Pentium 4 gets DDR: P4X266
While chatting about CPUs is always interesting, no discussion of VIA would be complete without mentioning its chipsets. After all, chipsets are at the heart of VIA's business. Arguably their most talked about product at the moment is the P4X266 chipset for Intel's Pentium 4 processor. With its support of DDR SDRAM, the P4X266 chipset is being billed as a solid performance and cost alternative to Intel's 850 chipset with Rambus RDRAM. Before you get excited about purchasing a DDR motherboard based on the P4X266 chipset, one small snag could prevent P4X266 from gaining widespread acceptance: VIA doesn't own a license to manufacture chipsets based on the Pentium 4 bus.
VIA's P4X266 board
VIA feels its joint venture with S3 allows it to get around owning the license directly. Since S3 has an extensive cross-licensing agreement with Intel, VIA believes it can use this to manufacture its P4 chipsets without possessing an actual license. VIA has used a similar defense in the past with its Apollo Pro133/A series of chipsets for the P6 bus - at the time a manufacturing agreement with National Semiconductor (who also possessed a cross-licensing deal with Intel) was used to defend VIA's rights to manufacture both chipsets. Both parties eventually settled the case.
Obviously VIA would prefer to avoid going to court, so both sides are still negotiating the terms of a license, but VIA feels it can defend itself if necessary.
In any case, P4X266 chips will begin shipping to motherboard manufacturers in mid-August, we've already learned of one player that plans to announce a motherboard based on the P4X266 chipset: FIC. This should come as no big surprise, FIC has always been one of VIA's most devoted customers. In fact it was FIC that was sued by Intel (along with VIA) a few years ago for making motherboards that supported VIA's Pentium II/III chipsets. The case was only settled in February of this year.
Besides FIC, we're unsure how many motherboard manufacturers plan on releasing products based on P4X266. Talks with ASUS and ABIT reveal little eagerness, and we wouldn't be surprised if Intel's other launch partners for 850 (Gigabyte, MSI, and AOpen) were just as unwilling. Quite simply, the manufacturers who have established solid connections with Intel seem unwilling to risk jeopardizing this relationship for P4X266, even if it's as strong a performer as VIA has indicated. Therefore, we have a feeling FIC will likely be the first out of the gate with P4X266 (likely in the October timeframe) with other smaller motherboard manufacturers followed closely behind.
If VIA is able to obtain a Pentium 4 license from Intel we'll probably see boards from the other big players, but if not, it could be a long winter for VIA.