What's in a chipset?
While Intel's processors grab the majority of mainstream media attention, Intel's chipsets are easily just as important. After all, Intel frequently uses its successful position in the chipset market to introduce new technologies (in addition to CPU's) that are designed to increase system performance. A good example of this would be the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) you probably have in your system.
Intel originally introduced the AGP port with the 440LX chipset. Before the LX debut the PCI bus was commonly used for graphics. Newer chipset releases from Intel, VIA, and others have supported faster forms of AGP, but the main point remains - only with the system chipset is Intel able to introduce new technologies, which (by no coincidence) frequently become standards within the computer industry.
The 820 chipset
One new technology introduced last year with Intel's desktop PC-oriented 820 chipset was Rambus RDRAM. RDRAM is a proprietary type of high-speed memory which has been used in graphics cards and game consoles. For instance, Sony hopped on the RDRAM bandwagon with their Playstation 2 "computer entertainment system", each PS2 console ships with 32MB of main memory. (38MB total system memory)
RDRAM has had its fair share of critics, both for its high price and its proprietary nature. Traditionally, system memory has been an open standard, when a company like Rambus comes along and charges royalties for its technology everyone notices.
The state of affairs is made worse by the disappointing performance RDRAM has demonstrated to date. Combined with the high price of RDRAM memory, (on a per module basis, system manufacturers such as Dell and Compaq purchase RDRAM modules in bulk at significantly reduced prices compared to individual consumers) and it's obvious to see that plenty of ammunition exists for critics of Rambus RDRAM.
In fact, many have begun to question Intel's latest business moves and just how closely the company is tied to Rambus and its technology - Intel has already confirmed RDRAM will be the exclusive memory type for "Willamette", the successor to today's Pentium III processor.
810:Succesor to the BX chipset
On the low end of the spectrum is Intel's 810 chipset. Offering integrated graphics (with no support for add-in graphics cards) and ATA-66 support, the 810 has received little acceptance from motherboard manufacturers and system integrators alike for its disappointing combination of features, choosing instead to stick with the older BX chipset.
With low market acceptance of its 810 chipset a replacement was necessary. The replacement: Intel's 815 chipset.