Intel introduces new Pentium 4 chipset

Intel Corp. on Monday 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 more expensive Rambus DRAM chips.

The chipmaker introduced the new 845 chipset at its showcase here at the Computex Taipei 2001 trade show, which opened Monday. Included in the showcase were 63 PC motherboards built with the 845, which 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 here included ones made by Taiwanese manufacturers Acer Inc., Mitac Inc., Gigabyte Technology Co. Ltd., First International Computer Inc., Tatung Co., AOpen Inc. and Asustek Computer Inc.

The motherboards on display Monday used a version of the 845, due to be released in the second half of this year, which 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, after his keynote address at the show Monday. During the keynote, Intel demonstrated the 845 chipset.

Until now Intel, as a staunch supporter of Rambus’ proprietary memory interface, has only offered its 850 chipset for use with the Pentium 4. The chipset doesn’t allow PC makers to use cheaper SDRAM or DDR-DRAM memory chips and has caused controversy in the PC industry because of 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, Siu said during the post-keynote press conference. RDRAM remains its intended technology for the most high-performance systems.

“We believe that the people who demand the maximum performance from the Pentium 4 processor platforms will continue to favor 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 choice will ultimately set the dynamics of memory usage for the new platforms,” Siu said.

Siu said the price difference between RDRAM and its alternatives has and will continue to narrow.

In addition to the likely lower prices of machines based on the new chipset thanks to the cheaper memory they will use, systems may also be physically smaller. The 845 features a smaller “thermal,” the casing around the CPU (central processing unit) that holds the heat sink. The smaller casing will allow for smaller end systems, Chang said. Intel may later introduce another chipset with the smaller thermal that will support Rambus.

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 based 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 US$1,000, Wang said. The small size of the systems was achieved partly by putting power-supply components in an enlarged adapter on the power cord. In addition, the Pentium 4 allows for a smaller PC form factor than does the Pentium III, Wang said. Although the systems lack internal expansion ports, users will be able to add capabilities to them through multiple USB (universal serial bus) interfaces. PCs like the concepts shown are expected to ship in the United States and Japan in about seven months, Wang said.

The systems featured stylish cases and model names, including the Beacon Rock PC by Yeong Yang Technology Co. Ltd., the Groom Lake by Chenbro Micom Co. Ltd., and the Hilo Bay by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd. The Beacon Rock and Hilo Bay use the 2GHz Pentium 4 and the Groom Lake uses the currently available 1.7GHz P4.

Computex continues through Friday.

Intel, in Santa Clara, Calif., can be reached at