Intel rolls out SDRAM chip set

Intel Corp.'s current effort to get Pentium 4 processors into progressively less expensive PCs should be aided within weeks by the arrival of Intel's new 845 chip set, code-named Brookdale.

As reported here earlier, Intel's 845 chip set will use industry standard SDRAM memory instead of the pricier Rambus DRAM memory that ships with all current Pentium 4-powered PCs, an Intel spokesperson said.

The 845 chip set was originally set to ship in August, but will now arrive in early September, according to sources familiar with the chip maker's plans.

Timed with this week's debut of its 2GHz Pentium 4 chip, Intel dropped prices on its entire line of Pentium 4 processors in hopes that PC manufactures such as Dell, Gateway, Acer, and Hewlett-Packard would pass the savings along to customers, thereby stimulating Pentium 4 PC sales.

Intel officials have been vocal about their desire to see a majority of Pentium 4 PCs, costing between US$1,000 and $1,200, by year's end.

The less expensive 845 chip set will help PC makers to lower the cost of Pentium 4-powered PCs even more. Manufacturers can achieve nearly 10 percent savings by using SDRAM over Rambus memory, according to those familiar with the technology.

But although Intel's choice of SDRAM makes Pentium 4 PCs cheaper to build, prices continue to range widely depending on features offered by competing manufacturers.

Acer on Monday rolled out a monitor-less Veriton 9100 minitower computer packing Intel's new 2GHz Pentium 4 and retailing for $999, according to Acer. On the same day, Gateway Inc. introduced its Performance 2000XL Digital-media desktop PC, a 2Ghz Pentium 4 system with loads of multimedia features starting at $2,999, according to Gateway.

Due to Rambus Inc.'s reputation for high performance, Rambus memory will continue to be an option for Pentium 4 systems, according to Intel.

In fact, some industry experts question Intel's choice of SDRAM over the faster alternative of DDR-SDRAM (double-data rate synchronous dynamic random-access memory).

SDRAM, also known as PC133 memory, is widely considered to be slow and outdated compared to the newer DDR-SDRAM technology. Intel competitor Advanced Micro Devices ships DDR memory with many of its PC and server chipsets.

Recognizing the advantage of DDR-SDRAM, Intel plans to launch a DDR-SDRAM chip set for the Pentium 4 in the first quarter of 2002, a spokesperson for the chip maker said.

Until then experts say customers buying Pentium 4 PCs with the SDRAM chip set will be buying a thoroughbred strapped to a plow horse.

Testing performed by Tom's Hardware Guide, an independent technology benchmarking Web site, revealed that "it is not very hard to imagine that this slightly outdated and somewhat slow memory type -- SDRAM -- will have a major performance impact on the Pentium 4. The question is only how much of an impediment PC133 memory will be for the Pentium 4. PC133 is very inexpensive, but the price advantage over the more advanced DDR-SDRAM is shrinking daily and does not play a major role in cost considerations anymore."

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Dan Neel

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