Out of all the semiconductor industries in existence, there aren’t many with as much competition as the CPU chipset market can claim. There are a grand total of 7 companies producing chipsets for Pentium 4, Athlon XP, or future generation platforms (Intel, AMD, VIA, SiS, NVIDIA, ATI, and ALI). Intel is the largest chipset maker of them all, but two other companies are battling it out for the runner-up position, namely VIA and SiS.

It can be argued that VIA’s rise to success started back in the late 1990’s when Intel was unable to produce enough PC133-compatible Pentium III chipsets. VIA saw this as an opportunity to grow its market share, and took great advantage of it, providing chipsets to vendors that desired them. In addition to this good fortune, VIA was also smart enough to take advantage of the launch of AMD’s brand new microprocessor at the time, the Athlon. VIA was the first chipset company to defy Intel’s wishes and produce an Athlon chipset, and from that point on VIA has completely dominated the Athlon market, solidifying its position with such successes as the KT266A chipset.

However, following closely on VIA’s heels is another vendor by the name of SiS. SiS was once considered to be merely a low-cost, low-profile manufacturer, and was never a major threat to industry leaders Intel and VIA. But now little SiS is gaining big.

SiS’s first real hit arrived on the scene when they introduced their 735 chipset, designed for the Socket A Athlon Thunderbird market. With the release of the SiS 735 in July of last year, SiS was able to claim the best performance out of any DDR Athlon chipset on the market at the time, comfortably besting VIA’s flagship Athlon chipset, the KT266. Not only that, but 735 boards debuted at dirt cheap prices that VIA could not match; this was thanks to SiS’ own fab, whereas VIA outsources all of their production to TSMC. SiS 735 boards hovered around the $70 mark at introduction and only went lower from there. Though there was only one available motherboard based on SiS’s 735 chipset (ECS K7S5A) that was enough to get them going.

With the 735 firmly under its belt, SiS went after bigger markets and that meant the Pentium 4 platform. SiS’s first DDR Pentium 4 chipset, the SiS 645, started off with a bang. Yet again, SiS released a stellar performer with unique and solid features for the time (DDR333 support, etc.) and as usual at dirt cheap prices. Even better, the SiS 645 didn’t suffer the same lack of support in the Pentium 4 market as the SiS 735 did in the Athlon market. Top-tier motherboard manufacturers such as Asus, MSI, and Gigabyte among many others were all over the SiS 645, and eventually its successor the 645DX.

VIA on the other hand is at a great disadvantage to SiS in the Pentium 4 market. VIA is currently fighting a legal battle with Intel over whether it should have to pay a fee for each chipset they produce based on the Pentium 4 bus. Because of VIA’s legal wrangling with Intel, top-tier motherboard manufacturers have steered clear of VIA’s P4X series of chipsets for fear of upsetting Intel. Intel’s influence over motherboard makers has greatly slowed down the adoption of VIA’s P4X chipsets, and consequentially VIA’s market share and profit margins have suffered significantly. SiS on the other hand has a license to produce Pentium 4 compatible chipsets, and is basically in the clear to do as it wishes.

Now that we have a better picture of where VIA and SiS stand, let’s take a look at the first "unofficial" retail Pentium 4 DDR400 motherboards based on the SiS 648 and VIA P4X400 chipsets…

Overview of P4X400 and 648

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