iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Chaintech, NVIDIA, AMD: Conference can be a difference...

As a rule, I don't have time to visit conferences: I grudge spending time on them and I'm not sure it makes sense to make such a sortie. When I'm looking through photo reports from such happenings I think that it must be very interesting to be there, but  judging by happy faces they are quite happy without me. 

But sooner or later the human nature tells, and I become too weak to conquer sharp attacks of curiosity. Besides, the conference that I had occasion to get into promised to bate curiosity of any homebody: three major companies are going to tell the press about their new products and initiatives! 

I will omit such details which can be interesting only for me as what a beautiful crystal palace the conference was held in, how the invitee were gathering and how I was astonished that it was so easy to shake hands with people ruling the industry and whose names are always on the top in news. 

The whole conference was divided into speeches of three companies about  innovations followed by questions and answers. 


Chaintech was presented by Geert van Dijk, CEO Chaintech Europe. I must say, he is a good narrator who can control the audience and alternate multiple technical nitty-gritty details with jokes (the guy hanging over him on the AMD's poster with the words "inspire me" is not familiar to me. He wasn't in the hall). 

Surely, everyone is interested to know about the business of Chaintech, how they achieved the success and how nicely its products are selling; but all these aspects will be covered another time. However, omitting the details of the PR speech and diving right into the technical details I can't help showing you their slide on presentation of boards of the Zenith series in Holland where you can see logo of our company:

The core of the presentation was the announcement of the high-end mainboards of the Zenith family. Since this family includes models based on the nForce2 chipsets for processors of the K7 family the speech of Chaintech was in harmony with those of NVIDIA and AMD. 

Now let me digress from the conference and give some information to those who don't bother to read news. Since the summer Chaintech has been promoting its three brands - Summit, Apogee and Zenith for mass, demanding and hardcore customers, respectively. The following slide perfectly shows how these series are positioned:

You might have read about the boards of the Summit and Apogee lines (we reviewed them in Chaintech 7VJL Deluxe (Apogee series) on VIA KT400 and Chaintech 9EJL1 (Apogee series) on i845E articles), the Zenith line is going to be launched today. 

Why? Because apart from the biggest accessory packs the Zenith boards are assembled on the most up-to-date and efficient chipsets from each desktop platform - NVIDIA nForce2 for the AMD K7 platform and i845PE for the Intel P4 platform. I hope the slide below you will give you a clear idea on what the lines differ in (although the details were lost when we shot in the dark, but the general idea on the components must be clear; the Zenith is on the bottom).

So, here is the Zenith series and a new board of this series for AMD Athlon XP processors - 7NJS. We reviewed it with accompanying multiple photos on October 11 (Zenith 7NJS mobo from Chaintech on the nForce2). The card was also tested in our lab and compared with other NVIDIA nForce2 based board in NVIDIA nForce2 Based Mainboards Roundup. Here I will give only a photo of the board, its accessories and a block diagram:

The Chaintech Zenith 7NJS is already shipping but the recommended price for end-users seems to be too high - $229 adjusted for taxation. But according to pricewatch.com there are price tags within $180. 

Well, nobody promised a bargain, and all possible interfaces and fridges make the price heavier. But what to do if we want a board on the nForce2 at a more moderate price? 

Mr. Dijk mentioned that such boards are also developed (we even got a chance to shoot them), but unfortunately, they are not for our clone market.

Chaintech 7NIL

Chaintech 7NIF

Chaintech 7NJL

Alas, all these inexpensive OEM versions (a µATX board on the discrete nForce is about $85 - 90 by retail) are meant only for systems integrators who produce finished PCs. If we exclude samples leaking though the "gray" channels, I have nothing to say about availability of the nForce2 based solutions. Although NVIDIA states that it's satisfied with the sales of the boards for the SI market and is going to expand the respective share on the retail market, I wish it did it more aggressively. 

Some more words about realization of the SoundStorm technology in the nForce2 boards. The question of Alexander Medvedev why the Zenith 7NJS has sound based on the C-Media's chip disregarding the integrated capabilities of the chipset was given the following answer: implementation of the SoundStorm technology requires additional license agreements between the companies and the talks on Taiwan are not completed yet. Such a diplomatic response.


NVIDIA was presented by Alan Tiquet, European Marketing Director. There were also John Spitzer, Director of Developer Technology, Ottmar Knauer, Marketing Manager, Central Europe, Thomas Mertens, Sales Manager, Central Europe. 

Mr. Tiquet told us with his pleasant French accent about main spheres the company works in and then gradually proceeded to the nForce2 chipset. 

At present, the logic offered by the company for assembling mainboards for the AMD K7 platform overlap the needs of all market sectors which was demonstrated on the slides below:

I think it will be more interesting to speak about real scales of spreading of the NVIDIA's chipset later, by the end of the Q1 2003 when the delivery of both versions of the nForce2 - integrated and discrete - spin up and price becomes stable. At that time it won't be far too long before the Crush K8 based boards for the AMD Athlon 64 platform.

The most part of the NVIDIA's presentation was devoted to the graphics solutions and, mostly, to the GeForceFX. Everyone could even touch such card (the photos are also given in the news NVIDIA GeForceFX in the iXBT.com!), on one of the photos the card is in the hands of Andrey Vorobiev). Another card was installed into the PC assembled on the Chaintech Zenith 7NJS and Athlon XP 2800+. 

The slide below merges the two remarkable names into one - GeForceFX. According to Alan, the hundred of engineers and programmers that joined NVIDIA when 3dfx went bankrupt last year contributed a lot into the development of the new chip. GeForceFX is the first real work of this team in NVIDIA. 

In the long run it doesn't matter for a user of a finished product (except experts and fans) which technologies, technological processes and tricks are used in the product; he or she is interested in its price, performance and stability. But the process of creation of the NV30 in the Alan's fascinating story is another question. For example, beside a mountains of problems the company was facing when making the transition to the new 0.13 micron process and, in addition, organization of production of the GPU core containing about 125M transistors, a big stumbling block was lack of samples of the DDR-II memory of their partners. That is why they had to look for another supplier and now the DDR-II chips for graphics cards on the GeForceFX are produced by Samsung.

I'm sure my colleagues will describe the GeForceFX chip much better than me, and I'm going to stick to what I found the most attractive here. 

At the break I also got a chance to hold the GeForceFX in my hands. It's really impressive. It looks like a copmuter in computer - weighty, solid, mighty. Just imagine the norms of the technological process at the level when microbes look like real mastodons. Probably, only at such presentations you realize which summits the modern technologies are reaching...

Then the GeForceFX gave way to the show time. The demo programs with a blood-thirsty dancing and mocking ogre, a pretty elf who can express reflect all emotions on its face, a car which with the help of a virtual time machine turns from a lacquered automobile into rusty fleapit before your very eyes, fascinate everyone. But such things couldn't be simply described by words or even shown on screenshots. You must see yourselves how lighting, mimicry, details change even in depth of rust on the car body or in pimples of the ogre's skin. And all this is in a real time mode. 

The demo version of Stalker was shown the last. It was something unexampled. An amazing detail level, plus so familiar landscapes, architectural elements and machinery, for example, such diesel locomotive. 

I don't understand why Stalker runs about the Zone with a gun, but on the other hand, he can't keep his hands in the pockets, the developers know better his goal. There were no monsters, like in a real Zone. I can't imagine how successful the game will be when launched. 

I must say, the image almost never hang or jerked during demonstration of the demo programs. The demo platform showed the entire real-time rendering. 

Finally, we can't avoid the resources, human and financial, that were involved into the development of this chip. 

Add the sum about $400 M. 

Is the industry ready for a chip of such power? It seems yes. At least, the computers won't remain unloaded when NVIDIA GeForceFX cards appear:


It's quite difficult to write about AMD, especially news, because there is almost no leakage; information is under the tough control, and rumors spread over by pressmen often turn out to be just a fiction. But such a policy has its own advantages: you must agree that nobody can predict how long the Athlon XP processors are going to remain in demand. Because of the high activity on the semiconductor market 3-4 years ago many companies made wrong predictions for 5-10 years. And AMD shows its roadmap only till the first half of 2004 saying that everything depends on demand on the market. 

I must disappoint you as there were no any sensational announcements, no disclosure of insides. But it was very interesting for me to listen to a "live" representative of the company and find out some peculiarities about the company itself and plans for new processors.

The last half-year was the most difficult for the company. Apart from problems with the new 0.13 micron process AMD was to cope with the new generation of processors based on an entirely new architecture. But whatever the losses could be, the AMD fans will soon get a real gift.

AMD was presented by Alexander Belenky, regional representative of AMD in Russian and CIS. 

The speech was started with the thesis that new technologies are not always new innovations. Adequate estimation could be given to the technologies only by end-users, not PR. We can think out a lot of technologies, but will they be in demand? Only if the innovation is bound to the current standards, its place is defined, and the price is rational. 

" AMD's approach: there are many technologies but few innovations.
Difference is determined by Consumers. "

In a word, the business model of AMD's performance is built on open standards, compatibility and user-orientation. That is, the company is going to provide the industry's support for its solutions (an excellent example of it is the Hyper Transport bus), support of an evolutionary rather than revolutionary policy of development of new products (it's also a hint at back compatibility), and maintain rational prices for its products however fashionable they can be. Moreover, the company is not going to cope with it singlehandedly, - new devices will be developed and brought into the market in cooperation with its partners.

At present AMD consists of three subdivisions: Memory Group (flash memory), Personal Connectivity Solutions (core - former Alchemy) and Computation Products Group (CPU, chipsets etc.). 

There were also some questions about the AMD's technologies for the market  of Pocket PCs and wireless devices and interfaces. To keep to the subject of the press-conference, I can at least promise that news from this field will be published on our site. 

The rest of the speech of the AMD's representative was connected with activity of Computation Products Group. But could they avoid it on the threshold of launch of the K8 processors? 

Mr. Belenky demonstrated the detailed roadmap for processors for the next year and for the beginning of 2004 (by the way, the updated processor roadmap was published at the AMD's site only a week ago). 

So, the chips with the Barton core are expected in the nearest future. The Barton will be available in three versions: one for desktop PCs and two (Mobile Barton) for notebooks: one for notebooks which are called desktop substitutes, and the other for lighter models. As you understand, they will differ primarily in power saving modes. All three versions will come out onto the scene in Q1 2003. 

Production of new Athlon 64 processors is expected to start at the end of Q1 / beginning of Q2. By the summer they have plans on the Mobile Athlon 64. I have nothing to add to what was said in the news about these processors. But while we were busy clarifying some technical issues, I forgot to ask about the rumors asserting that the Athlon 64 will number only hundreds of thousands in the first half, and millions only in the second half of 2003. However, usually companies do not feel a desire to comment on such rumors. But anyway, it's already over, and I can only wish that they have high percentage of valid Athlon 64 chips and adequate prices.

As for the Opteron processors, they score decent results in the tests and have a high expected rate of performance growth. But entering the server market and conquering it is not a simple task, and AMD must do its best to cope with it. By the way, when Mr. Belenky was asked why performance of the 64-bit Opteron processors was compared to that of the 32-bit Intel Xeon chips, he said that the Itanium family was not a x86 architecture based solution. That is why, they are irrelevant. One more comment: "Itanium is a segment product"

Some our questions weren't answered as the company said the time hadn't come yet. Some technical details found out there will be used in our news and reviews devoted to the architecture of the AMD processors. And in closing I have some news on current deliveries of the announced versions of the Athlon XP processors. 

Mr. Belenky said that the company had completed the transition of the Athlon XP to the 0.13 micron fab process, that is why their number keeps on growing. Moreover, the mass shipment of the Athlon 2400+ and higher has already started, (with the FSB 333 MHz as well). 

But there is still a fly in the ointment: the Athlon 2800+ processors will ship into no country; some lots will be unloaded only for systems integrators and only in the USA. If you can't wait for more megahertz, go with the Barton or Athlon 2700+ or wait for the spring to bring the first test results which will show all might of the Athlon 64.


Did I like the conference? Certainly. Of course, I missed informal conversations with representatives of the companies at the break and after the conference, acquaintance with some colleagues, especially with my ICQ pals, any some other impressions. 

I think that such events are useful because at least they let us understand deeper the gist of technologies, which, in its turn, make an effect on how we deliver news and reviews.

By Vladimir Romanchenko (lone@ixbt.com)


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