Questions linger after Coppermine release

Intel's launch of the Coppermine family of Pentium III and Pentium III Xeon processors last week provided many answers, but it has also created new questions for the chipmaker.

Fifteen Pentium IIIs were introduced for use in mobile, desktop, server and workstation scenarios. The mobile processors mark a first for the Pentium III family, with a top speed of 500MHz, while the stationary Pentium IIIs are capable of attaining performance of 733MHz.

The industry's biggest manufacturers -- IBM, Dell and Compaq Computer, among others -- joined Intel by announcing products that utilise the Coppermine processors.

But the drive to get the latest Pentium IIIs operational has left customers considering whether to move forward with the Coppermine family, wait for Intel to resolve certain issues, or look elsewhere for alternatives.

Chip set issues

When supported by the Intel 820 chip set, designed for desktops, the new Pentium IIIs should allow for an advanced graphics port, Rambus memory, and a 133MHz bus. But Intel is holding back shipping of its 820 chip set until Rambus-compatibility problems can be resolved.

Intel's 840 chip set, which is available for workstations and servers, provides equal performance, but even an Intel spokesperson warns that the higher cost of the 840 chip set "makes little business sense when considering it as a substitute for the 820".

Neither chip set is intended for mobiles. Intel is supporting its mobile line of Pentium IIIs with the 440BX chip set, capable of synchronous DRAM only.

When Intel finally releases the 820 chip set later this year, the means to optimise Rambus for high-end applications won't even be available until the first quarter of 2000. Only 256MB memory modules will fill the two memory slots in Rambus.

There is a possible alternative to Rambus: Double Data Rate memory.

Mark Kellogg, a senior technical spokesperson at IBM Micro Electronics, describes DDR as "twice as much data at the same clock speed". IBM currently offers a Web site posting the exact design specifications needed for clients to utilise DDR, which helps any computer chip process information faster.

The Intel 840 chip set gives the option for DDR, and DDR can be applied to a different chip set, such as a non-Intel chip set.

Finally there's Gyserville, a cooling technology that Shawn Willett at the Aberdeen Group calls "a more elegant solution to heat sinks". The Gyserville technology should appear in early 2000, speeding up systems through cooler, more efficient operation.

"There's a lot more to these systems than just memory," Willett says. "I do think Rambus is important, but you have to remember that all this high speed will eventually bottleneck on a small bus, and bandwidth is something to consider, also."

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Dan Neel

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