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Intel's Grantsdale: Kick the Tires First

Enterprises looking at Intel's next-generation chipsets will need to give them a thorough test-drive before adopting them, industry analysts said this week.

At pre-launch parties in San Francisco and New York today, Intel showed off the highly anticipated desktop and workstation components (codenamed Grantsdale and Alderwood, respectively), which are designed to support Intel's 90-nanometer "Prescott" Pentium 4 and Pentium 4 Extreme CPUs.

The transition to the new chipsets is a big leap, because it involves a new chipset, processor, motherboard design and all the software that goes with it.

"Most corporate buyers will buy the new platform to gain maximum headroom," said IDC Senior Analyst Roger Kay. "Consumers will buy whatever is in the stores, which will be all the new stuff by year end."

The benefits of the new platform are substantial. At the outset, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel is offering three chipsets -- 915G, 915P, 925X -- that support a wide variety of features, such as DDR2 memory, PCI Express, Intel integrated access, point technology, Intel RAID technology, Intel High Definition Audio (previously known as Azalea), and Serial ATA Advanced Host Controller Interface Specification (AHCI).

The chipsets are also expected to support Intel's Wireless Connect Technology, Graphics Media Accelerator, Matrix Storage Technology, and Flex Memory Technology.

"We think the new chipsets are well worth the effort for IT planners," Aberdeen Analyst Peter Kastner told internetnews.com. "A key evaluation is whether the new and much-improved graphics capability is good enough to replace discrete graphics boards for low-end workstations. Based on the specs we have seen," he added, "Intel's new graphics will be the biggest visible change to users who do any 3D. Corporate buyers should do a thorough evaluation of the new 915/925 motherboards and then commit to a stable image later this year as the OEMs deliver stable products."

In-Stat/MDR Principal Analyst Kevin Krewell believes the new Intel platform will be the basis for its next stable platform for corporate markets.

"This platform is a very significant step forward for Intel," said Krewell. "It also comes with the LGA775 socket, which provides Intel with the ability to scale to higher frequencies and to dual-core processors next year."

However, Krewell did say he thought the PCI Express bus is still very new and will take some time for corporations to evaluate and adopt, but that, as a technology, PCI Express is more adept at supporting gigabit Ethernet adaptors for desktop systems. He said that Intel's decision to swap out the traditional AGP port for PCI Express Graphics would have a much greater effect on consumer PCs.

"I was surprised that Intel did not integrate gigabit Ethernet into the ICH6 south bridge chip; [it does support 10/100 Ethernet]," Krewell said. "This may be something Intel will address in a future platform."

So why hold back on Grantsdale or Alderwood? Krewell points to the next generation of dynamic computer memory: DDR2 "I would expect corporate buyers to skip systems with DDR2 memory for now, because the prices are too high for the 1 percent to 3 percent overall performance improvements [compared with regular DDR]," he said. "The transition to DDR2 will really start next year. In the corporate PC world, 3D graphics are not a priority, so I would expect the 915G platform with integrated graphics to be popular."

Computer makers such as IBM, HP, Dell, and Gateway are all expected to install the controllers in their desktop and workstation products once the controllers ship, which is expected by the end of the month.

Intel said it would post a price list and some benchmarking materials as part of the official launch.