Billy Newsom · 01-01-1997 · Category:
Non-Intel Pentium Chipsets
Very few people are as familiar as I am with the chipset
discussed below. The problem is that the other chipset makers
don't sell their products to many well-known motherboard
manufacturers and their volume is probably 1/5th of
the Intel chipsets.
VIA is probably the world's third-largest chipset maker.
They compete with Intel by low prices and by targeting the
low-end systems. They could soon become the dominant supplier of
Socket 7 motherboard chipsets if their new products catch on. I
am particularly impressed with the VIA Apollo VP2/97, the VPX, the
VP3, and now the MVP3. These chipsets aren't for low-end systems,
since they support more features and have a higher level of integration than
Intel's latest chipsets. They are primarily a Taiwanese company on
the manufacturing side, with many R&D and tech support engineers
in the U.S.
The MVP3, for example, has the following features: 100 MHz memory
bus speed (with the proper PCI bus speed), SDRAM,
DDR SDRAM, ECC, parity, and EDO RAM support, up to 2048 KB external
cache, up to 1 GB of system RAM (512 MB cacheable), ATA-33 support, USB,
and ACPI. No doubt this chipset beats the 430TX by a long shot,
and is somewhat better than recent ALi and SiS chipsets. It does not support
dual processors, but then I never saw a single implementation of SMP on other
VIA chipsets that did.
The VP2/97 is a more direct competitor of the 430TX. It supports:
SDRAM, BEDO, ECC, parity, and EDO RAM support, up to 2048 KB external
cache, up to 512 MB of system RAM, SMP support, ATA-33 support,
and ACPI. No doubt this chipset is a 430TX killer. The AMD-640
is the same as the VP2/97. Both chipsets officially claim to be
capable of 75 MHz, however it's not the chipsets which
usually have the problems at this speed, it's the memory and
the PCI cards.
The VIA VPX/97 has many of the features of VP2/97,
plus it allows an asynchronous PCI bus. Cyrix devotees will be
happy about this, since an asynchronous bus is required for both the
6x86 PR200 and 6x86MX PR2-233, which run at 75 MHz externally. By
using an asynchronous bus, the VPX alleviates the problem of the
37.5 MHz PCI bus, which can cause problems under some conditions.
I must stress that the VP2 and AMD-640 are synchronous chipsets and
running the memory bus at 75 MHz will violate the PCI specification of
The VP3 was the first chipset to support AGP. It's a lot like
the VP2/97 with support for up to 1 GB of memory and AGP. Many recent
motherboards were based on this chipset. I saw quite a few of them
at Fall Comdex 1997. This time, AGP beat the (1997) Christmas rush,
which MMX did not &
Close to VIA Technology is AMD. AMD made two agreements
with VIA. Although their press release indicates that AMD has
licensed the VP2/97 chipset to make their own, called the AMD-640,
the truth is that the AMD-640 is a VIA VP2/97 with AMD labels on it,
made at the same TSMC
fab. This revelation is a good thing
for people looking for one chipset and finding the other & the chipsets are 100% interchangeable.
Later, AMD will be using their second agreement with VIA, the
one they talk about in the press release. This is a technology license
agreement that allows AMD to see all of the secrets of the VP2/97, I mean
AMD-640, and then build their own chipsets with that knowledge. As
I said, AMD manufactures the AMD-640 at the same TSMC foundry that
VIA uses. AMD wants to showcase their chipset as an alternative to
Intel's PCIsets, not as a competitor to other any other chipset manufacturer's
design. This is probably why it's difficult to get an AMD
employee to tell you what I've just said.
Some of AMD's stated goals are to promote the Socket 7 infrastructure
that the AMD-K6& documents,
"VIA's industry-leading technology served as
a basis for the AMD-640& the product's development and time to market& strategy is to assist third-party vendors to include leading-edge
features in their products, to augment their chipsets with
AMD-developed chipsets, and to optimize processor/chipset
architectures to achieve highest performance solutions."
AMD has no plans for a Pentium Pro (Socket 8) chipset, as only
Intel will probably ever create a Socket-8 compatible CPU. The
same could be true for Slot 1, another design patented (and therefore
proprietary) by Intel. It's unlikely AMD or anyone else will
ever license Socket 8 or Slot 1 technology.
AMD's chipsets were supposed to include AGP support by 2H97,
although nothing specific has been released officially. Word on
the street is that VIA and AMD parted ways, and that AMD might get
out of the chipset industry very soon. I also heard that AMD
has no rights to VIA's Southbridge, the AMD-645 chip.
Without this chip, AMD will be hard-pressed to make much of any
impact on the chipset market.
No matter how AMD got into the chipset business, it seems that
their AMD-640 is at least as good as the Intel 430TX and 430HX.
SiS is the second-largest chipset manufacturer, although this seems
to be changing very quickly. Their chipsets
are often the ones that have a shared memory architecture, which
allows on-board video controllers to access main memory. Up to
4.0 MB of RAM can be shared, in increments of 0.5 MB. This
type of video adapter uses "Unified Memory Architecture" or UMA.
Their 5597 chipset is PC97
compliant and sports an integrated
video adapter. This targets the OEM's who would have to buy
a video chipset anyway, since most of them put video on-board
SiS is just now competing head-to-head with Intel, after a few
years of being the "alternative" chipset manufacturer.
They are the chipset maker that should've,
could've, would've been the best. They easily beat
Intel's prices and had good features a few years ago. But
their chipsets were plagued with problems and the fact that Intel
thrust PCI on the scene faster than OPTi expected. Lately, OPTi
has been making chipsets for low-end OEM systems and
I think their "Vendetta" chipset is laughably the
chipset that was too little, too late. Yes, they certainly must
have a vendetta against the world's largest chipset
manufacturer that came along and undercut OPTi's entire
Pentium-chipset line. OPTi had some major regrouping to do after
the Tritons came along. Saying all that, the Vendetta 750 looks
like the Intel 430VX on paper, with a few exceptions: up to 512
MB of memory, UMA (Unified Memory Architecture) video support,
ECC/parity support, and up to six banks of 72-pin RAM or four
SDRAM modules. They apparently sell their chipsets in a package
that includes the UMA video adapter and sound card.
The company with the worst reputation in the chipset community is
PCChips. They were responsible for the "fake cache chip" fiasco
that you can read all about
They have been making chipsets for longer than I can remember, as I know that
I've seen 386 motherboards with PCChips chipsets. They are related
to Hsing Tech, who is a motherboard manufacturer.
Recently, I've been seeing more and more VXPro and HXPro
chipsets appearing on cheap Socket 7 motherboards, and I have reason
to believe that PCChips is the manufacturer of the chips.
Although ALi has been making their own chipsets for awhile, they
are not well-known, nor are their products. Acer Laboratories
is a small part of Acer as a whole, and they usually only make chipsets
for the Acer and AcerOpen motherboards. Their Aladdin III and IV
products are competitive with Intel's 430VX and 430TX chipsets.
Recently, I found out that ALi may be responsible for the HXPro and
TXPro chipsets. From my conversations with some industry insiders at Comdex,
I seriously doubt that anyone of my nationality will ever figure out this PCChips
mystery. But as far as I can tell, ALi, SiS, and VIA are all in some way connected
to PCChips' "Pro" chipsets which are probably made alongside the regular chips
in the same fabs. The guy at SiS noted that the chipsets with a Roman numeral "II" were all SiS products.
- What Is a Chipset?
- A Brief History of Pentium Chipsets
- Triton: It All Started Here
- Intel Pentium Chipsets
- Non-Intel Pentium Chipsets
- Pentium Pro/II Chipsets
- The $69.00 Motherboard
- High-End Chipsets