Intel confirms 820 chip set delay

Chip maker is in talks with memory technology maker Rambus to isolate problems with the chip set code-named 'Camino'.

Intel confirmed Monday it has again delayed its 820 chip set for high-performance desktop PCs and is working on a fix.

Intel is working with manufacturer Rambus to iron out memory errors seen in tests of certain system configurations with the chip set. In morning trading, Rambus shares were down 13 percent. "We will announce the launch of the 820 when the issues are solved," said Intel spokesman Dan Francisco.

At the same time, Intel announced a new integrated chip set, the 810E, and two new processors a 533MHz Pentium III and 600MHz Pentium III, which support a 133MHz system bus.

With its promise to enhance PC performance, the 820 chip set, code-named Camino, is a significant product for Intel. With its 133MHz system bus and support for Rambus Direct RAM, the 820 could significantly increase overall system performance over the current 440BX chip set, which has a 100MHz system bus and supports 100MHz synchronous dynamic RAM. Rambus is a new memory technology that offers much higher data bandwidth than the SDRAM being used in today's PCs.

Intel says it has not yet pinpointed the exact causes of the errors. "We haven't finalised where these issues are being generated yet," Francisco said.

PC makers had been designing systems whose motherboards include the 820 chip set and three memory slots for three RIMMs, or Rambus memory modules. However, "We have seen errors with three RIMM configurations when all three sockets are fully populated," Francisco said. As a result, Intel is now working to validate a two-RIMM PC design, he said.

"This is not necessarily a redesign. What we're talking about is a layout issue on the motherboard," said Mike Feibus, principle analyst at Mercury Research Rambus memory, he said, introduces a whole new set of electrical design considerations.

Intel probably thought that it would solve the three-RIMM issue before the chip set's intended Monday launch, Feibus said. "It's not a new issue. It wasn't discovered last week. What's new is that last week Intel threw in the towel," he said.

The validation work with the 820 chip set will be carried over to other Rambus chip sets, including Intel's forthcoming 840 chip set, which sources say is due next month. The chip set, which is aimed at workstations, also supports a 133MHz system bus, 4X AGP and Rambus memory. Intel is validating a two RIMM socket design for it as well, Francisco said.

Despite hang-ups with its now twice delayed 820 chip set, Intel says that it remains bullish on Rambus technology. The 820 chip set had originally been slated for a June introduction, but was pushed back due to problems getting the Rambus Direct RAM memory technology into volume production. "We're continuing to work with direct RDRAM suppliers and our customers to make the RDRAM addition to our roadmap as smooth as possible," Francisco said.

A number of PC makers had been preparing to launch high-end products with the 820 chip set. Compaq Computer, for example, had planned to announce support for the chip set Monday morning and would have introduced systems with it in October. Dell Computer is facing a similar delay.

Not all PC makers, however, will face a delay. IBM will announce Tuesday 300PL and PC 300GL desktop PCs that offer a 133MHz system bus, 4X AGP and support for 133MHz SDRAM by the way of VIA Technologies' Apollo Pro133 chip set, a new Pentium III chip. Micron Electronics will also offer the chip set in a Millennia Max PC.