SAN JOSE, Calif. As expected, Intel Corp. is rolling out this month its first desktop chip sets to use the PCI Express bus. The Grantsdale and Alderwood chip sets are being released in tandem with a refreshed line of desktop Pentium processors.
Intel is releasing to volume manufacturing a family of five Pentium 4 processors based on its so-called Prescott CPU design. The processors pack 1 Mbyte L2 cache, hit speeds from 2.8- to 3.6 GHz and will sell for prices ranging from $178 to $637 in thousands of units. An Extreme Edition sports 2 Mbytes L3 cache and 512 L2 cache, runs at 3.4 GHz and costs $999 in thousands.
Supporting these processors, the Grantsdale and Alderwood chip sets formally known as the 915 and 921 chip sets are aimed at high-end desktops and workstations, respectively. They are Intel's first chip sets supporting the 2.5-Gbits/s serial PCI Express, which will ultimately replace legacy parallel PCI.
The 915 supports DDR-1 and -2 main memory and sells for $41 with integrated DirectX 9-class graphics or $37 without integrated graphics. The 921, which is aimed at technical users and high-end game players, does not use integrated graphics, only supports DDR-2 and sells for $50. Intel claims the new integrated graphics has 1.7-times the performance of the graphics core integrated in its existing 865G chip set.
The new chip sets are also the first to support a new high- definition audio standard Intel had previously disclosed under the code-named Azalea. The processors also use a new LGA-775 package that will pave the way for future dual-core and 64-bit processors.
Given the many new features, analysts such as Dean McCarron of Mercury Research (Scottsdale, Ariz.) took a conservative view of how the transition will progress. "I don't think it will be like Intel's past record-setting ramps for a new platform because there are so many significant pieces of the infrastructure changing," McCarron said.
"I think they are about six weeks behind. People had hopes for volume shipments starting in April, but it doesn't look like there's anything seriously wrong," he added.
Many OEMs met under the auspices of the PCI Special Interest Group in Milpitas, Calif., this week to try to iron out some final interoperability issues with their first PCI Express products.
"We may be a little bit behind schedule, but everybody is pretty close. Most of these guys are targeting the back-to-school cycle, so they have to start shipping soon," said Tony Pierce, chairman of the PCI SIG.
So far, no Express vendor has passed all the electrical, protocol, software and firmware tests required to be placed on the SIG's integrator's list, used by some buyers as a guide to interoperable products. However, that's expected to change with the Milpitas meeting.
The first generation Express products will use a PCI compatibility mode until operating systems such as Linux, Windows and Unix provide native support for the extended configuration space defined in Express. That will open the door to advanced error reporting, quality of service and power management features also defined by Express.
In the meantime, Express will mainly solve vendor problems by providing more and faster I/O connections inside a system with simpler pc board routing than possible under parallel PCI.