ServerWorks HEsl: DDR bandwidth without DDR SDRAMby Anand Lal Shimpi on February 7, 2001 8:16 AM EST
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First Introductions: Comdex '99 with Tyan
Walking around Tyan's suite at Fall Comdex in 1999 there was a very unique board sitting there alone that caught our eye. It was an odd-looking dual Slot-1 motherboard design that used a chipset with NEC's logo prominently displayed on it. An NEC Pentium III chipset? Even more interesting was that the board featured a total of eight DIMM slots; this during a time when even finding four DIMM slots on a board was rare. This was obviously a high-end board but based on what chipset?
It turns out that the chipset we saw was the RCC Champion III HEsl; the NEC logo was present because NEC actually manufactured the chip that was designed by Reliance Computer Corporation, or RCC. We never saw much under the RCC name because in January of 2000, Reliance Computer Corp. decided to change their name to ServerWorks. Are you beginning to see the connection?
ServerWorks has actually been around for a reasonable amount of time, although generally they remained quiet because of the fact that they haven't shipped much more than 2 million parts since their creation in 1994. As we mentioned before, this is a relatively small company (compared to the Intels and AMDs of the world) that exists to tailor to the needs of a niche market, in this case the server and workstation market. ServerWorks' ServerSet line of chipsets have actually been around since 1997, beginning with the Champion 1.0 (later renamed to the ServerSet I) for the Pentium Pro. Back then, the specifications consisted of a 66MHz FSB, a 66MHz EDO memory bus and support for up to 6 Pentium Pro processors along with two 32-bit PCI buses. The ServerSet then evolved into a second-generation offering that boasted a 100MHz FSB, PC100 SDRAM and quad Xeon support as well as the introduction of a 64-bit PCI bus.
The third generation of ServerSet technology brings us to the present day and the specifications are definitely impressive. If you thought DDR SDRAM offered bandwidth, what do you say to 4.1GB/s of memory bandwidth via a 256-bit memory bus using regular PC133 SDRAM? Things are about to get interesting and yes there is a catch.
The different flavors of ServerSet III
ServerWorks is now up to their third generation of ServerSet technology. Making its debut in 1999, the ServerSet III line of chipsets from ServerWorks makes some evolutionary improvements over the ServerSet II chipsets that are now three years old.
In order to tailor to the specific needs of the market, ServerWorks produced three variations of their third generation ServerSet chipset.
The entry-level ServerSet III product is the LE chipset. This is by far the most common ServerSet III model simply because it's the most affordable and it does offer all of the basic features that high-end users are demanding. The ServerSet III LE does not support AGP meaning that the LE is only really useful for servers and workstations where 3D graphics performance isn't important. We will reserve an in-depth look at the LE for a later date but as it stands the solution is quite attractive if you need dual processor support for Socket-370 CPUs. The LE chipset is present in our recently upgraded AnandTech Forums Database server. Click here to read about the exact configuration of that server as well as the rest of the systems that run the site.
While there are a total of three ServerSet III chipsets listed on ServerWorks' website (including the LE), there are really two major members of the III series: the LE that we just finished introducing and the HEsl.
The HEsl chipset improves upon the LE by not only adding support for an AGP 2X bus but support for a few more technologies that truly make it a high-end solution. From this point on we will be discussing the HEsl chipset and the features that it boasts starting with the basics, the FSB and the PCI bus.