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COMDEX/Fall '99 - Motherboard Manufacturers

Iwill

Fortunately, I was able to catch up with someone at Iwill and get the scoop on their upcoming products since it was one of the few companies with rare and unique announcements. The information I am speaking of is on their DS133-R (i820 based motherboard), DCA200 (i840 based motherboard) and Slocket II (a Socket 370 to Slot 1 converter). Let me break down each item so that you can better understand why I was impressed.

The DS133-R comes with all the typical bells and whistles for an i820 based motherboard (2 RIMM slots, 4X AGP, etc.) but supports some things that no other i820 motherboard I've seen at Comdex have, up to 150 MHz bus speed AND dual processing. The board is able to run at 133 MHz or 150 MHz with an on-board clock generator. I was also taken back when I flashed my eyes upon the dual socket motherboard. With a high speed FSB and dual processing, this motherboard is going to be a killer workstation class motherboard.

One of the few i840 based boards I saw at Comdex is the DCA200 by Iwill. It features the WTX form factor, dual PII/PIII Xeon processors, AGP Pro 50/4X AGP (up to 1.6 GB of bandwidth), 64-bit PCI and a massive 2 GB memory max. If you don't already know, AGP Pro 50 has the same theoretical throughput as AGP 4X but can provide high-end video accelerators (loaded with power-consuming graphics cores and large texture memory sizes) with up to 50 watts of power. Note the large memory max is due to the availability of 4 RIMM slots on this motherboard.

So what is so special about this "Slocket II" device that Iwill has released? It not only converts current Socket 370 processors and PGA processors but it also supports 2nd generation Coppermine FC-PGA processors. On top of this, the converter will support the upcoming Joshua processors from VIA. The board supports an assortment of settings like FSB and voltage settings through on-board jumpers. The voltage settings available are between 1.3-3.5V which is key for supporting the wide variety of CPUs.

That is all fine and dandy, so what's Iwill doing for Athlon owners? Well I do not have any official word of a release date or specifications but Iwill is working on an Athlon solution. We will have to wait and see what actually is released before I make any judgments.

Lucky Star

Unfortunately Lucky Star was not very friendly and did not care to share more information than what was available on the floor. There was not any detailed information on their i820 solution available in their product information sheets either. They have a flood of i810e-based boards but nothing too special. There were no comments made on the possibility of upcoming Athlon boards so I am not sure what they are planning for the future.

Micro-Star Int'l (MSI)

I paid a short but sweet visit to MSI as they let me in on their upcoming products as well as a fancy new feature set, Ultimate System Armor III (USA III), that will be making its way into each of MSI new motherboards.

MSI has created a set of devices that will help you protect, troubleshoot, monitor and configure your system. To protect your system, MSI has incorporated a new BIOS design that is partitioned. This gives you a primary and secondary BIOS. The primary will be your regular BIOS as we know it while the secondary will trigger when the primary fails or you force it to load due to a virus problem in the BIOS. Troubleshooting the system just got a bit easier for you because MSI has incorporated something like a debug card into their upcoming motherboards. A set of green and red LEDs will give you the heads up on the status of your system. This allows you to figure out exactly why your motherboard is not posting should you ever run into some posting problems. To monitor your system, MSI provides a software utility to give you access to temperature, power, power savings and other various system statuses. Configuring your MSI motherboard is going to be more flexible in the future thanks to their new CPU PnP feature. You will now be able to alter FSB speed, core/bus ratio, core voltage and IO voltage. With all these settings available, an over-clocker should have a much easier time.

MSI has released 6 flavors of their i820 based motherboards varying from memory configuration to form factor type. I have gathered the motherboards into a table to simplify the product line.

MSI i820 Product Line
MotherboardSocket TypeMemory ConfigurationSlots availableForm Factor
MS-6192Slot 12 DIMM/2 RIMM1 AGP/5 PCI/1 AMR/1 ISAATX
MS-6301Slot 13 DIMM1 AGP/5 PCI/1 AMR/1 ISAATX
MS-6187Slot 12 RIMM1 AGP/5 PCI/1 AMR/1 ISAATX
MS-6179Slot 12 RIMM1 AGP/3 PCIMicro ATX
MS-6302Socket 3702 DIMM1 AGP/3 PCIMicro ATX
MS-6307Socket 3702 RIMM1 AGP/5 PCI/1 AMR/1 ISAATX

This is a very diversified line-up for i820-based motherboards. You won't find this many variations from another other company at the moment.

As you already know, MSI already produces Athlon motherboards but does not advertise this on their web page for some strange reason. Unfortunately I did not get to talk with MSI about this during my visit but they did assure me that they will continue to support the Athlon. I will have to dig deeper and to get the full story on this.

TMC

TMC gave me a brief tour of their products and I was able to find two new products to talk about. Unfortunately neither product was an Athlon motherboard but TMC is working on a solution to that. The two released boards are TI6CAI (i820 based) and TI6MAA (i840 based) motherboards. The TI6CAI is a Slot 1 i820 solution with 2 RIMM/2DIMM memory slots and 1 AGP/3 PCI/1 AMR/1 ISA slots in an ATX form factor. As far as the TI6MAA, it has the following: i840 chipset, Slot 1 interface (note this is P!!! and not Xeon), 4 DIMM slots supporting PC100/133, 1394A support and 1 AGP/2 64-bit PCI/4 regular PCI slots all packed into an ATX board. Keep in mind that the Iwill i840 board supports Xeon processors and has an AGP slot that is AGP Pro 50.

Afterthoughts

With Intel's final release of the i820 mainstream chipset and the i840 workstation solution, the motherboard maker's support for those new Coppermine-platforms seems to be in full swing. At the same time the Athlon support is still lacking, however.

I am getting a little bit tired boring you with rants about this topic, so that I put my hopes on the release of VIA's KX133 chipset. If AMD should indeed not have been up to supporting enough motherboard-makers for their Athlon-platform, I hope that VIA will be able and change the situation. If Intel wouldn't have serious problems with the supply of chipsets as well as processors, Athlon would have an even harder time to catch up once the KX133-chipset is finally released.

Please also read the COMDEX/Fall '99 - Motherboard Manufacturers Report Part 2