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Intel disses 1394 for own technology – again

Last year it was USB 2.0 - now it's Serial ATA

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Intel's dislike on the IEEE 1394 (aka FireWire) continued unabated at this week's Intel Developer Forum (IDF), despite an agreement with Sony to work on a wireless version of the technology.

Bashing 1394 has become a traditional occupation at IDF, particularly from Pat Gelsinger, general manager of Intel's desktop group, who has used the conference on the past to launch USB 1.1 and pre-launch the supposedly FireWire-dousing USB 2.0.

This time, Chipzilla said it has formed a working group to develop a serial version of the ATA interface, which, Gelsinger claimed, will be cheaper, more scaleable and more compatible with the PC architecture that 1394. The working group itself comprises representatives not only from Intel but disk drive makers IBM, Maxtor, Seagate and Quantum.

The motivation for the technology's development is to both simplify the internal connections between storage systems and the motherboard - by eliminating all that ribbon cable, presumably - and to improve the bandwidth to cater for the next generation of high-throughput 1GHz-plus CPUs. That means way faster drives, and accelerated buses to get the data into the CPU.

That at least is Intel's interest, having this week shown off its 1.4GHz Willamette processor. Serial ATA is pegged to ship with a 1.5Gb per second throughput this time next year, with AGP-esque 2x and 4x performance leaps coming later on. That compares with the roughly 528Mbps of the current ATA-66 66MBps specification, and 1394's 400Mbps throughput. That said, a typical 7200rpm drive can only handle around 30MBps (240Mbps), so it's not as if the FireWire or ATA-66 are being taxed by current mainstream drives.

Unlike 1394, Serial ATA is conceived solely as an internal connectivity system. Of course, 1394 has never really been promoted for internal drive chains. However, it's notably that Apple's high-end desktops already include an internal FireWire port for just such a purpose, even though the main drives are connected via ATA-66, so the option of using 1394 for both internal and external peripheral chains is there.

Still, the general purpose 1394 is always likely to take second place to a dedicated system like serial ATA, so there's perhaps not too much likelihood of a battle between them. It's odd then that Gelsinger chose to compare them directly, but he's been knocking 1394 for some time now, largely through the vaporous USB 2.0. And perhaps with nothing new to say about that connectivity technology, he had to fall back on Serial ATA to get the old 'only good for consumer electronics' dig in. ®

Mike Magee in Palm Springs adds: Popped round to the 1394 people at the forum, who seemed very relieved that this time round, at least Intel had mentioned 1394 twice or thrice in its keynotes. The boys also added that they had some doubts whether a USB scanner Pat Gelsinger showed in his keynote yesterday had real silicon inside, and that despite Intel's less than whole-hearted endorsement of 1394, they were making considerable individual design wins with companies including Compaq, Dell and others. They certainly were considerably happier than this time six months back...

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