Lull

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A long-range look ahead, and why you may want to save up for a while. — Ed

Yawn

With one exception, it’s going to be quiet in the hardware world for quite some time.

That exception is AMD’s Throughbred processor, but even that will probably be not that much of a hullabaloo. Most people reading this will just pop in a new CPU, and that will be that.

The KT333 chipset offers no compelling or even persuasive reason to upgrade from a KT266A board. People who are further down the food chain will end up with one, but that’s about it.

Intel hasn’t announced a new stepping for the PIV yet, and usually there’s about a two month gap between announcement and the CPUs showing up, so that front’s quiet for a while.

Yes, we’ll see 133Mhz FSB PIV systems, but most PIV folks are overclocking into that neighborhood anyway, and the ideal PIV system for 2002 will probably be a dual-DDR setup, which won’t be until much later.

So we’re in a lull. There’s two things you can do during a lull.

1) If you’re well behind the curve, and you can’t stand the thought of living with what you got for another six months or more, it’s a good time to buy. Prices won’t get much lower than they are now.

An Athlon XP1800+ can be bought for $125, and a PIV 1.6A can be bought for $150. It looks like AMD has advanced their mid-April price cuts; Intel will go with theirs mid-April (which might save you $30 on a 1.8A). After that, waiting a few more months is not going to save you much.

2) Look ahead and plan the next major move.

Your Next Computer

I know, “plan” is a four letter word to many. All I’ll say is impulse is not deemed a virtue. Patience is. If you need to go into a frenzy, leave your poor wallet out of it.

It’s headed towards a big future workout, anyway. The latest and greatest then will definitely (or practically) require at least a new mobo to go along with that new processor, and probably more.

We’ll be looking at DDR400, and God only knows what that will require. We’re also probably looking at dual-channel DDR. Serial ATA will be entering the mainstream by then, along with faster PCI bus technologies.

The stars of these new setups will be Clawhammer on the AMD side and Prescott on the Intel side.

Personally, I’m getting the same vibes about the initial Clawhammer I did about the initial Willamette. I suspect it’s really meant to be a .10 micron chip, and AMD is introducing it at .13 micron due to expediency, not virtue.

I don’t think Clawhammer is going to be the performance dog the initial Willy was, more like a PIII 600Mhz Katmai. I don’t know how much overclocking room we’re going to have on them.

I do think AMD is weakening on just how long Socket A processors are going to be around. The roadmaps from a few months back indicated Socket A advancing throughout 2004. Now, with “what do we need Barton for” talk (you need Barton to keep socket A chips advancing, that’s what for), the continuing future of socket A looks cloudy.

I’m not a “socket __ forever” type of person, but I suspect the initial Clawhammer and its mobos will end up being a Neanderthal with no real evolutionary path.

On the Intel side, it seems to me that by the time we get the proper infrastructure together to support the PIVs need for bandwidth and all the goodies mentioned above, you might as well wait for Prescott, which will be a .10 micron chip, and may or may not be an Intel Clawhammer.

If I had to watch my money, I’d like to know the answer to that question and whether Intel has a better Hammer before committing to the original, or wait a bit longer for Hammer II.

When Will My System Suck Again?

We will be crossing a great divide over the next year or two. We’re leaving the single-channel memory, ATA, PCI, serial and floppy world and moving into dual-channel memory, serial ATA, PCI-X or Hypertransport and USB world.

It will be evolutionary, not revolutionary, so in the process, we’re going to end up with a lot of half-man, half-beast equipment.

Now if you have a 2GHz beast, you may be quite inclined to wait. Let somebody else pay for evolution, and pick up the final product. It’s not like there’s any programs out there that will bring your beast to its knees in the meantime.

The adventurous will ignore this, and that’s fine. But many more get almost as attached to your motherboard as your mother. If that’s you, the next few months will be a time to catch up if needed, then settle down for a while.

If you ask yourself, “What do I need a 4 or 5 GHz machine for?” the answer to that is “Whatever it is, you need it more than a 2.5 or 3GHz machine.”

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