iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Monthly Hardware Digest


Rather dull month. This month Intel announced only 3 new CPUs. The first one is 800 MHz Celeron working on 100 MHz FSB. The product looks unclear: it's either the Celeron with 100 MHz FSB or the Pentium III with 128 KBytes L2 cache. Its price is strange as well: somewhere between Celeron and Pentium III. Generally speaking it will be interesting to look how Intel CPU series will modify this year.

In the end of December there started deliveries of 1.3 GHz Pentium 4 to top PC manufacturers. In the end of January the price for this product has fallen. Intel reduced the price for a system consisting of 1.3 GHz Pentium 4 (in OEM variant) and 128 MBytes RDRAM lower than $400. But everything is only starting: during the year we will see Brookdale, 0.13 micron, 1.7 GHz and then 2 GHz. So, Merrill Lynch forecast about that 18-20 million of only Pentium 4 will be sold seems to be realistic! Especially considering that Intel is more than just satisfied with demand for Pentium 4 today.

From marketing point of view the price for Pentium III should swiftly come down - and we can see that 1 GHz Pentium III now is available at 40% less price. It resulted in the fact that the difference between 800 MHz Celeron and 1 GHz Pentium III has become only $130. The 700 MHz Pentium III at $146 can be called now a Low-End processor, as well as the 800 MHz Celeron at $139.

The remaining two CPUs are the long time ago promised Pentium III and Celeron on Crusoe. And Pentium III, at that, turned to be more economical. And it's not strange, considering that its frequency is 500 MHz, and Celeron offers 600. Pentium III supports SpeedStep being able to reduce its speed to 300 MHz, and Celeron can not do it. Plus, PIII requires 1 V, and Celeron takes 1.1 V. As a result, Celeron has poured into a usual, though rather economical mobile model matching the existent series, and Pentium III is something like a concept-product.

But it's still an intermediate variant. We can only guess what will be the end product: an improved technology of power saving, let's call it SpeedStep 2 which is able, like AMD, Crusoe and VIA technologies, to decrease not only clock speed but a voltage as well, 0.13 micron, 512 KBytes L2 cache, SSE2...

Maybe AMD will create something unusual by that time; I hope it will be more interesting than a mobile Duron, released in the middle of January. They have only taken Duron, reduced core voltage down to 1.4 V and then decided that this resulted in a mobile processor? With 24 W power consumption at 700 MHz and without support for any energy saving technologies? No, it doesn't work this way. The mobile Pentium III 650 with huge cache size and 1.6 V consumes only 14 W even in regular mode, not mentioning 8 W in SpeedStep mode!

But all this works only for the image. Actually AMD will start working on mobile processors of this type only after AMD announces Palomino based processors in the end of March, with integrated support for PowerNow! and some other possibilities.

As for desktop PC market, AMD played more sluggish than even Intel. Increase of clock speed of Duron by 50 MHz, up to 850 MHz, is not a vivid activity. This way Duron has strengthen its position on Low-End market. Motherboard manufacturers have pleased AMD offering models on VIA and SiS integrated chipsets for Socket-A.

VIA has shown nothing good to talk about - the January is marked for a start of deliveries of 700 MHz Cyrix III based on the 0.18 micron Samuel 1 with 128 KBytes L1 cache. However, they started shipping Cyrix III on the Samuel 2; with less clock speed, though. On the scene there are coming engineering samples of Ezra, and in the Q3 - the C5X, with its 0.13 micron technology, 128 + 256 KBytes cache, clock speed around 1.2 GHz and small die area of 65 sq. mm. VIA will position this processor as Low-End solution.

Motorola couldn't rise the speed so swiftly. Released in January G4+ has 733 MHz clock speed. The FSB doesn't impress us, its frequency has lifted from 100 to 133 MHz. Ads like "It doesn't matter that it's slow - it's still a real supercomputer" will be used by Apple yet for a long time.


The hottest topic of this month. The majority of sound news were exactly here. On the market there appeared the boards based on the Apollo Pro 266, plus the i815EP and KT133A chipsets which are rather successful reworks of already selling chipsets.

The Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers still remain leaders in the market (84% for the last year - 101 million of 120 million motherboards). Nevertheless, the setback in production has told upon them as well. According to alalysts' forecasts, the growth rate for them will decrease from 21 to 13.1%. The average price for a motherboard is expected to fall from $85 to $73.

The manufacturers react correspondingly: they broaden the range of products. Some are looking for new niches, e.g. Elitegroup, which this year will try a role of server board manufacturer, let it be even on the OEM agreement for PC Chips.

The total correlation of the produced motherboard for different platforms changes quickly - yet in Q4 the part of the Socket-370 and Slot-1 constituted 78%, but today the part of boards for AMD CPUs makes 30% among top manufacturers, and among the small manufacturers there are some firms that are making mainboards only for AMD.

This year the rows of motherboard manufacturers will become thinner. We will see a series of amalgamations and bankruptcies. One of the main pretenders for such role is Biostar.

Intel still feels the consequences of the trap which it prepared for themselves with Rambus. The Taiwanese three manufacturers are still taking away the market from Intel. VIA has received nearly a billion dollars during the year, and they assume that this year it will be around $1.5 billion.

SiS has launched its factory, and plans to delivery around 250 thousand chipset during the year. At the end of the Q1 the company plans to start shipping SiS 635 and SiS 735 - the both are integrated, with DDR SDRAM support, for Pentium III and Athlon, correspondingly. And the company started decreasing the prices for them yet before their real sale!

Intel with their Brookdale face some perspectives; the samples are already shipping to motherboard manufacturers. But VIA is still an unquestioning leader. The company will even greater strengthen its position with Apollo Pro266 and KT266. The former will appear earlier on the market. The motherboards based on this chipset are announced by many manufacturers: Chaintech 6VJD, MSI Pro266 Master-R, dualprocessor Super 370DDI and Super 370SDA from SuperMicro, AOpen AX37 Pro and AX37 Plus, dualprocessor Iwill DVD266-R, Shuttle AV30 and AV32, Elitegroup P6VPA, P6VPA2 and P6VPM. The majority of these cards either have already appeared or will debut in February.

The fans of AMD CPUs will get performance gain at the expense of a new 266 MHz FSB, the support of which is provided by the board on KT133A. They have begun showing up in the retail market: GA-7ZXR(2.1) from Gigabyte, 7AJA2 from Chaintech, KK266-R from Iwill, and at last A7V133 from Asus. It's worth mentioning that the 7AJA2 lacks ATA/100 RAID.

Moreover, 266 MHz EV6 has come already on the integrated chipsets, e.g. on Soltek SL-75MAV or Asus A7VI-VM based on the KM133A. The slowest AMD CPU, though, with support for 266 MHz bus is 1 GHz Athlon which doesn't get along with Savage4 core integrated into the KM133A.

The KLE133, PLE133, and PLE-T make a new series of integrated chipsets from VIA, their engineering samples began shipping this winter. They are based on a slightly overclocked graphics core Trident. Do you remember Blade3D? Its new remake doesn't differ considerably from its predecessor: AGP 2X, up to 8 MBytes PC100, 50 Megapixel/s etc.

As their analog, Intel has announced the i810E2 (i810 + ICH2) in the very beginning of January. It also announced two motherboards on its base - microATX D810E2CA3 and FlexATX D810E2CB.

Undoubtedly, VIA pays a great attention to the market where their products sell in huge volumes. After they started producing Cyrix III, the platforms on the Socket-370 became favorite. Correspondingly, chipsets for AMD processors are traditionally in delay. The KT266 isn't an exception. Anyway, manufacturers reacted in no time on the release of the KT266.

When VIA will announce their PX266 for Pentium 4 this year, an analog for Athlon will be difficult to find. As an analog of Pentium 4 we can consider only the ClowHammer. VIA carries on negotiations with AMD on the creation of a chipset for it. They will undoubtedly end successfully. As for the Pentium 4, in VIA roadmaps there is a chipset for it coming after the PX266 (Pro2001) - the Pro2002, which will be intended for 333 MHz DDR SDRAM - PC2600 - with its bandwidth it's close to the two-channel RDRAM.

VIA, ALi, SiS will surely get a license from Intel for a bus for the Pentium 4. Today it's only ATI that has a license for production of chipsets for the Pentium 4.

ServerWorks plans to make a server chipsets on this bus. The Foster is ready, it waits only for announcing. Today the company is busy with creation of server chipsets for McKinley - Itanium. This chipset will support only DDR SDRAM. Besides, there is one more perspective chipset - from Pinnacle where they are going to implement a support for rather interesting server technology of IBM - Memory eXpansion Technology (MXT) allowing to extend twice the RAM at the expense of data compression.

In the beginning of January Broadcom has purchased ServerWorks at $957 million. The situation becomes very intriguing: first, Intel actually has given out the market of server chipsets for their processors to ServerWorks, and after that this company was bought by Broadcom, the worst enemy of Intel. Today Intel leaves Broadcom behind on the server market.

Motherboard manufacturers start producing mainboards on the i815EP: SE6 2.1 from Abit, P6IPA and P6IPM from Elitegroup, TS-ASP3 from Transcend, and even Acorp from Epox, with prototypes of dualprocessor boards on its base.

At Platform Conference AMD talked about their future multisystems for the Hammer. The company intends to refuse a EV6 and completely take their LDT. Initially, the bus was meant to be an interface one. Now they are loading it with more serious operations: creation of a web of independent connections processor-processor and processor-memory, when each CPU has its own independent channel of 1.6 GBytes/s, unlike the bus of the Pentium 4, where 3.2 GBytes/s bandwidth is divided by all CPUs of the system.

For today, LDT is licensed by (or is being licensed) by around 10 companies including NVIDIA.


The main topic of the day is Rambus-against-the-whole-world. ITC complied with a request of Rambus on cancellation of investigation regarding Hyundai and restriction on import of their chips into the USA. The company finished the quarter with $19.9 million income. The most part of this sum will be spent for fees to lawyers. In January the agreement on licensing of SDRAM and DDR SDRAM was signed by Mitsubishi. It is the seventh company surrendered to Rambus.

In the nearest time Rambus will have to collide with Infineon, Hyundai and Micron. In case of victory, Rambus will become a prospering company. In case of defeat they will lose much. On the February 19 there will be an investigation of a civil case of Micron and Hyundai, and on the March 13 - of Infineon. Let's wait...

Samsung decided to risk and has released 4-bank variant of RDRAM - cheap but too slow. On the one hand, it makes sense: today one can start mass production of cheap RDRAM, even with a real performance at the level a bit lower than SDRAM, but the main thing is that the price to be at the SDRAM level. The chief thing is to help Pentium 4 to seize the market. After that, when the technology will be debugged, they can come back to 32-bank architecture.

Today the cost of RDRAM is too high - $18 per 128 MBytes chip. However, Samsung is guilty as well. They underestimated the Pentium 4's potential. Intel asks Samsung to guarantee production of 10 million of RDRAM chips a month against 6-7 million which Samsung is capable of.

Nevertheless, Samsung intends to raise production volume of RDRAM up to 20 million chips a month by the end of the year, thus seizing about 40% of the market. But it's still simple considering attention to RDRAM of the majority of memory manufacturers. It's already 3 months when Infineon, for example, gave up its production.

On the contrary, DDR SDRAM is produced by everybody. Here you can see both Samsung, whose DDR SDRAM modules were tested by AMD and were found valid, and Infineon which have already started shipping 1 GBytes DDR SDRAM modules based on 0.17 micron 128 Mbit chips packed in one case, and 256 Mbit chips DDR SDRAM.

Nanya announced an intention to start production of 10 million of 128 and 256 Mbit DDR SDRAM chips in the second half of the year. SDRAM is still falling in the price. In the beginning of the month the price for 128 Mbit chips was lower than $6, and for 64 Mbit chips it's less than $3. During the month the prices were gradually falling and reached $2.92 for 64 Mbit and $5.5 for 128 Mbit PC133 SDRAM. Correspondingly, the prices for memory modules became lower as well: for 128 MBytes PC133 SDRAM from $50.11 to $45.83, from $54.46 to $47.58, and from $51.04 to $42.46, in the USA, Europe, Asia, correspondingly. In average, a month drop constituted around 10-15%.

The market starts redirecting from 64 to 128 Mbit SDRAM chips. Hyundai in this quarter intends to increase his part of 128 Mbit from 35 to 40% and decreased his share of 64 Mbit from 55 to 50. Samsung has twice more 128 Mbit chips under production than 64 Mbit chips.

Some words on a struggle against losses. The manufacturers reduce production volume decreasing losses, master a finer technology (Nanya who licensed 0.11 micron technology of DRAM production from IBM), or master production of chips in greater volumes.


It's ridiculous, but the most significant event of the month was MacWorld! On which happy owners of PowerMac G4 have received a such choice that they never had before. Well, 3dfx has gone away, but there is ATI with 16 MBytes RAGE 128 PRO and 32 MBytes RADEON (and RAGE MOBILITY 128 in PowerBook G4), there emerged at last GeForce2 MX, and Matrox DH-MAX that showed up unexpectedly - the G400 Max based card.

The fact that NVIDIA has entered Mac market was a big deal. Besides, you could hear about purchase of 3dfx and a beginning of a collaboration of Quantum 3D and NVIDIA.

Another impressing event was return of S3. In January VIA announced acquisition of S3 Graphics. Two new cores of the company - Paramount and Zoetrope are considered to be represented both in integrated VIA chipsets and as separate chipsets. Columbia, which is promised to be shown at Fall's Comdex, looks impressive: 0.13 micron, 4 pixel pipelines (2 textures per clock), 300 MHz chip, correspondingly, 2.4 Gigatexel/s, 128-bit DDR SDRAM, DX8/DX9/GDI+. And the whole support for all modern goodies: shaders, anisotropic filtering, cube environment maps, 3D textures, technologies decreasing requirements to the memory bandwidth reminding HyperZ.

As for real products, I can only state that NVIDIA still keeps the leading position. Gainward produces the GF2 MX based combine with 5 ns memory with built-in TV-tuner. Chaintech announced the Desperado RI93 - the simplest GF2 Pro card, AOpen prepared a list of 10 cards based on the GeForce2 - from a decent PA256MX to PN256 Ultra. Leadtek fetched 5 ns memory chips for their GF2 MX 5 based card, what resulted in a new GeForce 2 MX SH Pro card.

Creative leaves graphics market, giving a title of NVIDIA's partner #1 to Asus. Creative intends to focus on the market of digital entertainment products for PC - for example, MP3-player NOMAD series.

But it's already the third withdrawal of Creative from computer graphics market. At their time they were leaving the market with Rendition chips, after than with Cirrus Logic chips, and now with NVIDIA chips.

Storage devices

The month is rather interesting. At CES Western Digital and Quantum showed their latest solutions, which were equal in terms of destination, for digital VCRs on the base of their HDDs. Unlike Quantum, Western Digital has released an HDD for a PC as well. Thus, it became the first manufacturer using 30 GBytes discs of 5.400 rpm Caviar model in cheap consumer systems, which were with decreased noise level and advanced data transfer speed.

Seagate cared for speed growth for their HDDs as well: they launched a new microcode for their speed Cheetah HDDs (and for 180 GBytes Barracuda), which allows hard discs with 16 MBytes buffer to work optimally with audio and video data flows.

Fujitsu launched HDDs of Cheetah level, announcing a server series MAN3xxx - 18 GBytes per disc, 10,000 rpm, 8 MBytes buffer, 4.5 ms average seek time, support for Ultra160, Ultra320 SCSI and 2 Gbit Fibre Channel. They promised to ship the products only in the end of the year, though. At the same time, they announced a mobile series MHN2xxxAT - ATA/100, 15 GBytes per disc, 10,15,20, 30 GBytes models, for fans there is a model on the base of liquid bearing.

Analog models were shown by Toshiba - the same 15 GBytes per disc, 15 and 30 GBytes models. Besides, the company launched a mobile HDD 2 GBytes in size and 20 mbps bandwidth (Type II PC Card). And you should note a rather high price - $459.

Sony, this month, started shipping new series of Low-End models of their streamers working with 35 GBytes cartridges AIT-1 - SDX-400C. The price is rather low - $1,580. In 2003-2004 you can see on the shelves 1 TB cartridges - at least such volume is promised to be reached by Sony with their new technology of magnetic recording.

New product Iomega, Peerless, serves for storing movies, MP3 etc. It's developed for home users. It represents a block for operating with 5-20 Gb cartridges and costs $250. The cartridges to it are $130, $160 and $200 for 5, 10 and 20 GBytes correspondingly.

In January, Iomega has released Zip 250 MBytes USB Powered Drive which has not a power supply unit and feeds from USB bus.

A newcomer in this field is Panasonic with its Super Disk Drive, with USB interface. An interesting technology allows to use old 1.4 MBytes diskettes for recording up to 32 MBytes at the expense of more compact data record, and up to 240 MBytes - on the own discs. But this attempt as a rule is doomed - at $130-170 there is nothing to talk about.

Addonics has launched two their products: PocketDVD8x24 and Pocket CD-RW. The first is equipped with rather insufficient interface USB 1.1, the second one has USB, FireWire or CardBus. Panasonic debuted a subminiature CD-RW KXL-RW30AN, which at 8/4/24 speed is only 130 X 157 X 17 mm and weights 330 g. And the last model - VST FireWire CD-R/W - from SmartDisk.

Plextor and I-O Data announced their 16/10/40 CD-RW models based on the Sanyo chassis with support for BURN-Proof. Imation announced for them rewritable discs intended for the speed from 4 to 10X.

By the way, support of BURN-Proof technology is becoming a standard. AOpen, though, announced usage of more advanced technology from Ricoh, JustLink. Its model of 16/10/40X CD-RW drive is intended to be released in May, and for September they make plans for 20/20/40X model of CRW-2040. As for recording DVD drives, AOpen is still not interested in, and they can only offer a combine reading DVD at 10X + 20/20/40X CD-RW.

Some information on recording DVD drives. Pioneer has announced the DVR-103 drive providing not only reading but also writing of CD-R and DVD-R discs, and rewriting of CD-RW. Although the speeds are still low (8X CD-R, 4X CD-RW, 1 and 2X - DVD-R), the start for writing combined drives was given.

At CES TDK announced that later this year they are going to start a new generation of CD-RW drives based on technology of multilayer optic recording from Calimetrics writing at up to 36X up to 2 GBytes per disc at $2. And soon after release TDK intends to lift the disc volume first up to 2.6, and then to 3.2 GBytes. They are starting to produce them in autumn. Note that this year 1.3 GBytes DDCD specification from Sony and Philips will be introduced.

Thomson Multimedia claims that they will create DVD+RW recorder in Q3 of this year. A bit earlier Ricoh, which collaborates with Funai, plans to launch an analog product.

At the same time, the market prepared new technologies. Constellation3D has reached a successful position while moving forward in the FMD technology market. In January the company received support from Lite-On.

DataPlay is looking for new allies. SonicBlue and Toshiba has entered its list of partners. Now there is Samsung also which demonstrated at CES a series of products using 500 MBytes mini-optical discs from DataPlay for data storage. Not in vain DataPlay has attracted attention of their constant competitors: SonicBlue and Creative - there is no better technology for MP3-players.

Lucent announced a branch establishment, InPhase Technologies, which will deal with production of storage devices based on holographic record - one of the most perspective methods for 10 years ahead.

Not so long ago we witnessed a creation of the greatest manufacturer of optical discs - Hitachi-LG Data Storage Inc. The company with a staff consisting of 180 people hopes to reach sales volume more than $1.8 billion and take the first place in the field of CD-ROM, CD-RW and DVD drives.

Philips quarreled with the Taiwanese manufacturer of CD-R. While the prices were high, commission charges were acceptable. But when the discs became cheaper, this fixed sum remained the same. The companies tried to softened the terms of the agreement, but Philips refused. The Taiwanese trade commission declared that Philips, Sony, and Taiyo Yuden violated the local legislation in the field of patent lisensing. Philips announced that they called back the license from the greatest Taiwanese manufacturer, Ritek, due to the same reasons. The same thing was done by Philips regarding ACME Production Industries. But in this case it concerns licenses for production of usual CD, Video CD and CD-R.

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