Intel Launches 820E Chip Set

SAN FRANCISCO (06/05/2000) - With little fanfare, Intel Corp. launches its new 820E chip set Monday. Based on the existing 820, which supports the Pentium III processor and Rambus memory (RDRAM), the 820E builds in networking and improves USB support. Despite the extras, most major vendors won't use the chip set in PCs soon.

Representatives from Dell Computer Corp.'s Dimension line, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Pavilion series, Compaq Computer Corp.'s Presario line, and Gateway 2000 Inc. say they have no immediate plans to use the 820E.

That doesn't surprise Peter Glaskowsky, senior analyst for 3D and multimedia technology at market researcher Microdesign Resources.

"The 820 chip set in general is of limited value in this market," he says.

Currently the 820 and 820E chip sets support only the more expensive RDRAM.

Until RDRAM prices drop, its slight performance gain over SDRAM makes the chip set less than compelling. The 820's extra functions aren't enough to make most vendors change their minds, he says.

Despite its somewhat chilly reception, the 820E offers some nice features, Glaskowsky says. "Intel has made some good improvements."

Those improvements lie mainly in the chip set's new I/O Controller Hub (ICH).

Dubbed the ICH2, it supports the forthcoming fast ATA100 hard drive standard (up from today's ATA66), full six-channel surround sound (up from two channels), and two USB controllers (up from one, for a total of four ports).

The extra USB controller is a nice addition, because vendors can add extra ports to systems loaded with USB peripherals, Glaskowsky says. Today, a single USB scanner can eat up the entire bandwidth of a single controller, slowing other USB peripherals.

Improved sound is another nice touch, he says. However, most people won't even notice the faster hard drive support. (No products currently support the faster ATA standard available.) Network OptionsOf note is the ICH2's integrated support for local-area networking, he says.

The ICH2 gives vendors a handful of integrated LAN options: two 10/100 Ethernet options, a 1-mbps home phone-line alternative, and a more flexible add-in that uses a card based on the Communication and Networking Riser (CNR) specification.

Glaskowsky says Intel needed to integrate LAN options to match offerings by chip set competitors. However, the LAN integration is one reason Dell executives are skipping the 820E, at least for now.

Dell, a major supporter of the 820 chip set and RDRAM, already offers the same extra functions in its Dimension family through add-ons, says Brian Zucker, Dell's technology evangelist for small business and consumer products.

820 Problems Not a Factor

Intel's highly publicized and ongoing problems with the original 820 chip set probably isn't a contributing factor to the 820E's lack of early popularity, Glaskowsky says. Intel's latest 820 problems involve motherboards that use a Memory Translator Hub (MTH) so the chip set can use less expensive SDRAM memory. Intel announced in May that problems with the MTH could cause system hangs and data loss. It promises to replace faulty motherboards with new 820-based motherboards with RDRAM, according to an Intel spokesperson. The company expects to complete validation testing of a new MTH in the third quarter.

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