What is a Deschutes processor?

Deschutes was Intel’s code name for Pentium II processors manufactured with the new, 0.25-micron process (the code name for 0.35-micron PII processors was Klamath). With the smaller-micron process come a smaller die size, lower power consumption and less heat, allowing h igher clock speeds. All desktop Intel Pentium II processors running at 333MHz or higher are Deschutes models. There are also mobile Deschutes processors for notebooks that run at 233MHz and 266MHz.

Deschutes is supported by a new BX chipset-why is it important?

Intel’s new BX chipset supports 100MHz bus operation and 100MHz SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM). This should enable Intel to easily produce Deschutes processors with clock speeds of up to 500MHz; the practical maximum processor clock speed is typically five times that of the system board bus speed. Also, Intel has produced a single BX chipset for both desktop and notebook systems. This common chipset should narrow the long-standing performance gap between desktop and notebook PCs.

What are all these slots and sockets I’ve been hearing about? What’s Slot One? Slot Two? Socket 7? Super7? Slot A?

Slot One is the connector used by Intel’s Pentium II processor. Slot Two is the soon-to-appear cartridge connector for Pentium II servers.Socket 7 is the connector used for the past two years for Pentium, Pentium MMX, AMD-K6, Cyrix 6×86 and 6x86MX, and IDT WinChip processors. Super7 is a new motherboard/chipset design promoted by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) that brings 100MHz bus speed, AGP and 100MHz SDRAM support to Socket 7-compatible processors. Slot A is a new connector AMD is considering, identical in size and form factor to Intel’s proprietary Slot One connector.It’s electrical properties are borrowed from Digital Equipment Corp.’s Alpha RISC processor used in servers and workstations.

What's a Celeron chip?

Intel’s Celeron is a new Pentium II processor that lacks level 2 cache. It fits into a Slot One motherboard, but will compete against low-cost Socket 7 processors produced by Intel rivals AMD, National Semiconductor Corp./Cyrix Corp. and Integrated Device Technology (IDT) for the sub-$1,000 PC market. Initial versions of Celeron run at 266MHz. Our first tests with a 266MHz Celeron system indicated good performance on component-level benchmarks, but lackluster performance (slightly slower than a 233MHz MMX-enabled Pentium) on ordinary business applications. The app tests appear to underscore the importance of level 2 cache.

What does MMX and MMX2 mean?

MMX is a set of 57 instructions-all dealing with multimedia tasks-that were added to the x86 instruction set in 1997. Think of them as a kind of shorthand, allowing one new instruction to take the place of many previous instructions. Intel promulgated the standard, but licensed the technology to its competitors.

Virtually all computers now sold in the United States are MMX-enabled. Intel’s MMX2, expected to make itsdebut with the Katmai processor in early 1999, adds more than 70 new instructions.

I've heard about a new 3D instruction set-what is it?

This is a technology being jointly developed by AMD, National/Cyrix and IDT/Centaur Technology. Similar in concept to MMX, it adds 21 new instructions to these companies’ x86-compatible processors. The new instructions will speed 3D graphic functions in the microprocessor itself. Because these three companies share only about 15 percent of the market for x86 processors, it was unclear at first whether there would be much support for the new 3D instructions among software vendors. However, Microsoft recently announced that its DirectX 6.0 technology will fully support the new 3D instruction set. DirectX 6.0 will first appear in NT 5.0.

What new processors should we expect over the next few years?

Expect new chips from AMD (K6 3D+) that will include the new 3D instruction set and onboa rd level 2 cache. Cyrix will weigh in with its new Cayenne chip, which is expected to be a Slot One rather than Socket 7 design (Cyrix’s new parent company, National Semiconductor, has a cross-licensing agreement with Intel for Slot One technology). IDT will introduce new chips with enhanced floating-point units and improved MMX performance, and possibly integrated level 2 cache as well. Intel will introduce faster versions of Deschutes this year, followed by Katmai processors in 1999 that add MMX2 capability. Then comes Merced, Intel’s first 64-bit, non-x86 CPU,which was jointly developed by Intel and Hewlett-Packard Co. It will run x86 instructions in emulation. Intel officially calls Merced “Intel Architecture 64-bit” or “IA-64.”

How will PCs keep pace with all these new processors coming in the next few years?

Microsoft/Intel’s proposed new PC99 standard calls for a minimum 300MHz Pentium II performance, 2X DVD-ROM drive, and replacement of the ISA bus with PCI 2.2, USB and IEEE 1394. Also upcoming will be a new open-standard device connector from Compaq/Intel/Microsoft called Device Bay. Similar in concept to PC Cards, Device Bay will consist of a connector slot in three standard form factors (including two small enough for notebook computers). The back of each slot will contain connectors for USB and IEEE 1394. A Device Bay peripheral can use either bus to provide hot-swappable operation. Typical Device Bay uses would be for additional hard drives, DVD-ROM drives, backup and removable media devices, and so forth. These changes should bring expandability to the outside of the case. Future PCs will let you add almost any new capability without opening the case. And “hot swappability” means you’ll be able to simply plug these devices into their slots, and they’ll work without rebooting. It’s about time.

What's the difference between a video card and agraphics accelerator?

Video card, graphics accelerator and graphics card are interchangeable terms: They all refer to the principal link between your system and your monitor. The card’s job is to make graphics and text appear on the screen quickly and accurately, and to process complex objects such as gradient fills.On some systems, the “card” is n’t a card at all, but a chipset mounted directly on the motherboard.

What features should l look for when buying a video card?

Memory is the most important element for top-notch performance. Just like RAM on your system board, more video memory is generally better. The other most important features are the type of memory and the video processor chip.

What kinds of video memory are there?

DRAM (dynamic RAM) is the basic type of video memory, but you won’t find it on high-quality cards because it’s relatively slow. That’s partly because it can handle either a read command (processing data from your computer) or a write command (sending the data to your monitor), but it can’t do both simultaneously. The read/write demands might tax the card’s capacity to refresh the monitor for high-resolution images, damaging performance. EDO (extended data output) DRAM is faster and performs better with more than 256 colors. Other types of video memory include VRAM (video RAM), WRAM (Windows RAM) and SGRAM (synchronous graphic RAM). VRAM and WRAM are “dual ported” so they can read and write data concurrently. Increasingly, we’re finding mid-priced graphics cards using SGRAM, which is cheaper than VRAM and WRAM and faster than DRAM.

How much memory do I need?

The amount of memory determines how much detail you’ll see on your screen. Typically, you can buy 4MB and 8MB boards. With 4MB boards, such as the Canopus Total3D, you usually top out at 1024×768 resolution when using true color (16.7 million colors). With 8MB boards, such as the ATI All-in-Wonder Pro, you can often go as high as 1600×1200 in true color. Frequently, you also have a greater selection of refresh rates available with 8MB boards. The price difference between a 4MB and 8MB card is generally less than $50. As a rule, 4MB-even 2MB-is sufficient for business applications. Game players, CAD/CAM users and graphic artists will want 8MB boards. And if you run extremely demanding graphics applications such as some advanced games, you’ll find that a card like the new Diamond Monster 3D II-with 12MB of memory-can handle just about any graphics task. Of course, greater resolutions are only practical if you have a monitor that’s 17 inches or larger.

What does refresh rate mean?

Vertical refres rate refers to the speed at which an image is completely repainted on the screen. A refresh rate of 75Hz (the display is refreshed 75 times a second) is considered the bare-bones speed to avoid flicker. The higher the refresh rate at a given resolution, the better-flicker isn’t just annoying, it can cause headaches and eye strain.

What about the video chip itself?

Every card manufacturer claims to sell the latest and greatest chip. The key differences among chips are usually related to the quality of their 3D-rendering engines. Many vendors make their own chips. ATI uses its own RAGE chips and Number Nine Visual Technology makes the Ticket to Ride chip. Some card manufacturers are chip neutral. Even Intel is getting into the picture with its i740 chip, which will work with Intel’s Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP).

Do I need 3D?

Not unless you 're a game player and need its superior texture and image rendition. You probably won't have to make that decision anyway: All the video cards we've seen lately have 3D capability

What is AGP?

AGP is a data super-highway that separates graphics from the PCI bus onto a separate and faster bus. AGP is designed for Pentium II-based systems. You’ll typically find a separate AGP slot in such systems. PCs that come with AGP processing on the motherboard are harder to upgrade.

What's so special about AGP?

Besides using a separate bus and thus not taxing the PCI bus as heavily, AGP has the unique advantage of being able to share system memory when needed. Applications, particularly games, have been limited to using texture maps of less than 4MB in size because that’s all the memory available for creating such textures with an 8MB non-AGP card. Texture maps include such things as the patterns that make a surface look like a stone wall. When an AGP graphics card needs torender large textures, it “borrows” the memory it requires from system memory, returning it to the system when it’s no longer needed. More complex textures tend to strangle the PCI bus, so having a separate bus is a plus. Intel is promoting AGP as a solution for arcade-quality games, 3D modeling, Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) and other graphics-intensive applications.

My system can handle it-should I get an AGP card now?

In the current crop of business applications, AGP offers little speed improvement. But more troubling is the current implementation of AGP. In our tests, we’ve found AGP systems where an improper configuration causes the AGP card to behave like a PCI card and not make use of AGP functionality. Vendors will eventually iron out these problems when they become more familiar with the technology. But for now, AGP isn’t quite realized.

What should I know before I install a new video card?

Before you install the new card, change your current video card settings to 16-color and choose the Standard VGA adapter instead of your current video card. Exit Windows, power down and install the new graphics card. When you reboot, Windows will need to install the VGA drivers. After another reboot, you can run your card’s installation program.

What do the acronyms DRAM, EDO RAM and SDRAM mean, and how does each type of RAM differ?

DRAM stands for dynamic random access memory. As this type of memory requires a constant current to retain information, it needs to be refreshed hundreds of times per second. The memory uses the same circuit to store and retrieve data, so access times can be an issue. Memory is organized in pages, and when one page is accessed,it takes additional CPU cycles to switch to another page to access more memory.

EDO RAM stands for extended data out RAM. It’s similar to DRAM, but EDO RAM operates between 10 and 15 percent faster because it starts accessing the next block of data while sending the previous block to the CPU. That makes it easier and quicker to synchronize data transfer than with regular RAM. EDO RAM is used in both SIMMs and DIMMs (see the next question), while regular DRAM is typically found only on PCs with SIMMs. SDRAM stands for synchronized DRAM. It is significantly different from regular DRAM because it uses a clock cycle timing for data access and refresh. It operates at the same frequency as the system bus and synchronizes automatically with requests from the CPU. That makes it faster than DRAM and EDO RAM. SDRAM is typical ly found only in DIMMs.

What is the difference between SIMMs and DIMMs? And what are RIMMs?

SIMM stands for single in-line memory module; DIMM stands for dual in-line memory module. RAM chips are typically packaged in 8MB, 16MB, 32MB or 64M Bmodules that plug into a PC’s motherboard. These modules are small, standard-size circuit boards that hold the actual RAM chips. Memory used to come in 30-pin SIMMs, but now you’ll find these SIMMs only on older PCs. Pentium-based PCs have the newer 72-pin SIMMs-which hold more memory and can access it better-or the newest DIMMs. DIMMS can hold even more memory and typically have 84 pins active on both sides for 168 connections.

While unbuffered DIMMs are limited to 64MB, newly designed registered DIMMS can hold 128MB or 526MB. These registered DIMMs are found in servers and high-end workstations. RIMMs, or Rambus memory modules, will be used with Intel’s next-generation Rambus memory interface, which will support high-speed buses and provide much greater bandwidth than current memory (more on Rambus below).

Does the speed of my RAM matter?

The newer the system, the more RAM speed matters. On older systems with SIMMs, speed matters less. A 60-nanosecond DRAM should work fine for all PCs, and some older systems can run on slower speeds of 70ns or 80ns. SDRAM speed is measured in MHz because it is clocked, just like the system bus. Newer systems based on Intel’s Deschutes Pentium II processors use a 100MHz system bus and require memory clocked at that speed. If your system uses EDO or SDRAM, make sure your RAM conforms exactly to the manufacturer’s specifications. If you upgrade or replace RAM on a PC with DIMMs, you need to follow exact instructions in your system manual.

Can I use my existing RAM in a new PC when I upgrade?

If your new PC has a system bus clocked at 66MHz or slower, and the PC uses a compatible memory module (SIMMs or DIMMs), then it is possible. Some systems are designed to take a mixture of SDRAM, EDO RAM and even DRAM, but many require a part icular type of memory. You should check the precise specifications of your new machine. If your new PC has a 100MHz system bus, you can’t use the old RAM (unless your old system had a 100MHz system bus). Make sure the RAM in the new machine is designed to run at 100MHz, or else you’ll see slower performance and even memory page faults that could crash the system.

Is RAM for notebooks the same as RAM for desktop PCs?

Notebook memory chips are typically the same types of RAM as used in desktop PCs, but with different packaging. Many notebooks use smaller SODIMMs (small-outline DIMMs). These come in 72-pin and 144-pin modules. But many notebook manufacturers use proprietary memory modules, so if you want to expand RAM, you have to get memory designed specifically for that machine.

Is the RAM on a graphics card the same as regular system RAM?

Graphics cards have special requirements because they must simultaneously move data rapidly into and out of graphics memory to the display. Therefore, most graphics memory is dual-ported, meaning it can send and receive data simultaneously. Graphics memory types include VRAM (video RAM), TPRAM (triple-port RAM), SGRAM (synchronous graphics RAM). Most current cards use SGRAM.

What's cache memory? Can I upgrade it?

Cache memory is temporarily held data that’s immediately ready to use, speeding up your system. The Intel Pentium and many other CPUs have this memory built right into the processor. That’s level 1 cache, and you can’t change it. Most CPUs now also have level 2 cache, used by the main system RAM. Cache memory is much faster than regular RAM. Static RAM is a type of cache memory that usually requires no refreshing or synchronizing and returns information to the CPU virtually instantly. You can only upgrade cache memory if your system’s cache memory socket is accessible and includes a larger secondary cache as an option. If your system has a Pentium II, you have to replace the entire processor to upgrade the cache because the system cache is inside the processor’s housing.

What about future developments?

As CPU speeds increase, memory must become faster to avoid bottlenecks. Two types of faster RAM are currently proposed. Intel isbacking Rambus or RDRAM, a much more complex type of memory interface using a special 800MHz bus and a protocol- and packet-based system for transferring data. Because Intel plans to eventually double the bus speed to 1.6GHz, Rambus is also likely to be the fastest of the proposed suggestions.
A cheaper alternative is high performance SDRAM-DDR, or double-data rate SDRAM. SDRAM-DDR reads data at 200MHz,twice the 100MHz speed of current high-end PC buses. An advanced version of this, SLDRAM (SyncLink DRAM) will quadruple the data rate to 400MHz. The latter two alternatives are cheaper and easier to implement than Rambus. We may see Rambus in high-end PCs and SLDRAM in less-expensive systems.
None of the existing RAM solutions will transfer upward to these new systems. The RAM you’re using today isn’t likely to work in the PCs of tomorrow.