A look at SiS’s desktop chipset roadmap

SIS’S CORE LOGIC chipsets don’t garner as much attention as offerings from Intel, NVIDIA, and VIA, and that’s really a shame. Enthusiasts tend to view SiS as a low-end player, and given the company’s strong presence in budget motherboards, it’s easy to see why. However, few enthusiasts are aware that SiS also makes high-end chipsets that perform well enough to run with the fastest core logic offerings from Intel, NVIDIA, and VIA.

Today we have a sneak peek into SiS’s future desktop chipsets covering north and south bridge roadmaps for AMD and Intel platforms. How will SiS bring PCI Express, DDR2, Gigabit Ethernet, and High Definition Audio to the Athlon 64 and Pentium 4? Read on to find out.

North bridge chips for AMD processors
SiS’s roadmap is loaded with Athlon 64 north bridge chips, but don’t expect anything new on the Athlon XP front. SiS’s current Socket A lineup of 748, 746FX, 741, and 741GX chipsets is all she wrote for that platform.

AMD’s future is the Athlon 64, and SiS has developed a number of new chipsets to serve value, mainstream, and performance markets. At the low end of the spectrum we have the 760GX and 761GX north bridge chips. The 760GX will be available in the third quarter of this year with a 16-bit/800MHz HyperTransport processor link, AGP 8X, and a DirectX 7-class Mirage 1 integrated graphics core. The 761GX will follow in the fourth quarter and retain the 760GX’s Mirage 1 integrated graphics. However, the 761GX upgrades the 760’s HyperTransport processor link to 1GHz and swaps its AGP interface for PCI Express X16.

SiS doesn’t get around to updating its integrated graphics core until late in the fourth quarter of this year. The 761 north bridge will feature a DirectX 9-class Mirage 3 integrated graphics core, 1GHz HyperTransport link, and PCI Express X16 graphics interface.

If integrated graphics doesn’t do it for you, SiS has the graphics-free 756 north bridge on the way. The 756 will feature a 1GHz HyperTransport link and PCI Express X16 graphics interface. It’s scheduled to enter mass production in July. SiS’s roadmap indicates that the 756 will also support Opteron processors, though it’s unclear whether SiS will make an earnest push into the workstation and server markets.

All of SiS’s upcoming Athlon 64 chipsets support Cool’n’Quiet and feature SiS’s Hyper-Streaming Architecture.

North bridge chips for Intel processors
Of course, SiS also has a number of new chipsets coming for Intel’s Pentium 4 platform. In July, SiS will gear up mass production of its high-end 656 north bridge. The 656 will feature an “Advanced” Hyper-Streaming Architecture, an 800MHz front-side bus, a PCI Express x16 graphics interface, and a dual-channel memory controller that supports DDR2-667, DDR400, and ECC memory.

Towards the end of the year, SiS will begin sampling an “FX” derivative of the 656 that discards DDR400 support in favor of a dual-channel DDR2-800 memory controller. The 656FX is slated to have a front-side bus of 800MHz; faster bus speeds aren’t mentioned, despite Intel’s rumored plans to go to a 1066MHz bus.

For mainstream markets, SiS has a 649 north bridge scheduled for mass production in August of this year. The 649 will feature an apparently un-Advanced Hyper-Streaming Architecture, an 800MHz front-side bus, a PCI Express x16 graphics interface, and a single-channel memory controller that supports both DDR2-533 and DDR400.

SiS fills out its Pentium 4 lineup with the value-oriented 662 north bridge. The 662 will enter mass production in November and feature SiS’s Mirage 1 integrated graphics core, PCI-E x16 graphics interface, 800MHz front-side bus, and a single-channel memory controller that supports DDR2-667, DDR400, and ECC memory. That’s right, ECC support on a value chipset with integrated graphics. I don’t get it, either.

 
South bridge chips
SiS’s south bridge roadmap contains a small assortment of chips compatible with both its Intel and AMD-oriented north bridge chips. These south bridge chips aren’t divided into value, mainstream, or performance markets, but it’s pretty easy to segment them based on features.

Two of SiS’s new south bridge chips will enter mass production this month. The first of these is the 965L, which features eight USB 2.0 ports; two ATA/133 controllers; two Serial ATA ports with RAID 0, 1, and JBOD support; two PCI Express x1 interfaces; a 10/100 Fast Ethernet MAC; and AC’97 audio.

To complement the 965L, SiS is also rolling out a 965 south bridge that adds a Gigabit Ethernet MAC and two more Serial ATA ports. With support for a total of four Serial ATA drives, the 965 will also be capable of RAID 0+1. Both the 965 and 965L use a 1GB/sec MuTIOL north/south bridge interconnect.

Later this year, SiS will add the 966 south bridge to its lineup. The 966 will support 10 USB 2.0 ports, two channels of ATA/133, four Serial ATA ports with AHCI and RAID,, Gigabit Ethernet, High Definition Audio, and four PCI-E x1 interfaces. To ensure that all those integrated peripherals have enough north/south bridge bandwidth, the 966 will sport a new MuTIOL interconnect that offers 2GB/sec of bandwidth. The new interconnect doubles the bandwidth of SiS’s current MuTIOL link, and it will only work with upcoming 761, 656, 656FX, and 662 north bridge chips.

Conclusions
SiS’s desktop chipset roadmap looks promising overall. All the must-have features are there, including four-port Serial ATA RAID, Gigabit Ethernet, PCI Express, and High Definition Audio. However, feature support doesn’t guarantee feature performance. We’ll have to wait for these new chipsets to hit the market to determine how competitive they really are with the latest from Intel, NVIDIA, VIA, and ATI.

And getting to market, at least the enthusiast market, may be SiS’s biggest challenge. Although the performance of SiS’s chipsets is often as good as—if not better than—the competition, motherboard manufacturers have traditionally been reluctant to use SiS chipsets in enthusiast-oriented motherboards. If SiS is able to execute its forward-looking roadmap and offer competitive performance along the way, perhaps that could change. 

Comments closed
    • Hattig
    • 15 years ago

    Oddly enough, the two motherboards that I have had least problems with are SiS based. FreeBSD and Linux just worked.

    SiS are great for Linux. LinuxBIOS started on SiS motherboards only because they could get a lot of support from SiS at a stage in the development when this was rather helpful! They might not make their own drivers though, but to be honest, they don’t need to because the support is so good in Linux and FreeBSD.

    I run an nForce2 based motherboard now though, and it has been pretty good for the past 20 months.

    On VIA motherboards I’ve had dead IDE controllers, USB controllers that randomly stopped working (VIA Epia800) and so on.

    • tempeteduson
    • 15 years ago

    I have never had an SiS-chipset-based motherboard…honestly, I just don’t pay attention to them. And don’t you think those SiS model numbers are just hard to remember? Maybe I don’t try to remember them at all…

    • Crackhead Johny
    • 15 years ago

    Doh! bad refresh

      • just brew it!
      • 15 years ago

      Erm… I assume you actually meant to reply to the FNT? ๐Ÿ˜€

        • Crackhead Johny
        • 15 years ago

        I just noticed that

    • Forge
    • 15 years ago

    SiS’s Linux support was, is, and likely will continue to be spotty and largely sub-par. I don’t *only* run Linux, but I certainly like to have the option, and Via, AMD, and Intel all have sterling Linux track records. Makes SiS a non-contender for me, FWIW.

    • Captain AMD
    • 15 years ago

    What ever happened to ALi?

      • wierdo
      • 15 years ago

      they’re still around, but their products were more miss than hit as far as I can remember…

      • just brew it!
      • 15 years ago

      Yeah, their Socket 7 chipset was actually pretty good; everybody’s pretty much been ignoring them ever since.

      Soyo apparently has an ALi-based Athlon64 board:
      ยง[<http://www.soyo.com.tw/products/proddesc.php?id=274<]ยง

        • TO11MTM
        • 15 years ago

        Good? P5A/P5AB Motherboards (The most widespread of the Aladdin Chipset boards) had Problems with Fast writes on TNT2 video cards. The original had broken Cache handling.

        I switched to an MVP3 based board and my problems went away. I sometimes wonder how much of the average consumer’s poor opinion of the K6-2’s reliabilty was because of that chipset.

          • just brew it!
          • 15 years ago

          I still have an ALi-based K6-x system (Micronics C200 mobo)… it has been running nearly 24×7 for years (first with WinNT, and now with Win2K). It is rock-solid.. one of the most stable and reliable PCs I have ever owned.

          I agree with you on the P5A/P5AB… never understood why everyone seemed to love it so much. IMO it was a flaky piece of crap.

            • TO11MTM
            • 15 years ago

            Really? Tha’ts pretty cool.

            Perhaps it’s just ASUS, then. IMHO the A7A266 was every bit as much a piece of crap. We had so many problems getting that thing to work at a 133 System bus and 2 sticks of DDR memory.

    • bthylafh
    • 15 years ago

    Does SiS have any new single-chip products like the 735 was?

    • highlandr
    • 15 years ago

    What I think is the most disappointing is the DX7 integrated graphics. Just when Intel upgrades to DX9 (at least in specs) and programmers can bump the lowest requirements up, SIS releases a piece of junk. Hopefully all the big devs will just ignore that and insist on DX8/9 cards for their games…

    • BiffStroganoffsky
    • 15 years ago

    It’s true that most people buy a system board based mainly of price. It’s also true that this has not been the real substance of SIS’ image problem. The real reason SIS has an image/rep as a ‘cheap’ brand name is from their foray in the videocard arena, IMO. Their technology was never geared toward gamers who upgrade/build their systems the most often and thus they were never considered a ‘serious’ name brand.

    • Corrado
    • 15 years ago

    I can honestly say that i’ve NEVER had a SiS based motherbaord that worked properly out of the box. They have ALL requried a bios update of somesorts to make htem even semi-workable. I’ve had boards from Asus, PC Chips, MSI, ECS, Aopen… they are all the issues that need a bios update. These boards have also been spread across many generations from P3 -> Athlon -> P4 -> A64… Luckily I know what to try to trouble shoot, but even some of the more experience PC builders I know wouldn’t be able to figure out what to do. That said, once I get them working, they seem to be just peachy.

      • wierdo
      • 15 years ago

      I tried the SiS 735 chipset one or two years ago, it was awesome, I thought it was quite reliable, it really impressed me.

      That being said, SiS’s reputation is for making hit and miss products, that wasn’t a problem when Via – which I view as a company that makes generally good but sloppy chipset designs, so almost the same boat – was the game in town, but when nVidia entered the market with nForce with cleaner and more polished chipsets, they became the new standard in product design that put Via and, by extension, SiS among others, to shame.

      Right now I don’t even consider anything other than nForce chipsets, they just make you feel good about buying their products, nice chipsets with nice features, good performance, and most importantly, best product support in this market imho.

        • atidriverssuck
        • 15 years ago

        once again I wonder if we are talking about the same companies, here. Nvidia with the buggy soundstorm (for games), and the buggy IDE drivers that nobody in their right mind uses? Still buggy, after all this time?…. And Nvidia with their late integrated SATA…?

          • indeego
          • 15 years ago

          integrated SATA? dude they’ve had that for at least a year and a half. SATA was a baby a year and a half ago. The IDE mishap was a problem, in fact I got burnt on it, but they really have had quality ever since Nforce 1 IMO. I agree with the previous statement about VIA, they always revised their releases with an “a” version or something, and the 4-in-1’s were messy for a long time upon the Athlon’s introduction.

          I think we should praise Nvidia for bringing quality and competition to the Athlon chipset party. Even Via has improved, as seen with it’s recent wins against the Nforce3g{<.<}g

            • atidriverssuck
            • 15 years ago

            they’ve had SATA (offboard Silicon Image chip), but not integrated into the chipset. VIA and Intel have had this for ages. Nvidia have only recenly done this, and I’m still waiting to see it hit in any volume on Socket A…

          • wierdo
          • 15 years ago

          I never had problems with the IDE drivers so far, so I can’t really say anything about that, either it was early on and got replaced by newer models or revisions so I didn’t catch it, or nVidia’s relatively good product support fixed it in time for me to buy it ๐Ÿ˜‰ Well anyway, it’s all a matter of opinion and experience, mine was generally positive.

            • atidriverssuck
            • 15 years ago

            it’s not an ‘early on’ problem. Their drivers don’t install them by default. They ask you if you want to install them. They offer performance boosts at the expense of stability, compatibility and sanity. In other words, try as they might, they still haven’t fixed it. I’m sure if this was VIA or SIS people wouldn’t stop yelling at how crap they are.

            You are more than likely using the standard IDE drivers that ship with Windows (like everyone else) because Nvidia still haven’t managed to fix things.

    • HowardDrake
    • 15 years ago

    Cool more SiS goodness. As TR’s resident SiS fanboy, I’m happy to see the competition sticking around ๐Ÿ˜‰

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