Paul Otellini, general manager of Intel's Architecture Group, said during a briefing at the Comdex trade show that the company is discussing licensing the system bus of the Pentium 4 to third-party chipset makers. If such deals are struck, it would likely give PC makers an opportunity to build Pentium 4 PCs with Double Data Rate (DDR) DRAM, rather than more expensive Rambus memory, in the first half of next year.
Chipsets connect the PC to the rest of the computer through the system bus, and Intel's chipsets for the Pentium 4 will be Rambus-only until the third or fourth quarter of next year, Otellini acknowledged.
"We are in discussions with a number of third-party vendors on bus licenses," he said.
Taiwan's Via Technologies has said it plans to develop a Pentium 4 chipset. Otellini declined to confirm whether a deal has been struck with Via, merely stating that "Via is a licensee on a number of products in the Pentium III generation."
For years, chipsets were the unsung heroes of PC architecture. The picture began to change in 1998, when Intel refused to license the system bus to the Pentium III, thereby preventing chipset makers like Via or Acer Labs from producing parts that could be matched up with the Pentium III.
While this gave Intel a virtual monopoly in the Pentium III chipset market, it created other problems. To survive, these companies began to actively manufacture chipsets that worked with competing processors from Advanced Micro Devices. The existence of these chipsets then made it easier for AMD to convince motherboard and PC makers to adopt its chips.
Intel began making licensing deals in late 1998.
The Rambus question is one of the looming issues for the Pentium 4, which comes out Monday. Although supplies of Rambus memory are now adequate, the memory is still fairly expensive. Intel, in fact, will give rebates to PC makers to partly subsidize the additional cost.
Intel is also selling the Pentium 4 chip in a combination retail package with 128MB of Rambus memory. Typically, these processors, sold in boxes in stores, come only with a fan or cooling system; memory usually is sold separately.
On other Pentium 4 issues, Otellini indicated that the chip will come out in higher volumes than the "Coppermine" Pentium IIIs. These Pentium IIIs, which debuted last October, were in extremely short supply for months, a situation that allowed AMD to gain market share.
"We want to hit this in volume very quickly," he said.
The chip will come out at speeds of 1.4 GHz and 1.5 GHz. By the third quarter of 2001, it will run at 2 GHz. A notebook version, however, isn't in the cards for a while.
"I do not think that you will see a notebook product in the near term," Otellini said.