Intel's Pentium 4 has now been shipping for roughly nine months, but it was never able to become a real mass product. Intel's initiative to offer its flagship processor at rather competitive prices might have improved the situation a little bit, but the real problem still remains Pentium 4's expensive platform. Until now, the only chipset that supports Pentium 4 is Intel's 850, which requires the unreasonably expensive RDRAM memory.
Intel has made it very clear that it wants to sell a lot of Pentium 4 processors in all segments, especially once the new spin with the improved 0.13 micron 'Northwood'-core for the new Socket478 is ready. What it takes is a chipset alternative that supports inexpensive memory. That's why Intel will soon release its i845 chipset, which is able to operate with the very inexpensive, but also rather slow PC133 memory. The i845 chipset is technically also able to operate with the much faster DDR-SDRAM, but customers will have to wait for this version until 2002, as validation issues or other strange dealings are keeping Intel from an early release.
VIA Filling The Gap
This is of course the big chance for the Taiwanese chipset (as well as CPU and GRX) maker VIA, because it could fill this performance gap between i850/RDRAM and i845/SDRAM with its Pentium 4 chipset P4X266, which happens to support DDR-SDRAM. It could make Pentium 4 more attractive than ever before, since it would combine Intel's highly clocked Pentium 4 processor with the well performing DDR-SDRAM memory and an attractively priced VIA chipset. Intel would not participate on the chipset sales, but should still appreciate a sales boost of its Pentium 4 processor.
We have already seen a very early version of the P4X266 a few months ago at Computex 2001, where it was supposedly outperforming an i850-platform in 3DMark2001 at 1600x1200x32. In the meantime VIA was able to put together a reliably working motherboard sample as well as a release strategy with NDA and testing procedures, to go life with P4X266 on August 14, 2001 - the same day as the ATi Radeon 8500 release. I managed to delay this article because of several logistic as well as personal reasons (VIA's marketing department played a rather sad role in it too), but I hope you will still be able to enjoy it.
Here you see VIA's reference board VT5580A with P4X266 chipset and Socket423 for current Pentium 4 processors.