Ruckus over Intel's Rambus technology - Part II

Continued from Part 1

However, the chip set's fall introduction isn't good timing for corporate buyers. Many PC makers who serve large corporate customers say their clients have standardised on the 440BX chip set and will remain with the platform through the first quarter of next year in order to focus energy on preparing for the year 2000 transition.

The 820 is set to replace Intel's 440BX chip set, the current Pentium II/Pentium III chip set offering from Intel. The 440BX supports a 100MHz system bus, 100MHz synchronous dynamic RAM and 2X accelerated graphics port (AGP). AGP can help speed up performance by allowing a PC's graphics system to tap into its main memory.

The 820 will step up to a 133MHz bus, 4X AGP and Rambus Direct RAM as well as ATA66 support. ATA66 is an updated disk drive interface that will transfer up to 66MB of data per second. It's twice as fast as the ATA33 standard used with 440BX. 820 will support a 100MHz system bus as well as a 133MHz bus. The memory bus is the data pipeline between the processor and the rest of the PC's systems. Overall, Intel says the 820 will eliminate or reduce many PC system bottlenecks, such as memory performance and graphics performance, and increase overall system performance. It will also offer "headroom" for transitions to new operating systems, such as Windows 2000, and newer applications. While 820 will replace the 440BX chip set, Intel expects the 440BX to be in use through the first quarter of next year on desktops with 450MHz, 500MHz and 550MHz Pentium III chips and well into the third quarter with 600MHz and faster Pentium IIIs. The 440BX will live on well into 2000 in notebook PCs. Intel has also done such things as make its forthcoming Pentium III Coppermine processors support 100MHz and 133MHz bus speeds so that they can continue to work with 440BX as well as the 820 chip set.

Fiebus calls it a "painful transition."

"Where they're really experiencing pain is in higher-end corporate systems, where Intel is only offering the 820. Those guys are reticent to move off of Intel," Fiebus said. "(Yet) by the end of next year Rambus will be easily firmly entrenched in the high-end," he said.

Even though they will support the 820 chip set, large PC makers, such as Dell have also committed to supporting the 440BX chip set through the first quarter of next year. "Our BX plans are driven heavily by (corporate). A lot of companies have asked to standardise on it through the end of the year and into early next year," said one Dell executive.

A number of other PC makers will support the 820/Rambus combination along with the 440BX chip set. NEC Computer Systems Division will support the 820 in its PowerMate desktop line. But the company will also continue supporting the 440BX. "A lot of our customers want to (continue) buying the platforms they're on now," said an executive at the California company.

Hewlett-Packard will also continue 440BX support. "We're not going to be abandoning any of our current technology until Rambus takes off," said an HP executive. That probably means sticking with 440BX until the end of next year, according to Fiebus.

Palo Alto, California-based HP announced last Monday that it will support both RDRAM and SDRAM on new products, including its Vectra VL600 PC line and Kayak XM600 and XU800 models. The company didn't come out and say it, but it will support both kinds of memory on the 820 chip set and offer the 533MHz and 600MHz Pentium III chips, sources said.

Until then many PC makers will also utilise the VIA Technologies Apollo Pro133 chip set, which offers a 133MHz bus, support for 133MHz SDRAM and, at a price of $29 in large quantities, will result in systems that are several hundred dollars cheaper than the 820. "I think that's going to be a real barn burner," Fiebus said.