January 29, 1996 8:00 a.m.

New PCI chips speed desktops

By Lisa DiCarlo

Intel Corp. will release on Feb. 12 two PCI chip sets that provide important new technologies for making desktop PCs faster and easier to configure.

The 430VX PCIset, formerly known as Triton VX, and the 430HX PCIset, formerly known as Triton II, include a feature called Concurrent PCI, which enables Peripheral Component Interconnect and ISA buses to fully execute transactions simultaneously with no lag time, sources close to Intel said. As a result, processing time will improve in I/O-intensive applications such as multimedia, sources said.

The chip sets also will be the first Intel processors to incorporate the Universal Serial Bus, a specification that defines a single, standard connector to replace the myriad of peripheral connectors currently found in PCs.

The USB specification is spearheaded by Intel and Microsoft Corp., which has already built some USB support into Windows 95 and plans to do the same with Windows NT.

Such enhancements "would help out with performance in the deployment of client/server applications," said Jon Tucker, database administrator at Radisson Hospitality Worldwide, in Omaha, Neb. "If [the chip set] improves the performance and reliability of database access, then it would be better than [the Triton- and Neptune-based systems] we have now."

The chip sets will begin appearing in desktop PCs this quarter, including those from direct marketers Gateway 2000 Inc. and Micron Computer Corp., sources said. In late March, Intel will release silicon that enables PCI-based notebooks to connect to docking stations, officials confirmed.

The 430HX, which is targeted at corporate desktops, features support for dual processing, ECC (Error Correcting Code) RAM, and shared Level 2 cache that maximizes Extended Data Out RAM and pipeline burst cache on high-end systems, sources said.

The 430HX will effectively replace the Neptune chip set, which does not have the ECC RAM or other memory enhancements of the 430HX.

"Machines with [the new chip sets] are going to be hot boxes," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Dataquest Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "There will be fewer pieces on the motherboard, which means more reliability and features for users."

Intel originally intended to market the 430HX for servers, according to sources, but opted instead for the higher volumes typically associated with desktop PCs.

The 430VX, targeted at retail PCs, uses Intel's controversial Shared Memory Buffer Architecture, also called UMA (Unified Memory Architecture), which shares some system memory with the graphics controller, sources said. Using UMA will let manufacturers cut costs by eliminating separate memory for graphics and displays.

Because UMA slows system performance, however, Microsoft has advised its OEMs to avoid the technology.

The 430VX also supports synchronous dynamic RAM, a more costly yet higher-performance type of memory, sources said.

"System vendors will use the VX [and UMA] to release low-cost products," Brookwood said.

The 430HX is priced at $37.50 and the 430VX at $33 in 10,000-unit quantities, sources said.

Intel officials, in Santa Clara, Calif., declined to comment.

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