Every year I make at least one trip to Taipei, Taiwan, usually for the annual Computex show. The flight itself is usually grueling, traveling from the East Coast you're generally in the air for around 20 hours. Then there's getting used to the time difference, which is a full 12 hours from EST. But it's all worth it, because a trip to Taipei is like a hardware-guy's dreamland. Tons of manufacturers spread out all over the northern tip of the island all working on bringing the latest technology and performance to your PCs. It's through these manufacturers that you can get a very interesting perspective on the industry as well as get a good idea for the truth behind a lot of the issues we see.

The Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers are the first hand recipients of roadmaps and future product information from companies like AMD, Intel, ATI and NVIDIA. The manufacturers are also privy to information that usually doesn't flow through a PR group before reaching them, so tapping our sources in Taiwan often gives us a much more honest (and bleak) view of the PC industry as a whole.

The other type of information we get from Taiwan is good updates on what types of products are actually selling. It's one thing to hear AMD and Intel talk about market share, but when the motherboard manufacturers tell us that a product isn't shipping, we usually know the truth.

I met with manufacturers for three days straight, usually from 8AM until as late as 11PM every night. And while I'm not able to share all of the information discussed in the meetings, I'll do my best to put forth a summary of some of the hot topics we talked about. But before I get to what the motherboard manufacturers told me, I'd like to touch on some of the questions they had for me and thus, for all of you. Just as we are at the mercy of the PR teams at AMD, Intel, ATI and NVIDIA, the motherboard manufacturers are at the mercy of the same folks when it comes to understanding what you all, the end users want.

The biggest question I was asked in Taiwan was about why I felt the 915 chipset wasn't selling well. I'll touch on this more in the chipset section of this article, but with Taiwan coming to us for answers you get an impression of the current situation.

The next question, or worry, on the minds of the manufacturers in Taiwan is the future of dual core technology on the desktop. This is another issue that I'll discuss later in the article, but you can understand the sense of caution if dual core is the number two question on their list.

A surprisingly popular question also revolved around ATI's upcoming chipsets. Next week we'll see the launch of ATI's latest AMD and Intel chipsets, but for the first time we're seeing an unusually large amount of interest from the motherboard manufacturers. This is yet another area I'll be touching on later in the article.

There are many other interesting tidbits of information I picked up while in Taiwan, ranging from Intel's 1066MHz FSB plans to AMD's first Athlon 64 chips with SSE3 support, so without further ado, let's talk about what's going on today.

AMD vs. Intel
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  • tennesota - Sunday, November 07, 2004 - link

    Thanks for the informative article. I'm sure many would agree that "we appreciate your hard work work". Thanks! Reply
  • ThePlagiarmaster - Friday, November 05, 2004 - link

    #59 I agree pcie will be much better for boardmakers (I don't think we'll see price cuts...not much anyway). Boardmakers will just take the profits and I can't say I blame them with razor thin margins. At least they have a good excuse to take it. I also agree that pcie will be great for OTHER cards. I may have misunderstood your msg. It seemed to me you were extolling the virtues of it as a new video card bus. In this regard I think AGP was fine. It's not even used. We haven't even tapped 256mb cards yet (witness the 6600gt's scores @128mb onboard). So plenty of room to grow on agp if you ask me as everybody fears going to the 'dreaded' bus :) But as long as it keeps board costs down I guess I see the point.

    What I meant by not needing ddr2 is Intel should have waited for a technology (ddr3?) that would have actually made a difference over todays memory. To release a product that doesn't outperform yesterdays product is stupid (the P4 vs. P3 comes to mind, 3 die shrinks on the P3 would have made one hell of a chip). DDR2 is [and will be] slower than DDR1 until 667 (barely a victory if at all) and probably 800mhz. Perhaps they'll be able to get DDR2 to dizzy heights like ddr1 (DDR2 1200?) and finally make it really worthwhile.

    A dualcore could probably do the same as a dual cpu does now. Each opteron has it's own bank of memory. You can get one of these boards for only $216 or so (and you wouldn't need all the routes for the 2nd cpu socket so it should be cheaper still). So one bank for the right side of the chip and one for the left :) Nevermind, technology marches on and I accept it LOL. I shouldn't even be talking I guess, I have an A64 939p (3200+ probably), Koolance Exos, 6600GT PCIe, and the K8N Neo Platinum/SLI on the books as an xmas gift to myself...ROFL. Or I mean a gift to my EARS! OK the performance will be nice too, but my ears will love me for sure.
    Reply
  • slashbinslashbash - Friday, November 05, 2004 - link

    #57 I'm fully aware that PCI-E offers no current benefit for graphics cards in terms of bandwidth. My point was about the underlying PCI-E architecture. You're forgetting that PCI-E is *not just for graphics cards*. Normal PCI (and its bastard offspring AGP) have been around for too long. Like Parallel ATA is being removed in favor of Serial ATA, PCI (a parallel architecture) is being removed in favor of PCI-E (a serial architecture). Look at all the traces on your motherboard that go to a single PCI slot. A x1 PCI-E slot (analogous to a regular PCI slot) needs 4 wires. This clears up huge issues for motherboard manufacturers and will ultimately make motherboards cheaper. It's also point-to-point, and the bandwidth is much more scalable. PCI hardly even has the bandwidth for gigabit ethernet. A new technology is needed to replace PCI/AGP. Even though graphics cards will see no benefit today, the fact that there are now lots of motherboards on the market with PCI-E slots (both x16 and x1) means that the peripheral manufacturers can move to PCI-E and dump the outdated PCI. Yes, I know about 64-bit and 66MHz PCI. Those are better performing than normal PCI, but they're even more of a pain to route and implement on a motherboard. That's why you only see them on expensive server motherboards.

    I also question your statement "So we could have just skipped DDR2 and waited for DDR3." What makes you think that we'll get to DDR3 if nobody uses DDR2? Surely the same sorts of issues that now cause headaches with DDR2 will also be in DDR3. I agree, it doesn't seem to make much sense for Intel in the long run since they're likely moving to a new architecture that won't be as bandwidth starved. However, don't forget that the upcoming dual core processors will likely need more bandwidth even if they run at a lower clock speed. Dual-core Athlon64s might even benefit from DDR2, even if single-core A64s don't need the bandwidth.
    Reply
  • Ivo - Friday, November 05, 2004 - link

    Hi Anand, great review! Thanks!

    As for what I want: I'd like to build an upgradeable, micro-ATX size, cool and quite home-PC (something like DTR, but with separate screen). Will anybody produce a micro-ATX (or BTX) Socket 939 motherboard in the near future?
    Reply
  • ThePlagiarmaster - Thursday, November 04, 2004 - link

    #53 PCIe is NO better than AGP. Yes it has more bandwidth BUT it's the same thing as before. If you never go onto the bus who cares? We'll keep seeing bigger and bigger amounts of memory on the cards (because memory makers keep shrinking the chips like everyone else, thus making bigger amounts cost the same as the last smaller revs) thereby killing the very point of more bandwidth for the bus. I don't forsee ANY time in the future where ANY game maker will want to go out onto the bus when there is a ton of memory on the card that runs circles around main memory with to-and-fro bus access. It's just a completely BAD idea. It will never be good. The only purpose that would serve is CHEAP systems playing an old game or two. Or business systems that want to keep costs down. It will never work for gamers. Even crap cards come with 128meg today.

    AGP could have been good (and was a decent idea before cheap graphics memory killed it) if memory would have stayed expensive. But it was already getting really cheap before AGP even hatched. So the whole thing was a moot idea forever all the way through 8x. Just a BS line Intel could say they were always ahead of AMD in. Marketing hype and thats about it. It got cards off the PCI bus, but Micron showed you could do that with a 66mhz PCI slot.

    You could argue it raised the voltage/watts to the cards (agp and pcie), but anybody could have pulled that off with a 66mhz pci slot also. However Intel is always looking for a way to claim some technology advantage so we keep getting all these BS changes (DDR2 anybody?). Let's face it, AMD could run on DDR1 until at LEAST 533 (1066 hypertransport and DDR 533 perfect match). You could even argue for DDR1 600 as it's around now (no doubt a die shrink again would make this memory cheap too). So thats two more revs of A64's, a stop at 1066 and 1200. Neither of them would starve the A64 either. It's nowhere near starved at DDR400.

    So we could have just skipped DDR2 and waited for DDR3. DDR2 won't show anything for the P4 until 800mhz really and Intel will be talking DDR3 by then (ROFL - AMD doesn't have it but we do - nana nana nana). Just more marketing hype again. Though I like the idea of the power savings for notebooks. But not much more than that. We haven't even proven how many extra minutes that gets you yet (may be a puny savings, who knows). By the time they get DDR2 rolling the P4 will be dead and a P3 dual core (eh, I mean Pentium M, heh) that isn't bandwidth starved won't need the extra bandwidth Intel will be telling us we need. I see joke after joke after joke coming. The joke's on the consumer who buys into this load of BS every time they tell us we need it.
    Reply
  • quasisnig - Thursday, November 04, 2004 - link

    Anand,
    Excellent, I can only imagine the number of industry analyst that read your articles.
    Reply
  • jiulemoigt - Thursday, November 04, 2004 - link

    #47 people switched to the NForce2 chipset because of soundstorm... plus if Nvidia simply pkged it as both digital and analog PCI-E 1x riser card it would have the bandwidth it needed and met the needs of those you want an add on card and those who just want cheap sound. Personaly I'd love to see SoundStorm2 be dug out of what ever file they left it in and made it avalibe and a chipset that could be added to mobos, the way the SATA controllers were added and the AC97 chips are added, that cheap boards could have AC97 and mobo mkg who wanted to offer high end boards with it could. I paid $250 for my DFI Nforce2 board despite having an Asus dlx already because i liked it better. I have seen people all across the net who have wanted better audio without giving into creative which makes horible drivers. Reply
  • quanta - Thursday, November 04, 2004 - link

    #41, nowhere I have claimed that Intel processors will stop supporting the rest of SSE3 if HyperThreading is turned off. However, those workstation application developers can write (and have written) boneheaded pro-Intel detection routines that don't turn on advanced AMD features that are supported by CPUs of both companies (eg: SSE in Windows Media Encoder 4 through 7.1), which will be used by Intel to fool uninformed buyers (though it won't be as bad as BAPCo SysMark 2002).

    Even without Intel's 'help' in marketing department, AMD does not work as tightly with complier builder as Intel does (after all, Intel does makes its own compiler). That can mean those dumb CPU detection routines are likely to cripple AMD CPUs a lot more than Intel's will.
    Reply
  • slashbinslashbash - Thursday, November 04, 2004 - link

    Great article. I'd just like to comment on the people who are hating on Intel for forcing the move to DDR2 and PCI-E. It's just one of those things that more or less had to happen. Dell is going to sell whatever Intel tells them to. Dell sells more computers than anybody else in the world. That means that Nvidia and ATI will have to make PCI-E cards available in mass quantities, and memory makers will have to make DDR2 chips available in mass quantities. PCI-E in particular is a much better technology than the hack that AGP was. I know it doesn't perform better today; neither did AGP8X or even 4X. The underlying bus is the big improvement with PCI-E; it makes motherboards easier and simpler to lay out, as well as offering higher performance.

    So, Intel was using its position of power as the market leader to break the chicken-and-egg problem of PCI-E and DDR2. Now that there are PCI-E graphics cards available, ATI/Nvidia/VIA are all starting to come out with PCI-E chipsets. Once DDR2 matures a bit more, we are certain to see a move to it as well. On the AMD side, we may not see a move to DDR2 very soon because the A64 is not bandwidth limited like the P4. But one day, it will happen, because DDR2 will be better-performing, and RAM manufacturers will hit the wall with what plain ol' DDR can do.

    Really, Intel has done us all a big favor by forcing the move to DDR2 and PCI-E. It's perhaps not in Intel's best interests, but it's definitely in our (the consumers') best interests. BTW I mostly use AMD procs, so I'm not an Intel fanboy by any means -- I run AXP desktops and dual Opteron servers.
    Reply
  • bhtooefr - Thursday, November 04, 2004 - link

    #22, the processor codename was Shelton. It was a 1GHz Banias without any cache (in other words, the REALLY fscked up ones). The chipset was a bog-standard 845GV. Also, it wasn't QUITE Mini-ITX. Reply

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