Chip set availability holds back DDR Athlon boards

While major Taiwanese makers were quick to announce motherboards in tandem with AMD's Monday announcement of the first PC chip set featuring support for its Athlon processors and high-speed DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic random access memory), limited availability of the 760 chip set is likely to hold back near-term shipments, company officials and industry sources here said.

Asustek Computer and First International Computer (FIC) were among the first to rush out announcements about their planned 760-based motherboards. Other major motherboard makers here, including Giga-Byte Technology and Micro-Star International are also readying similar offerings.

Due to limited chip set supplies, however, FIC does not expect its 1st Mainboard AD11 motherboard for desktop PCs to be widely available to distributors until late this year or January, said a spokesman at the Taipei-based company.

Asustek, meanwhile, said in a statement that its A7M266 board will start shipping "in quantity" during the current quarter, but did not provide details on when volume will ramp up.

AMD is focused on supplying its major PC vendor customers first, according to the FIC spokesman.

On Monday, AMD hinted as much when it said that broad availability of systems based on the new devices is expected by early next year, while its launch partners, Micron Electronics in the US and NEC Computers International BV in Europe, would be the first to ship systems in November. Both Asustek and FIC, meanwhile, have designed their boards around a hybrid chip set consisting of the 761 North Bridge half of the 760 paired with Via Technologies's 686B South Bridge chip. Sources close to the companies said that this is nothing to be surprised about, as AMD's South Bridge half of the 760 is identical to the Via component.

The AD11 and A7M266 are both ATX form-factor boards designed for use in desktop PCs. Built around the same key circuitry, they also have similar feature sets, including support for 4x AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port), an ATA-100 hard-drive interface and up to four USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports.

Asustek's AGP slot also supports AGP Pro cards and the board also features five PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) expansion slots for add-on cards and an on-board 10/100Mbps Ethernet controller from 3Com and can also be supplied with optional six-channel audio hardware from C-Media Electronics.

FIC, meanwhile, said that the Via 686B's built-in audio capability can be disabled in the BIOS, allowing the user to add a higher performance audio card.

While FIC's AD11 supports up to 1GB of PC1600 or PC2100 DDR SDRAM via two DIMM (dual inline memory module) slots, Asustek said its board can house up to 2GB of memory.

While the 760 chip set is designed to support the 266MHz front-side bus speed of the latest high-end Athlon processors, advanced users are known to often tweak the bus speed higher, a practice known as overclocking. The Asustek board's system bus can also be overclocked to as high as 360MHz, a sure sign that the company is aiming the board at hardcore PC enthusiasts. FIC is also bundling AD11 with its Overclock Partner and other software applications.

Pricing for both boards was not available, and is likely to be decided by the companies' respective distributors.

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