It has been quite a while since we have seen a chipset from Intel that we’ve really liked. After the release of the Pentium II back in 1997, every chipset after the original 440FX chipset seemed to improve on its predecessor and there was never a question of whether or not the latest chipset would be outperformed by its forerunner.
Even at the peak of the BX chipset’s lifespan, there wasn’t much question about whether the forthcoming Camino chipset (now known as the 820) would outperform its predecessor. Unfortunately, everything seemed to go downhill after the i820 chipset failed and the price of RDRAM was found to be between 3 and 5 times that of PC100 SDRAM, while offering virtually identical performance.
Since then, Intel has introduced chipset after chipset that have failed to gain the recognition and support that we were used to seeing from motherboard manufacturers and the market alike.
The i840 chipset, performance-wise, was a slight success, but there is a severe lack of support for the chipset among Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers. Of the motherboard manufacturers that we visited at this year’s Computex in Taipei, only Iwill, quite possibly the smallest motherboard manufacturer in Taiwan, was shipping a measurable quantity of i840-based motherboards, and even then, they were only shipping around 500 of them a month.
The i810E was the only reasonably priced desktop chipset that Intel offered with 133MHz FSB support at the launch of Intel’s first 133MHz FSB Pentium IIIs. The only real problem with the 810E was that it only featured the chipset’s integrated graphics solution whose performance was far below that of the mainstream graphics accelerators of the time. This, combined with the fact that the chipset only supports a total of 4 rows of SDRAM (2 banks), shows that the 810E was obviously not targeted at the performance market that was begging for a decent 133MHz FSB chipset from Intel.
Attempts to bring SDRAM support to the i820/840 platforms failed miserably as the chip that made it all possible (MTH on the i820 and MRH-S on the i840) was causing quite a few compatibility problems, not to mention hindering performance incredibly.
Because Intel was slipping in the chipset world, VIA managed to step forward with their Apollo Pro 133/133A chipsets and snatch a significant portion of the market. VIA even went as far as to organize the memory industry in developing a PC133 SDRAM standard, something Intel didn’t even hold a part in.
But if Intel was able to design a high performing SDRAM-based solution with the BX chipset, it didn’t make sense that they couldn’t bring a true successor to the BX with 133MHz FSB, PC133 SDRAM and Ultra ATA 66/100 support. When we heard more about Intel’s “Solano” chipset earlier this year, we began to envision just that, a sort of ‘BX133’ chipset with Ultra ATA 66/100 support, killer performance and best of all, native PC133 SDRAM support.
Now that the Intel 815 chipset is finally upon us, the real question is whether or not it is everything we imagined it would be.