Intel owns the Show

While Intel isn't officially announcing any major products at Computex, that hasn't stopped other manufacturers from showing some of Intel's upcoming stuff. Just about every motherboard manufacturer was showing a Brookdale solution at their booth. Brookdale, which will be called i845, is Intel's next Pentium 4 chipset and will come with native PC133 SDRAM support. That means SDRAM support without the MTH fiasco of a couple years back.


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Of course, the 1.06GB/s of memory bandwidth offered by PC133 is not nearly enough for the 3.2GB/s FSB of the Pentium 4, so expect at least a 20% performance hit over i850. Some motherboard manufacturers are even anticipating a greater than 20% performance hit. Clearly, the i845 is not designed to improve the Pentium 4's performance, but rather make the P4 more accessible to the mainstream and value markets.

The vast majority of i845 motherboards shown featured the upcoming Socket-478 interface that will be used on Northwood, the 0.13 micron version of the Pentium 4. As you can tell from the pictures, the socket is quite small, measuring about 1.5 x 1.5 inches, thanks to the use of a micro PGA pin out on the CPU.


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Another thing to note is that the heatsink mounting holes around the socket are in a different position than they are on current Socket-423 motherboards. While this could mean that these boards will require new cases, the most likely situation is that Socket-478 motherboards will work in current cases and won't require the heatsink retention mechanism to be mounted to the case. This is made possible by the fact that the cooler running 0.13-micron Northwood will not require as large of heatsinks as the current 0.18-micron Pentium 4s.


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We actually saw a Socket-478 CPU installed on an i845 motherboard at Gigabyte's booth. It was covered by a Pentium 4 sticker that was partially peeled back, exposing the aluminum heat spreader atop the CPU core.


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This particular CPU is Willamette based, indicating that we will in fact see the current Pentium 4 migrate over to Socket-478 as well, probably in the next couple of months. The reason for this is that the micro PGA packaging is actually cheaper for Intel to produce. Unfortunately for current Socket-423 Pentium 4 owners, Intel will not be releasing a Socket-423 compatible Northwood. Motherboard manufacturers did confirm that they have Northwood samples in house running at 2GHz and above.


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Northwood is apparently performing quite well and some previously skeptical motherboard manufacturers have renewed faith in the Intel/RDRAM platform.

From what we've been able to gather, Intel is still planning to follow their roadmap and wait until 2002 to launch a DDR platform for the Pentium 4. Many of the motherboard manufacturers are hoping it will be earlier and are actually pushing Intel to get it out earlier, but it seems that Intel is going to stick to their original plan, probably due to their licensing agreements with Rambus that will not be up until next year.

We did see an interesting board from MSI, the 850Pro2, based on the current i850 chipset. What makes this board interesting is that it will be the first 4 layer i850 board available. This is made possible by the repositioning of one of the RIMM slots such that it is perpendicular to the other three. At first glance, this location would seem to result in extremely long trace lengths to that slot, which could cause some serious issues. However, you must remember that RDRAM is a serial technology and the RIMM pinout allows this setup to exist while maintaining short trace lengths.


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Index Intel Application Accelerator: Free Performance?

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