Intel had a big day on April 15, 1998. The release of a new chipset, a new technology and 3 new CPUs to go with it are more than any computer company ever announced in one day. The news are supposed to benefit pretty much any of us, the performance freak as well as the budget plagued PC user.
The new chipset by the name 440BX is the first official product in the PC business that offers a system bus of 100 MHz. Intel calls it 'front side bus' to make a point in distinguishing to their beloved 'back side bus', which is supposed to be the bus their 6th generation CPUs are using for accessing the L2 cache. The baby is call 'DIB' or 'dual independend bus' and is no news. It's nothing particular special either, but using this term makes some uninformed people believe that the overall transfer rate of Intel's 6th generation CPUs is double what it's in reality. Well, the old hype story again, could the PC business ever do without it? Anyway, for simplicity reasons I'll act well-behaved as Intel expects me to and use from now on 'front side bus' when addressing the bus that connects the CPU with other motherboard devices as chipset and memory for all CPUs, although none of the Socket 7 CPUs has got the miraclous 'DIB'.
My article 'The Bus Speed Guide , dated back from November '96, already showed that the 'front side bus' can have a very important impact on overall system performance, so now that we've eventually reached 100 MHz we wonder how much it's going to improve our life with the PC. I already mentioned it almost 12 months ago, 100 MHz 'front side bus' won't give Pentium II systems much of a performance improve, but the story looks a lot different in the Socket 7 field as well as for Intel's new Celeron CPU. CPUs that either havn't got a L2 cache at all or CPUs that have a L2 cache running at the same speed as the 'front side bus' can benefit quite considerably from the faster 'front side bus'. Socket 7 will have its first official '100 MHz' CPU pretty soon, brought to Earth by AMD and listening to the name 'AMD K6 3D'. The so called 'Super7' motherboards that are supposed to run at 100 MHz front side bus are still a wonderful tool for giving you gastritis or severe headaches up to violent thoughts against the manufacturers or even yourself, but after wasting some serious time with several great products I finally succeeded in running my K6 3D (which I've now already got for about 8 weeks, ain't it sad?) in a motherboard at this wonderful 100 MHz front side bus without permanent crashing. To make the story more interesting I ran the Pentium MMX as well as the 6x86MX in this motherboard as well.
You can read all the details in my article '100 MHz Front Side Bus - What's the Beef ?
Now Intel didn't only bless us with their new chipset, we can now buy some new CPUs to go with it. The new Pentium II CPUs at 350 and 400 MHz are ready to kick some serious butt in the high end area, extending Intel's lead in CPU performance. Intel is probably feeling pretty alone up their at 'performance peak', so that Andy made a wise decision before he handed over the lead, let's get into the low end market and play a bit more with the small guys called AMD, Cyrix, IBM and IDT. The four kids are amazed about their new playmate from the upper league and the computer press is currently helping them to bully poor junior Celeron. How unfair! Celeron doesn't like playing in the same sandpit 'Socket 7' as the others, it's supposed to get the friends of the four other guys into the sandpit 'Slot 1', which belongs to Celeron's dad. The idea isn't as bad as many seem to think, because whilst the Socket 7 sandpit only offers some boring text or spread sheet based child games, sandpit 'Slot1' offers an amazing amount of new toys, all listening to the name '3D'. 3D rules, especially for people who play in sandpits, so that Celeron will make its way and many will leave sandpit 'Socket 7' for good.
You will find all about the sandpits as well as Celeron's parents in my article 'CPU Performance from Socket 7 to Slot 1 '.
What else is going on though? Arent there some rumors to tell? ... There certainly are some more tidbits, so let me try filling this page with what I think is currently important.
AMD will release the K6 3D pretty soon at the end of May. I've been told the exact date, but I'm not sure if I'm supposed to tell you, so just expect it between May 25 -30th, it's somewhere in between there. The K6 3D will run at 100 MHz 'front side bus' or at least at a lot more than 66 MHz, it will be released as a 250, 300 MHz and another currently still secret version. The faster bus together with a good motherboard will offer pretty much the same office applications performance as a Pentium II at the same clock rate. The 3D gaming performance will depend on special drivers for AMDs own special floating point SIMD (single instruction multiple data) instructions. These drivers will be part of Microsoft's DirectX 6 and for OpenGL AMD is still working on a special driver to improve games like Quake II. Without these drivers the K6 3D is pretty much the same as a normal K6 running at the higher front side bus. I've had a chance to see the K6 3D with drivers in action at AMD's performance lab, since I luckily happen to be close buddy with AMD's performance guru (who actually joined the first official workshop in my lab last week as well). Thank God I'm not at the mercy of AMD Europe, who for some reason seem to have a serious attitude problem with me. Well, you know these Europeans are a strange bunch ... look at myself! Anyway, the K6 3D has the power to seriously smoke some competitors, I'll supply you with more information once the drivers are ready.
People who are interested in Socket 7 have heard a lot about all the glorious 'Super7' chipsets, alas none of us has really seen much of them. You certainly remember Abit's courageous announcement of their Super7 board with ALI's Aladdin V chipset some 6 weeks ago. No board is available and the one I've got never ever spoke to me at all. This is not Abit's fault however, ALI has still not gotten its act together with the Aladdin V. Motherboard manufacturers are currently waiting for chip revision 'F' !!! This means that after 5 revisions the Aladdin V is still not bug free yet. Let's hope that revision 'F' will be it. VIA announced their 'mVP3' Super7 chipset with quite a bit of noise also more than a month ago, it's just strange that there are simply no boards available. I have to be nice with VIA though, their reference mVP3 board was the only one that ran the 100 MHz 'front side bus' stable enough for me to benchmark with it. SiS has got their 5591/2 chipset out for quite a while, but the guys at SiS seem still not to be decided if this chipset will do 100 MHz bus or not. I asked several SiS officials at Comdex and Cebit and the answer was 'I don't know'. Hm. Well, the 5591 based boards I've tested all ran very good at 66, 75 and 83 MHz, however 100 MHz were only good for the above mentioned headache, regardless which RAM I used.
This brings me to the next important news. Will buying a BX or Super7 board require new SDRAM? Yes, most likely it will!!! The baby is called 'PC100' spec and was brought to life by Intel. Intel defined what it expects of SDRAM that is supposed to run 100 MHz bus, but still not all PC100 SDRAMs run in all BX boards. c't Magazine has an interesting article about PC100 in their issue number 8, but for those of you who can't get or read c't Magazine I'll write my very own article including compatibility tests with as many SDRAM types I can get.
I could tell you some rumors about 'K7' and 'Katmai', maybe even about glorious 'Merced', but since these are only rumors I will rather keep them to myself. If you are interested in some hard facts though, you may want to have a look at Intel's new prices. The top Deschutes for Slot2 will be some frightening $4500!! Phew!!.