SANTA CLARA, Calif. Reliance Computer Corp.'s third-generation chip set, the Champion 3.0, scheduled for production in June, is to enable a class of servers and workstations that will benefit from a 133-MHz system bus, faster SDRAMs, and enhanced I/O capabilities.
Raju Vegesna, the founder and chief executive officer of Reliance (Santa Clara, Calif.), said the server market has segmented, and volumes have exploded in recent years, with demand for Internet servers escalating particularly rapidly.
The Champion 3.0 chip set for two-way servers supports a 133-MHz processor bus, and up to four 64-bit/66-MHz PCI I/O cards in parallel. The version for a four-way system spreads the loads out over a 100-MHz system bus. The next version of Intel's Pentium III processors, code-named Cascades, will support a 133-MHz front-side bus.
Vegesna said that "with Internet servers there is a lot of data streaming, and we matched how our I/O behaves with the Internet. We optimized the pre-fetch capability of the cache, what we call intelligent I/O, to the needs of the data types most commonly seen on the Internet."
The computer science research community has been working for many years on adaptive algorithms, and Reliance has implemented that technology into its latest chip set. The adaptive capability means that the same basic chip set can be used in various server markets, said marketing vice president David Pulling, who earlier worked with Vegesna at Ross Technologies (Austin, Texas).
When Ross stumbled, Vegesna started Reliance in 1994, with NEC Corp. as its foundry. That relationship continues, even after Fujitsu Ltd. took a majority stake in the company. The first-generation Champion chip set supported a 66-MHz Pentium bus; the second generation supported a 100-MHz bus for the Pentium Pro CPUs, and the current version is matched to the 133-MHz generation.
An engineer at Compaq Computer Corp.'s server division said Reliance engineers developed the latest chip set with engineering support from IBM, Compaq and other key customers. And he noted that the Reliance solution will compete with core logic from Intel itself, as well as with Compaq's internal solution.
Vegesna said Reliance expects to garner the majority of sockets in the PC server market, with as many as two million units of Champion 3.0 sold annually. Pulling said some server and workstations vendors will refresh their product lines early this summer with two-way servers or workstations that initially use Intel processors with a 100-MHz front-side bus. Those "processor ready systems" could be upgraded to Xeon and Pentium III processors that support the 133-MHz bus, which is expected this autumn.
The 133-MHz system bus, 64-bit/66 MHz PCI, and more intelligent I/O caching will be supported by the move to PC133 SDRAM. In the server market, improved latency is key to performance. The Champion 3.0 chip set will work with either CAS 3 or CAS 2 latency SDRAMs. Most server vendors initially will populate dual-in-line memory modules (DIMMs) with the CAS 3 version PC133 SDRAMs.
The move to a 133-MHz bus and SDRAMs results in a 7.5-ns latency, a major improvement over the 10-ns latency with the 100-MHz frequency bus. In a system that would require 10 clock cycles to fetch the first line of data from the cache, the first access required 100 ns with PC100 SDRAMs, or 10 ns multiplied by 10 clock cycles for memory to respond to a processor request. That can be reduced to 75 ns with the shift to the 133-MHz frequency (10 clock cycles times 7.5 ns), or slightly faster with CAS 2 memories.
"In the big scheme of things, the biggest payoff you are getting is the shift to the 7.5-ns clock," Pulling said.
Vegesna said that bandwidth is less of a concern in the server market than latency, but added that "with the future-generation memory buses from Intel, there will be a need for more bandwidth, and we believe both DDR and Rambus memories will be there to fill that need. We will have products for both markets the Rambus market and DDR which may be more cost effective for large memory systems."
The next-generation servers and workstations also will benefit from 256-Mbit DRAMs, now coming to market from a number of companies. Samsung, Toshiba, IBM, Siemens and Hitachi all are players in the 256-Mbit contest, with others soon to follow.
Earlier this week, Infineon Technologies AG said it is ready to ship commercial quantities of its 256-Mbit SDRAM, which will be produced initially on a 0.2-micron process at its Dresden, Germany fab.
"We have made the 256-Mbit device our benchmark for our worldwide engineering and production set-up, and we expect to ship several million 256-Mbit SDRAMs in 1999," said Andreas von Zitzewitz, chief operating officer at Infineon (Munich, Germany). "This will be a major part of our revenue."
Infineon plans to use the 256-Mbit device in 64-M x 72 (512-Mbyte) unbuffered DIMMs, supporting both the PC100 and PC133 bus speed grades, for workstations. For servers and high-end workstations, Infineon will ship 64-M x 72 (512-Mbyte) and 128-M x 72 (1-Gbyte) registered DIMMs, again supporting the PC100 and PC133 bus speed grades.