Intel testing sample DDR motherboards for P4

Intel engineers are testing sample motherboard designs based on a version of Intel's 845 chip set that adds support for DDR (double data rate) memory to the Pentium 4 processor. The 845 DDR chip set is not scheduled to be available until early next year.

On Monday, Intel officials unveiled the first version of the 845 chip set, due to be released during the second half of this year, which supports SDRAM (synchronous dynamic random access memory) chips rather than more expensive RDRAM (Rambus DRAM) chips. The second version of the 845, which will support both SDRAM and DDR, is scheduled to be available during the first quarter of 2002.

Journalists attending the Computex exhibition here were inadvertently given a preview of a motherboard based on the 845 DDR chip set during a tour of Intel's Asia-Pacific Application Design-in Center (ADC) in Taipei on Wednesday.

A sample motherboard made by Acer labeled "845 DDR/ICH2" was visible on a shelf above one of the lab's test benches where an Intel engineer was conducting an unrelated testing demonstration. The engineer confirmed that the sample Acer motherboard is based on the DDR version of the 845 chip set.

Intel is currently testing, but not validating, motherboard designs using the 845 DDR chip set, the engineer said.

A senior Acer official acknowledged that the company is testing motherboard designs based on the 845 DDR chip set.

The design glimpsed at the Intel lab is just one of several form factors that Acer has developed based on the 845 DDR chip set, said Vincent Cho, associate vice president of product line management at Acer's Acer Brand Operation division. Acer began receiving samples of the 845 DDR chip set earlier this year, he added.

Asked why motherboard designs are already in testing more than six months before the scheduled release of the 845 DDR chip set, Cho said the technical differences between the DDR and SDRAM versions of the 845 chip set are "limited." Intel is holding off until next year to release the 845 DDR chip set because it wants to first promote the 845 SDRAM chip set based on the "supply and demand situation," he added.

Although Intel plans to push the 845 DDR chip set early next year, it will continue to promote the original 850 chip set, which supports RDRAM, as a high-end product offering, Cho said. However, the success of that strategy depends on the premium users will have to pay to purchase RDRAM-based computers, he said.

"If that premium is above US$20, people won't pay for (RDRAM)," Cho said, noting that the performance of RDRAM is just slightly better than DDR.

Before the launch of the 845 SDRAM chip set on Monday, Intel had been a staunch supporter of Rambus' proprietary memory interface, offering only the 850 chip set for use with the Pentium 4 . The 850 chip set doesn't allow PC makers to use cheaper SDRAM or DDR memory and has been the source of controversy in the PC industry because of the higher price of chips based on the Rambus technology.

DDR chip sets for the Pentium 4 have attracted much attention at the Computex show. On Tuesday, rival chip set maker Via Technologies Inc. stole some of the spotlight from the launch of its own Ezra processor with a demonstration of its P4X266 chip set for the Pentium 4, which also supports DDR memory. The P4X266 is scheduled to ship later this year, Via officials said.

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