Via Technologies on Wednesday launched one of the fastest chipsets yet for AMD's Athlon processor -- the KT333 -- at its DDR333 Summit in Taiwan. The KT333 derives its speed from the fact that it uses Double Data Rate memory running at 333MHz. Using a 333MHz bus boosts the memory bandwidth to 2.7 gigabits per second (gbps) compared to the 2.1gbps possible with existing 266MHz memory.
DDR is the semiconductor industry's solution to potential memory-speed bottlenecks created by ever-increasing processor speeds. It isn't as fast as the proprietary Rambus format, but since it builds on existing SDRAM memory technology, it's cheaper to manufacture.
Via marketing manager James Campbell said the KT333 chipset will be an "evolution" of the current KT266 chipset. "It's not technically very different," he said. "It just has 20 percent more memory bandwidth." Despite this, validation of both chipsets and memory modules is likely to be an issue.
According to some industry observers, problems have been found in some early DDR333 motherboards, with memory speeds slipping back to 266MHz when more than two memory modules are plugged in. Campbell said Via motherboards would not affected by such issues: "This is the reason we delayed the launch so long," he said.
Aside from extra memory bandwidth, the KT333 chipset also adds ATA-133 support for hard disks. Campbell defended the decision to support 133ATA instead of Serial ATA, saying Serial ATA is still nine to 12 months away. "Of the hard disk makers, only Maxtor support ATA-133," he said. "But we felt it was worth doing."
With the KT333, and with at least the next couple of chipsets to follow, Via is attempting to keep costs and motherboard development times down, by keeping the chipsets pin-compatible with the existing KT266. "This is a new thing for Via," Campbell said. "It makes it easier to get new parts to market, and we think it will make motherboards cheaper."
The same philosophy will be carried forward to the KT333A chipset, which will double the bandwidth between chipset and graphics card to eight times that of standard AGP -- equivalent to the AGP3 standard that is currently being ratified. "We're not sure if we'll be able to call it AGP3," Campbell admitted. "But it will be AGP 8X." Via will also be adding Ethernet and USB 2.0 to the chipset.
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