Servers, workstations have edge in taking advantage of BX speed

The new 100-MHz 440BX motherboard bus, which Intel Corp. rolled out last week, will
enhance system performance, particularly for workstations and servers. The current 440LX
bus runs at 66 MHz.


New Intel 350- and 400-MHz Pentium II processors take advantage of the faster bus.
Chips that are faster still will arrive before year's end.


The chip set in the BX front-side bus keeps the pipeline open between the processor and
main system memory. That's why Intel's synchronous dynamic RAM is specifically for the
100-MHz motherboard.


As one Compaq Computer Corp. engineer put it, the BX is a wider highway with a higher
speed limit. Most cars now will travel at about the same velocity, but in time, the road
will support more and faster vehicles, he said.


For once, hardware is ahead of software.


Input/output operations for storage and graphics subsystems will benefit from the BX
bus, but faster processing is the main advantage. So workstations and servers will get
more out of the BX bus than desktop PCs will.


Intel has reported that the 400-MHz Pentium II on a BX bus performs up to 30 percent
faster than a 333-MHz processor on an LX bus. Desktop PC users, however, will get only 10
percent to 15 percent gains.


Intel also introduced a stripped-down version of the Pentium II known as the Celeron.
Targeted for sub-$1,000 PCs, Celeron will compete with rival processors from companies
such as Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.


Celeron, which is one-fifth the price of a 400-MHz Pentium II chip, lacks Level 2
cache; all other Pentium IIs have 512K of Level 2 cache. The Celeron's bus, the 440EX,
limits system memory to 256M and can accept three PCI cards. Other motherboards accept
512M or more RAM and up to five PCI cards.


Most government PC vendors immediately embraced BX and its processors, but many--such
as Dell Computer Corp.--said they are waiting to see how users respond to Celeron.


Dell's OptiPlex and Dimension systems both will move to the BX bus. The new OptiPlex
GX1 has enterprise manageability features such as environmental and chassis intrusion
alerts and Wake-On LAN. The GX1 integrates sound and doubles memory to 8M for its
integrated Accelerated Graphics Port.


Renamed the Precision WorkStation 410, Dell's high-end desktop PC houses dual-processor
BX motherboards and a minimum of 8M on AGP video cards.


Dell officials said the company may unveil Celeron products this summer, perhaps as
low-end OptiPlex PCs. Dell officials were circumspect on the use of Celeron in Dell
products. Chairman Michael Dell has said the company does not expect widespread acceptance
of sub-$1,000 PCs.


Compaq, however, has had favorable consumer response to its sub-$1,000 PCs and will
push Celeron PCs for the federal market. The Compaq Deskpro EN and EP have a new chassis
design that can be set up as a desktop unit or a minitower (see Test Drive, Page 1).


Compaq aims its Deskpro EN line at systems administrators who need enterprise
deployment and manageability functions. It targets the Deskpro EP at buyers who want
specific desktop configurations. The Celeron will come in Compaq's Deskpro EP line, which
will have larger drives and faster processors before the Deskpro EN line does.


IBM Corp. is putting BX into its desktop PC 300PL and its IntelliStation M Pro. The
IntelliStation hard drive will run at 10,000 revolutions per minute--about twice as fast
as most desktop hard drives. The drive will come in capacities of up to 18.2G.
IntelliStations without monitors start at $3,750.


The IBM PC 300PL will incorporate radio-frequency sensing to track a PC's location and
prevent unauthorized removal. Without a monitor, the PC 300PL starts at $1,449.


Micron Electronics Inc. of Nampa, Idaho, will upgrade its Millennia and Client Pro
desktop lines with the BX chip set and Pentium II processors.


Micron chairman Joseph L. Deltoso said the Millennia will start at $2,499 and the
Client Pro at $2,599.


Gateway 2000 Inc. is deciding whether to offer BX-based E-Series computers to
government buyers. The E-4200 starts at $2,499 including 128M RAM, an 8.4G hard drive, 8M
of AGP video, a 10/100-Mbps network card, a 19-inch monitor and Microsoft Windows NT 4.0
Workstation.


Hewlett-Packard Co. threw its weight behind both Celeron and BX but has announced no
products yet. Vectra PCs with Celeron and BX will likely arrive by the end of the month,
however. Kayak workstations with BX and its associated Pentium IIs will appear later.


Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. will add the bus to its Equium 7100, which
starts at $2,400 with a 350-MHz Pentium II, 64M of RAM and a 4G hard drive.


Bill Murray, GCN associate editor for desktop computing, contributed to this story.


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