The tectonic plates of CPU Land and Pixel World are grinding against
each other in a battle for dominance. Caught in between CPU World and
Pixel Town is the place known as, The Chipset Zone….
Right now we have a fairly stable Industry with most if not all of
the consolidation have taken place. The players have sorted themselves
out in CPU World with Intel the giant king of the hill, AMD mounting
charge after charge, and Transmeta and Via picking up the stuff the two
big guys either overlooked or just can’t get to—yet.
In Pixel-Town Nvidia has moved into first place in almost every
category, while ATI is defending its turf and challenging Nvidia on
every front. 3Dlabs/Creative Labs and Matrox are stable, and relatively
The Chipset Zone is a strange place occupied by disfigured aliens
that are neither fish nor fowl. All in all they are diverse and
difficult to define or categorize. The products of mixed marriages,
chipsets are seen by some as a necessary evil. And, they will be the
battleground of the two camps, CPU World and Pixel Town during the next
two years, if not forever.
As the chart shows, Giant Intel has re-entered The Chipset Zone with
several parts on all levels; a new server and soon to be workstation
chipset, a new IGC, and soon a new IGC for mobile computers, and a
family of mainstream parts.
But they will be met there by a host of others vying for the same
space. There is a religious element to this battle as well. The camps
are composed of the P4 vs. the Slot A followers, and the graphics
goddesses vs. the good-enough advocates. And in between we have
subcultures of inter-chipset communications called HyperTransport,
V-Link, and 3GIO. Remarkably like all other religions in the world, they
all are right and god is on their side, and therefore, they shall
It’s called the Silicon Budget. There’s just so much in a system,
and everyone wants more than his or her fair share (how would you
determine “fair” –by the number of transistors, clock speed, pin
count, MoBo area?). Intel dropped its prices in 2001 and helped
stimulate the market. During that time the leading GPU makers either
held their prices or increased them, eating into the system’s silicon
budget. Intel wants it back, and one way to get it is to offer up a less
expensive part than the folks from Pixel Town.
The folks from Pixel Town don’t get paid for their transistors as
well as the folks from CPU World do, even though the Pixel Town
transistors are just as fast and doing just as complicated tasks—life
is cruel and unfair. This is a holdover from when graphics was just an
ASIC to make a CRT light up. Now the GPU is threatening to make the CPU
a coprocessor to it—but that’s a story for another time…
Other approaches for increasing their share of the Silicon Budget
come from AMD and Transmeta who have assimilated the memory controller
and a few control functions into the CPU. For a while Intel was
considering putting the graphics controller in the CPU, and unfounded
rumor has it that VIA already has such a part being tested.
Meanwhile, ATI and Nvidia look south for silicon real-estate
opportunities there, and are finding some, while nimble agnostic players
like Ali, SiS, and VIA pay homage to all religions offering support for
every bus and configuration.
So far 3Dlabs and Matrox have stayed out of the fray, concentrating
on their next designs (due out this year). But they won’t be welcome
by Intel and AMD because the new parts from 3Dlabs and Matrox will take
still more of the Silicon Budget and annoy the big boys in CPU World.
So you can see all is well in the computer industry. Everyone has settled
into a comfortable position, content with what they have, and satisfied
knowing they are doing the good work and that god is on their side,
alone. Earthquake warnings are flying.