Falling EDO prices, NT 4.0 make for tough chipset choices

Several months after they became available, PC vendors are still split between Intel's 430VX and 430HX Pentium PCI chipsets.

Although Intel initially promoted HX - which includes support for two CPUs, Concurrent PCI, error-checking and error-correcting (ECC) EDO memory, and a shared Level 2 cache - as the chipset of choice for corporate desktops. However, many vendors immediately saw that with the dual-CPU support of NT 4.0 still some way off, the VX looked a faster choice because it supported speed Synchronous DRAM (SDRAM). Dell called VX "the wolf in sheep's clothing".

Now, some vendors say that the fall in EDO RAM pricing has made the HX a wiser choice. "HX is clearly a better choice at the moment," said Andrzej Bania, marketing manager of Mesh Computer, a London-based direct seller. "Soon we're going to be able to offer buyers the chance to upgrade from 16Mb RAM to 32Mb RAM for about £100, the equivalent of a much faster processor. Also, HX has a much better caching system; with ECC it's more secure which means corporates are more likely to be interested; and you can use it as a server with two CPUs."

However, Dell denied that it had been caught cold by the fall in memory prices and on-time arrival of NT.

"We were the first people to publicly go VX and put it into our products," said David Moore, Dimension product marketing manager at Dell. "We had some great opportunities to make deals with makers of SDRAM. Pricing now is almost in parity for us and we are happy in our choice of SDRAM; it's certainly keeping us in the lead in benchmarks. For the foreseeable future we're going to offer VX systems."

However, Moore said Dell could soon also offer systems based on the HX chipset. "A lot of corporates take a long time to change specifications and some are asking for ECC EDO RAM so that could be an attraction."

Moore admitted that the sharp fall in memory pricing had been harmful, saying that for five months in a row, advertised prices had been higher than Dell's real selling price. "We thought [memory suppliers] were joking at first or they were trying to raise demand, but we think the market had bottomed out and prices could even go up again," he commented.

Mesh's Bania said he wasn't so sure. "I actually thought that it had bottomed out a month ago but it didn't happen."

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