Intel has had a rough end to 1999: the delay of the 820 chipset made the launch of the Coppermine a relatively slow one and the price of RDRAM has kept most 820 based motherboards out of the hands of users who are considering the new Pentium IIIs. How can you expect to sell a platform that supports memory that carries a price tag greater than the most expensive desktop Intel CPU you could run on it?

Intel is not used to be put in this position by AMD. For almost two years, they held the advantage over AMD, but now with the release of the Athlon, Intel is quickly getting used to a competition that is based on clock speed once again.

From the start, AMD's Athlon has had platform problems, but so has Intel's Coppermine. In the ideal scenario, the Pentium III based on the Coppermine core was supposed to be released with the i820 chipset, the true successor to the BX, then everyone that owned a BX board would upgrade and all would be well. That's not how it has happened, the i820 platform is a very undesirable platform simply due to the incredible cost of RDRAM. Adding on a Memory Translator Hub (MTH) to an 820 board does allow for the use of SDRAM but ends up being slower than the 'old' BX + SDRAM configuration, a much cheaper alternative.

The i840 chipset comes into the light offering faster memory performance than the i820, courtesy of its two RDRAM channels (totaling a whopping 3.2GB/s of memory bandwidth), but this does not hide the fact that RDRAM isn't cheap at all. Upgrading an already smooth running server or workstation with 1GB of SDRAM to an equivalently configured i840 system would rack up close to $8000 in memory cost alone! Not very cost effective at all.

This virtually exhausts Intel's chipset lineup (we are purposefully leaving out the i810E as a viable option for a $700 processor), which isn't good news at all. Moving towards the 133MHz FSB, faster memory options, and AGP 4X are all positive ideas, but the correct path has yet to be taken by Intel. Unfortunately, they can't just forget about the i820 and work on something else, which puts them in an awkward situation: Intel has to release both 133MHz and 100MHz FSB Pentium III CPUs until their 133MHz platform becomes a realistic option.

For this reason, Intel has a more difficult time keeping up with AMD's increasingly high clock speeds because they have to make sure that they have a 133MHz FSB part as well as a 100MHz FSB part to tailor to the needs of their OEMs that will not make the switch to the 133MHz FSB platform. And thus we have the introduction of the Pentium III 800 which is a 133MHz FSB CPU and the Pentium III 750, a 100MHz FSB CPU.

The Coppermine Confusion

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