Articles :: Introduction to Chipsets ::

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

High-End Chipsets

Just a month before Intel introduced the 440LX AGPset, the boys at Micron cooked up their first motherboard chipset silicon, which they call the Samurai, available only on Micron's award-winning Powerdigm XSU workstation. This chipset boasts a 64-bit 66 MHz PCI bus, which fully supports the PCI 2.1 spec. This alone is responsible for the chipset's dominance in pumping data through the controllers. Many high-end video cards and SCSI-3 RAID controllers support 66 MHz, and some support 64-bit operation. Word on the street is that Micron had help from VIA for their Southbridge controller. I also heard that Micronics makes (at least some of) their motherboards.

The Profusion chipset, made by Corollary, is the best example of a chipset that sets industry trends. Up to eight Pentium Pro CPU's can be run on the same motherboard, allowing motherboard manufacturers a quick-and-easy way to make an Intel SMP-based server. Many of the major players in the server market use Profusion, and with Microsoft's new Windows NT Server 4.0 Enterprise Edition, people are quite excited about this technology. As far as I can tell, the Profusion chipset is the best and most renowned chipset of its kind.

The Intel 450GX and 450KX. These chipsets, known as the Orion and Mars respectively, are for Pentium Pro dual and quad-CPU systems. I have yet to see many implementations of the 450KX Mars, since the 440FX Natoma is apparently cheaper and does most of the same things. The 450GX is the chipset of choice for quad-CPU implementations. The only mass-produced motherboard I know of using the 450GX is the AMI Goliath, a massive board that retails for over $3000. The AMI Goliath is not a Philistine warrior, although it can accurately be called the "king of all motherboards" in size and features while having a relatively low cost. This board is what clone shops use to cook up their own $8000 SMP systems, which might cost $12,000 from major OEM's. Other implementations of the 450GX are indeed done by large OEM shops like Compaq, HP, Digital, etc. As a side note, I have seen some manufacturers who use special techniques to extend the 450GX to run as many as six CPU's, however this is not too common. I have highlighted these chipsets here.

I must cut things short for now. As more data comes in about each chipset and new motherboards arrive, I will attempt to benchmark each chipset to one another where possible. Until then, keep in mind that motherboards based on Intel chipsets are the "safe" way to go, however you'll be missing out on a lot of the cutting-edge features and high-performance of chipsets made by Intel's competitors, namely AMD, OPTi, SiS, and VIA. All four of these manufacturers are producing chipsets that should bring down Intel's dominance in the chipset arena, especially for Socket 7. In fact, I highly recommend that you seek out motherboards based on the AMD-640 family, the VIA VP2/97, and the VP3, as these Socket 7 chipsets will bring the best features right where they belong & computer. AMD and Cyrix have bet a lot on the longevity of the Socket 7 design, so it would behoove you to learn about the chipsets that will run the AMD-K6, Cyrix 6x86MX, and the Intel Pentium MMX for at least the next two years.

As for the Pentium II chipsets, we will see some major competing designs based on AGP and PC97 initiatives by 3Q97. I will stay on top of the chipset industry, as I continue to learn more and guess less. Very, very few Pentium Pro and Pentium II motherboards use anything except Intel PCIsets. In fact, I see the 440FX's primary competition comes from the Intel 450KX and 450GX. Things will change in the next twelve months, as VIA, OPTi, and SiS try and stir things up in the Slot 1 arena.


  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