iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






April'2001 Digest

April 30, 2001


Probably, Intel's start of the first 0.13-micron factory with the usage of 300 mm slices (D1C in Hillsboro, Oregon) has become the most important event of this month. The results are quite positive: total saving in chip production makes about 30 %, i.e. the cost price of new processors will be lower by one third approximately. Frankly speaking, there's only one such factory, so no transition to 0.13-micron technology (i.e. when the 0.13-micron processor production exceeds the 0.18 micron processor production) has been planned this year. The Tualatin production starts this quarter and the Pentium 4 production starts closer to the fourth quarter.

Well, the expenditure grows and the income is not that good. According to Intel, its warehouses are overstocked, and the announced quarter results have appeared to be 16 % worse than the last year. The general market situation is blamed, but, probably, AMD's influence is also present in this situation as, by some ratings, it won about 4 % of the processor market over Intel in the last quarter.

AMD feels just fine. The sales volume of the last quarter has grown by 9 % in comparison with the relevant period of the last year, having approximated to 1.2 billion dollars, and by the end of this year the company is going to win 30 % of the processor market (today it has 21.5%). Note the upcoming Palomino, Morgan, Hammer…

And the third company which has announced its quarter results this month is Transmeta, but it would be silly to compare the results because the company is new - in the first quarter of the last year their sales volume made $0. Nevertheless, it is necessary to mark the serious growth of demand for its processors - Transmeta's income has grown by one and a half, up to 18.6 million dollars in comparison with the last quarter. The prospects are quite good here as well - there is going to be the Astro with a 1.4 GHz clock rate and 0.5W energy consumption.

Talking about the financial results, it is necessary to note one of the most serious factors influencing upon them, i.e. the price wars. The regular round has been held this month: the prices of the higher Athlons have been appreciably reduced, the Duron prices have been marked down as well (including the 900 MHz model issued in the beginning of the month), the prices of the Pentium 4, Celeron, Pentium III have been considerably discounted - by 15-20 % on average. It is also necessary to underline quite an impressive price reduction for mobile versions of the Pentium III and Celeron. It may partly be the answer to the release of a 800 MHz mobile Duron and to the price reduction for the older processors of this line. Otherwise it will be difficult to explain the fact that the price for the higher models of the low end mobile lines (the Celeron 750 and Duron 800) is identical and makes $134.

Intel continues to lag in the Low-End market of desktop processors - the release of the 850 MHz Celeron was of no effect, taking into account that AMD has presented the Duron 900 a week earlier. And no changes are expected in the nearest future - it is most likely that Intel will be after AMD in this market, not undertaking any sudden steps. Intel's interests are now concentrated on the Pentium 4, the 1.7 GHz version of which has been released at the end of the month for $352 (without RDRAM, the 128 or 256 Mbytes modules of which are shipped in retail packages). The forthcoming 2 GHz Pentium 4 is expected to cost about $562 (to be released this quarter).

As usual, VIA is on the other side of this spectrum with its 700 MHz Cyrix III, the Samuel II version of which has already appeared for sale in the second half of this month. However, other things are the fashion of today - the Matthew and 550 series from SiS (processors with a built-in chipset northern bridge and graphics core) that should appear in the market at the end of this quarter. We may assume the cost of such processor and the motherboard package to be about $100, and it is basically enough to try to compete in the market of Internet appliance platforms.

However, it is a demanded product. E.g. IBM with its PowerPC - in April the company has announced the PowerPC IAP (Internet Appliance Platform) - the RISC core, a memory interface, a LCD display interface and other similar components that are built into the chip. Frankly speaking, there's a problem with the price because the single chip will cost about $60. However, the price of the motherboard with a built-in PowerPC IAP may make the same $40.

But Apple is the first to appear in our mind after the word 'PowerPC'. It has stopped the shippings of the Power Mac G4 with the 667 MHz Motorola processor in the middle of April, having made the 733 MHz version a minimum of the model line and having aimed all the main forces at it. Moreover, some dual-processor workstations have been released and Apple has to play under new rules because of the lack of 1.7 GHz processors. Probably, the Motorola PowerPC 7500 (G5), that is being developed now, will be able to change the situation, a 0.10-micron (copper+SOI) processor with 512 KBytes L2 cache and the clock rate of about 2 GHz and higher. If Intel, according to its schedule, after making a fast dash stops having surpassed the 2 GHz limit, then Motorola will have a chance to catch up with it.

And, finally, the unexpected appearance of the Alpha, the 1 GHz version of which was represented at the annual Compaq User Group assembly, and the official release is expected to happen at the beginning of May.


The KT266 becomes popular as the boards based on it are taking over the retail market. Some manufacturers only announce them, and some other like MSI, Transcend, DFI, Soltek start to sell the models already. They are intended for any taste with any memory module combinations, RAID availability, etc. It's still early to speak about any results, but due to the absence of actual alternatives there are almost no doubts about VIA's solution success. In the first quarter VIA's processor share of the largest motherboard manufacturers has made about 30 %, and for those like Abit or Shuttle - all 50%. The KT* boards make about 85 % of them. So…

VIA's business goes quite well now - only the sales volume in March has grown by 20 million dollars in comparison with February and has made 122 million dollars, and VIA confirms that the large part of sales has been 'caused' by the KT133. Manufacturers confirm this as well, according to their data, the KT133E owns about 21 % of the market - as much as the i815E does.

By the way, UMC will also manufacture chipsets for VIA, it is most likely that the integrated ones. We shouldn't overlook that VIA has got its graphics chipset division from S3 by right of succession, and S3 always had close connections with UMC. The second VIA's joint action of this month is the release of a long promised southern bridge - the VT8233C with a built-in 3Com network controller (a version of the VT8233). The tendency of furnishing the motherboards with network controllers gets close to its logical ending.

But nevertheless we should not forget about other motherboards and processor chipsets. Though, the Pentium's 4 results are still far from ideal - the first quarter shippings have made a half of the scheduled shipping rate due to even weaker market response than expected, OEM's waiting attitude, therefore the majority of brand manufacturers have just paused the development of new motherboards based on the i850.

But, the decrease of price for this processor and the corresponding motherboards should cardinally change the situation. And it begins to change already as some manufacturers release the simplified models (e.g. Gigabyte with its light GA-8TX-C version of the GA-8TX), some start to develop the 4-layer models based on the i850+ICH2… As many predict, the prices for the boards based on the i850 are going to be reduced to $140-150 in May. Well, the i845 is i845, but we have to live comfortingly today.

And some news about the i845, by the way. Its SDR version (i845A) is going to appear in May or June. And it is expected to support both Socket-423 and Socket-478, it means that a whole bunch of the Pentium 4 motherboards is guaranteed to appear this summer.

And a few words about SiS the business of which starts to get better. The company has already started to ship its SiS 735 (SocketA, DDR SDRAM), having become the last of Taiwan Socket-A DDR SDRAM chipset manufacturers. And the production business is not so simple: TSMC has 'slapped' UMC this month, having declared that if SiS needs its chipsets, nobody will spoil the partnership.


Rambus traditionally occupies the first place in the news with its court actions. The company was accused in stealing information from JEDEC by means of a spy, etc. But on the whole, everything was rather quiet: there were continuous pauses in Infineon vs Rambus process, so that actually nothing has changed. It has only made good to company's opponents because the legal costs of the last quarter exceeded the scheduled 5 million dollars, having brought to nothing all the obtained additional profit.

And the reduction of memory prices influences the situation as well, directly reflecting on Rambus's commissions. And talking about the prices… On the whole, April seems to become the time of slow price increasing. If in the beginning of the month they still continued to drop in the second half of the month some raise tendencies began to appear, though still very uncertain.

And the companies despite all this have to allocate money on general expenditures. For example, Infineon at the end of April has completed the construction of the industrial unit of its 300th DRAM factory which will start producing 0.14-micron chips in the second half of this year. Not bad, but it costed 1.1 billion euro.

Nanya seems to be close to Infineon. At least it has produced a trial 0.14-micron chip, but the actual mass production will begin closer to the middle of the next year. However, Infineon's factory will be fully powered only by the same time.

Nanya positions itself as the DDR SDRAM leader, but Micron is seriously going to argue with that, forcing its own DDR SDRAM production - probably it will raise its share up to 30 % of the whole memory production volume. But meanwhile, Nanya takes the lead nevertheless, lowering the DDR prices in cooperation with Kingston: 128 Mbyte Kingston units already cost $55 for PC1600 and $79 for PC2100 in April.


What a boring month. As usually, news are devoted to cards based on NVIDIA's solutions - in April there was a total transition from the GeForce2 MX to MX100/200/400. Mostly to the 200 and 400. There was only one card based on the MX100 - from a rather unknown Taiwanese manufacturer. But the brands have been massively offering only the 200 and 400 models: Asus, Shuttle, Leadtek, SUMA, MSI, ELSA, Gigabyte, ABIT, eVGA, Hercules… The cards were similar to each other like twins. Basically, this transition is of no importance to an average buyer, except maybe some extension of the offers spectrum. And, on the contrary, OEM should be rather pleased - when each dollar is important, the difference between the MX200 and MX400 may become very important.

The second interesting thing about NVIDIA is that due to the beginning of TSMC's mass production of 0.13-micron chips, a possibility of a fast price reduction of the GeForce3 has appeared - down to $399 for a standard card based on this chip. Thus the GF2 Ultra actually leaves the market, giving its place to the GF2 Pro, the price of which really allows such a solution. And, by the way, this policy has been already started - e.g. Visiontek has already allowed the requesting orders for the GF3 cards for a new price recommended by NVIDIA.

However, NVIDIA has a competitor again. Naturally, it's STMicroelectronics with its KYRO/KYRO II. There was even a small scandal with some internal NVIDIA's instructions (that have appeared in public) for the staff about the better ways of discrediting these chips before videocard manufacturers. Nevertheless, it does not prevent the KYRO from a number of serious supporters - Creative is seriously going to stake on the KYRO II, Power Color prepares its Evil KYRO II for the release, Hercules, already producing cards on STM's chips, is going to release the next one as soon as possible - the 3D Prophet 4000XT based on the KYRO - competing with cards based on the GF2 MX - and one should take into account its price that is lower than a hundred dollars.

Well, the MX cards have hardware T&L, and the KYRO II doesn't, but STM intends to correct this disadvantage in the following KYRO III version of the chip. Maybe it will be the only change to be made, but today there are almost no other serious disadvantages of the KYRO line.

Well, that's nearly all. We shall say some words about Matrox, which still can't release any new chips, preferring to produce more 'niche' products - the market sales of the Marvel G450 eTV (the answer to the latest All-in-Wonder) has begun in April, as well as the sales of a light version of its latest video-editing solution - the Matrox RT2500 (the RT2000 package included the Millennium G400 MAX and the RT2500 is shipped without it and can work with cards from other manufacturers). And, as usually, a couple of rumors about the G800 that will be the best, just let it be released. Well, we've heard this.

Disk Drives

Not a very eventful month either, though we'll mark some rather interesting moments. Such an exotic area as external CD-RW drives was very eventful. Iomega has begun to ship its FireWire version of the Predator, Sony has begun to ship its CRX10U/A2 MP3/CD player with a CD-recording feature. La Cie has released an 8/4/32 CD-RW drive with both USB and FireWire.

In addition, the company already plans the first external DVD-R/CD-RW drive for June - it's understandable that FireWire is used here, taking into account DVD-R. By the way, La Cie's USB/FireWire combination is not lonely as TDK has released two new external 16/10/40 drive models with FireWire/USB 1.1 and USB 1.1 interfaces.

But these are only details, and talking about CD-RW drives in general we are going to mark some very interesting tendencies. First, it's the beginning of sales of the first DDCD drive - the Sony CRX200E with a support of 1.3 GB rewritable compact discs. And the prices do please us: $240 for the drive, $2 for a CD-R disk and $3.64 for a CD-RW disk. And with the mass releases of similar models from other companies, the price situation should get even better.

Second, the MP7200A-DP drive from Ricoh has been released, supporting their new Ricoh Just Speed technology that tests the CD-R/RW matrix before recording, and applies the optimal writing rate according to the disk ID put by the manufacturer. Well, it's really convenient.

Thirdly, we should mark HP's new solution - the installation of its CD-RW drives in all of its Pavilion computers, including the low-end ones. Another nail into floppy drive's coffin lid.

By the way, some words about it. This standard tries to prolong its life as hard as it can. In April Panasonic and QPS have begun to offer the drives supporting such formats as LS-120, LS-240 and HDFD, and besides - usual diskettes formatted as 32 MBytes. And their price has quickly been reduced to $200, having closely approximated to about $150. Still far from the optimal, however.

But let's get back to optical disks. In April in the field of DVD the defining factors were, first, DVD+RW 1.0 specification, released by Philips, defining physical, optical and mechanical characteristics of 4,7 GB and 9,4 GB 120 mm DVD+RW disks. Second, the beginning of cheap DVD-R disks production by Verbatim, making about $18 per item. And third, Panasonic has presented the first in the whole industry combined writing DVD-RAM/R drive that is capable of almost everything and initially costs less than $1000.

And the hard drives market is silent. What should we talk about here? The only news in this area was the fact that the shareholders have approved the union of Maxtor and Quantum.

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