The slowly evolving system chipset
While the speed at which technology has advanced in the 3D graphics and CPU segment has moved at a blistering pace the past five years, in comparison, the system chipset has progressed at a rate similar to a snail. Sure, we've seen quite a few advancements in chipset design over the past few years -- integrated sound and networking are standard features present in every modern chipset nowadays -- but all of the latest and greatest technologies are typically implemented in CPUs and graphics cores before making their way down to the system chipset.
For instance, did you know that the majority of today's latest chipsets are still based on 0.25-micron manufacturing processes? Most of the newest CPUs and graphics chips are 0.18-micron, with 0.13-micron products in limited production now, and volume production to commence soon. That's roughly a generation ahead folks (as SiS and VIA both have products at 0.18-micron).
Part of this is due to the nature of the chipset itself. As the hub of communications within the PC, the system chipset "speaks" with a myriad of components, and must ensure communication between these components flows as efficiently as possible. This means the chipset must be tested with a wide variety of system components and configurations just to ensure compatibility. Stability and performance are also critical factors that must be resolved before a chipset can go into full production. As you can imagine, this takes time, and considering the slim margins that are made on chipsets only those companies that are fully dedicated to the process will survive, much less thrive.
Only recently have newer developments really pushed chipset development into a higher gear. With CPUs reaching incredible speeds, memory technologies such as DDR SDRAM and Rambus RDRAM have been created to help keep up. This, in turn, requires a new chipset that supports these newer memory technologies.
Likewise, manufacturing processes have been refined over the years, this allows chipset manufacturers to integrate an increasing number of functions on the chipset itself. In fact, VIA and Intel are hard at work on the holy grail of integration: a CPU with an integrated graphics and memory controller. Essentially this places some of the functions of the chipset on the CPU itself.
Something wicked this way comes
Just as 3D graphics was revolutionized by the 3dfx Voodoo1 graphics chipset, NVIDIA's nForce is poised to stir things up significantly in the system chipset market. Unlike traditional chipset progression, nForce doesn't bring anything significantly new to the table in terms of integration. Instead, what really separates it from its competitors is the level of performance its integrated components offers: we're talking a significant advance that's way ahead of anything else in the chipset market. Don't believe us? Click on over to the next page for proof!