5th > September > 1999 Archive

Seven Dramurai™ ride two memory standards at once

Just a few days after Intel lined up major memory manufacturers to support Rambus to say they will make RIMMs cheaper, six of the Seven Dramurai™ have said they will support PC-133 and Double Data Rate (DDR) in a year's time -- using Reliance chipset technology. And major PC manufacturers, including Dell, are voting with their feet and appear to be moving to PC-133 and DDR as one. This follows the revelation that the seventh member of the Dramurai, Intel, has been forced to abandon using Rambus in the Carmel server chipset and instead adopt Reliance chipset technology. (Story: Intel abandons server Rambus efforts) The Reliance chipset has the endorsement of major manufacturers Compaq, Dell, HP, IBM, NEC, Siemens and Sun. Notably, Dell is also riding the Rambus nag, and is on record from IDF as saying it is implementing the memory technology in the high end server market. Dell said it will implement 1Gb PC-133 DIMMs in its PowerEdge servers as well as next year's 2Gb DDR modules, because its customers are less concerned with granularity and more with overall system performance. Compaq said that PC-133 addresses price performance requirements, and will use PC-133 SDRAM in its server products this year. It is considering DDR for next year. Sun said that PC-133 and DDR SDRAM are a good fit for its products. HP said DDR holds "the most promise" for big, fast, reliable and affordable memory systems. Big Blue said it will use PC-100, PC-133 and DDR SDRAM chips in Chipkill implementations for "affordable" servers. Memory manufacturers backing the roadmap include IBM, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Hyundai, Infineon, Micron, Mitsubishi, NEC, Samsung and Toshiba. Six out of these eight are members of the Seven Dramurai™, which publicly backed Intel when it introduced a Rambus implementor forum at IDF last week. Intel also let slip later in the week that it was supporting DDR technology too. However, insiders are reporting that the memory manufacturers had a meeting with Intel at the beginning of the year and begged the chip giant to support any memory technology but Rambus. Intel refused, and that has led to bitter feelings which still persist. Reliance issued the statement to "clarify the confusion that pervades the server industry with regard to future memory technologies", it said. The statement added that capacity and bandwidth are rarely issues in this class of product. The cynical might think it confusing that the Seven Dramurai™ find it easy to ride two horses at once, although the charitable might observe that they are probably trick riders in a rodeo. Bert McComas, senior analyst at Inquest, said that DDR will establish critical mass in the DRAM standards wars, while Reliance claimed that it had support from the major server vendors because it satisfied their needs for large capacity and reliable memory subsystems. The cynical might wonder where all of this leaves Rambus, and, indeed, whether Intel's flagship memory technology will be used in Intel's flagship microprocessor, the Merced. Just what hold has Rambus got on Intel? Later, we will establish a historical timeline on Chipsetzilla's stance on PC-133 and Rambus. ® (You can find the Reliance press release here.)
Mike Magee, 05 Sep 1999

Floppy disk on last legs as Concept PCs arrive

Intel Developer ForumIntel Developer Forum A track at last week's Intel Developer Forum is sounding the death knell for the good old floppy disk. Developers were told to prepare for the day when PCs no longer used the cheap device. At the same time, consumers could face pay through the nose when expensive items such as printers they bought for older systems will no longer plug into their PCs. The floppy will be displaced by higher capacity USB magnetic media or writeable optical CD media, developers were warned. But whether such devices will have backward compatibility is unclear. Hundreds of thousands of end users have data and programs stored on 3.5-inch floppies, posing the risk that in the future, PCs will not be able to read the backup data and it will be impossible to install applications. Nevertheless, there could be the potential for an after-market for clever developers who capitalise on old media. When the 5.25-inch floppy disk disappeared in PCs, consumers faced the same problem. Other so-called legacy devices to disappear will include Super IO, non plug and play elements, and serial and parallel ports. As we reported last week, the VGA standard will disappear, to be replaced by the digital video interface, a more costly alternative for monitors. IT all adds up to a bonanza for peripheral manufacturers but a potential nightmare for consumers, faced with printers, scanners and monitors which won't plug into their new, easy-to-use PCs and masses of data and programs on floppy disks which can't be accessed. Developers were also warned that the new designs, using the FlexATX motherboard, were subject to similar heat problems as notebook machines. And if the Concept PCs take off when they are launched in the near future, rival chip manufacturer AMD may have problems. The FlexATX boards will include socket 370 Pentium IIIs and Celerons, while the AMD Athlon K7 has a Slot A design which would have to be re-engineered into a socket to fit into such shapes.® RegisTroid 370 During his keynote speech at IDF, Intel's CEO Craig Barrett bestrode one of the designs pictured above -- the one which looks like a pouffe and is called the Ottoman -- and said it felt like he was riding his horse. Intel PR in the US has promised us a picture of Barrett on his real horse, which we and our readers eagerly await.
Mike Magee, 05 Sep 1999

Microsoft collaborating with US spymasters

There are few populations as eager as Americans to ascribe superhuman intelligence, incomparable organizational skills, and indefatigable malevolence to their government bureaucracies. It should surprise no one, then, that a newly-discovered crypto key in Windows 95, 98, 2000 and NT, unfortunately named NSAkey, has American conspiracy theorists rushing to arms. "NSA" might stand for anything, "New Slapdash Application", for example; but it is feared in this case to signify America's infamous international spook organization, the National Security Agency. The mystery key is one of two that ship with all editions of Windows and enable third parties to install security and software components without end-user authorization. The first is used by Microsoft; but until yesterday, no one knew what the second one was for, or who held the public portion of it. The mysterious second key is a back door for the National Security Agency to monitor Windows computers worldwide, according to Andrew Fernandes, chief scientist with security software outfit Cryptonym. The company believes not only this, but further that the NSA has had Windows crypto keys all along. We never knew it because, according to Fernandes, Microsoft has stealthily re-named the NSA keys before products containing them were released. But when Fernandes reverse-engineered a recent Win-NT service pack, he found the smoking gun: NSAkey in all its nefarious glory. The file name, he reckons, had slipped past the watchful eyes of the Microspies, thereby accidentally revealing the key's true identity and purpose to an American public who have always suspected as much. The NSA operates Echelon, a global network able to intercept most forms of electronic communication. The agency's charter forbids it to monitor US citizens on US soil; but it does spend a good deal of time monitoring the communications of foreign governments, embassies and corporations. This offshore orientation, combined with the secrecy normally attending most espionage operations, has left the agency open to deep suspicion and wild speculation among the American citizenry. The NSA is suspected of everything from the overthrow of foreign governments to negotiating the repatriation of hostages abducted by aliens. The agency does not grant telephone interviews, The Register discovered with some disappointment. Microsoft replied to Fernandes' charges by pointing out that all crypto software intended for export must be submitted to the National Security Agency for review. The name NSAkey merely indicates that the key passed muster with US export regulators. Microsoft claims to be the key's only holder. Fernandes has a different view. He believes that NSA holds the key, has always held the key, and uses it with impunity to modify Windows code in various foreign quarters. "It is tremendously easier for the NSA to load unauthorized security services on all copies of Microsoft Windows, and once these security services are loaded, they can effectively compromise your entire operating system," he says. Indeed, the second key would enable a third party to modify the Windows OS code with a simple application. With that in mind, Cryptonym has posted detailed instructions on its web site to defeat would-be exploiters of NSAkey. And not a moment too soon, we are sure. Whether or not the NSA has any designs on the key, we know plenty of hackers who have. ®
Thomas C Greene, 05 Sep 1999

Intel shifts to 133MHz bus, AGP 4x for notebooks next year

Intel Developer ForumIntel Developer Forum Notebooks next year will adopt AGP 4x and a 133MHz equivalent of the front side bus, according to Intel. In a presentation at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), Bill McAuliffe, who heads up the notebook unit in the US, also said that notebooks will use a type of Rambus memory called the SO-RIMM. As this slide shows (84K), notebooks will adopt desktop features next year. McAuliffe said that notebook architecture followed desktop architecture by nine months. Before Intel moves the industry to this new standard, which McAuliffe said will be good until the year 2003, notebooks in Q4 of this year will appear with 100MHz FSB and using PC100 synchronous DRAM, he said. But, he claimed, the PC100 SDRAM standard will run out of steam, necessitating a move to the Rambus SO-RIMMs. McAuliffe also produced an interesting chart (109K) which shows when the various memory vendors will produce Rambus technology. 64Mb parts are not being made by the vendors, this chart (109K) shows. ®
Mike Magee, 05 Sep 1999

Merced: a system overview

Intel Developer ForumIntel Developer Forum One of the tracks at IDF gave a system overview for the Merced family, due for release next year. There are many interesting slides in this series, which we've taken the time to capture and incorporate in a Powerpoint presentation. You can download the slides here. Be warned, it's a 666K zipped file... The slides contain information about both the workstation (2-way model), and the server (4-way model), as well as block diagrams and the system bus. Interestingly, both the workstation and the server use DRAM. Most of the slides have been shrunk to save space, except for the first, which shows the AL460GX functional diagram. If you can't be bothered to download the whole lot, but want to see this, go here. While we were in Palm Springs, we also took some snaps of a machine being shown. Go here to see these. ® Full September 1999 IDF coverage
Mike Magee, 05 Sep 1999