To the Swift

Hip Deep in the Chips

Businesses resisted that advice through most of 2001, handing PC-makers their first truly bad year in memory and leaving them in desperation right now. Buyers didn't feel the need for that much speed, says Margevicius, and they didn't like the expensive dual-channel Rambus DRAM (RDRAM) needed by the 850 chipset in early Pentium 4s. Most companies now use the cheaper-but-slower Synchronous DRAM.

But in September, coincidental with the rollout of its 1.9GHz and 2GHz Pentium 4 versions, Intel introduced a new 845 chipset that recognizes SDRAM. Overnight, there were 16 different Pentium 4 configurations possible, many at Pentium III price points. In fact, Intel plans to drive Pentium 4s down to $800, says Jeff Austin of Intel's Desktop Platforms Group in Hillsboro, Oregon.

However, 2GHz is about as far as Intel wants to push the .18 micron Pentium 4-also known as the Willamette core. Future speed demons will pack smaller components on the chips using Intel's new .13 micron Northwood die. The smaller core can run faster, cooler and at higher clock speeds, says Austin.

Pentium 4 shopping gets still more complicated this quarter when Intel releases an 845 chipset that can recognize faster Double Data Rate (DDR) versions of SDRAM that effectively push the memory transfer rate as high as 2.1GBps. That's still significantly lower than the 3.2GBps data rate possible with the 850 chipset and 800MHz RDRAM.

"But I see no reason to use RDRAM once DDR is available," says Kevin Krewell, senior analyst for Cahner's In-Stat/MDR. "Even 2.1GB is in excess of the bandwidth you need for business applications."

AMD chipsets have long used DDR technology to boost the memory buses of Athlon systems to 200MHz or 266MHz; and, this quarter, expect AMD to roll out five versions of a new Athlon XP processor that ships exclusively with a 266MHz bus. Athlon XP is a faster and slightly smaller chip than Athlon, but it still uses a .18 micron core.

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This article was originally published in the January 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: To the Swift.

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