Conclusion - Pentium 4 Without Rambus Is Very Attractive
The reason for the poor success of Pentium 4 so far has to be found in i850 and its Rambus-only architecture. A RDRAM RIMM costs still more than twice than a DDR-SDRAM DIMM of the same size. Intel's upcoming i845 chipset might be able to change this picture, but its initial lack of DDR-SDRAM support will ensure that a large amount of performance conscious people won't be interested in Intel's low-cost solution. After all, you can get an AMD processor platform with better performance for less money.
VIA doesn't share Intel's concerns or any unfortunate deals with Rambus. The P4X266 chipset is being released with SDRAM as well as DDR-SDRAM support right from the start. While P4X266 might not be able to beat i850 in any of our benchmarks, it is still close enough to make it a very attractive product. Even performance freaks will have a difficult time to notice a difference between the two in actual applications. VIA's P4X266 is not just the 'best bang for the buck' in terms of P4-systems right now, it is a serious enough competitor of i850.
My old friend Richard Brown from Formosa Plastic (or is it indeed just VIA, Richard?) told me this week that P4X266 has so far turned out to be close to perfect from the technical side of things. The reference boards are running reliably and it is not very difficult to design a motherboard with P4X266, as the differences to other DDR-chipsets from VIA are rather small. In fact, the board designs of the large OEMs and motherboard makers (actually the same) have all been finalized already, so that things are ready to go. There is only one little problem. Intel is willing to keep VIA from shipping P4X266 and it might have legal handle. VIA and it's CEO Wenchi Chen aren't impressed though. Wenchi even offered motherboard makers that VIA would pay their legal fees in case that Intel should sue them.
You see that it's all down to politics. P4X266 is certainly a viable product that could introduce Pentium 4 to the mass market. Unfortunately that ain't good enough for Intel. The guys in Santa Clara want to have it all, the processor as well as the chipset sales. Maybe it's still smarter to buy AMD processors and stay out of the whole mess.
VIA has recently been getting quite gutsy. That's certainly something that earns my respect. What only earns my serious anger though is that the marketing department wasn't able to ensure a fair testing procedure worldwide. Publications that are significantly smaller than us were given more than triple the time to test P4X266 than we were. It goes without saying that I don't appreciate writing articles based on crippled benchmark data.