's too much to release a new chip every month, come on! GeForce3 will suffice all right, since cards on it continue to be released.

This month the "lucky list" have been updated with Chaintech's AGP-RIG3, Canopus's SPECTRA X20 (230/263 MHZ), Gainward's GeForce3 PowerPack!!! " Golden Sample " (3.5 ns memory), Triplex's TRP-GF3000 (standard, DVI and TV outputs), 3D Power's (Absolute Multimedia) Morpheus (wooden package and considerable heat-remover), MSI's StarForce 822 2.0/TVD (differs from standard 822 by another cooler, memory heat-remover, TV-output and video input), Palit's Daytona GeForce 3 (promised to have low price).

It's only GeForce3! And there are three other cards from MSI on other NVIDIA chips: StarForce 826 on MX-400, StarForce 829 on MX-200 and StarForce 831 on GF2 Pro - standard representatives of their class, nothing supernatural, but nevertheless they are the next update of NVIDIA's world collection. It is no wonder that BusinessWeek places NVIDIA first in The Info Tech 100 list for the second year already. It's interesting, whether XBox will allow NVIDIA to occupy this rather honorable place for the third time?

Only STM and ATI have remained NVIDIA's competitors as only they show signs of life. And actually considerable ones. Just Computex alone brought us the following cards on KYRO I and KYRO-II:

  • Club3D Technology - KYRO I CLK-1064TV, KYRO II CLK-2032TV, CLK-2064TV
  • Ennyah Technologies - Michelan KYRO 3D Pro K4000, Michelan 3D Pro 4500
  • InnoVISION - Inno3D KYROII 4500
  • Joytech - APOLLO KYRO 2
  • Kifer - Royal Kings KYRO-1 STG4000 KO4000S64-T0, KO4000S64-00, Royal Kings KYRO-2 STG4500 KO4500S64-T0, KO4500S64-00
  • Lung Hwa - 3D Best 4000, 3D Best 4500

Few brands, but impressive. Besides, some of them acted earlier, Hercules, for example. Everything's still ahead as the nearest months will bring us STG4800, a tweaked variant of KYRO II with 200 MHZ core clock rate. And we also await STG5500 (KYRO 3) with thricely increased productivity in comparison with predecessors, with four pixel pipelines and hardware T&L support.

However, ATI's new policy represents the same threat to NVIDIA: the company has at last decided to start granting its chips to exterior videocard manufacturers. The list of lucky ones includes DFI, FIC, Gigabyte, Lite-On, PowerColor, USI, and Acer-DMS. And Club3D, Ennyah Tech, Jetway and Xelo may join in short time. Frankly speaking, similar scheme has not helped 3dfx in due time: ATI doesn't refuse from manufacturing videocards on it's own chips, and, like 3dfx, it will actually compete with it's own clients. But anyway, MX prices won't increase due to inflow of cheap RADEON VE or KYRO II cards.

This month ATI has presented two new cards: DV WONDER and RADEON 64 MBytes SDR. The first is the simple IEEE-1394 controller with three FireWire ports, the name of the second speaks for itself. A high-grade fast RADEON, but with slow enough 64 Mbytes of SDRAM. It's interesting as product line expansion, but has nothing revolutionary.

By the way, at the end of the month ATI has published it's financial quarter results - the loss has made $4.2 million, that makes almost a zero. The company hopes to return profit in the fall together with the majority of all other companies, suffering losses. If the market will rise, certainly.

Storage devices

It's the second section that benefits much due to Computex. Since even motherboard manufacturers produce devices for optical disks on Taiwan. As a result, June has just exploded with announcements of similar products. The majority of them is insignificant, though some models worth our notice.

First, we'll say that the share of combo-drives has greatly increased. They are generally CD-RW/DVD-ROM models, though there are some exotic variants like DVD-R/CD-RW drive from LaCie for $999. Another interesting thing is the external CRX2000L drive from Sony for 1.3 GByte DDCD disks, with IEEE 1394 interface, worth $310. It has 8 Mbyte buffer! At last there are CD/R-W drives with USB 2.0 interface, like RCD-U2PX16U from Ratoc, for example, based on PleXWriter PX-W1610A chassis. And the last interesting product of this month is combined DVD-RAM/R DVDBurner drive with estimated price of $600. It has already started to be delivered to Panasonic's partners.

And proceeding to DVD we shall mark Afreey 25x DVD, shown on Computex '2001. Just look: 25X DVD-ROM drive! Besides, it reads CD disks with speeds up to 100x! The secret is simple - good old TrueX technology from Zen Research.

However, more interesting DVD affairs were noticed on DVD+RW field. Just look at AOpen DVD+RW drive, announced on Computex: DVD+RW, DVD-ROM, CD-RW, CD-R, CD-ROM support, DVD+RW - 2.5x, CD-R recording speed - 12X, CD-RW - 10X, 8X DVD and 32X CD rewriting. A really universal DVD+RW, that will start to be delivered this quarter, has come to market, and this may undoubtedly be named the main event of this month. And in the end of it, similar devices from Ricoh and Philips were shown at Data Storage EXPO.

Though not DVD+RW drives, but more long-term device was the most interesting thing at Data Storage EXPO - Sony has again shown the drive prototype for DVR-Blue disks with potential capacity of 40-50 GBytes per disk! We shall wait for '2003-2004 when this technology will enter the market. But now we have DVD+RW. Supported by Dell since June, by the way. The last thing to mention is that deliveries of DVD+RW disks and drives will begin this fall.

And, speaking about disks, it is necessary to mark the fact concerning CD-R and CD-RW drives: there are now 24x recordable disks in quantities in the market. This speed is the upper limit for the most up-to-date devices for now. We hope that their price pressure on "younger" 12x, 16x disks will somehow allow to compensate the rise in prices for recordable and re-recordable disks.

June appeared rich with events in the field of HDDs as well, but aside Computex. Taking into account previous "sleepy" months, it had to happen. But in such a way!.. Maxtor has started to deliver ultra portable Maxtor 541DX (only 17 mm thick), in the second half of the month it has also announced the start of deliveries of 100 GByte D540X line.

Seagate is just the champion: new U serie model - U6 - with capacity of 40 GBytes per plate, i.e. whole HDD capacity makes 20-80 GBytes; then the fourth generation of Barracuda ATA - the same 40-GByte plates, almost silent due to liquid bearings (24 dB in the search mode), despite the 7,200 rpm speed; and the third family, based on same 40 GByte disks, external DiskStor 20 and DiskStor 40 HDDs with USB interface.

Even Samsung marked itself with a new SpinPoint family model, featuring 7,200 rpm speed and 2 MBytes cache and up to 40 Gbyte capacity. Samsung seems to have chances of returning to the "combined team" again. Toshiba plays the same: MK4018 line is 9.5 mm thick, but has 20 GByte per plate capacity or up to 40 Gbytes per HDD.

40 GBytes, 80 GBytes, 100 Gbytes… It's getting closer to ATA's 137 Gbyte limit. This is a problem of both HDD manufacturers, and OS programmers. That's why Microsoft, Maxtor, VIA, Compaq, and others have made an alliance for creation of the new "Big Drive" interface with a theoretical capacity limit of 144 Petabytes - it will be more than enough for a very long time. Though they've better included this size limit into SerialATA.

And speaking about "tiny ones". June brought us good competition here: Ritek MicroStor has presented miniature 1 GBytes HDD in CompactFlash Type II (CF) form-factor with 2.5 cm plates on Computex. But the twice lower price, comparing to IBM MicroDrive with the same form-factor, is the most important. By the way, except MicroStor, Ritek also showed DataPlay disks on Computex - it will be the OEM-partner of DataPlay, the company that has developed and is advancing this format.

By the way, DataPlay has announced the successful finish of negotiations with Kodak, Intel and Olympus - the company will receive $55 million, and Kodak has promised to produce digital cameras, supporting these disks, but only Toshiba with it's PDR-M70 prototype acted in this field until now. And Imation has presented two products at once at PC Expo in the end of the month: DiscGO! with USB interface, that allows to connect various flash-cards to DataPlay devices; and Imation USB DataPlay Recorder/Player, the representative of a new generation of portable digital musical companions.

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