Next Generation Motherboard Platforms - Part 2: Intel's 820by Anand Lal Shimpi on October 6, 1999 12:39 AM EST
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In Part 1 of this series, we took a look at the current status of the Slot-A Athlon motherboard market and concluded with the unfortunate realization that for AMD's Athlon, a worthy motherboard companion has yet to enter the market. So what about Intel's latest entry into the motherboard market, the i820 chipset?
As of now there isn't a set release date for the i820 because of unfortunate delays related to their implementation of RDRAM on i820 boards. While this means that you won't be able to buy i820 boards right away, it does mean that you'll have a little more knowledge about what to expect and what not to fall for when the onslaught of i820 based boards do hit the market.
All three of the boards that we will be taking a closer look at in this article will be available for sale upon the release of the i820 chipset. Following in the footsteps of Part 1 of this series, the first motherboard is directly from the manufacturer of the chipset, the Intel Vancouver 820 - VC820. The other two boards are the AOpen AX6C and the Gigabyte GA-6CX. All three of these boards are pre-production samples, but some are more "pre-production" than the others. The VC820 is probably the nearest to completion, followed by the GA-6CX, and, finally, the AOpen AX6C. For this reason none of the boards were really evaluated based on stability. Rather they were used to point out expectations for the future of i820 based motherboards.
The i820 Craze - Or Lack Thereof
The one thing we've been preaching over and over again since we first learned about the upcoming release of the i820 chipset is to wait on motherboard purchases until after the new chipset hit the streets, simply because the i820 was supposed to be the "next" BX chipset and there would be no reason that we would not want to upgrade to it. Unfortunately that's not how things turned out. The initial performance benchmark results show that the i820 platform offers negligible performance improvements over the BX platform and there are issues right now involving RDRAM. Currently, a move towards i820, if it were possible, wouldn't be a recommended one.
But wait, there's hope. The delay of the i820 chipset conveniently coincides with the fact that Intel's Coppermine CPU won't be released until later this month. So while the Pentium III B + i820 combo wouldn't be a formidable opponent if it were available today, the Coppermine + i820 may pack a little more punch than we're expecting. If the Coppermine does succeed and there is a demand for a platform to run it on, what will make the perfect i820 motherboard?
Unlike the Slot-A platform, Slot-1 has been around for quite some time and most of the kinks have already been worked out with the platform. The quality and performance of the BX platform has long since reached the point where the average BX board will perform and run the same as just about any other BX board on the market. There are exceptions on both ends of the spectrum (i.e. extremely stable and extremely flaky motherboards) but overall most BX boards operate within a few percent of one another. We can expect the same scenario with the i820 boards, so, in the end, the buying decision will come down to what added features does one board offer over another.
Once again we'll start out with descriptions of the three boards themselves and will then move into a section on things to demand and things to simply look for when you're making that i820 motherboard purchase.