Ruckus over Intel's Rambus technology

Intel's latest desktop PC chip set transition is turning out to be a painful one.

The company on Monday will officially announce the long-awaited new chip set, the Intel 820, along with two new supporting Pentium III chips, a 533MHz and a 600MHz version. An 810E chip set is also expected. The 810E is a variant of the 810 chip set for Celeron processors that will work with the Pentium III. The 820, not the 810E, is catching all the heat from PC makers and consumers.

The 820 has become controversial for a number of reasons -- but particularly for its timing, performance and price.

Performance and price concerns centre around Rambus Dynamic RAM, the new memory technology supported by the chip set. PC makers and customers are concerned that Rambus Dynamic RAM, despite its much higher bandwidth, won't deliver enough bang for the buck. Rambus technology offers faster data throughput than the current 100MHz and 133MHz SDRAM technologies used by PC makers. Rambus offers speeds of up to 800MHz, which translates to 1.6GB of data per second.

The technology is expected to cost about $6 per megabyte, according to Samsung, one of its manufacturers. Compared to synchronous dynamic RAM prices, except in this past week, that's a hefty premium. (SDRAM prices had been hovering at around $3 per megabyte, but shot up to about $8.50 per megabyte on the open market after the Taiwan earthquake, but will not likely stay that high.)

An 820 chip set system equipped with Rambus memory and a 440BX chip set system with SDRAM with the same processor are expected to be about equal in performance at the outset, analysts say. "New technologies don't always show an advantage when they first come out ... and they're always more expensive," said Mike Fiebus, principle at Mercury Research. "It's going to take some time for applications to take advantage of it ... and it's quite expensive and in short supply."

In terms of performance versus the 440BX, "we're not really expecting much improvement with the same processor. We're not expecting it to be worse, either," he said. Intel officials told ZDNN the company is preparing a late-September launch for the 820, but that it expects a transition between SDRAM and Rambus memory technologies. "The market is going to determine the rate at which that transition takes place," said Intel spokesman Dan Francisco.