i810 Chipset

Formerly codenamed Whitney, the 810 AGPset finally reached the market in the summer of 1999. It is a three-chip solution comprising the 82810 Graphics Memory Controller Hub (GMCH), 82801 I/O Controller Hub (ICH) and 82802 Firmware Hub (FWH) for storing the system and video BIOS. A break from tradition is that these components don’t communicate with each other over the PCI bus. Instead, they use a dedicated 8-bit 266 MBps proprietary bus, thereby taking load off the PCI subsystem. The SDRAM memory interface is also unusual in that it runs at 100MHz irrespective of the system bus speed. There’s no ISA support, but it could be implemented if a vendor added an extra bridge chip.

At the time of its launch, there were two versions of the 810 – the 82810 and 81810-DC100. The former is 66MHz part with no graphics memory, while the latter is a 100MHz-capable chip with support for 4MB of on-board graphics memory. The Direct AGP graphics architecture uses 11MB of system memory for frame buffer, textures and Z-buffer if no display cache is implemented. This drops to 7MB if the display cache is implemented. The whole configuration is known as Direct Video Memory technology. Also incorporated in the chipset is an AC-97 CODEC, which allows software modem and audio functionality. Vendors can link this to an Audio Modem Riser (AMR) slot to facilitate future plug-in audio or modem upgrades.

In the autumn of 1999 a subsequent version of the chipset – the 810E – extended support processors with a 133 MHz system bus. The Intel 810E chipset features a unique internal gear arbitration, allowing it to run seamlessly with 66 MHz, 100 MHz and 133 MHz processor busses.

As the cost of processors come down, the marginal costs of the motherboard, graphics and sound subsystems becomes an increasingly important factor in vendors’ efforts to hit ever-lower price points. However, high levels of integration can be a double-edged sword: it reduces vendors’ bill-of-materials (BOM) costs, but also limits their capability for product differentiation. Many manufacturers defer their decisions on graphics and sound options to late in the production cycle in order to maintain a competitive marketing advantage. Given that other highly integrated solutions – such as Cyrix’s Media GX – haven’t fared particularly well in the past, the 810 AGPset represents a bold move on Intel’s part and one that signals the company’s determination to capture a greater share of the value PC market which had been effectively ceded to AMD and Cyrix over the prior couple of years.