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Dux Computer Newsletter
September 5, 2001; Vol. 1, No. 10

Recent News and Commentary
Tech Tips
Around the Internet
Recent Web Site Articles, Etc.

Introduction.  Except for some leaf watchers, Summer and the tourist season here in Maine, U.S.A. are pretty much over and the locals will have the State (and lower lobster, etc. prices) back for another Fall and long Winter.  Time to buy some more firewood for the wood stove in the "play pen" (my office/shop).  Three chords keep it fairly warm, except first thing in the morning, all winter.  My computers, etc. survived the fine soot from the stove last Winter.

Speaking of long Winters. it looks like they may be getting shorter and the warmer seasons may be getting longer and greener.  The cherry tree my son bought me for Father's Day four or five years ago is doing just fine; although, it is not supposed to survive the winters we get (were getting) here in Climate Zone 5.  Maybe, he'll buy me a palm tree if this keeps up?

Recent News and Commentary.  Dell is not longer the number one PC manufacturer.  Hewlett-Packard just announced that it is buying Compaq with a $25 Billion stock deal.  That makes the new HP the number two computer system business with an annual revenue of $87.4 billion, slightly behind IBM's $90 Billion. 15,000 HP and Compaq employees will lose their jobs.  According to preliminary IDC figures for Q2 2001, the new HP will have about 20% of the worldwide PC market and Dell will be number two with over 11% of the market.  IBM ranks number three with 7.4%.  Notice that all three of them combined still represent less than 40% of the total worldwide market.  There are still many Mom 'n Pop shops cranking-out custom computers; although, their numbers around here and listings in the yellow pages have decreased remarkably over the last year.

It remains to be seen if the synergism of the two behemoths will be able to stop Dell from eroding away more of their combined market share.  It seems rather obvious that the time required to implement the merger, the difficulties of managing the new HP through the transition, and the turmoil resulting from laying-off workers and combining product lines and sources will make it nearly impossible to do so while maintaining the present combined market share.  Dell is more efficient and, I think, more focused on the PC part of its business.

My how the Pentium 4, Double Data Rate (DDR) memory motherboard chipset picture has changed since the last Newsletter.  VIA may not have the market to itself very long after all.  On august 27th Acer Labs (Ali) unveiled their ALADDiN-P4 DDR Pentium 4 Motherboard Chipset, said it will start volume shipments in October, and, despite costs for a license from Intel for the P4 bus, has priced the chipset at $31 to undercut VIA's  P4X266 chipset, which was announced at $34, and the SiS SiS645/SiS961 P4, DDR333 chipset, which is priced at $35, all in OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer-a company that makes computers, etc.) quantities.  The VIA and Ali chipset supports both Single Data Rate (e.g., PC133 memory) and DDR266 memory.  The SiS chipset has the distinction of supporting DDR333, DDR266, and PC133 memory modules.

Meanwhile, it appears from several sources that Intel is already shipping a DDR version of it's i845 "Brookdale" chipset to motherboard manufacturers, but is stating that motherboard shipments will not take place until the beginning of 2002-probably the first week of January right after it's contractual arrangement with Rambus regarding DDR memory and the P4 expires. 

In addition to the emergence of P4 motherboards with DDR memory, many DDR motherboards are already shipping in quantity for the Athlon processor.  These trends, plus a near price parity of DDR memory with PC133 memory and very low memory prices in general, leaves little doubt that DDR memory will be the next memory standard for mainstream PCs, and the shift will happen quite fast.

To add more fuel to DDR momentum, Micron is demonstrating a development system with DDR333 memory at the VIA Tech Forum in Taipei, Taiwan and other locations and Nanya is shipping DDR333 memory modules.   DDR333 memory and the new P4 chipsets should do well performance-wise as compared to P4/RamBus combinations and cost less when ramped-up.  There are some rumors(!) that nVIDIA may be developing/making a P4/RamBus(?) motherboard chipset.

VIA announced an upgrade to their KT266 DDR Athlon motherboard chipset, the KT266A, a couple of days ago.  I just skimmed the press release when it first appeared, thinking it was a rather insignificant event, a minor tweak of the chipset.  Then, benchmarks and reviews started popping-up all over the Internet.  Apparently, "tightened timings and deeper queues" in the KT266A Northbridge chip do in fact ".increase memory and system bus performance."  The benchmarks I have seen show that it is noticeably faster than with the competing SiS735 chipset and it may also be even faster than the forthcoming nVIDIA nFORCE chipset, with its dual-independent, 64-bit memory controllers, for which many hardware enthusiasts are eagerly waiting.  Also, the KT266A chipset is pin-compatible with the KT266 chipset and can be plugged-to existing KT266 motherboard designs without modification.  Apparently this news may start to put a damper on sales of the economically priced and popular ECS K7S5A motherboard with the SiS735 chipset, as gamers, etc. again start waiting for the next latest and greatest toy.  And wait and wait.

There was considerable activity at the Intel Developer Forum last week, enough to fill several newsletters.  One of the more significant events was the release of the final  Serial ATA disk drive specification and a demonstration of a serial ATA hard disk drive by Seagate.  I have looked over the spec and found it very well put together.  To put it in a nutshell, the ATA Serial standard is a simplified packet switching network between a motherboard or computer backplane and a disk drive.  It employs balanced voltage (differential) amplifiers and four wires/two pairs (transmission line) to connect transmitters to receivers in a manner similar to the 100BASE-TX Ethernet.  The pins in the spec are labeled TX+, TX-, RX+, and RX- just like they are in the twisted-pair Ethernet.  There is no specification for a standard ATA Serial cable (just electrical requirements it must meet), but each pair of wires will probably be parallel and shielded (there is a cable construction example in the spec.).  There is a separate power cable.  Here is a good drawing of the connectors and cable.  Here's a photo.  Here are some brief highlights of this recent technology:

  • Scalable performance. Three stages over ten years. Starts at 1.5 Gigabits per second, then 3 Gbps, and ultimately 6 Gbps (six times faster than the current ATA/100 standard).  These numbers are right in the spec.
  • 100% software compatible with current operating systems and does not require any new drivers/changes to existing operating systems.
  • Primarily for inside-the-box drive connections.  Maximum cable length is 1 meter.  No cameras/scanners/printers.
  • Supports all ATA and ATAPI devices, including CDs, DVDs, tape
    devices, high capacity removable devices, zip drives, and CD-RWs.
  • Drives can be attached by cable or plugged directly into backplanes.
  • More reliable connectors with smaller plugs and a lower pin-count.
  • Plugs are blind mated (can plug them in blindfolded without making an error).
  • No drive jumpers or terminators, one drive per cable, Plug 'n Play (Prey?).
  • Drives can be hot plugged-installed with the computer on.
  • Smaller cables (thin, flexible) that are simple to route and install.  The data cable has 4 conductors.
  • Smaller cables will allow much better case ventilation (and access/visibility).
  • Less complex trace runs on motherboards; will permit smaller motherboards.
  • ATA Serial interface to be incorporated into the motherboard chipsets.
  • Favorable (low) voltages and efficient power delivery.
  • Power management and power consumption suitable for mobile use.
  • Light protocol minimizes overhead latencies.
  • Asynchronous only (no isochronous requirements).
  • No peer-peer transfer support (to/from host only).
  • Provides support for 1st party DMA access to the host

Serial ATA drives and motherboards should begin to appear in 2002.  Motherboards will probably include old ATA and serial interfaces for a while to accommodate older drives.  Serial ATA should be cost-competitive with equivalent parallel ATA solution at introduction.

Visit the news section our web site for more news..

Tech Tips.  If you know a Microsoft Knowledge Base article number and you are located in the United States, you can view an article anytime, by entering the number in your Microsoft Internet Explorer or MSN Explorer Address box like this:

mskb <article #> (for example: mskb 123456).

I see this problem repeatedly in our Forums.  Does the order of the colors of the wires in a straight-thru twisted-pair network cable matter as long as both ends of the cable are wired the same?  Yes and no.  You can use either standard color code, or invent you own, if desired.  I use the 568A color code and it is the "preferred standard."  The colors do not matter, but the choice of wires does.  Simply making both ends the same is not sufficient.  The Ethernet interface uses four of the eight pins in an RJ-45 plug.  Each end of an Ethernet cable connects to a transmitter and a receiver.  A transmitter uses two pins and a receiver uses two pins. The two pins (TX+ and TX-) on the transmitter have to be connected to the corresponding pins (R+ and R-) of the receiver at the other end by wires in the SAME twisted pair and vice versa.  A transmitter is not connected to a receiver by one wire from one pair and a second wire from a DIFFERENT pair.  As the pins that are used, 1, 2, 3, and 6, are not sequential, one cannot simply match ends in a convenient manner and properly connect a transmitter to a receiver with wires from the SAME twisted pair.  If this description seems a bit complicated or fuzzy, pictures can be found at http://duxcw.com/digest/Howto/network/cable/cable5.htm.

Around the Internet. VIA KT266A motherboard chipset benchmarks: AnandTech, VIAHardware, and Xbit.

Serial ATA FAQsDell: Serial ATA Interface shows pictures of computers with the old, flat drive cables and the new Serial ATA cables installed.   More ATA Serial stuff at Molex.

For troubleshooting old computers and new disk drives. Overcoming the 8.4-GByte Hard Disk Drive Barrier.

A bit of nostalgia: The original Dux Computer Works web site as it was in 1996.  75 MHz Pentium computer with 8 MBytes for $1,212.

Larry's One-way Cable Goes Two-way.  Our cable Internet and TV provider upgrades our connection to the Internet.  What a difference!

How to troubleshoot a monitor that occasionally goes blank (black, no cursor) or will not always come on.

How to Test Twisted-Pair Ethernet Cables.


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Copyright, Disclaimer, and Trademark Information Copyright © 1996-2006 Larry F. Byard.  All rights reserved. This material or parts thereof may not be copied, published, put on the Internet, rewritten, or redistributed without explicit, written permission from the author.