iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






September 2000 Hardware Digest


Mobile processors a bit unexpectedly became the leading theme of this month. Perhaps the September itself was calm enough and mobiles just kept going at the same rate. Also considering that brands haven't presented anything new.

AMD is still waiting for mobile versions of Athlon and Duron and therefore keeps proposing to manufacturers it's K6-2+. And they take it: Compaq already began using it and produced Armada 100S based on 533 MHz variant. Desktop systems begin to support it as well. In September Asus produced BIOS for P5A with possibility of using K6-2+.

The production of 13 new processors (350-550 MHz K6-2E and K6-IIIE) can also be ascribed to the same news. Today with the information era already at hand, everything is so well-mixed that it's hard to determine where mobile processors end and their analogs for built-in applications begin.

In September Intel also presented some new models of mobile processors, but it's more of competition than of real new model production. Simple increase of clock rates: 800 & 850 MHz Pentium III and 700 MHz Celeron are now available. Notebook lovers prefer High-End these days.

And Intel isn't concerned much about Low-End now. Mobile Timna was announced to appear in the first half of 2001 together with it's desktop variant. After cancelling this product, Celeron became the lowest that Intel brings to the market. And there are so many competitors: Transmeta Crusoe, National Semiconductor Geode, VIA Matthew, and these are only the brands.

Though in September Transmeta wasn't so active so to say. Again Hitachi and Fujitsu announced their intensions to produce a notebook based on Crusoe. The company itself redeemed all the rights for x86 models production that it gave to IBM and Toshiba some time ago - now they can use Transmeta technologies for all but x86 chips. And this cost Transmeta a lot 33 millions as well as 600 thousands of IBM's shares and the same of Toshiba. And all this considering the 120 millions debt. They better be sure about their actions.

And non-brands acted a lot more this month. National announced it's new processor of Geode gamma, SC3200 (or a "WebPAD-on-a-chip" as they call it). So no need to explain what is to be built on this base. And there it will have to compete with Intel and Transmeta, because both of them also pretend to dominate the WebPAD market.

VIA began shippings of somehow more classical product, a mobile Cyrix III, that is the first of it's mobile processors. And it's also the first to produce an x86 chip with 15 micron technology. As a result the core square is 76sq.mm. and the enegry consumption is reduced twice because of LongHaul technology application (an Intel's SpeedStep analog). But the clock rates of 500-600 MHz together with VIA processors' well-known productivity are not bound to please today's notebook buyers. They shouldn't expect any serious declarations about using the processor in this field. Maybe Cyrix can be good as a playstation processor.

But Matthew and Matthew 2 will look better in this case. These are chips with built-in nothern bridge (Apollo Pro133A and Apollo Pro266) and Savage4 graphic core. But, anyway, 15 micron technology as well as energy consumption less then 5 volts make VIA's chips a serious competitor on the market that was left by Timna.

And instead of Intel Rise again appeared on the market of x86 chips. It presented not a single processor, but a "System-on-a-chip" variant. iDragon SCX501 features an x86 core, graphic subsystem, SDRAM, PCI, ISA and IDE interfaces. If a price would be good, the product will be able to compete with Geode.

Off with mobile processors for now, so much attention paid to them already. And let's look at the server chips. All the month was dominated by Sun. At least it's UltraSPARC III was very waited for. The Cheetah is a first really new core produced by the company since UltraSPARC I in 1995.

A 750 MHz processor was expected to appear on 11th of September. But integrated UltraSPARC IIe was put out instead. It featured 400-500 MHz 64-bit processor with 0.18 micron technology, 256kb of cache, PCI and SDRAM controllers. UltraSPARC III appeared only at the end of the month with a surprising clock rate of 600-900 MHz. It became the first officially announced 64-bit new generation processor. But that's just pure marketing, because servers based on this new model will be out only in the first half of 2001, together with Itanium-based servers.

Speaking about classical desktop PC processors, only one model should be looked at. In the beginning of the month AMD announced the Duron 750, and became a fastest Low-End processor manufacturer. Now Duron, having outraced Celeron in the productivity/ MHz rate, outcame it also in clock rate. And considering the fact that Duron will possibly make another step forward this year, when 800 MHz Celeron is said to appear only in the summer of 2001, AMD now dominates the Low-End market again.

By the way, on the last seminar for resellers AMD confirmed that nowadays' Duron and Athlon can work in dual-processor mode and the problem is only in absence of dual-processor chipsets (and it's strange because there are Apollo Pro133A and it's analog - KT133). So when the boards based on AMD-760MP will be put out there would be a possibility to assemble rather cheap dual-processor PC based on Duron. And Windows'2000 now gives an additional reason to do it.

Now speaking about Intel we should say that it was busy almost only with Pentium 4, it's put out on 30th of October, prices, etc. Maybe nobody expected the delay as it was with i820 and Coppermine, but the history repeated again. Now Pentium 4 is awaited in the middle of November and it will almost miss X-mas sellings, though manufacturers will be able to present systems based on it.

And by that time a new Athlon of 1.2 GHz clock rate can possibly appear. Maybe even with a new Palomino core. And Intel now isn't able to produce even new virtual Pentium III, they should restart their 1.13 GHz chip in a normal way.


There's an interesting situation with motherboards - so few are really produced and so many are planned to produce. Let's now turn to real products. Epox and Abit made dual-processor Socket-370 boards on Apollo Pro133A, D3VA and VP6 featuring all that is needed: FCPGA, 4 DIMM with 1.5 GBytes PC133 SDRAM support, 1 AGP/5 PCI/1 ISA, UltraATA/100 RAID. Well, BP6 is in the past now, along with dual-processor systems based on Celerons.

Manufacturers begin using southern bridge from VIA-686B. So motherboards such as old Apollo Pro133A begin to appear, but now with ATA/100 support. For example, AOpen AX4Pro II and Gigabyte GA-6VX7B-4X.

An old good KT133 wasn't forgotten as well, now it also supports ATA/100. Well, it's compatible with the 686B southern bridge. For example, MSI K7T Pro2. And those, who want to built in an ATA/100 RAID support, have to use external chips as they did before. Gigabyte made this with GA-7ZXR.

But the attention was mostly paid to i815. Though here's not so much to talk about: AOpen AX3S or Soyo SY-7ISA, or DCS BIS2m, P3SAE and P3SAE-L, they all based on a standard platform. Maybe only Soltek SL-65ME stands aside because of it's rare Smart Card Reader interface that is also present in some other models.

So, the month turned out to be rather dull, if not speak about plans. Because there are zillions of them. And there are three months ahead that promise to be rich with events: DDR SDRAM is already at hand, as well as Pentuim 4. And almost every brand planned something with the above. But the attention was paid mostly to more accessible DDR SDRAM models based on Apollo Pro266 and AMD-760, these were planned much, when the situation with expensive Pentuim 4 boards is still unclear. But every brand will want to have at least one model of it.

Speaking about used chipsets, it should be stated that situation is still undetermined, though there's already a leader - Apollo Pro266/KT266. AMD-760 holds the second place in the rank of popularity and it must be pore productive then VIA's variant. Then there goes ALI with it's four DDR chipsets. And SiS is the last with SiS730S, because manufacturers are not sure if SiS would be able to ship the needed quantities.

So according to the present information, we should expect many announcements of DDR SDRAM boards in October: KT266, KM266, ALi MAGiK 1, AMD 760, SiS370S and still unannounced nVidia for Athlon; Apollo Pro266, PM266, ALi AladdinPro 5 (as well as another unannounced chipset from nVidia) for P-III/Celeron. It's good that form-factors remained unchanged, so there wouldn't be problems about changing platforms: FC-PGA Socket-370 and Socket-A are the same, and a number of manufacturers will supply their motherboards with both DIMM SDRAM and DIMM DDR SDRAM slots.

(By the way, you should pay your attention to KM266, there's information that a new graphic core S3-Paramount would be used in it, and it's productivity increased by 40% comparing to today's KM133/PM133).

For those who will want to change to Pentium 4 platform it will cost much. Because they'll have to buy a new motherboard, a new processor and, in most cases, new memory, because i850 interfaced only with Rambus, and there are two channels, so strictly two RIMM modules are needed. However there would be another variant for manufacturers: first examples of PX266 from VIA will be available in the first half of the year 2001. It's the first VIA's server chipset configured to maintain up to 2 Pentium 4 and up to 8 PCI-X slots.

The Low-End market is paid attention to either. Intel has no business here already after producing i815 along with most motherboards based on it. Now we should expect the same rates as in this month: 3 or 4 new models on this chipset, if no fewer. And it's not bad, it just points to the normal production rates of announced models. In the field of integrated chipsets we should expect some news from VIA: KM133 was announced in September, so there may be something about it in October.

But let's put aside AMD, VIA, SiS, ALi, Intel and others. There's another interesting chipset manufacturer - nVidia. Though it was previously mentioned concerning northern bridges for Pentium III and Athlon, but still there's something to say about it. In September the company announced a new prototype for Media Communications Processor (MCP) southern bridge. Though it's a chip for X-Box, it will work on Intel's processor platform and it's already features the functions of the southern bridge: an interface with PCI, USB, ATA, very powerful sound controller and communication modules such as Ethernet and V.90 modem. And considering the fact that though MCP-X started developing earlier it'd be put out only together with X-Box, we should wait for another variant for PC to be produced earlier - let's call it MCP-PC.

There are two interesting technologies left to talk about. First is etBIOS from VIA that is a browser integratable into BIOS with all features included: PPP, TCP/IP, etc. It's more for playstations now then for PCs, though in case of problems with system booting the possibility to contact a support team can come in handy. The second technology is about Internet too. It's a new coprocessor for PC that being plugged into special socket provides cipher/decipher functions, as well as PC identification functions (though anonymous without tracing feature because a unique ID is generated every time). So, we just coming up to making a PC an endpoint in the scheme of e-commerce.


Here are only three news headers and the main is the price reducing on the open market. During September the price for 64 MBit PC100 chips fell down from $8.4 to $6.2 level. But there's nothing to worry about, because it's still higher than the prime cost of $4 for Taiwan manufacturers and $3.4 for Korean. And, in addition, it's not the same situation as it was last spring that finished with a crash.

The market was in the awaiting position this summer. Usually the summer is a dead season and prices are low, but not this year. The prices stayed more or less on the same level, and as a result resellers expected them to get higher in September, but that didn't happenned either, because of various reasons: reduced demand for PCs, postponed demand as a result of DRR SDRAM expectations. So the warehouses became overfilled and revaluation did it's job - prices for memory chips were reduced by quarter.

But as DRAM manufacturers say, the prices would be higher already in October-November and the market will spread somehow. The reduced price falling rate can be a confirmation to their expectations.

About the same time the mass supplies of DDR SDRAM will begin in October, though it's being sold already now. I.e. Crucial, a department of Micron company, began collecting requests for DDR SDRAM modules based on chips of it's parent company, both PC1600 and PC2100 for the price $77 and $90 for 64MBytes. The difference impresses: twice cheaper then the 64 MBytes RIMM PC800 modules along with better productivity. And further, prices for DDR SDRAM should only reduce.

For example, Samsung began to ship 128 MBit 0.19 micron PC1600 and PC2100 chips even in the first quarter of this year, and now it's ready to ship 333 MHz chips PC2600. And even more, this summer the shippings of 256 MBit 0.17 micron DDR SDRAM chips began, and they supported all the three speed types. As Brett Willams from Micron said, DDR SDRAM would be the base memory chips already in 2 years, instead of SDRAM veteran. By the way, Taiwan manufacturers also confirm these words.

One may wonder if Rambus confirm the above too. The company was a center of activity on the market this month. It stroke back, having brought an action against Micron and Hyundai in Europe, accusing them in patent violations and demanding to stop selling products that violate these patents. It is clear that all is about SDRAM, because brands wouldn't have noticed losses caused by RDRAM's going out of market. In addition the company forwarded a petition to U.S. International Trade Commission asking to stop imports of Hyundai's chips to USA. Some two days later the last offender was punished - an action was brought against Infineon. Now we have to wait for the end of January to get to know the results. The process with Infineon will begin in December, plus a month for a court to make a decision.

And the company itself is buzzing with plans and perspectives. After 1 GHz chips announced this year, 1.2 GHz chips are prepared to be put out in 2002. And in more earlier future the company intends to reduce the difference in prime prices between already announced chips and SDRAM chips by 20%. There's a hope that such difference would be enough for normal marketing. Another good news for Rambus is that NEC announced the intention to license SDRAM, DDR SDRAM and 1 GHz RDRAM chips. And after the merging with Hitachi NEC would become one of the biggest DRAM manufacturers in the world.


The sutiation is pretty unchanged here. nVidia continues to attack the market with different variations of GeForce2. 3dfx defends with Voodoo4/Voodoo5 models. Some other graphic chip creators try to produce something. All is the same.

Mass announcements of Low-End cards based on nVidia's last offer continued. nVidia promises to at least repeat the success of Vanta and TNT2 M64 with new GeForce2 MX. Hercules, Creative and the like did this even in August, but Taiwan manufacturers preferred to wait some time. And also in September Abit, Jetway, Chaintech announced their products based on GF2 MX that are usual variantions of the same nVidia's design.

PowerColor did some good job and put out two MX cards at once, both rather non-traditional. If Asus reduced the memory on the one of it's MX cards to 16 MBytes, PoweColor decided to increase it to 64 MBytes instead. Now there's a strange hybrid of Low-End chip and High-End memory megabytes. The second card has standard 32 MBytes, but also features two LCD/CRT monitors and TV-output support through TwinView. By the way, Hercules announced the analog as well.

In common, the popularity of GF2 MX based cards will only grow. In addition, the only price competitor of Geforce 2 Geforce 256 passes to nowhere. As a result, manufacturers began to reduce productions of cards based on this chip, i.e., Creative announced finishing prodictions of Annihilator and Annihilator Pro.

But it also announced two new cards of GF2 gamma at once. One is based on GeForce2 MX along with DDR SDRAM memory and the second is right the opposite - based on GeForce2 Ultra. And this second isn't alone, it'd have to compete with Gainward, Asus, Hercules and Chaintech, who, in addition, produced or preparing to produce a bit slower cards based on GF2 Pro.

3dfx answered GeForce2 MX by beginning the sales of Voodoo4 4500 AGP along with it's PC variant. But for $150 price of a medium GF2 MX card it gives lesser productivity and that puts it to not so good position. And even Voodoo4 4400 - an OEM variant for $130 wouldn't be able to help, because GF2 MX cards aren't going to become more expensive too. And 183 MHz Voodoo3 from PowerColor just can't be serious competitor nowadays.

And speaking about GF2 Ultra and GF2 Pro competitors, we should say that Voodoo5 6000 is to be out in the second half of October for the price of $800. And for such price it must give at least twice as much productivity than GeForce 2 Ultra that costs $500. But what for? GF2 Ultra allows to play at 1600x1200 resolution at a good speed. Another variant for 1600x1200 with fullscreen antialiasing might come in handy for some enthusiasts, but there are very few of them.

So this time 3dfx isn't so succesive as before. Let's see what there will be the next half a year, when NV20 (Geforce3) and Rampage+Sage=Specter (Voodoo6?) will appear. Let's hope that 3dfx will present something that would be able to compete with Geforce.

But nVidia and 3dfx are not the only present in the graphic market. Though others don't act much now. For example, Matrox presented it's new product G450.

And it's going after it's predecessor - almost unnoticed. DualHead isn't so much of a wonder now, GF2 MX cards cost the same because of TwinView, and some minor changes like using DDR SDRAM on unprepared platform don't add productivity. So GF2 MX and Voodoo5 5500 turn out to be better and cheaper.

But there's also Marvel G450. In this case nVidia and 3dfx can't answer with the same product. The one and only competitor is ATI RADEON All-in-Wonder, but Matrox can endure this fight, because T&L isn't so important in this situation, and Marvel also presents some new interesting possibilities with video (including DualHead that is absent in RADEON).

By the way, in September ATI announced Radeon shippings but only for Mac. It's the most productive solution for this platform now. At least until 3dfx announces that Voodoo5 6000 will support Macs.

And there's some exotic left. The first is STM, who began making KYRO (PowerVR Series3) itself. In September Videologic, Innovision and PowerColor announced some 32 and 64 MBytes cards based on this chip. Not so serious, so to say, but let's see what comes next in October.

The second is S3! According to our information, S3 after merging with VIA will continue to work on not only intergated but also dedicated graphic chipsets. And why not. TSMC will produce graphic chips for VIA along with processors and chipsets, and VIA will be the only owner of such sheaf. And maybe we should wait for Savage 3000?

Storage units

As usual this part is the calmest. The storage unit's manufacturers not very often begin to use new technologies, and if they do it, then all at once. So, there are often pauses.

Only Seagate presented a new HDD in September - Barracuda ATA III. It features UltraATA/100, 20 GBytes of disk space (40 GBytes max.), liquid bearings, 500 MBit/sec internal transfer speed and approx. 8.9 msec search speed. The spindle rotating speed is 7200 rpm.

Another brandname, Quantum, says that by the end of this year 7200 rpm HDDs will take over 35-40% of the market, and by the end of 2001 - 50%, and by the end of 2002 - 60%.

So, there aren't so much news about HDDs, but there are some about CD-RW manufacturers. If in the first half of this month 12/10/32 models were still produced by Ricoh, Creative, Plextor, Teac, then in the second half there appeared some new models of 16/10/40 generation. Yamaha and Sanyo have already presented their models with new controllers. And soon we should expect models from Teac and many others to whom Sanyo is a main shipper.

By an interesting coincidence two portable external drives appeared almost at the same time. Both are very portable - 300grammes in weight and 1.5 sm in thickness. One CD-RW is presented by Sony, Spressa Mobile with IEEE 1394 interface. And the other is 640 MBytes magneto-optical MCG3064AP from Fujitsu with the same IEEE 1394 interface, though there's a variant with a PCMCIA connection.

And there are only future events left. In September Hitachi announced the creation of a new technology (concerning new laser and CDs) that allows to produce 5.25 inch compact discs with up to 100 GBytes space. The wave length is reduced to 400 nm, there would be several layers and also some other technical things. But still, the next two years we can only wait for 48 GBytes DVDs, so let's put 100 GBytes barrier aside for some time.

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