VIA MVP4 Chipset

by Anand Lal Shimpi on February 10, 1999 9:32 PM EST
In the past, the trend of innovation has primarily been towards bigger and better solutions for the market. Ranging from bigger and more powerful computers to bigger and more powerful storage devices, the PC hardware industry has kept up its tendency to enforce the "bigger is better" policy human nature tends to generally abide by. With Intel virtually controlling the entire chipset industry as the chief supplier of chipset core logic for motherboards, the past two years have definitely been hard times for the competing manufacturers in the industry, now cut down to three major competitors: Acer Labs Incorporated, Silicon Integrated Systems, and VIA Technologies. title.jpg (17820 bytes)
These three chipset manufacturers were the select few that made it through the chipset industry's version of Darwinism, or survival of the fittest. For those of you that weren't in the market for a motherboard a few years back, names like Opti and VLSI dominated most of the third party chipset sales. It wasn't until the arguably premature demise of the 486 and the unexpected move towards the Pentium architecture that the seemingly endless list of chipset manufacturers was cut down to less than a handful.

Among those remaining four, Intel took the lead, and far behind the microprocessor giant lay the foundation of a company that was not ready for the market they were destined to take upon their shoulders, this company is none other than VIA Technologies.

The three lettered chipset manufacturer quickly began to gain weight in the chipset industry during the days of the Intel 430TX chipset, a product whose flaws left many users desiring more. VIA saw a golden opportunity with the Socket-7 interface at the time and the flaws in Intel's flagship 430TX (as well as their 430FX and 430HX products) chipset and chose to exploit them by producing a solution that was clearly superior to Intel's product line in virtually every way. Although the original success of the non-Intel chipsets in the Socket-7 market was limited, it eventually grew to a hefty proportion, and with Intel's abandonment of the Socket-7 platform in favor of their proprietary Slot-1 (Pentium II) interface, VIA was left with a tremendous burden: breathing life into a quickly dying Socket-7 standard.

Luckily, another "three lettered" manufacturer saw the same golden opportunity VIA envisioned, and they took it upon themselves to help drive the Socket-7 industry into direct competition with Intel's Slot-1 creations by modifying the Socket-7 chipset specification dramatically. That company turned out to be Advanced Micro Devices, the pioneers of the "Super7" standard, or AMD for short.

With AMD providing the driving force (even more importantly, the processors) to support an extension of the Socket-7 interface standard (Super7) and VIA providing the support on the chipset side of things, the combination of the two forces would almost certainly spell trouble for Intel. Unfortunately, a lack of support from motherboard manufacturers during the critical public developmental stages of AMD's and VIA's cooperative efforts left Intel with a smirk on their faces, and AMD/VIA at a loss with nothing more than a slim chance at proving themselves. At the high end, it seemed like their new "Super7" concoction would never even receive the time of day from any potential buyers. This was simply because a large percentage of those that wanted a high end solution were normally willing to pay the extra premium for a household name they all knew and trusted (how many AMD commercials have you seen on TV?). If anything, the continuing trend of buying Intel proved the statement that money does make the world go 'round, meaning that the business world does revolve around money and making a profit, simple, no?

Ironically enough, the solution to the problems AMD and VIA faced was placed directly beneath their noses, instead of going after the small percentage of those that would even consider a non-Intel system for a high end solution, why not concentrate on the more mainstream market? Those that couldn't afford Intel's high prices would finally be given a chance to have a shot at a more than decent computer, without paying that premium; and above all, the percentage of the market that once had to settle for second or third generation "hand-down" products could now taste the performance of a system that could rival the more expensive bad boys, all for a cost often under $1000.

Building the sub $1000 PC

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