Chipsets

When Intel talks about aggressive ramps of new products there's usually little attention paid to exactly how they're going to achieve such an aggressive ramp in product shipments. For example, it turns out that the market for the 915 chipsets is very soft, so motherboard manufacturers are finding that selling LGA-775 motherboards equipped with the 865PE chipset is much more in tune with their customers' desires. The result of this is that shortages of 865PE chipsets will occur (such as the one going on right now) and the only way to get more 865PE stock is to not only purchase more 865PE chipsets, but also more 915 chipsets. It has to work this way because otherwise the motherboard makers would take much longer to transition to new platforms and that wouldn't do so well for chipset or even CPU sales, and since Intel holds the power in the business relationship things like this can happen.

The problem is that right now, no one wants 915 motherboards - they simply aren't selling well at all (925X boards aren't doing any better; I leave them out of this discussion because they are generally much lower volume boards, 915 is the mainstream product so that's what matters). The same isn't true for 865PE based motherboards according to the manufacturers, but in order to get more 865PE chipsets they must buy more 915 chipsets, thus it makes more sense for them to just try to do whatever it takes to sell more 915 boards - rather than buy twice as many chipsets and still have poor sales.

Why is 915 selling so poorly? There are a few reasons for the current phenomenon:

1) The US and worldwide economies are still soft.

2) In its "optimal" configuration, the 915 chipset requires DDR2 memory and PCI Express graphics - both of which are currently more expensive than the technologies they replace.

3) PCI Express graphics cards are still relatively rare on the market. The highest end cards are all being bought up by the major OEMs, and there aren't enough entry level and midrange cards to meet demand. Graphics cards also aren't cheap, convincing users to upgrade their motherboard, CPU, graphics card and memory all at the same time is an expensive proposition.

4) Intel platforms aren't as attractive today as they were when the 865 was announced - AMD is much more competitive in price and performance.

5) Take all of the reasons above and keep in mind that even if you can make it through all of those issues, you still end up with the fact that Intel's 915 chipset doesn't really outperform the 865PE - the 915 quickly becomes one tough pill to swallow.

Help is on the way, but boosting 915 sales by the end of 2004 appears to be a lost cause. Soon there will be no more Socket-478 Intel CPUs left on the market, with the only remaining chips being LGA-775 based. Here's one of those aggressive ramping situations. By getting rid of Socket-478 Pentium 4 CPUs, Intel ensures that the only Pentium 4s you'll be able to buy are LGA-775 chips. When you buy a LGA-775 CPU you'll most definitely need a new motherboard, and with most LGA-775 motherboards being 915 based, there's a high likelihood that you'll find yourself buying a 915 motherboard as well. Then of course you'll need DDR2 and a PCI Express graphics card, so the memory and the graphics card makers benefit as well. But the chain reaction will take place tomorrow, as far as a solution today goes, unfortunately for the motherboard manufacturers - it's going to be a tough few months.

The next problem is that once 915 sales begin picking up next year, 915's replacement will be just around the corner - adding 1066MHz FSB and DDR2-667 support. I wouldn't be too surprised if Glenwood and Lakeport get pushed back to late in Q3 of 2005 rather than towards the middle of the year to at least somewhat better accommodate the motherboard manufacturers. Now you can begin to see why introducing a 1066MHz FSB variant of the 915 wasn't an option for Intel; with so much unsold 915 inventory, the motherboard manufacturers would be in a very difficult situation if they were given a 915E to sell as well.

On the AMD side things are much simpler; just about every single motherboard manufacturer has a nForce4 solution for AMD as their high end Athlon 64 platform. In fact, NVIDIA is quickly turning into the Intel of AMD chipset manufacturers, which is something we've been asking for ever since the introduction of the Athlon.

Although there is a lot of support for ATI's upcoming chipsets (you'll read about them here next week), almost all the manufacturers were saying that their ATI products will be Intel-only. The worry is that with such a strong competitor in the Athlon 64 realm that their ATI products won't sell; there's also a lack of confidence about ATI's ability to supply their South Bridges. Whether or not the fears are well founded, none of the motherboard manufacturers expressed much interest in an ATI Athlon 64 chipset just yet. We'll see what happens next week, there may just be a few changed minds.

VIA is still quite present on the Athlon 64 motherboard roadmaps, however the chipsets are only being used as entry-level or mid-range solutions, the high-end appears to be completely dominated by the nForce4. What's even more interesting is that this is without even talking about the nForce4 SLI chipset; the motherboard manufacturers appear to be quite happy with NVIDIA's latest chipset in any incarnation possible.

When we look at nForce4 SLI, as we mentioned in our most recent article, the chipset will only be shipping in two motherboards this year from ASUS and MSI. NVIDIA has been going around the US demonstrating the ASUS nForce4 SLI board, and our most recent article was done exclusively on MSI's board.

The rest of the motherboard manufacturers will have to wait until December at the earliest to begin talking about their SLI motherboards. And that's just talk, from what I've seen don't expect to see any nForce4 SLI boards from anyone other than ASUS and MSI until next year. NVIDIA would very much like for the nForce4 SLI to become their mid-range chipset, found in motherboards priced at the $150 mark instead of closer to $200, with more manufacturers making boards next year it may be that by the middle of 2005 you'll be able to pick up some bargain nForce4 SLI boards at $150 or less. Until then you can expect prices to be in the $180 - $200 range at best.

Desktop Pentium-M Motherboards

A few months ago I put Dothan (90nm Pentium M) to the test and compared it to an equivalently clocked Athlon 64 and a high-end Pentium 4. In general application performance, a 2GHz Pentium M actually outperformed the desktop chips and even in gaming and workstation applications the Pentium M was competitive, all while running at significantly lower temperatures with much lower power requirements.

The problem is that the Pentium M, although electrically uses the same bus as the Pentium 4, has a completely different pin-out, preventing it from being used in desktop Pentium 4 motherboards. There are also other voltage requirements that most desktop motherboards (and chipsets) cannot meet that prevent the Pentium M from being used as well.

It didn't take long for motherboard manufacturers to put a mobile chipset and a compatible socket on a motherboard and thus while in Taiwan I saw two of the first shipping desktop Pentium M motherboards with AGP support.

AOpen and DFI both have motherboards ready, and are both targeting the Japanese market first. DFI built their board for a particular customer and is planning an enthusiast level board based on the desktop 915 chipset with some overclocking features in the near future. We know that Shuttle has been working on a SFF based on the Pentium M for quite some time now but have yet to see anything from them.

While Pentium M processors are still priced significantly higher than desktop CPUs, the value is in the lower power consumption and cooler operation - so in '05 there may be another, quite attractive option for cool and quiet PCs.

AMD Athlon 64 Revision E adds SSE3 Support Graphics, Memory and Final Words
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  • AtaStrumf - Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - link

    Great info Anand! More of that whenever possible.

    He, he, we thought 2004 was gonna be slow, but it turned out quite nicely, but 2005, man, that is gonna be SLOOOOOOW! Only one new desktop CPU per company before dual core madness begins in late 2005. The biggest story in GPUs is gonna be SLI and we will be watching chipsets mature and GPUs become more available and affordable. None of these things are gonna be terribly interesting be it for eighter speed, price or bugs. I guess I wont be pulling out my wallet all that much in 05, but hey, that's a good thing right?

    The biggest drawback for new Intel's platforms is not PCIe graphics, its DDR2. It's slower and more expensive. Don't these people learn anything? RDRAM anyone? That was at least faster! This is bad even for OEMs, who don't care if nothing is compatible with previous HW since they build whole new system, but they sure as hell care if they have to pay more for less. But then again, they can sell it as if it were faster, but it stil automatically puts PC based on DDR2 in a higher price class and shrinks their profit margins.
    Reply
  • blckgrffn - Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - link

    Go to Taiwan more often, for sure! I love this kind of stuff :-)

    Nat
    Reply
  • dextrous - Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - link

    Great article Anand! I think more of these gems would be awesome. Reply
  • Dasterdly - Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - link

    Good article, just go to taiwain when theres much good info. Hire some locals to cover the rest.
    All the people Ive seen interested in the new intel chipsets want the 925XE. Why are they so excited about ati/intel? Did they hire the soundstorm team or something?
    Reply
  • MAME - Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - link

    I was reading reviews about the Intel P4 3.x GHz chip on newegg. One user review said (I sh!t you not):
    "I heard somewhere that AMD's are better for gaming, but they run at suck low clock speeds, maybe they meen the 64 bit version at 2.2 GHz. Why not get a P4? 800FSB HT. If you ever want a 2.4 Ghz Amd prepare to pay $750+"

    With morons like this, Intel is not going to lose much market share.
    Reply
  • manno - Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - link

    About destop replacements. I have a laptop that is just that it literaly replaces my desktop. It has a HUGE screen, good grafics card. I played through Doom 3 and FarCry on it, and it stays in my house exclusively. I like it because it has the power I need, I can use it in any room in my apartment (wireless network) and I don't need to be tethered to a desk to use it. It's an emachines m6805 with a 754 A64 @ 1.8 GHZ with 1MB of cache. It's surprisingly cool, and I frequently use it on my lap without a problem, unlike my Dell 1.6 GHZ P4M that gets extremly hot. Is it like an imac? I guess you could say that. But it's very convenient for me because I can move from room to room without needing the space required by a huge desk somewhere. It never leaves the apartment though, and I could loose the batery and not notice the difference, so maybay that's where the incongruity between the laptops they're thinking of, and the "laptop" I'm thinking of. They think people are getting laptops to take the computer with them out of the house/office. I bought my laptop to stay in my apartment but to let me use it away from my desk. I know for a fact that 2 of my brothers are looking for DTR's, and not desktops, because they have the same user habbits as me, so from personal experience I don't see the market dissapearing. Though I also see the usefulness of a laptop that could run for 24 hrs on 1 charge, that's 12' x 9' x 1' and weighs just a pound. But I realy don't see me leaving the apartment to go surf the net. I leave it to get away from the computer, not to use my computer in new places.

    -manno
    Reply
  • emailauthentication - Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - link

    great article, its good to know what the people that actually produce this stuff have to say, instead of just feeding us press releases, more articles like this would be greatly appreciated. keep up the good work and thanks for the imformative article. Reply
  • 4lpha0ne - Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - link

    Here is a small list of possibly fixed bugs:

    http://aceshardware.com/forum?read=115106142
    Reply
  • 4lpha0ne - Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - link

    Am I blind or why am I inable to find any mention of fixed bugs in the former article (Oct 14th) except in the related discussion thread on aceshardware, where Dresdenboy brings up this idea?

    See http://www.aceshardware.com/forum?read=115105861
    Reply
  • ceefka - Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - link

    Great article!

    I see again bad news for Intel. They are still big, but this must hurt some way. Intel wouldn't want you to know of course.

    #11 There are also totally ignorant users that buy AMD64, like a few of my neighbours.
    Reply

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