June 19, 2002 Sarju Shah
Summary: We finally have our Computex 2002 coverage up for you to devour. There were a bunch of cool new toys out there. Just to tease you - K8, tube sound from AOpen, and a tidbit on the ATI R300. Read on for more info.
We’ve braved an entire ocean to bring you these bits of knowledge. Sitting crammed in a 747 is about as joy inducing as getting a spinal tap. Trying to sleep in those sardine chairs is only conducive to one thing – a raging neck ache. And sometimes getting back is even an ordeal. One of the FS staff had the joy of hearing the engines on his plane fail repeatedly as they were pulling out of the gate. Check please? Needless to say he got his tail off that plane as fast as his two feet could carry him. Oh did I mention? This would be a China Airlines flight, not exactly coming off a sterling record over the past few months, what with the randomly detonating planes and all. To top it all off, our camera was dead – again. Computex and us are forever going to be pictureless. Maybe it’s the humidity or something…
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 5 )|
Following the harrowing flights fraught with food that can only be left unmentionable, we bring you our Computex 2002 coverage. Typically not a show that has much to offer to the eager news seeking masses, this years Computex had quite a few more toys and bits of gossip than last year. To those not in the know, Computex is the Taiwanese version of Comdex. Since Comdex is exceedingly well known, most companies tend to announce their products there. This leaves Computex in a rather tight spot, as it also falls after Cebit, in Germany. The good thing for Computex is that everything announced at the previous shows is ready for mass consumption at this point in time. So the main focus of this show is to display technologies that are available and for resellers to come and buy. The good thing being, almost anything we tell you about here is available anywhere. The bad being – you’ve probably heard about most of the stuff here. We did try to get the morsels that haven’t been mentioned though. We didn’t really see the point in showing you pictures of random motherboards and USB connectors, not that we could have anyways…
Anyways, we have some info on some really intriguing motherboards. Not exactly your garden variety if you know what I mean. The topics then shift over to what the big boys of the industry are doing. And it’s all wrapped up with a bit on the good things going on at Shuttle and Soldam.
SIDEBAR: I had lunch at the same BBQ joint for three days. It was sooo good; if I could get a meal that good for three dollars in the US I think I’d never eat anywhere else.
| Motherboards||Page:: ( 2 / 5 )|
Motherboards would have to be one of the more mundane but staple products in the hardware industry, without them we couldn’t really use anything. Which is precisely why they tend to be rather dull most of the time – most of them have to conform. This years Computex actually surprised us in this sense. Two companies had some rather innovative boards out for display.
The first, which has made the rounds a million times by now, is the Aopen AX4B-533 Tube. Translating the first part of the usually cryptic name shows the board to be a Pentium 4 based motherboard running on the i845E DDR based chipset. The last part is more the shocker though – Tube. Until we actually saw this board, we thought the heat and excessive sweat was clouding many a thought pattern. However when we showed up at the Aopen booth, my cohort and I were equally stunned. A vacuum tube based sound solution was actually on the motherboard. By removing the fourth and fifth PCI slot, Aopen had opened up enough room for this to be a reality. Tube amps are usually found in high-end audio equipment, and even then they are relegated to the most discerning of audiophiles.
For those with golden ears among us, this might pique your curiosity. But even within those ranks people are bound to bring up the problem of electronic noise resident in a product such as this. According to Aopen, they claim to have licked the noise problem sufficiently by the use of a method called FIW (Frequency Isolation Wall). Using this method Aopen claims to have minimized the effect of electronic noise that is inherent in a motherboard such as this.
Aopen does not plan to have a large production run of this board. We’re going to speculate that this board was designed more for notoriety, and to let their engineers flex their brainpower a bit. Following the kind of coverage that this kind of board brought for AOpen, we wholly expect other manufacturers to follow suit with equally mind-boggling creations.
The other motherboard of note at Computex was made by MSI. While nowhere near as titillating as the Aopen board, this board will most likely appeal to a larger crowd. The MSI board was sporting onboard Bluetooth for all your wireless communicating needs.
Aside from these two boards the motherboard scene at most of the vendors was essentially more of the same. Some added onboard sound; others started to include overclocking features, all had power connectors.
Not so much on the curiosities end, FIC is going to be officially launching their ATI based motherboard for the Athlon. We mentioned this chipset back during Comdex last year, and since then its pretty much been silent on that end. FIC has dubbed it the FUSION AT31, based on the ATI IGP320. With dual display capability out of the box, it’s going to give the nForce a run for its money. The South Bridge for the board will be supplied by VIA – the venerable 686B. FICs initial foray into this sector will be with a uATX form factor.
SIDEBAR: I saw a Hot Dog on a Stick in Taipei, but they didn’t have the person that jumps in the pile of lemons. That’s the whole charm of an establishment like that – the joy of someone being paid to humiliate themselves.
| CPU and Chipset||Page:: ( 3 / 5 )|
On the chipset end we did see a bit more action. ALi, AMD, Intel, NVIDIA, SiS, and VIA all had goodies on display. ALi was here discussing their new Opteron (K8) chipset. The M1687 North Bridge coupled with the M1563 South Bridge are loaded with AGP8X, and the requisite other components.
AMD also had their K8 chipsets up for display, the 8000 series. All of these utilize HyperTransport and also have AGP8X. As has been AMD’s trend, their own line of chipsets will not pose much competition to other chipset manufacturers. AMD’s goal is simply to have something out there, and should someone else make another chipset, they will by all means support it and push it. AMD also had a demo of their 4 and 8 way server configurations running.
For the near future, AMD is releasing the Thoroughbred, merely a die shrink of the Athlon XP. Speeds should increase steadily, and then AMD is slated to release Barton, which has an increased cache (512Kb L2). Then early next year we should see the arrival of the K8 and all the chipsets that entails.
Intel essentially had their new 845 and 850 platforms on display, not exactly a large surprise by any means. As has been voiced in many circles, Intel isn’t exactly keen on supporting RAMBUS anymore, which means that after the 850E, RIMMs are as good as dead in terms of support from Intel. (SiS has decided to carry the torch, but more on that later.) In the future, Intel will be releasing Granite Bay, their dual channel DDR solution.
To the utter dislike of all involved, NVIDIA decided to place itself a good thirty minutes away from the show – for the second year in a row. Even though the food was good out there, I’ll take my $3 Mongolian BBQ any day of the week over a half hour traipse through the city streets of Taipei, in what can only be termed as semi-suicidal traffic.
NVIDIA basically had their own K8 solution on display along with a plethora of nForce II boards. From the specs we got to glance at, the new nForce certainly seems just as impressive as the last nForce. We did find out that NVIDIA will release a version of the chipset sans video adaptor right from the get go. This was one of the big faults of the initial launch last year. Most people were not willing to fork over a rather large sum of money for a feature they were sure to never use. We’d also like to note that NVIDIA is the only company to have had a dual channel DDR solution on the market for a year, that experience could translate to some good performance gains in this next generation.
SIDEBAR: After getting out of the shower, it is possible to break a sweat and be wet all over again within in minutes. It’s almost not worth taking a shower there.
| The Other Chipsets||Page:: ( 4 / 5 )|
Like a bat out of hell, SiS has really been capitalizing on the success of their 735 chipset. After gaining credibility amongst many manufacturers, and end users, SiS can now finally spread their wings a bit. Where they’ve flown with them is rather interesting. SiS has recently ventured into the low-end video card range with the introduction of the Xabre chipset. Priced in the sub $100 region, this chipset is going to have a hard time gaining acceptance, as there are numerous offerings from ATI and NVIDIA that offer incredible amounts of competition.
On the motherboard end, SiS introduced the 658, which is their RDRAM chipset for the Pentium4. This might leave RAMBUS some path to the light of day but it remains to be seen how expensive the RIMMs will be in their next incarnation – PC1066 and PC1200. We will actually have a report on PC4200 very soon – be on the look out for that! 32-bit RIMMs here we come.
VIA of course had their concept for a K8 chipset. Just as the other chipset designers, most of these solutions are still quite a ways from completion; but from what we hear, many deem the VIA solution to be the successor.
Just as the Aopen board caught us off guard, VIA announced a sound card of all things. These guys are getting to be a jack-of-all-trades – chipsets, CPUs, video cards, motherboards, and now sound cards. It’s like a mini-Intel in the works. The new sound card is called the Envy24HT. They aim to topple the evil empire that is Creative, and in their wake leave pleasant sounds. We don’t really have much to say about it at the moment, but rest assured it will be put through the paces once we get it in the office.
SIDEBAR: With an area that humid, it’s really hard to believe they are in a drought. The entire city and its surroundings are almost jungle like and yet there is a water shortage. Curious.
On the video card front, the scene was pretty silent if you are looking for something hardcore. SiS had their Xabre, VIA had their SavageXP. But the one slightly redeeming note we have to report on is that we saw a working sample of the ATI R300 at the VIA booth. Anandtech has the pictures of the tiny little thing. Many people probably overlooked it without so much as a second glance. The card was no larger than a GeForce2 and had tiny BGA memory on it with nary a hunk of metal on them. A totally nondescript card, talk about power incognito. ATI essentially threw a hissy and had the card removed from the machine.
| Odds and ends||Page:: ( 5 / 5 )|
Small Form Factor
Shuttle is one company that has been making some rather large inroads into what we think is going to be a big thing. Small form factor computers have generally been setup for meek and powerless uses. Shuttle has provided a rather stylish alternative to the slim beige desktop. These silver cubes are darn right sexy in comparison to many larger machines I’ve seen. Where it gets more interesting is that Shuttle will have an AGP slot, along with 1 PCI, on their next box. This will truly be the LAN gamer’s knight in shining armor. These cases amazingly small, and you can pack a powerhouse of a system in them. You might be relegated to using only one or two drives, but a gaming rig doesn’t need to have altogether that much storage capacity. Needless to say, we are itching to get our hands on one of these.
Bringing even more joy to the dark pits that we dwell - Soldam is stepping in to make some really, really, funky cases for Shuttle. If you haven’t heard of Soldam, think of Lian Li and CoolerMaster. This company makes some of the most aesthetically pleasing cases I have ever seen in my entire life. They don’t come cheap, but who puts a price on art?
That pretty much brings our Computex coverage to a close for the year. Stay tuned for the next big things! Parhelia, R300 and NV30 are but moments from being released. So keep your eyes peeled for what is going to be one heck of a roller coaster in the coming months.
SIDEBAR: What do you think of the AOpen motherboard? Will tube sound be all the rage? Or Shuttle and their tiny new power cubes? Would you consider getting one of those? Speak up!