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InfoHQ Future Computer Hardware Predictions

(Updated July 5, 2000)

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Article Index
CPU and RAM Outlook
Future CPUs
Current Motherboard Chipsets
DRAM Specs
High Speed I/O Bus
Video Cards
High Speed Serial Bus
DVD R/W
Windows Outlook

These are the future hardware/software innovations we foresee for the coming months.

CPU and RAM Outlook

The 1 GHz Dilemma. With the release of the 1 GHz CPUs by both Intel and AMD, computer users have more than enough high powered CPU power available. However, with dollar prices that exceed their speed, $1,000+ at the time this article was written, it may be awhile before you own a 1 GHz CPU. Don't be quick to despair as the 800 MHz AMD Athlon CPU is currently selling for $357, while the 700 MHz Pentium III Coppermine CPU is selling for $500.

Good-bye Intel Celeron and AMD K6-2? With the price of Intel's Pentium III E Copppermine 667 MHz FCPGA processor and AMD's Athlon 700 MHz selling in the $230 dollar range, one can only wonder how long the Celeron and K6-2 will continue to be an attractive choice.
The Pentium III E and Athlon outclass their lower priced cousins by a performance factor of 15-50% in most applications. This does not even take into account the fact that the Pentium III E and Athlon are produced at speeds up to 1 GHz, while their slower cousins are just reaching 600 MHz.
With the 600 MHz Celeron selling for $130 and the 550 MHz AMD K6-2 selling for $75, it seems to be well worth the extra $100 dollars for the faster Pentium III E and AMD Athlon
While the AMD K6-2 and Celeron will remain a good alternative in the notebook and low power market, their usefulness as a desktop CPU is coming to an end.
< Note: For additional information, see the evaluation of the new Coppermine Celerons in our InfoHQ Desktop CPU Roundup article.>

Intel DRAM Outlook. One of the more critical performance parts, high-speed DRAM, is another computer part that most cannot afford or is not available. For those running Intel Pentium III CPUs, the commodity everyone is watching is Rambus DRAM. 
With prices exceeding PC133 DRAM by a factor of 6 ($150 for 128 MB of PC133 SDRAM, $970 for a 128 MB 800 MHz RIMM) few have been able to afford to match the speed of their processor to the speed of their RAM. Rambus DRAM prices remain high because it is expensive to produce and their are few Rambus manufacturers actually producing RIMMs. Another contibuting factor, computer manufacturers are currently consuming most of the RDRAM, (although the price premium you pay to them is only about 3 times the cost of SDRAM). 
As more DRAM manufactures produce RDRAM, and as more DDR SDRAM is produced, RDRAM prices will drop. Hopefully by Christmas, the 128 MB 800 MHz RIMM will be priced near $100?.
On June 16, 2000 Rambus announced their Quad rate DRAM which will double the peak output of current Rambus DRAM to 1.6 Gigabits per second (Gbps). It is unknown when Quad Rambus will actually enter production.

AMD Athlon RAM Outlook - AMD's current chipsets were very touchy when paired with PC133 SDRAM. With the advent of motherboards based on the VIA Apollo KX133 chipset, Athlon enthusiasts can also enjoy the benefits of PC133 SDRAM. However, this increased speed provided by the PC133 SDRAM  is not fast enough for Athlons exceeding 600 MHz.  PC133 SDRAM can actually produce wait states when combined with the faster CPUs. 
To address this problem, AMD has been developing its AMD-760 chipset which will support the use of DDR SDRAM. Both the AMD-760(tm) chipset and DDR memory modules are planned to be available in the second half of 2000.

Future CPUs

Pentium 4


IntelŪ PentiumŪ 4 processor logo
(Photo Courtesy of Intel)
Intel Corporation announced the Intel(R) Pentium(R) 4 processor brand name, on June 27, 2000, for its new generation of desktop microprocessors (formerly code-named Willamette).
The new Pentium 4 name builds upon one of the world's most recognized brands to convey the most powerful personal computing experience.
Scheduled to be introduced in the second half of 2000, the new Pentium 4 processor is based on revolutionary technology designed to maximize performance today and in the future, keeping consumers on the cutting edge of the Internet.
"Around the world, PC users associate the Pentium brand with the highest PC performance, compatibility and quality available," said Pam Pollace, vice president, Intel Sales and Marketing Group, and director, Worldwide Marketing Operations. "Computer users will be able to instantly recognize the Pentium 4 processor as Intel's newest high-performance microprocessor."
About Wilamette: Last Fall, at the Intel Developer Forum, a 1.5 GHz Willamette processor was demonstrated running at room temperature.
Featires of the new CPU were to include:
-- A new, hyper pipelined design. The deeper pipeline enables instructions inside the processor to be queued and executed at a much faster rate, allowing processors to achieve the world's highest clock speeds for desktop PCs.
-- Streaming SIMD Extensions 2. A set of 144 new instructions that are compatible with the broad base of software using the Streaming SIMD Extensions of the Pentium III processor, these new extensions enhance performance to accelerate video, encryption, and support the next generation of Internet computing applications.
-- The computing industry's first 400 MHz system bus. The bus, which transfers information from the processor to the rest of the system, runs three times faster than the 133 MHz system bus used with today's Pentium III processor.

 

Itanium (Merced) - Scheduled to ship the 1st half of 2000. This will be Intel's first 64 bit server processor and will incorporate explicitly parallel instruction computing (EPIC) technology. One analyst estimates that Merced will process 3D graphics 20 times faster than a Pentium Pro. Intel said Merced would achieve 3-Gflops extended-precision floating-point performance (3 times as fast as a Motorola PowerPC G4 processor) and 6-Gflops single-precision performance. It will fit into a new motherboard slot (called Slot M) which will not be compatible with current motherboards.


For a full discussion of current and future desktop CPUs, please see our article InfoHQ Desktop CPU Rundown. Future and current laptop and notebook CPUs are discussed in our Laptop Buying Guide.

Current Motherboard Chipsets

- Intel's Camino (820) chipset was released on November 15th. The Camino chipset was to be released around 25 September, however, a "memory bit error" was found in the Rambus management portion of the chipset. It supports 100 and 133 MHz front side bus speeds. This chipset also supports ATA 66 hard drives, Rambus DRAM, and 4X AGP. <This chipset has had problems when paired with SDRAM. Intel is supposedly redesigning this chipset to support SDRAM.>
- 815 and 815E - The 815 chipset is similar to the Intel 810 chipset except it supports PC133 SDRAM. The 815E chipset features a new I/O Controller Hub (ICH2) for greater system performance and flexibility. The ICH2 provides an additional Universal Serial Bus (USB) controller, a Local Area Network (LAN) Connect Interface, dual Ultra ATA/100 controllers and up to six-channel audio capabilities.
- i840 Chipset - A server/workststion chipset which supports the 133 MHz system bus, 64-bit PCI, AGP 2x/4x, and dual Direct RDRAM memory channels with up to 2 GB of memory. Designed to be used with the new Pentium III E Xeons and Pentium III E CPUs.
- 820E Chipset - On June 6, 2000 Intel Corporation introduced a chipset for Intel(R) Pentium(R) III processor-based PCs targeted at the performance desktop market segment.
The Intel(R) 820E Chipset features a new I/O Controller Hub (ICH2) for greater system performance and flexibility. The Intel 820E Chipset uses the same RDRAM Memory Controller Hub (MCH) found on the original Intel(R) 820 Chipset introduced in November, and the ICH2 provides an additional Universal Serial Bus controller, a Local Area Network (LAN) Connect Interface, dual Ultra ATA/100 controllers and up to six-channel audio capabilities.
- AMD has produced the first chipsets for the Athlon. Also, one AMD spokesperson has said that AMD would use PC133 SDRAM in its future K-7 chipsets. At least two companies are producing multiprocessor K-7 server chipsets (please see our June News and Rumors page, (June 19), for more information). AMD is busy making a new chipset which will support DDR DRAM.
- VIA Technologies, has also introduced its Apollo KX133 Athlon chipset which includes: support for the Alpha EV6 200MHz front-side bus, PC133 memory, AGP 4X and ATA-66. More details on the new chipset can be obtained at VIA's web site.
- VIA Technology's Apollo Pro133A chipset, which uses PC133 SDRAM was released on 19 July. The new chipset features: support for the Intel Celeron, Pentium II, and Pentium III; 133 MHz memory bus; 133 MHz front side bus (good for overclocking and new CPUs); ATA 33 and 66 hard drive support; 4X AGP; and Slot 1 or socket 370 support (this chipset is used by Micron).
These features, put the chipset in direct competition with Intel's Camino 820 chipset.
<Intel filed a lawsuit on 26 June to prevent VIA from manufacturing its new chipset. However with VIA's purchase of Cyrix and Winchip, it appears that VIA will have the necessary licenses to produce its chipset. Meanwhile, Intel licensed ALI to produce Pentium III chipsets.>

DRAM Specs

Intel supported Direct Rambus DRAM (D-RDRAM)  Started appearing  in desktops the Fall of 1999. Intel's 820, 820E, and 840 chipsets have 100 MHz and 133 MHz bus speeds, allowing PCs to come with 600, 700, or 800 MHz Rambus DRAM. Rambus DRAM has double the peak bandwidth of PC100 DRAM (1,600 Mbps vs. 800 Mbps).

Quad Rambus DRAM. Rambus Inc. (Nasdaq: RMBS), unveiled its new multi-level signaling technology on June 16, 2000. The Quad Rambus Signaling Level (QRSL) technology enables data transfer rates of 1.6 Gigabits per second (Gbps), twice Rambus' current signaling technology and "four times the fastest demonstrated DDR SDRAM devices". < DDR SDRAM memory currently has a peek bandwidth of 2.1 Gbps and Quad DDR memory has a peak bandwidth of 4.2GB/sec. -ed>
In 1992, Rambus increased the data rate of conventional signaling tenfold by increasing the clock rate by a factor of five and transferring two bits per clock cycle. The Rambus Signaling Level (RSL) accomplishes the transfer of two bits per clock cycle and is commonly referred to as double date rate (DDR) signaling technology. Today, Rambus has again pioneered high-speed signaling with its breakthrough multi-level QRSL technology. QRSL combines the patented double data rate (DDR) technology along with multi-level signaling to transfer four bits per clock cycle in order to achieve unprecedented commodity signaling rates of 1.6 Gbps, yielding 12.8 Gigabytes per second (GB/s) from a 64-bit bus.

IBM backed double data rate (DDR) SDRAM will be used for servers. Server manufactures like the higher density of the DDR (64-bit and 256-bit) over the Rambus 16-bit density. DDR SDRAM is also appearing on video cards like the NVIDIA Geforce. DDR SDRAM has twice the peak bandwidth of SDRAM (1,600 Mbps vs. 800 Mbps) which is similar to Rambus bandwidth. Clock speeds of DDR SDRAM have reached as high as 400 MHz.
On October 14th, at the microprocessor forum, AMD announced its plans to develop new Athlon chipsets that support DDR SDRAM, which are to be released in mid-2000.

'Quad Band Memory'
. Kentron Technologies, a leader in next generation memory architectures on March 29, 2000 announced its Quad Band Memory (QBMtm) Technology that is designed to generate double the bandwidth of the fastest Double Data Rate (DDR) memory chip.
While DDR will generate up to 2.1GB/sec bandwidth, and Rambus is expected to generate 1.6GB/sec, Kentron's QBM technology will permit DDR to generate over 4.2GB/sec, providing significant performance advantages to computing hardware.
The new memory architecture speeds up the performance of processors used in Network Servers, Routers, Telecommunications hardware as well as Internet hardware. The QBM technology may also be applied to wireless and portable applications.
Quad Band Memory (QBM) is based on the DDR chip technology being endorsed by the largest computer manufacturers and memory chip manufacturers including IBM, Samsung, Micron, Infineon, NEC, Hyundai, Hitachi, and Mitsubishi, as well as Intel and Microsoft's new X-BOX. The semiconductor engineering standardization body (JEDEC) has also endorsed DDR chip technology as the next industry standard.
"While rival technologies are battling to win the war of next generation memory, Kentron's QBM provides twice the bandwidth of the fastest DDR chip at the same cost curve," stated Robert Goodman, Chief Executive Officer at Kentron Technologies. "While DDR provides twice as much data at the same clock speed, QBM provides four times as much data at the same clock speed," added Goodman.
The company's Web site can be found at www.kentrontech.com

PC133 SDRAM -  Due to the problems, delays, and cost of manufacturing Rambus DRAM, memory manufacturers are now making PC133 SDRAM. The PC133 SDRAM will most likely appear on lower priced computers until Direct Rambus DRAM and DDR become more available and affordable. PC133 SDRAM has about 25% more peak bandwidth than PC100 SDRAM (1,033 Mbps vs. 800 Mbps).

High Speed I/O Bus

A truce was called by the two opposing factions, the NGIO and Future I/O groups, in the next generation PC server bus wars. Currently, the only widely supported desktop bus initiative is PCI-X.
Server Bus. The NGIO forum (of which Intel is a member) released its new server I/O standard on 20 July. There was also the Future I/O Alliance a group of 100 companies led by Compaq, HP, and IBM to also promote a faster server I/O. The two groups will merge to form System I/O. Initial products based on the new architecture will be available by 2001.

Desktop PCI Bus. The only widely supported desktop bus initiative is PCI-X, which is a faster version of the current PCI bus. The PCI Special Interest Group (SIG), of which Intel and AMD are on the steering committee, has proposed three new standards for the PCI bus.
The three new specifications include: low-profile PCI which meets the challenge of fitting add-on cards into ever-shrinking PC cases by specifying a new height for the cards, PCI-X which is a 64-bit PCI standard that allows speeds up to 133 MHz and doubles the bandwidth of the PCI bus to enable more than 1-Gbyte-per-second throughput, and mini PCI card which are small daughterboards that can be used for standardized peripherals such as modems.
Some of these products may be available for display at the Fall Comdex. More information on PCI-X can be obtained at http://www.pcisig.com.

Ultra ATA 100 - The update to the current ATA 66 PCI hard drive standard. ATA 100 is currently only supported by Intel's i820E chipset. New hard drives that support ATA 100 are currently entering the market.

Utltra SCSI 160 - Ultra 160 is the latest SCSI interface standard. The interface improves network storage reliability and performance, and delivers a data transfer rate of 160 MB/second, double the data throughput of an Ultra2 SCSI controller. Ultra 160 is a subset of the Ultra3 SCSI interface standard.

Video Cards

Video cards will continue to have greater amounts of RAM to display 3D graphics and textures. For information on today's video cards, please see our article 3D Video Card Roundup.

High Speed Serial Bus

USB 2.0 -   USB 2.0 Promoter Group Announces Release of Final SPEC; USB 2.0 devices due by year-end. New classes of high-performance PC peripherals are within reach with the release of the final Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 specification.
As announced today by Intel Desktop Products Group vice president Pat Gelsinger in his keynote address here, the final spec of the high-bandwidth USB 2.0 is the technical launch pad for products with more functionality, including higher-resolution video conferencing cameras, next-generation scanners and printers, secondary storage and faster broadband Internet connections. 
USB 2.0 will extend the speed of the peripheral to PC connection from 12 Mbps on USB 1.1 to up to 480 Mbps on USB 2.0 -- or 40 times over existing USB capabilities. The higher bandwidth will support the most demanding PC user applications, such as digital image creation and web publishing, where multiple high-speed peripherals will be running simultaneously. 
The first USB 2.0-enabled systems and peripherals are expected in the marketplace in the fourth quarter of this year as part of the initial ramp. Broad deployment is anticipated in 2001. 
USB 2.0 is expected to replace USB 1.1, which is already a ubiquitous connector on PC systems today for such peripherals as keyboards, mice, digital joysticks, floppy drives, digital speakers and low-end printers. According to PC Data's U.S. retail sales figures for 1999, the majority of top-selling peripherals in each major product category were USB-enabled.
For more information, visit the USB Implementers Forum website at www.usb.org

IEEE 1394 Firewire - Meanwhile, we should see a batch of new IEEE 1394 Firewire computer products appearing in the fourth quarter of 1999. Firewire is a multimedia serial bus standard that is about 40 times as fast (400 Mbps) as the current universal serial bus (USB).
Future IEEE 1394b Firewire to be twice as fast as USB 2.0
- On October 15th, James Snider, Chairman of the 1394 Trade Association, predicted that 1394b 800 Megabit/second (Mbs) silicon will be in production by the spring of the year 2000 (USB 2.0 target speed is 480 Mbs). Mr. Snider also commented that Firewire would maintain its speed advantage over USB as it moves to a future speed of 1.6 Gigabit/second.
Current maximum USB speed is 12 Mbs. Current 1394a speed is 400 Mbs.

DVD R/W

As read/write DVD drives become more standardized, sales will increase and few will want a CD, DVD player/writer, or Zip drive.

Windows Outlook

The successor to Windows 98, Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me), is due out September 14, 2000. This is rumored to be the last upgrade to Windows before it is merged with Windows 2000/NT.
The new features of Windows Millennium Edition will include: Windows Media Player 7, which allows playback of CD audio, streaming and downloaded audio and video, jukebox capabilities for CD recording, media management, Internet radio, and more; a still image processor; a movie maker; system file deletion protection, enhanced networking, and system restore protection.
Windows Media Player 7 saves files in Windows Media format which is incompatible with MP3. More information on Windows Media Player 7, including a link to download a beta version, is available on Microsoft's site at http://www.microsoft.com/PressPass/press/2000/mar00/mediaplayer7pr.asp.
Microsoft's article highlighting the features of Windows Me can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/windows98/highlights/winme.asp. The new Windows Me web site can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsme/default.asp. The Windows Me Product Guide can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsme/guide/default.asp.

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