Hammer Hybrids

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Anyone who needs a new AMD system really soon is faced with a problem. Socket A is quickly becoming yesterday’s technology, while tomorrow’s mainstream AMD technology, socket 939, isn’t quite there yet.

At least one motherboard company plans to offer hybrid boards based on a Via chipset that will let you use a socket A chip now and a Hammer later.

Is this the answer?

We think not, for two reasons:

1) Changing from a socket A chip to a Hammer is not a matter of plugging the right CPU into the right CPU socket. If you want a Hammer down the road, you’ll need a “CPU socket upgrade module.” This is likely to add more than a bit to the cost of a CPU upgrade, at least most of the cost of a new socket 939 mobo.

2) From the looks of the pictures at the link mentioned above, this “CPU socket upgrade module” looks like it will plug into an AGP slot, of which this motherboard appears to have many (three, to be precise).

This is no doubt very clever engineering, but unfortunately, AGP just isn’t as fast as more conventional means of getting data to and from the processor. This means both CPU and memory bandwidth will be curtailed for Hammers (Correction: The purported upgrade card includes memory slots, so presumably, CPU/memory links would not be a bottleneck). Even if two AGP channels are somehow used, we’re looking at maximum bandwidth of 4.2GHz compared to 6.4GHz in a more orthodox setup.

This arrangement may often have little effect on performance, but that will only mean the task isn’t all that demanding. Any job that pushes the envelope will get bottlenecked by this.

One should of course wait for the numbers to come in before making any decisions; we’re just saying they aren’t likely to be stellar.

However, they are likely to shine compared to another kludge being introduced on the Intel side: AGP slots on 925/915 motherboards. As has been pointed out elsewhere, these motherboards don’t have a “real” AGP function, it’s more like “PCI Plus.” That may be no big deal for someone who looks at a few webpages and email and doesn’t want to buy a new video card, but anyone making anything resembling a real demand on the video card should stay far away from this.

Why Not Try This Next, Via?

Even though it’s not likely to work tremendously well, this motherboard does show that some rather creative things can be done with an AGP slot.

What would really be interesting (though not mainstream for a while) would be to be able to use one of those extra AGP-type slots for a solid-state memory module.

Those who regularly read this webpage know that this is a subject near and dear to our hearts. This is because such a device would remove the biggest bottleneck that exists on computers today.

A 2.1Gb/sec transfer rate on a memory card wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be good enough to get the “bang” effect from the improvement.

Granted, this still would be a pretty expensive “bang,” but one could use 2Gb DDR266 modules and have a 4Gb solid state drive for less than $1,000. People might find you crazy for doing it, but not psychiatric-observation-time crazy.

It’s certainly not a “bang for the buck” sort of thing today, or for years to come, but it would be . . . cool.

Perhaps more to the point, more immediately, this is the kind of feature server folks who are making do with far slower solid state drive platforms might like very much, enough to maybe give Via a chance in the Opteron server arena.

How about it, Via?

Ed

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