Articles :: Introduction to Chipsets ::

Billy Newsom · 01-01-1997 · Category: Tech-planations


Those of you who know personal computers know that the most important major component in the PC is the motherboard. Not the hard disk, not the video card & the most important single component on the motherboard? The CPU, right? Wrong. It's the lowly, hard-working, group of chips known as the "chipset." A chipset for me defines the entire system, because every major component in the system relies on the capabilities of the chipset.

I must recant slightly on the importance of the chipset. Since I am a hardware man, I think in terms of components and circuits. Software developers may be more inclined to think in terms of the major software components, which are the BIOS and the CPU, which are also major hardware components. Saying this, I still believe in the fact that you can tell a lot more about a computer if you know its chipset than from knowing its BIOS or CPU type, since the chipset dictates both of them and you cannot ever upgrade your chipset.

It should also be noted that a chipset is designed around the specifications of the CPU for which it is to be used. In this respect, the CPU must be designed before the chipset can be, obviating the need for technical information transfer between chipset manufacturers and CPU manufacturers. (I made up that word so I can use it again later.) There also needs to be a good working relationship between chipset makers, memory manufacturers, and BIOS code writers. And lastly, the motherboard manufacturers need to be on good terms with chipset manufacturers, BIOS companies, and CPU makers to make a good motherboard and to get it to market as soon as possible. We see a lot of vertical expansion in this area, notably:

  • American Megatrends makes motherboards and writes BIOS's.
  • The Acer Group sells OEM systems under the Acer name, plus they sell motherboards using the AcerOpen name. They also make chipsets as Acer Laboratories, Ltd. (ALi).
  • Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) manufactures CPU's, and they are just now getting into the chipset business as of June 1997.
  • Intel makes CPU's, chipsets, and motherboards.
Major Manufacturers

The major chipset manufacturers are:

Without question, Intel is the largest and most popular chipset manufacturer, probably because of the company's need for a sound chipset that drives their Pentium, Pentium Pro, and Pentium II processors. When the Pentium was introduced, Intel was trying to steer the computer industry away from VESA Local Bus designs to PCI. By having their own well-developed and advanced chipset, Intel brought conformity of design to the motherboard arena that never occurred in the 486 days. Thanks to Intel, we have a lot of new features in Pentium systems that would have never developed without Intel's PCIsets.

Saying that, I must admit that Intel's designs are not necessarily the best or the fastest nor are they their chipsets the cheapest. You will often find higher-performing motherboards based on a non-Intel chipset that has more features and compatibility. This is where the other chipset makers have begun to move into Intel's Pentium Socket 7 market: price, performance, and options. A wise shopper can find motherboards that have not a single Intel chip on them, without paying a premium and without losing performance or features.

I ask you to look under the hood. Go ahead, see what chipset drives your computer. If you have a Pentium and you use Windows 95 or NT, you can simply look at the Device Manager settings for your PC. A listing "Intel 82439HX Pentium(r) Processor to PCI bridge" and "Intel 82437SB PCI to ISA Bridge" is what I have, indicating an Intel 430HX PCIset, called the Triton II. If you open the case of your system, you'll be able to spot the large, square controller chips, since they are bigger than anything on the motherboard with the exception of the CPU. Most modern chipsets have 1, 2, 3, or 4 discrete chips.

Common desktop chipsets for x86 motherboards are:

    Pentium Socket 5/7
  • Intel 430LX Mercury (82434NX/82433NX /82371FB) - old 5 volt P5, Socket 4
  • Intel 430NX Neptune (82434LX/82433LX /82371FB) - old 3.3 volt P54C Socket 5
  • Intel 430FX Triton I (82437FX/82438FX/82371FB)
  • Intel 430HX Triton II (82439HX/82371SB)
  • Intel 430VX Triton III (82437VX/82438VX/82371SB)
  • Intel 430TX PCIset (82439TX/82371AB)
  • OPTi Vendetta (82C750)
  • OPTi Viper Xpress+
  • Eteq 6618
  • ALi Aladdin III (1521/1523)
  • ALi Aladdin IV (1531/1533)
  • ALi Aladdin IV+ (1531/1543)
  • SiS 5511/5512/5513
  • SiS Trinity (5571)
  • SiS 5581 (or 5582)
  • SiS 5591/5595
  • SiS Genesis (5596/5513)
  • SiS Jedi 5597 (or 5598)
  • AMD-640 (640/645)
  • PCChips VXPro (similar to VIA VP-1, using unauthorized or licensed design from VIA)
  • ALi HXPro (similar to Aladdin III, could possibly be a PCChips copy of it) - features a "single SIMM" technology
  • ALi TXPro (similar to Aladdin IV, could possibly be a PCChips copy of it)
  • Mysterious VXTwo chipset & probably another PCChips product
  • PCChips VXPro+
  • PCChips TXPro II (similar to SiS Jedi 5597)
  • VLSI Lynx (541/543)
  • VIA Apollo Master (570M)
  • VIA Apollo VP-1 580VP (585VP/587/586A)
  • VIA Apollo VPX/97 580VPX (585VPX/587/586B)
  • VIA Apollo VP-2 590VP (595/586A)
  • VIA Apollo VP2/97 590VP (595/586B)
  • VIA Apollo VP3 597 (597/586B)
  • VIA Apollo MVP3 598 (598AT/586B)
  • (Note: the difference between the VP-2 and VP2/97 is that the Southbridge 586 or 586A chip is used for the former, and the 586B chip for the latter. The 586 originally had no USB or Ultra DMA. VIA added these features with the 586A, and then ACPI with the 586B. The 586B is the same as an AMD-645 chip.)
    Pentium Pro (these may also support the Pentium II)
  • OPTi Discovery (82C650/651 or 650/651/652 with AGP)
  • Intel Orion (450GX)
  • Intel Mars (450KX)
    Pentium Pro/II
  • Intel 440FX Natoma (82441FX/82442FX/82371SB)
  • VIA Apollo P6 (680)
    Pentium II/Celeron
  • Intel 440LX AGPset (82443LX/81371AB)
  • Intel 440BX AGPset (82443BX/81371AB)
  • Intel 440EX AGPset (82443EX/81371AB)
  • SiS 5602 (may also support Pentium Pro)


  1. Introduction
  2. What Is a Chipset?
  3. A Brief History of Pentium Chipsets
  4. Triton: It All Started Here
  5. Intel Pentium Chipsets
  6. Non-Intel Pentium Chipsets
  7. Pentium Pro/II Chipsets
  8. The $69.00 Motherboard
  9. High-End Chipsets