iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Monthly hardware digest:
February 2001


Of course, Intel was the brightest star in February, at Intel Developer Forum, where they again proved their mighty. But first there was the annual ISSCC, where the company put forward an issue on steadily increasing power consumption of the chips - Intel promised to introduce in 2010 the processors operating at 20-30 GHz, but these monsters with the number of transistors of the 9th order will take 600 W!

The problem seems to be serious: if this chip (30 GHz, 2 billion transistors) would be produced according to modern technologies its heat dissipation would make around 3-5 kW per sq cm.

In order to solve the problem Intel suggests they integrate several processor cores of lower power in parallel operating mode in one case. Today a combination of i870 + McKinley shown at IDF requires 600 W supply unit! Of course, a migration on a new technological process will partly solve the problem (at least, the 0.13 micron Northwood is much smaller than the Pentium 4 and it's considered to consume much less energy), but still, power consumption increases a bit faster with the CPU performance raise than the advanced technology can compensate it.

By the way, at the IDF it was found out that Itanium is not just a name for the Merced when it will come into the market, but a trade mark under which all 64-bit processors from Intel will sell.

In principle, today Intel is satisfied with their progress, in the Q1 we should see 900 MHz full value Pentium III Xeon with L2 1-2 MBytes cache; during this year there will be the Foster, in the second half the 0.13 micron mobile 1 GHz Pentium III is going to appear, and, after all, McKinley samples will hit the streets.

As for the mobile Pentium III, Intel produces only the 700 MHz variant but with quite low voltage - only 1.35 V at the rated 700 MHz and 1.1 V at the SpeedStep' 1.1 V. What can we then say about power consumption of the 0.13 micron Tualatin, let it be even the speed in 1 GHz.

Before the release of the Tualatin for desktop computers (by the way, unlike the mobile one, this variant will have not 512 but 256 KBytes L2 cache) we will see an intermediate stepping of the today's core, Coppermine - D0 will support the both variants of the system bus, both the 1.5 V AGTL+, used by Coppermine, and its 1.3 V variant to be used by Tualatin. The processor will automatically recognize the motherboard used - under the Coppermine or Tualatin, and will use the corresponding interface. So, the back compatibility will be realized right by motherboards on the corresponding chipsets and by processors.

The Tualatin is expected to start shipping for OEM manufacturers in the next quarter. At that time only Fab20 will be able to produce 0.13 micron processors.

Since April Intel stops taking orders for PIII 900 MHz. The production will stop in the beginning of the June.

The Athlon 900 MHz will become the younger processor in the Athlon family. One of these days AMD will launch the 1.3 GHz Athlon and 900 MHz Duron. On the March 4 Intel is decreasing their prices, the next day AMD will do it as well. On average, the prices will drop by 5-10%.

The 1-1.2 GHz Athlon intended for 266 MHz FSB will appear on the shelves by the end of the month in the USA.

Intel turns to 0.13 micron process for production, AMD and Motorola have announced usage of Applied Materials' technological process in their products: 0.13 micron, copper, high isolating dielectrics. If AMD uses SOI at that, it will be two steps ahead Intel. According to rumors the ClawHammer's surface with the 0.13 micron process will be 90 sq mm, what is much less than in the today's Athlon and Pentium III, and even the Pentium 4!

Transmeta will be first to master the 0.13 micron technology. The TM5800 which will be based on this technology will run at 700 MHz. The frequency of the new processor will possibly rise up to 900 MHz - 1 GHz slat will be reached by Transmeta in the next year.

In February the first server on the Crusoe was released - the NetWinder 3100 from Rebel.com. The power consumption is only 14 W, the frequency is 533 MHz of the CPU (equivalent to 400 MHz Pentium III). For providers, where there are hundreds of servers in a hall, power consumption and heat sink issues are of great importance.

Some more words on servers. HP at ISSCC described the PA-8700 which will be produced this year - the 0.18 micron processor with the 2.25 MBytes cache running at 1 GHz. The PA-8700 will be produced by IBM. In the end of February the company announced a debut of the most efficient processor from PowerPC series - the 750Cxe, starting shipping 400, 500 and 600 MHz processors of this family.


The main event of the month was an announce of the KT266 based boards. Officially, Gigabyte was first to launch the board - GA-7VTX, on the February 15. A bit later MSI, EPoX and Shuttle joined them. Shipping of the boards are expected in March.

VIA's income increased from US$93 million in January to $102 in February. The company has obviously grown stronger. Today VIA started moving forward the DDR SDRAM by one more way: they sell their products with the memory modules thus decreasing the price, like Intel. The price drops 30% in this case as compared with separate purchase of the products.

Some words on another chipset for AMD processors, the AMD-760. Micron solved all instability problems of the boards on this chipset and continues shipping systems on its base. Soltek is also going to debut its board on this base, the SL-75DRA.

In February Tyan announced the AMD-760 MP based board. The card, earlier known as the Lions (and in fact it is the S2463 Thunder K7) should hit the streets in April. Tyan is an official partner of AMD in chipset production, that's why boards from other manufacturers will appear month-two later.

In February Tyan released three multiprocessor boards: Tiger 200 (Apollo Pro133A, ATA 100/RAID, ATI Rage XL, Ethernet 10/100), Tiger 230 (Apollo Pro133A) and Thunder Hesl (ServerSet III HE-SL, 66 MHz, 64-bit PCI). Interestingly that before announcing all the boards were already lying on the shelves.

AMD renamed their LDT bus into HyperTransport, and announced its mass support. Such grands as Cisco, ATI, NVIDIA, Sun, API Networks are going to use it in their products. More than a hundred companies are holding talks on usage of this bus in their products.

Some words on Intel. Abit and DFI are preparing their boards on the i850. ALi received a license for chipset production for Pentium 4, thus becoming the first manufacturer in Taiwan and the second one in the world (after ATi) who has received this license. SiS (SiS 645) and VIA (PX266) are expected to be next.

Intel is keeping on protecting the Rambus position. The Tulloch which disappeared from all road maps is prepared to appear again in the second half of 2001 with the support of a cheap 4-bank RDRAM. Now it's become very difficult to understand Intel's position who have lately announced SDR/DDR in the Brookdale.

At IDF Micron showed their Copperhead - the first commercial chipset for Pentium III with DDR SDRAM support. This solution is intended for server market with support up to 8 GBytes PC1600 or PC2100 DDR SDRAM, PCI-X, 64-bit PCI. The samples will be shipped in the first half of the year.

SiS officially announced production of the chipset for Hammer, as well as a series of integrated products where one chip will include a CPU core, chipset, graphics and communications. ALi demonstrated the first mobile platform with DDR SDRAM support - the CyberMAGiK in combination with 700 MHz mobile Duron and 128 MBytes DDR SDRAM.

ALiMAGiK1 turned to be very popular. The boards based on it are still appearing. In this month MSI offered their own version - the K7MG Pro. A full value middle level board, it gets interesting to watch their coexistence with an analog solution on the KT266.

In February we have seen: boards on the i815EP and KM133A from Asus, on the KLE133 from EPoX, on the PM133 from Soltek, which are very similar to their predecessors. Anyway, Asus released two server cards: the CUSL2-LS on the i815E and the CUV4X-LS on the Apollo Pro 133A.

AOpen announced the AK73 Pro (A), and MSI released the K7T Turbo and K7T Turbo-R (ATA/100 RAID). Abit comes to the KT7E on the KT133E (200 MHz FSB, but it's much cheaper, and supports PowerNow! used in Palomino and Morgan).


As usual, the industry have legal proceedings with Rambus… And the company seems to encounter some troubles. In the beginning of the month Infineon and Hyundai coordinated their efforts: the companies have withdrawn all patent contradictions they had in Germany and in the USA, implemented a global licensing and concluded a long-term agreement on collaboration in patent sphere.

Next day Infineon withdrew their suit on recognition of Rambus patent invalid. At the same time FTC, on the Micron and Hyundai request, started preliminary investigation on Rambus violation of the JEDEC rules.

Hyundai promulgated the documents which prove that Rambus violated meaningly the JEDEC rules and patented technologies secretly. As a result, Rambus has to publish a panic press-release with quite strange contents... In parallel, Micron and Hyundai got a postponement of the suit investigation on them - the legal procedures will start not earlier than 27 July.

In the beginning of February the price for 128 Mbit chips dropped down to $5, in the middle they cost already $4.5, and then the priced got frozen at $4.3. In the end of the month 128 Mbit SDRAM chip in Taiwan cost already $4.05. Winbond, Mosel Vitelic, Nanya - all top Taiwanese manufacturers declared losses if taking the quarter's results. Infineon's income amounted $62 million. The only thing left to do is to move to other products - to flash and DDR SDRAM. Nanya decided to take exactly this way. The president of the company said that if they received enough orders they would completely turn to DDR".

DDR is promoted quite well. In the beginning of the month VIA held DDR Summit where the companies estimated that the DDR golden age will be in the Q3. Mosel Vitelic was first in Taiwan to start production of 128 Mbit DDR SDRAM chips. Kentron introduced their 1 GBytes module built on PC2100 DDR chips.

As for RDRAM, the Japanese started sharply increasing its production for Pentium 4 - by September Toshiba is going to lift release of 128 Mbit chips up to 8 million pcs (today it makes 2.3 million), NEC - from 2 to 5. Samsung has received the investment from Intel for production of 10 million chips a month. Kingston also invested $15 million into extension of their production facilities in order to lift the RIMM production up to 1 million pcs a month.

NEC offered a new parallel interface capable of transferring data at 10 Gbps and considers it as a successor of DDR and RDRAM. Samsung plans to start production of the 4 Gbit 0.10 micron DRAM chip in 2004. It consists of 4 million transistors!

VIA described the DDR II - a memory with 200-400 MHz clock speed (400-800 MHz effective) and up to 6.4 Gbps bandwidth. VIA assumes that DDR II should come into the market in 2003. The memory will be incompatible with the current DDR modules. DDR II has 232 pins. The voltage comes down from 2.5 to 1.8 V. In order to simplify the migration, PC2600 modules will be produced also with 232 pins.

Infineon has made the Mobile-RAM with 128 Mbit chip of 8X9 mm surface which can disable the units unused, thus decreasing power consumption by around 80%. Samsung introduced 1-transistor SRAM, named it UtRAM and announced prototypes of 32 Mbit chips stating that it would soon crowd out SRAM at the expense of full compatibility, lower price and lower power consumption.


The most prominent event of the month was a release of the GeForce3, in all other respects the picture is typical: the majority of the cards which debuted this month are based on old NVIDIA chips. Manufacturers were mostly concerned with the GF2 MX: 64 MBytes cards based on this chip were announced by InnoVISION and Hercules. Plus, Hercules released the PCI variant of a usual 32 MBytes card on the GF2 MX, and Gigabyte announced their realization of the GF2 Pro standard design - the GA-GF2010GT.

Even without the GF3 NVIDIA' income amounted $218.2 million against $128.5 for the same quarter of the previous year. The GeForce3 must heighten the situation more. The GF3 announced first at MacWorld and then at IDF received positive support.

After the chip was announced for PC, the certain companies introduced their models on it - Hercules 3D Prophet III, Leadtek WinFast GeForce3D, Gigabyte GF3000D, MSI StarForce 822, ELSA GLADIAC 920. Asus hasn't still announced their V8200. But why hurry? there are still no any games intended for the DX8, that's why the cards are useless - the fillrate sufficient for Quake3 can be provided by the GF2 as well, and at rather lower price than $530-550 for the first GeForce3 boards.

NVIDIA has divided the GeForce2 MX series - now we have GF2 MX-100, MX-200 and MX-400. The MX-100 is a real freak with the performance level worse than of the Vanta and priced higher, the MX-200 performs 30% worse than the GF2 MX, and only the GF2 MX-400 is a rather good variant with a bit higher performance (at the expense of 200 MHz) and higher price.

The second divided series is the GeForce2 Go, the mobile GF2 MX. There we have GeForce2 Go 100 and 200, where the 200 one is a copy of the GF2 Go, while the 100 has one third lower side (23 against 36 mm), 32-bit DDR what causes negative response from the manufacturers, but the power consumption has also fallen down to 0.5 W.

ATI is an unquestionable leader in this field. Their Mobility Radeon which is shipping in mass is more successful model: the chip can disable the unused functional units thus decreasing the minimal power consumption level lower than 0.5 W. In desktop sphere ATI managed to release only the Radeon LE.

The second their product is a competitor of the G450 - the Radeon VE with two-monitor support, but with the HW T&L unit cut off and with one pixel pipeline. It's priced at $99.

The other less important event were: at CeBit STMicroelectronic announces their KYRO 2. 3DLabs released a new generation of their professional accelerators, Wildcat II 5110.

Storage devices

One of the interesting events here was a demonstration of the first Seagate HDD at IDF which corresponds to the SerialATA final specification. On the other hand, today's hard discs do not provide the performance for which the SerialATA is intended. At least, the middle level ones.

At High-End IBM introduced the 15,000 rpm hard disc - the Ultrastar 36Z15. The internal bandwidth corresponds to the required level - up to the 647 mbps, the external data rate makes up to 52.8 mbps. IBM produces it as Ultra160 and Ultra320 SCSI, 1 and 2 Gbit Fibre Channel.

Meanwhile, Fujitsu states that they are not going to increase unprofitable manufacture of ATA HDDs, and instead they are going to concentrate on expensive SCSI models. They have ceased the production of the AL 6L (MAHXXXX) and AL 6LE (MAJXXXX) series of SCSI discs - the orders are received until March 31 and June 30, correspondingly.

Maxtor is joining Quantum. And now hard discs will be completely produced by Maxtor. The whole business concerning streamers will belong to Quantum. This month Maxtor introduced a new family of cheap hard discs, the 531DX. They contain a mechanism which fixes the head while the disc is not working. This increases reliability a bit. The size is 10 and 15 GBytes.

Panasonic announced a new writing technology which will allow to create discs up to 200 GBytes. So, they can make an HDD 0.5 TB in size. Nothing new is used - a special plate for storage of data block addresses. The improved bearings ensure operation reliability.

Above all, I should notice a release of a new KanguruPortable Hard Drive from Interactive Media Corporation, 81 GBytes in capacity and the FireWire, USB, LPT and Cardbus/ PCMCIA interfaces. Since the March 1st the Japanese Melco started sale of USB 2.0 hard drives, up to 60 GBytes size and 60 mbps bandwidth.

They have already started shipping a portable CD-RW drive with 8/8/8 speeds, and BURN-Proof support. The interface is USB. Yamaha debuted the fastest drive - LightSpeed CRW2100FXZ with 16/10/40 speeds with FireWire support. The device has 8 MBytes data buffer. Plextor introduced their "thin" drive - the 8/8/24 PX-S88T, 280 g and 128x12.7x126.1 mm in size. Besides, it supports the BURN-Proof. The most interesting external model is the CRX10U from Sony, it can be both a CD-RW drive and a CD-MP3 player.

Some words on flash-memory. At PMC2001 the top manufacturers announced their new models of MultiMediaCard: Lexar with 64 MBytes variant, Simple with 16 to 64 MBytes models, Kingston with 32 MBytes model. InnoGear offers 32 MBytes model at $50 and 64 MBytes one at $100. The IBM's drive has only 8 MBytes.

BTC has licensed TrueX technology from Zen Research for their DVD-ROM drives. Plasmon announced to start production of Fluorescent Multilayer Discs (FMD).

STM completed development of the main chip which controls disc drive for DataPlay discs, and they are going to start shipping it in the Q2. MPMAN, MP3 player manufacturer, agreed with DataPlay upon usage of the discs in their models. It's a promising agreement since DataPlay's clients are Creative, Toshiba, Rio, Samsung, MPMAN...

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