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Monday, October 8, 2001

Brookdale makes Pentium 4 machines
more affordable

Naveen S. Garewal

FOR all those who have waited long enough to get value for money, the wait is finally over with the launch of Intelís 845 chipset. Not only has this made the Pentium 4 microprocessor-based systems affordable but has also ensured that this microprocessors will survive all others. Codenamed Brookdale, this latest chipset uses SDRAM in place of RDRAM making the Pentium 4 machines more affordable than ever before.

Intelís 845 has no doubt broken the monopoly of Rambus (RDRAM) over Pentium 4 but to understand various other implications one has to understand how memory type affects performance. Though, theoretically replacing RDRAM that has a bandwidth of 3.2 GB per sec with a conventional SDRAM having a bandwidth of 1.06 GB per sec should have a tremendous performance difference, lab tests by various standard labs have indicated that there is only a marginal difference in performance in terms of office applications.

Todayís market offers five chipsets that support Pentium 4 processors. The Indian market till recently had only the Intelís 850 chipset to offer, till the launch of Intelís 845 chipset recently with PC133 SDRAM support. The other chipsets that support Pentium 4 processors include the VIA P4X266 with PC2 DDR SDRAM support, SIS 646 and ALI Aladdin P4, none of which is available yet.


Intelís 850 chipset supports a dual-channel RDRAM controller making it a leader in performance, but on the down side to take advantage of this feature it become imperative to use RDRAM which is 3 to 4 times more expensive than conventional PC133 SDRAM. Besides, an Intel 850 chipset has to use a six layer PCBs that considerably jack up the price of the product. At todayís manufacturing cost the price of the Intelís 850 chipset alone costs about $ 45 to the manufacturer. At the same time, the complete motherboard with an Intel 845 chipsets costs the manufacturer about the same.

It is this price factor that has been one of the stumbling blocks in the way of Pentium 4ís popularity. The new chipset, Intelís 845 has been reasonably priced and works well on a four-layer PCB, besides supporting PC133 SDRAM, providing a cost effective solution with little compromise on performance.
Intel has announced that to compensate for the drop in performance over Intel 850 chipset, it is working on a new Northwood core for its Pentium 4 with 512 KB L2 cache instead of 256 KB at present.

While the VIA P4X266 is yet to be released, this chipset is designed to work on a totally different memory subsystem. The VIA chipset uses DDR SDRAM that has a bandwidth of about 2.1 GB per second. This is higher than the bandwidth of PC133 SDRAM (1.06 GB per second) but lower than that of RDRAM (3.1GB per second). Since this DDR SDRAM is priced closer to the PC133 SDRAM, this would be an excellent choice for the existing Pentium 4 users on the price to performance ratio.

Going by the current prices in the Indian market, it makes absolutely no sense to buy Pentium III based systems anymore. To begin with a Pentium III 933 MHZ and 1 GHZ chips, the currently available configurations are priced around Rs 9,700 and Rs 11,700 that is more than Pentium 4ís 1.5 GHZ processor, currently priced at around Rs 8500. All other components are normally the same for both types of machines. A Pentium 4 based on Intel 850 chipset motherboard would cost substantially higher due to the RDRAM and the higher cost of the six-layer motherboard. A Pentium III motherboard costs marginally less than a Pentium 4 motherboard with socket 478 with an Intel 845 chipset.

By going in for a Pentium 4 on an Intel 845 chipset, one is also protected against any future software and hardware upgrades. This is besides getting a Pentium 4 1.5 GHz microprocessor which is not only a product based on Net Burst architecture, but also 50 per cent faster in terms of clock speed.

Moreover, most assemblers use an Intel 810 chipset motherboard with video and sound controllers on board, while making a Pentium III processor based system. This motherboard supports only an ATA 66 hard disk controller. This integrated system compromises on quality and performance. The other alternative available for the Pentium III processor is the motherboard with Intelís 815 chipset that requires an additional graphics card. With an add on graphics card, there is a slight price difference between a Pentium III system and a Pentium 4, an amount provides protections in terms of
future upgrades.
The Pentium 4 processor has seen several ups and downs since its launch last year and various comparisons between the Pentium 4 and its competitors including other processors from Intel have left computer users confused and unsure. With the launch of Intel 845 Chipset for use with socket 478 on motherboards, Pentium 4 has emerged as a good alternative for a cheaper price and acceptable performance. The original Intel 850 chipset supporting Pentium 4 has suffered a setback with the i845 putting Pentium 4 in the common mans reach, at least in the Indian market.