Computex 2000 Coverage Day 1: Chipsetsby Anand Lal Shimpi on June 12, 2000 12:00 PM EST
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VIA owned the show
Talking to a group of VIA representatives and product managers, the gist of things was that Computex was VIA's show and that was a fact which was reiterated by the presence of a VIA chip on close to every single motherboard that was on display at Computex. Unlike last year's Fall Comdex where there was a reasonable presence from VIA among the motherboard manufacturers but an equally great show from Intel with their i820 chipset, at Computex the VIA logo was boasting significantly better attendance than Intel's.
The Apollo Pro 133A chipset which was the talk of the town last year took somewhat of a back seat to VIA's onslaught of other chipsets and designs. This is not to say that manufacturers weren't displaying their 133A boards because they most definitely were, but the chipset is no longer as interesting and unique as it once was since it is now widely known that the BX chipset clearly outperforms it at 133MHz and Intel's 815E chipset is on the horizon as well.
One of the biggest problems with the 133A is that its performance is clearly not up to par with that of the BX chipset. VIA has never been known to be a performance leader, rather a leader of producing low cost chipsets, but if they are to lead the desktop chipset market while Intel reworks their platform strategy then the performance simply must improve. We did question VIA as to exactly why their 133A is so much slower than the BX running at the same frequency and unfortunately we didn't get a straight answer from them other than that the Intel BX is a very well designed chipset. So much for that.
One 133A implementation that did manage to catch our attention was the dual processor motherboards based on VIA's Apollo Pro 133A. You may remember from our Motherboards in 2000 Preview that the 694X North Bridge of the 133A chipset has a little something special about it that makes creating dual processor motherboards based on the chipset a much more cost effective effort. Let's take a look at a quick refresher from what we discovered at last year's Comdex:
A fact we recently learned about VIA's North Bridges, including the 694X of the Apollo Pro 133A from above, is that they include built-in SMP support. While it is true that the BX chipset also supports SMP, it requires the use of an additional ASIC in order to take advantage of SMP. The 694X North Bridge, on the other hand, does not. If you couple the features we just discussed that the Apollo Pro 133A supports along with the low-cost of the chipset, a dual Apollo Pro 133A board could become a very affordable entry level path into the world of multiprocessing.
We weren't the only ones to think about this possibility as we managed to catch at least one demo of a dual Apollo Pro 133A based Pentium III system, so you can expect to see dual Apollo Pro 133A boards surface sometime in the first half of 2000. Stability issues are what is keeping manufacturers from releasing dual 133A boards right now. As you can probably guess on your own, making a dual processor board a stable one takes a considerably greater effort than toying with a single CPU board and thus very few manufacturers are up to the job. When these boards do hit the market, expect them to retail for no more than $130. For a dual processor board, that isn't bad at all.
That particular manufacturer was Tyan and they were demoing their Tiger 133 motherboard which is a dual Slot-1 board based on the 133A chipset. We've actually had the Tiger 133 for months now but the boards we have received (yes, more than one) have been far from stable. We have yet to see a solid Tiger 133 board capable of running as a regular desktop platform much less a high end workstation/server motherboard.
Before you go off blaming Tyan for not being able to produce a decent motherboard keep in mind that Tyan has quite a bit of experience in the high end workstation/server market and the majority of their motherboard designs are multiprocessor boards. The fact of the matter is that creating a stable dual processor motherboard based on the VIA 133A chipset is a bit trickier than doing so on the Intel BX or GX chipsets.
While we saw a handful of boards based on the dual 133A reference design at the show most manufacturers indicated that they were still having stability issues with their designs and they weren't ready for shipping. The only manufacturer that seemed to have a nearly final board ready was Gigabyte who claimed that they had not encountered any stability problems but we'll have to put that to the test when our sample arrives.