COMDEX/Fall '99 - Motherboard Manufacturers


Even before arriving in the bustling streets of Las Vegas for this years Comdex, I knew there would not be any massive surprises so I made plans ahead of time to cover what I felt would hold somewhat of an interest to you. With Intel finally launching the delayed i820 chipset and the shortage of good Athlon motherboards, I figured I would look into what was going on with the motherboard companies to let you know who's doing what. With all these discussions of AMD not getting the proper support from the motherboard companies, I was determined to see how things were going (or not). There was also much excitement over the upcoming VIA based KX133 motherboards for Slot-A that promises high speed memory (PC133) as well as 4X AGP support. Let us take a look at this years Comdex.


Before I get into the actual motherboard companies, I wanted to give you a heads up of all the exciting things I found out at VIA Technologies. With the acquisition of Cyrix and Centaur, VIA will be offering a full range of products. From their integrated solutions running the MII to the KX133 running the AMD Athlon processor.

Taking a look at the higher end chipsets we will see the arrival of KX133 based motherboards, which offers PC133, 2 GB memory max, 4 DIMM slots, supports 4 USB ports, AGP 4X and AC97. The release of KX133 is scheduled for the beginning of 2000, so that we should not have to wait for long anymore. From what I hear through the grapevine, AMD is working closely with VIA to make sure the performance of this chipset is optimal. With the addition of all these features, the Athlon based systems take a big jump not only in performance but feature-set. It is only a matter of time before this chipset sees modifications to support DDR memory sometime next year.

VIA's Apollo ProMedia II for Slot 1/Socket 370 is the incarnation of a work-in-progress project with S3. This chipset will be something like the i810e chipset from Intel that offers a low cost video-integrated solution. However, the Apollo ProMedia II will offer a 4X AGP expansion port so that you could upgrade from the integrated S3-Savage4. To keep costs down for motherboard manufacturers, VIA has made this upcoming chipset pin-compatible with its Apollo Pro133A line. This allows the manufacturers to only make one board-design for both, the high and low cost solutions, which in turn saves them development costs.

Although not too much information was available, we will soon see the arrival of new Cyrix MII processors running a PR rating at over 400. The unreleased Joshua core from VIA will also be making it's way into socket 370 boards sometime next year. This forthcoming chip will have integrated 256k of L2 as well as the 3DNow! Instruction set. Users will have even more options in the value category of the already crowded market segment.


ABIT turned out to be a very interesting story for me when I visited their crowded booth. I was expecting to see their latest offering that sported the i820 chipset as well as some information on their plans to release an Athlon based motherboard. After a brief talk with some of the folks at the front booth, I made my way back to a meeting room for an in-depth discussion. It seems that ABIT was a bit unhappy with AMD being that it had not selected ABIT as an Athlon motherboard launch partner. ABIT went on to explain that it felt tossed aside because it had given AMD a helping hand in the early days of K5 and had not been acknowledged since. Maybe this explains the non-existent support for Super7 on ABITs part. Whatever the case may be, ABIT has decided to work on an Athlon solution but it appears that AMD has decided to give them the cold shoulder. I personally think that there is more to this story than this but speculation won't bring us Athlon support. I hope ABIT and AMD can settle their differences because the only real losers in this fight are the consumers.

The i820 solutions present at the ABIT booth were the CH6 and CX6, which only differ by the type of memory support. The CH6 will have 3 DIMM sockets for supporting SDRAM. The CX6 will flex two RIMM slots with 600-800 MHz ECC memory support. Both board will also utilize ABITs popular SoftMenu II allowing for jumper less operation.

Lastly, I was surprised by ABITs plans to jump into the graphics card market. It will be carrying a 'Siluro' line which is basically a line of NVIDIA based boards. You can expect to see TNT2 based solutions very soon while the GeForce 256 based cards won't be around until next year Q1.