Via gaining clients in wake of Intel-Rambus delay

IBM will announce tomorrow that it is using chipsets from Via for three new systems in the wake of the delay of Intel's 820 chipset.

Tech Industry
With the delay of Intel's 820 chipset, scrappy Via Technologies is finding itself rapidly growing in popularity among computer makers.

IBM will announce tomorrow that it is using chipsets from Taiwan-based Via for three new systems in the wake of the delay of the 820 chipset, sources at IBM said. Today, Micron Electronics said it is incorporating Via products into its boxes for the first time.

As reported earlier, Intel today delayed the release of its 820 chipset, which is the component that will eventually allow Intel processors to "speak" to the next-generation Rambus memory, because of technical problems.

Chipsets essentially function as the communications hub for the components in a computer and are one of the most crucial internal components of a PC. Until recently, Intel held a virtual monopoly on the chipsets for Pentium II, Pentium III, and Celeron-based computers. Last year, Intel began to license technology to allow competitors to manufacture Intel-compatible chipsets.

Via, which is the second biggest chipset maker after Intel, became one of the first to sign a licensing deal with Intel. The deal was later revoked and has resulted in an acrimonious lawsuit between the two. Further, Via bought Cyrix and the processor division of IDT earlier this year and will soon launch a line of processors that will compete with the low-end Celeron.

Despite the lawsuit, Via has continued to manufacture Pentium-compatible chipsets. Compaq Computer uses some Via chipsets for Intel-based computers, although most of its Intel-compatible chipsets have ended up in computers from second- and third-tier manufacturers. Via also makes chipsets for AMD computers.

Although the delay to the 820 will likely boost Via's fortunes in the market, PC manufacturers and analysts have pointed out that the company's products offer advantages over Intel chipsets.

Via, for instance, makes Intel-compatible chipsets with a 133-MHz system bus, faster than 100-MHz system bus on most Intel chipsets. Some Via chipsets also support faster 133-MHz SDRAM. The system bus is a conduit for shuttling data between the processor and other components.

Today, Intel released the 810(e) chipset, which contains a 133-MHz system bus. However, the 810(e) works only with the slower 100-MHz SDRAM. An Intel chipset that can work with faster 133-MHz SDRAM will not come out until next year, the company has said. Via therefore can brag about performance advantages, analysts have said.

Via chipsets also are designed to work with SDRAM, today's standard computer memory. Although SDRAM has surged in price recently, it is cheaper than Rambus memory and a more familiar commodity. The 820 was to be Intel's first product fluent in Rambus.

Another plus: Via's latest chipsets can support AGP 4X, an internal technology that improves graphics performance and can wring out the best in the latest generation of chips. AGP is a technology invented by Intel. However, current Intel chipsets can only take advantage of the slower AGP 2X technology.

Micron is already touting its Via relationship.

"About two months ago, we couldn't see any reason why anyone on the consumer or small-business side would want to use the 820 chipset. The 820 just didn't make sense for consumers," said Ken Knotts, spokesperson for Micron Electronics.

"We're the only company shipping a computer that supports 4X AGP graphics and full 133-MHz front side bus," said Knotts.

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