Articles :: Introduction to Chipsets ::

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

Triton: It All Started Here

When Intel was done with the Neptune and Mercury chipsets, they started a cutting-edge trend that has continued to present day. The Triton I, or 430FX, is the chipset that began to dominate the motherboard industry. About this time, OPTi lost some major market share after their attempt at a VL-bus and PCI bus combination chipset. The OPTi Premium 596/597 chipset was known around the industry for its poor performance and low quality. I don't think OPTi has yet recovered, but I can say they learned their lesson. The VL-bus died right then and there. Intel's PCIsets were in, while OPTi and the VL-bus was out.

I don't think anyone was surprised with Intel's PCI push. Some of us remember how Intel wanted the PCI all along. Does anyone remember who licenses EISA bus technology? Intel does. In the 386 and 486 days, it was Intel's high price for EISA technology that probably started people thinking about a different bus that was cheap and fast. (I seem to remember an article crying foul! at Intel for charging $100 to $300 for an EISA controller chipset, effectively relegating EISA to servers.) I think it was Dell and a few other places that started their own proprietary "local bus" by merely integrating video and hard disk controllers onto the motherboard. The VESA standard VL-bus was not too far behind.

Back to the Triton I chipset. It had it all. EDO memory, pipelined burst SRAM, synchronous SRAM, and PCI version 2.0. All of these are found on motherboards now, and Intel was clearly the leader. Pretty soon, though, you had this kind of choice for a motherboard:

  • Triton with PCI and EDO
  • OPTi Premium with VESA and PCI

Others, although I don't remember them all. The Intel Neptune and Mercury chipset boards were going for next to nothing. Please remember that a lot of places didn't list the chipsets back then, so a SiS or a VIA chipset wouldn't have made it to the motherboard's key features. Nowadays, I think a lot more people understand the impact chipsets have on an entire computer.

The sad thing was, that since everyone was making their own Triton chipset motherboards, they all started looking and sounding the same. No frills, nothing to set one board apart from the other. They had PCI and ISA slots, and four 72-pin memory slots for up to 128 MB of RAM.

I think about the time the Triton I was scrapped for the Triton II and Triton III chipsets (early 1996), a lot of board makers started to get a bit more savvy. A while back, I could tell you the name of only one or two motherboard manufacturers. In fact, the only one I ever heard mentioned in computing circles was Micronics. Their motherboards were expensive and good performers. I'm not sure how, but their market share seems to have dwindled a lot, and probably few people remember when Micronics was top-dog. Nowadays, There are about a dozen manufacturers who have good retail channels, worldwide sales and support offices, major websites, and have brand recognition. What sets one motherboard apart from another is not the chipset or the features & it's the board's workmanship, the manual, and its ease of use.

Saying that, the Intel Triton II (430HX) and Triton III (430VX) PCIsets were the culmination of Intel's ability to set the motherboard community into motion. These chipsets are powerful, small, and fully-featured. They were the chipsets that effectively dominated the motherboards made in the last year or two. My guess is that over 80% of the market belonged to Intel. It was only until I did a search of every motherboard manufacturer on the Internet in May that I realized how Intel's chipsets run everything. 81 of the 90 manufacturers I listed on my motherboard manufacturers web page have at least some Intel chipset in their product line. Here's a test: who wants to bet on whether the computers at the AMD corporation or Cyrix have Intel inside on their motherboard? I'd put money on it. In fact, if you have a Pentium Pro or Pentium II, there's almost no chance of anything besides Intel's chipset running the show.

Here's the real test. Hey, Robert Collins, what chipset do you have?

But is all of this a bad thing? Well, competition is generally a good thing, but not in and of itself. If the competition can bring something new to the table, then bring it on. So let's move on and see what the latest and greatest chipsets are. And now, the "modern era" of chipsets &


  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