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VIA Technologies and NVIDIA Corporation, quite famous and influential core-logic developers, are preparing input/output controllers with some tasty features to attract more customers, sources close to the companies said. The firms are now expected to add certain new functions to their flagship 2004 chipsets.

The main innovation revamped I/O controllers will bring this year is integrated Gigabit Ethernet, a popular enterprise feature that will now be available practically for free. Following NVIDIA with their Gigabit Ethernet integration plans, VIA decided to cancel its VT8239 South Bridge scheduled for Spring release in favour of a more advanced VIA VT8251 that will be available in Summer. The No.1 chipset maker, Intel Corporation, is not planning to incorporate Gigabit Ethernet inside its ICH6 series controllers, but intends to offer mainboard makers an opportunity to install additional GbE chips.

VIA’s most feature-rich VT8251 controller will support 4 Parallel ATA-33/66/100/133 devices; 4 Serial ATA-150 ports with AHCI, command queue and RAID 0, 1, 0+1, JBOD; PCI slots; 2 PCI Express x1 slots; 8 USB 2.0 ports; 10/100/1000Mb/s Ethernet; 8-channel 192KHz/24-bit High Definition Audio (previously code-named Azalia) and 6-channel AC’97 audio; MII interface with external PHY and so on.

Gigabit Ethernet will not be the only thing chipset companies will please us with this year. Intel, for instance, is expected to roll-out its ICH6W chip that can handle Wi-Fi network. Also, all chipset designers will compete in terms of chipset flexibility – ability of an I/O controller to handle both legacy as well as up-to-date features.

Intel’s flagship I/O controller for 2004 will be ICH6W that sports 4 Serial ATA-150 ports with RAID, 2 Parallel ATA-33/66/100 devices, 6 PCI ports, 4 PCI Express x1 ports, 8 USB 2.0 ports; 8-channel 192KHz/24-bit High Definition Audio (previously code-named Azalia) along with 6-channel AC’97 audio and so on.

NVIDIA’s advanced South Bridge, or Media and Communication Processor, as the company calls it, for dual-chip platforms, such as nForce2, will be Gigabit MCP (MCP2 S1000). NVIDIA’s Gigabit MCP will provide functionality more or less enough to compete with its rivals, though MCPs are not going to become the company’s strong advantage this year, unless there is a more sophisticated products coming from Santa Clara, California, later in the year. The new MCPs will sport 4 Parallel ATA-33/66/100/133 devices; 2 Serial ATA-150 ports with RAID (up to 4 ports with external PHY); 6 PCI slots; 8 USB 2.0 ports; 10/100/1000Mb/s Ethernet as well as basic AC’97 audio and some other caps.

Since NVIDIA will continue to offer single-chip solutions for Athlon 64 and Opteron machines, it is important to pay attention at features they bring. The nForce3 250Gb will be able to handle AGP 8x, 6 PCI, 2 ATA-33/66/100/133 channels with RAID 0,1 and 0+1 support, 2 Serial ATA-150 ports with RAID; 10/100/1000Mb/s Ethernet, 8 USB 2.0 ports, AC’97 audio and so on. Later in the year NVIDIA will release core-logic products for AMD64 processors with 1000MHz HyperTransport links, PCI Express x16 and x1 lanes, 10 USB 2.0 ports and so on.

I/O plans of a yet another core-logic designer, Silicon Integrated Systems, are not really aggressive. It does not plan to grant Gigabit Ethernet or WLAN for free and sticks to pretty conservative feature-set. The most advanced South Bridge from SiS in the 1H 2004 will be the SiS965L that boasts 2 PCI-Express x1 ports, 6 PCI ports, 8 USB 2.0 ports, 8-channel sound, 10/100Mb/s Ethernet, 2 Serial ATA-150 ports with hot plug functionality and RAID, 2-channel Parallel ATA-33/66/100/133 and so on. By the end of the year SiS will roll-out its SiS966 chip that will handle 4 PCI Express lanes.

All-in-all, in addition to performance, input/output features gain importance, as more and more requirements emerge in the mainstream market. This is a good sign for both the industry and all of us.

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