Intel has met the demands of system manufacturers and unveiled a new chipset that will allow the Pentium 4 microprocessor to be used with DDR-DRAM (double data rate dynamic random access memory) and SDRAM (synchronous DRAM) chips rather than the more expensive Rambus DRAM chips.
The chipmaker introduced the new 845 chipset at the Computex Taipei 2001 trade show. Included in the showcase were 63 PC motherboards built with the 845. These will go into systems expected to ship in September, according to Timothy Chang, a Taipei-based senior field sales engineer at Intel. The motherboards on display in Taipei included ones made by Taiwanese manufacturers Acer, Mitac, Gigabyte Technology, First International Computer, Tatung, AOpen and Asustek Computer.
The motherboards on display used a version of the 845, due to be released in the second half of this year, and can support SDRAM. A version that will support both SDRAM and DDR is scheduled to become available in the first quarter of 2002, said William Siu, vice president and general manager of Intel's Desktop Platforms Group.
Previously Intel, a staunch supporter of Rambus proprietary memory interface, only offered its 850 chipset for use with the Pentium 4. The chipset didn't allow PC makers to use cheaper SDRAM or DDR-DRAM memory chips, causing controversy in the PC industry due to the higher price of chips based on the Rambus technology.
Intel introduced the 845 in order to give system vendors a choice of memory technologies, said Siu. However RDRAM remains its intended technology for the best high-performance systems.
"We believe that the people who demand the maximum performance from the Pentium 4 processor platforms will continue to favour RDRAM solutions, but . . . we're providing the customer with a choice depending on the level of memory performance they desire. We think that the consumer's choice will ultimately set the dynamics of memory usage for the new platforms," stated Siu.
The price difference between RDRAM and its alternatives has and will continue to narrow, according to Siu.
In addition to the likely lowering of machine prices based on the new chipset, thanks to the cheaper memory they will use, systems may also become physically smaller. The 845 features a smaller "thermal", the casing around the central processing unit (CPU) that holds the heat sink. The smaller casing will allow for smaller end systems, Chang said.
Also at the showcase, Intel demonstrated working prototypes of small form factor consumer PCs based on the Pentium 4, including two that feature the upcoming 2GHz Pentium 4 processor. The 2GHz chip is set to ship in mid-August, according to David Wang, an Intel technical support engineer in Taipei. Each uses the Intel 850 chipset.
The new PCs have limited expansion capabilities but are designed to sell at a price attractive to consumers, most likely below $US1000, Wang said.
By putting power-supply components in an enlarged adapter on the power cord, the systems are small in size. In addition, the Pentium 4 allows for a smaller PC form factor than the Pentium III, Wang said. Although the systems lack internal expansion ports, users will be able to add capabilities to them through multiple universal serial bus interfaces. PCs like the concepts shown are expected to ship in the US and Japan in about seven months, Wang said.