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Apparently, VIA Technologies wants its forthcoming PT890 and K8T890 chipsets to be fully compatible with existing generation of technologies, particularly DDR and AGP 8x. The firm, as said by AnandTech, aims to make its solutions extremely upgrade-friendly for those who are not ready to take the PCI Express plunge.

Historically VIA Technologies supported quite a lot of technologies abandoned by Intel, but still making bang for a buck. Such prudent strategy along with high performance and acceptable stability of VIA’s core-logic products once upon a time lead the Taipei, Taiwan-based chipset developer to the very top of chipset business. While VIA’s sales have been in red during the past 2 years, it looks like now the company returns here with its user-friendly approach of creating fast and reliable solutions.

It seems that VIA wants to allow end-users to utilize their current graphics cards on newer platforms that support PCI Express, DDR-II, Azalia and a number of other technologies. Unlike Intel, ATI and probably other chipset makers, VIA will have both AGP 8x and PCI Express x16 controllers in PT890 as well as  K8T890 North-Bridges theoretically allowing mainboard makers to install both slots on their next-generation platforms. While such approach is rather interesting and indisputably has quite some advantages, the market VIA may attract with the move may not be that large.

In general, overall personal computer market is divided into three segments: high-end, mainstream and low-end. While the high-end PCs only represent a tiny piece of the market, the low-end, or entry-level, machines are the most popular. Mainstream market is not as narrow as high-end, but definitely not as broad as the market of low-cost computers.

VIA’s PT890 and K8T890 chipset products from VIA are targeted for high-end and performance-mainstream markets, where customers are not in really tight budgets and usually acquire the latest flavours of technology. Even though current high-end graphics cards, such as ATI RADEON 9800 XT or NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra, perform well in the majority of existing applications, it is very likely that end-users in the high-end will decide to go for newer NVIDIA NV4x or ATI R42x that will be available for both PCI Express x16 and AGP 8x platforms. There will hardly be a lot of enthusiasts who acquire latest mainboards and fastest processors and not able to afford a new graphics card, especially keeping in mind that there will be $200 graphics solutions, according to graphics companies.

VIA may really need AGP 8x in its chipsets in addition to PCI Express x16 if the company debuts its new core-logic products substantially earlier than PCI Express graphics cards make it into the market. Because in case VIA has a chipset that cannot work with existing hardware, the company will lose its time-to-market advantage over competitors.

There is no information from mainboard makers that AGP 8x and PEG x16 slots can be mounted on the same mainboard with no problems and with no tangible increases in the costs of layout. If it is not possible to install both slots for graphics cards and mainboard makers will have to consider whether to put on PCI Express x16 or Accelerated Graphics Port 8x, there will be no points to choose AGP 8x versions for enthusiasts, as future generations of graphics processors (R450, NV45, etc) will be PCI Express only. Given that new platforms come out once a year, while ATI and NVIDIA launch new graphics chips every 6 month, it is easy to figure out limitations of AGP 8x.

Where PCI Express x16 and APG 8x controllers would definitely play a big role are mainstream and low-end segments, where flexibility is extremely important to keep the costs down while still offering something customers would bite. Given that there are loads of AGP graphics cards starting from $40 on the market, they would fit pretty well in cost-effective PCs with future upgrade capability. With long life-cycle of entry-level and mainstream chipsets such flexible products would reach the point when PCI Express x16 graphics card is easier to get than an AGP 8x product. As far as the official information goes, VIA positions its AGP 8x-supporting PT800 and PT880 as entry-level and mainstream offering for Spring/Summer 2004.


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