IDF 2000: Intel Pentium 4 (Willamette)

Political Decisions

The previous section proves that Intel is capable of making politically debatable decisions. It appears that the move to RDRAM is a fixed issue in the minds of the chipset manufacturers of consumer PC's. The i820/i840 transitional solutions on offer that use Memory Translator Hubs (MTH) are - to say the least - useless. Dell, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard all reported problems when SDRAM memories were used with Error Correction Coding (ECC).

MTH was actually supposed to conduct an error-free translation of the RDRAM transmission protocol into SDRAM language in order to offer an inexpensive alternative to the expensive RDRAM solution. The entire dilemma wouldn't have been half as bad if RDRAM was at the same price level as SDRAM, but no-one is prepared to pay six times the price for a negligible performance advantage. I am personally open to new memory technologies such as DDR-SDRAM or RDRAM - just as long as the price-to-performance ratio fits, but that just isn't the case at this time.

Foster With Colusa Chipset

Let's switch gear and go back to the 32 bit architecture (IA-32) again. The direct Pentium III Xeon successor is currently code-named 'Foster'. At this point in time, we have very little information about this CPU. It can be assumed that the Foster will be positioned in the Xeon price range. As it is intended to introduce the Foster to the market in a 1.4 GHz version (like the Willamette Pentium IV), it is obvious that this server processor will use the core of the Willamette. It is theoretically possible to use up to four of these processors in a multi-processor configuration, however, at kickoff time it will only be possible to use two processors simultaneously because Intel's Colusa chipset can't handle more than two Foster CPU's. Quad processor configurations can however be expected from third party manufacturers. Intel intends to supply the Forster in a PGA603 package (apparently 603 pins). Perhaps this processor will be named Pentium IV Xeon in the future. :-)

The Low-Cost Timna CPU

PC users who are satisfied with average performance can go for the Timna processor from the end of this year. This low-cost chip unifies the CPU, graphics and the complete Northbridge unit of a standard chipset. From the outside, the Timna looks just like the socketed Pentium III or the Willamette. All three CPU's are delivered in a green FC-PGA package. The picture above shows the Intel design research project "Cape Arago". The Timna could be used with this mini PC which will cost under $600. The Timna will be released onto the market with a clock speed of 600 MHz. However, don't expect great gaming performance from a Timna PC. It can however, serve well as an inexpensive typewriter with Internet access. My personal opinion: it's not for the power freaks who dominate at Tom's Hardware.

AMD's 1.1 GHz Counter Offensive From Dresden

AMD, the archrival was not officially represented at the IDF. Despite this, the manufacturer defiantly used the opportunity to present its new Athlon at 1.1 GHz and standard air cooling technology - naturally in a different hotel. In comparison to the 'old' Athlon with a K7 core, the new Athlon uses the Thunderbird core (K75) with integrated full-speed cache. Just as Intel, AMD has reverted to socket technology again. The Thunderbird Athlon will be available from the second half of the year in Slot A and Socket A versions. The current pendant to the Celeron, the K6-2+ will be superseded by the Spitfire in late Summer. The Spitfire is also based on the K75 core, but will only be available as a Socket A version on the market.

AMD's chipset front also has news to be reported. AMD is currently developing the AMD760, the follow-up to the AMD750/Irongate. This chipset should appear simultaneously with the Thunderbird. Its functionality is exemplary: the EV6 system bus speed will be increased from 200 to 266 MHz. The 760's will support AGP 4x and DDR-SDRAM (Double Data Rate) up to 266 MHz.

From a strategic perspective, the development of proprietary chipsets is a decisive factor for the marketing of a new CPU. Until now, AMD preferred to outsource the production of chipsets to third party manufacturers such as VIA Technologies. However, the said manufacturer didn't always excel with good timing. For example, the delivery of the KX133 chipset for the Athlon only started this month - six months too late. Also, the development work for the Thunderbird has been pushed aside at VIA because it would seem that Intel is more important to the Taiwanese. Unfortunately, the Athlon Thunderbird chipset KZ133 only supports PC-133 memory.

Serial ATA

When this year is over the old ATA100 standard (also known as UDMA/100) for the parallel transmission of data for hard disks and CD-ROM's can be buried. The successor will be the Serial ATA standard. As the name implies, data transmission is serial. The individual hard disks using Serial ATA are connected using a four-wire cable. A standardized connector will be used for all drive types, i.e. 5.25", 3.5" and the 2.5" notebook versions. Two wires transmit the data for writes and the other two are used for reads. As Serial ATA is a direct connection (point-to-point connection) type, jumper settings such as Master and Slave will no longer be needed in the future. For compatibility reasons, adapters are intended to be made available for a transition period so that old hard disks can still be used. The serial ATA 1x standard (from 2001) permits a maximum data transmission rate of 1.5 GBits/s (approx. 150 MByte/s).

USB 2.0

It somehow seems a little strange; next to Rambus memory and Serial ATA, USB 2.0 is the third standard that uses a serial transmission protocol and is being pushed by Intel. There was nothing to hear about IEEE1394/Firewire. Intel's new favorite for external peripheral devices is USB 2.0. Compared with the old standard USB 1.1, the new USB 2.0 standard offers a bandwidth that is 40 times higher, a maximum of 480 MBits per second. The new standard should be downwards-compatible to USB 1.1 with its 12 MBits per second. For this reason, the connectors for both standards look the same.

At the IDF, a scanner was demonstrated that used USB 2.0 and a printer that used the old USB 1.1 standard. Both peripheral devices were connected to the same bus and worked perfectly well. The first chipset that is expected to be USB 2.0 compatible is the Solano (i815).

Uwe Scheffel