Intel chipsets bring lower-cost PCs

Dell, Gateway and other computer makers are already putting the chip giant's chipsets into PCs that promise a range of lower prices and better performance.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
4 min read
A new chipset unveiled by Intel on Monday is ushering in sweeping changes in desktop PCs.

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Intel integrates USB with new chipset
Brian Fravel, marketing manager, Intel
The company announced two new versions of its 845 chipset, dubbed the 845G and the 845GL, that include built-in graphics and Universal Serial Bus 2.0, a high-speed connection for digital cameras and other devices.

The combination of the new chipsets will allow manufacturers to deliver a slew of new PCs, ranging from better performing, low-price Celeron-based PCs, starting at $650, to high-end desktops approaching the $3,000 mark.

Indeed, on Monday, Dell Computer, Gateway and a host of other PC manufacturers launched PCs for both consumers and corporations using the new chipsets.

A chipset is the data coordinator inside a PC, handling tasks ranging from shuttling data between the processor and memory to sending data back and forth to disk drives. The newest chipsets support both the 400MHz bus of Intel's new Celeron and of older Pentium 4 chips as well as the faster 533MHz bus of the newest Pentium 4s.

The chipsets also offer built-in graphics and newer features, such as Universal Serial Bus 2.0. A system for connecting devices like cameras to a PC, USB 2.0 supports faster data transfer, speeding up tasks such as downloading pictures from a digital camera.

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The integration of the graphics chip, while it might sound like small potatoes, is a big event in the component world. Typically, a low-end graphics card costs between $25 and $30. By removing the chip, PC makers can eliminate about $50 from the end price of a PC. Manufacturers can use that savings to cut prices or to add more memory or better components while keeping prices the same.

While some of the new systems will cost $650, a well-configured PC with the new chip and chipset will sell for about $900 and will include 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a CD-rewritable drive and a 17-inch monitor. Previously, $900 bought a PC with about the same configuration and a 1.3GHz Celeron chip.

The chipset, which can also be matched with Pentium 4 chips, will help increase the popularity of that chip because it will reduce costs. To date, no one has released an integrated chipset for Pentium 4s.

Initially, computers with integrated graphics chips were targeted at the budget end of the consumer market. While they sold in that area, corporations also rapidly adopted them. In one of the wrinkles of the chip business, Intel actually exited the market for standalone graphics chips because of anemic sales. Soon after, however, Intel became the No.1 graphics company in the world on the strength of its integrated chipset sales.

Chipsets may "not be very exciting to most PC buyers," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. "But the cost reduction that 845G enables is going to let the Pentium 4-class (components) get to lower price points that it simply isn't able to get to right now."

The two chipsets differ only slightly. An 845GL chipset will offer only a 400MHz bus and will emphasize lower cost. It will be used mainly in low-priced, Celeron-only PCs, sources indicate.

Meanwhile, the 845G version will support a wider range of PCs because it adds support for the Pentium 4's new 533MHz bus. Should they so choose, PC makers can use the 845G to consolidate development of their previous product lines, which used two different chipsets, by creating a single 845G platform that spans multiple configurations or possibly multiple model lines. Such a platform would be able to offer a low-priced 1.7GHz Celeron configuration and a higher-priced 2.4GHz Pentium 4, for example.

Because of this, and also because of its timing, the 845G could quickly become Intel's most popular chipset.

"It has a pretty good shot at it. All the evidence is that this may be the most aggressive ramp Intel has ever done on a chipset," McCarron said.

Intel also introduced a third new chipset, the 845E, on Monday. The 845E is a higher-performance version of the original 845 and, as a result, does not include a graphics processor. But it supports both the 400MHz and 533MHz bus speeds of the Pentium 4.

As expected, a host of PC makers announced both low-price and mid- to high-end PCs on Monday.

Gateway, for example, announced several PC models and configurations.

Its most basic, the Gateway 300LS, offers a 1.7GHz Celeron processor with 128MB of RAM, a CD-ROM drive and a 15-inch monitor and sells for $649. One of the company's pricier systems, the Gateway 500X, includes a 2.4GHz Pentium 4, 256MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, a DVD and CD-RW drive and a 15-inch flat panel monitor for $1,499.

Dell will launch three new PCs this week, including the Dimension 4500S. The desktop will pair the 845G with the 1.7GHz Celeron chip for prices starting at $749. It will be available Tuesday.

Dell also announced a new OptiPlex GX260 desktop, aimed at corporations. Based on the 845G, the machine will offer a range of configurations, starting with a 1.7GHz Celeron machine with 128MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive and a CD-ROM drive that will start at about $850 without a monitor.

Dell began offering the Dimension 4500 on Monday. The machine uses the 845E chipset, offers more performance-oriented components than the 4500S, and will start at $849, Dell said.

MicronPC also joined the fray on Monday. The company plans to offer two new desktops. Its Millennia TS2, starting at $999, will use the 845E and include performance-oriented components. Meanwhile, a ClientPro 325 PC for small businesses and other corporations will span the gamut from a $799-entry level system with a 1.7GHz Celeron to a $1,399 system with a 2.4GHz Pentium 4.