By confirming that it is developing its first integrated graphics core in years, Intel Corp. last week began pursuing divergent tracks for graphics support in its Pentium III and Pentium 4 microprocessor platforms.
On one hand, Intel is eager to introduce the core in an integrated version of the 830 chipset for the Pentium III-M. The processor, code- named Tualatin, will be used in notebook PCs, where power concerns and board real estate make embedded graphics a natural fit.
On the other hand, the company has no immediate plans to add an integrated graphics feature to its upcoming 845 chipset for the P4-either for the desktop or laptop market. Instead, Intel expects the P4/845 combo, with support for single-data-rate SDRAM, to be priced low enough to make stand-alone graphics cards attractive even in value-line PCs.
Slated for an introductory price of $42 in 1,000-unit lot sizes, the PC133 SDRAM version of the 845 chipset will be followed early next year by a double-data-rate SDRAM-enabled device that will allow Intel to continue servicing the low end of the market, according to Jeff Austin, market manager for the company's Desktop Platform group.
"The prices will be low enough that external graphics cards will be attractive even for the cheapest PCs," Austin said in an interview here at last week's Intel Developer Forum (IDF). "We don't see a big, immediate need for the 845 to add an integrated graphics version for the low end any time soon."
Austin acknowledged that Intel would consider designing an embedded graphics core using a unified memory architecture if the demand materialized.
Interestingly, embedded graphics will find a home in higher-end P4 systems, in the form of an integrated chipset slated for release late this year by ATI Technologies Inc., Thornhill, Ontario. As previously reported, ATI will embed the chipset's north bridge memory controller into its graphics processor to gain higher performance, pitting Intel against an embedded graphics device Nvidia Corp. is readying for Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Athlon 4 processor.
Though Intel spent much of IDF touting the merits of the P4 MPU line, the company's Pentium III-M chip is slated to provide a graphics boost in the mobile market later this year. Scheduled
for release in the fourth quarter, the 830-M chipset will support the Tualatin mobile processor and feature an entirely new Intel graphics core-the first to succeed the aging 752 core, which Intel has kept alive in the 810 and 815 Pentium III chipsets.
Frank Spindler, vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile Platform group, said in an interview with EBN that the new graphics core was designed entirely in-house and will be offered in two chipset versions-the 830M and the economy-minded 830MG.
Also at IDF last week, Intel sought to justify its strategy of pairing the P4 with PC133 SDRAM, which is a lower performer than the Direct Rambus DRAM that has supported the processor since its introduction earlier this year. According to Austin, Intel lowered P4 prices last week to the same level as the Pentium III as an incentive to customers to add the new MPU to their low-end PC stables.
"Customers who are comfortable with PC133 memory will simply be able to have a Pentium 4 PC at the same price they would have paid for a Pentium III machine," he said.
Intel hopes this strategy will appeal particularly to corporate business users, who account for a majority of the PC market and still predominantly rely on PCs with PC133 memory.
"Corporate IT managers will continue to want PCs with PC133 SDRAMs until they are ready to make a new full-scale deployment of PCs throughout the organization," Austin said.
Intel expects the next big corporate shift will be to DDR-equipped PCs next year and is positioning the DDR version of the 845 chipset for the transition.
That version of the 845 will embed the chipset clock monolithically into the silicon instead of using a separate discrete clock. This will avoid any skewing of data that could become a problem with conventional external clocks running at the high DDR speeds, according to Austin. The 845 also adds a separate test signal to measure the rise and fall time of signals on the memory bus line and extra logic to compensate for timing differences.
In the meantime, the PC133-equipped 845 chip-set has been designed with extra features to increase overall PC system performance over competing SDRAM chipsets, Austin claimed.
The 845 uses a flip-chip BGA package, the first for any Intel chipset. The package also uses a staggered BGA instead of the conventional BGA pattern to shorten the internal chip connections to external pins. This improves signal quality and simplifies board design to lower cost, Austin said.