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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  • 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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