SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When Intel Corp. takes the wraps off its next-generation Intel 840 (or Carmel, as it is code-named) workstation/server chip set Monday, evidence of the chip maker's long-awaited high-speed memory program could finally be made clear.
Like its sister chip set, the Intel 820, or Camino, the high-performance Intel 840 has long been known to use Direct Rambus DRAM as its preferred memory flavor. The last-minute postponement of the Camino project last month, however, brought Direct RDRAM's longevity into question and has left Carmel as Intel's only chip set capable of supporting its new 700-MHz Coppermine processor, which will be introduced Monday with both a 133-MHz frontside bus and a high-speed AGP 4X interface to external graphics chips.
The 810e integrated-graphics PC chip set introduced last month has a 133-MHz processor bus, but does not support external graphics chips or 4X AGP connection.
Carmel, which features dual memory channels with two RIMM sockets, was initially targeted at the very-high-end workstation and server markets. A.A. LaFountain III, an analyst with Needham & Co. Inc. in New York, said the device was always aimed at a niche market, and was never intended to become the introductory Direct RDRAM standard-bearer.
LaFountain questioned how much penetration Carmel may make in the PC server market, which he said "has almost unanimously adopted double-data-rate SDRAMs as the next-generation memory."
At the Intel Developer Forum in August, however, Intel said that it is developing a DDR-SDRAM chip set, which could be introduced next year at about the same time its competitors arrive with their own products. Still, Intel is currently being challenged by Reliance Computer Corp.'s competitive chip set that can connect with Intel's new 733-MHz Pentium III processors.
Reliance is hoping that server manufacturers spurn the more costly Direct RDRAMs in favor of PC133 SDRAMs, said David Pulling, vice president of marketing at San Jose-based Reliance, adding that Intel's Direct RDRAM plan "backfired on them."
Right now, however, the Intel 840 is being scrutinized for any hint of Direct Rambus' fate. Memory-channel data errors were originally blamed for delaying the Camino's launch, and the Carmel introduction could be the first indication of whether Intel has solved the problem.
But some industry sources said even Carmel's introduction may not shed much light on the memory-channel data-loss mystery, since Carmel may also support SDRAM. Sherry Garber, an analyst with Semico Research Corp. in Phoenix, said Intel can unveil Carmel with SDRAM by adding an Intel-designed Memory Translator Hub (MTH) ASIC on the motherboard.
Needham's LaFountain said very-high-end workstation OEMs might pay an extra price premium for SDRAM-based Carmel chipsets.
Intel has contended that both its Camino and Carmel chipsets designed with MTH will support PC100 SDRAM devices, but hasn't said whether it is considering upgrading both chip sets to support PC133 DRAMs.
Intel previously has said it will unveil a chip set that will support PC133 in the first half of 2000. Some major PC133 DRAM makers last week claimed that Intel has been accelerating its planned PC133 chip set launch, perhaps as early as January.
An Intel spokesman said the company is sticking by its broad deadline of "sometime in the first half of 2000."