Via readies Hammer chipsets

The Taiwan semiconductor maker is getting ready for AMD's next-generation processor, to launch late this year

Via Technologies has a full line of chipsets waiting in the wings for AMD's upcoming 64-bit "Hammer" processors, according to the company. Motherboards based on Hammer chipsets from Via and rivals Silicon Integrated Systems (SIS) and Acer Labs (ALI) are expected to be on display at the Computex Taiwan trade show starting on 3 June.

Wide availability of chipsets will be important to pave the way for the rollout of AMD's next-generation platform, on which it is pinning its hopes of continued competitiveness against Intel's Pentium 4.

"We will have a full chipset lineup for Hammer," said Via international marketing specialist James Campbell. "We are sampling and testing the chipsets now."

Via is preparing the K8HTA, K8HTB and K8UMA chipsets for launch in June, July and the fourth quarter, respectively. All three will include AGP 8x, USB 2.0 and an 8-bit V-Link bus connecting North Bridge and South Bridge. They will connect to Via's VT8235 South Bridge. K8HTB comes in a flip-chip package, while K8UMA is an integrated product.

SIS is readying the SIS755 and SIS760 chipsets, which include AGP 8x, USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 (also known as FireWire or i.Link). The former is discrete and the latter is integrated. ALI will launch M1687 and M1688 later this year.

AMD is betting on Hammer to revitalise its flagship Athlon line of mainstream desktop chips, which appears to be running out of room for performance growth, according to some industry analysts. As early as 10 June AMD will switch Athlon to the Thoroughbred core, which uses a smaller 0.13-micron manufacturing process to allow for higher speed increases.

Thoroughbred will carry AMD through to the launch of Hammer Athlons near the end of the year. A source close to AMD said the company has virtually stopped development work on current, 32-bit Athlons, devoting all its engineering resources to Hammer.

Intel, in the mean time, is poised for quick speed gains with Pentium 4, which industry analysts say has plenty of headroom for higher clock speeds. "Intel could make a 3GHz Pentium 4 today, if they wanted to," said a source.

Intel also recently upped the speed of the Pentium 4 system bus to 533MHz, with upgraded chips and chipsets, further boosting system performance. The system bus connects the processor to external components such as memory.

In March Via introduced a 533MHz system bus-compatible Pentium 4 chipset, the P4X333, with which it is hoping to win over major motherboard makers. Via, the second largest chipset maker after Intel, has captured little market share for Pentium 4 chipsets because an ongoing legal dispute with Intel has made large motherboard manufacturers unwilling to adopt Via's Pentium 4-compatible products.

"We are hoping that this chipset (the P4X333) will convince some of the large board makers to defy their American masters," said Campbell. "We held back releasing it until we could make it a real stunner."

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