The birth of the PCI-Express age

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COMMENTARY: Ah Computex. Here I am again for another year of the craziest show on earth. It may lack the slickness of shows like E3 and Comdex, but it is an experience like no other.

COMMENTARY: Ah Computex. Here I am again for another year of the craziest show on earth. It may lack the slickness of shows like E3 and Comdex, but it is an experience like no other.

Held over several blocks of Taipei, it literally engulfs a whole area, with companies competing for outlandishness of promotion and pushing innovation in literally every area of the IT world. This year the backbone of the show is the digital home concept, but that takes a backseat once on the floor itself.

We began Computex this year by shirking the long and rhetoric filled opening ceremony, which featured Acer founder Stan Shih imploring the Taiwanese to take it to the established Japanese Consumer Electronics players, and to sharpen up software development to bring it on par with hardware development. Instead, we took off for one of the consistent highlights of the show, Shuttle's VIP room.

This is where Shuttle pulls the lid off its new generation of products, and where we get a chance to talk candidly with Ken Huang, Shuttle's vice president of R&D about the new generation. While he was showing us a cleanly laid out 939-pin Athlon 64 system which was kinda nice, this year there is one revolutionary new product, and it turns everything we know about the XPC design on its head. For one, the new SB95P is bigger than previous XPCs, but for a good reason. It contains not only a 350W PSU but also the necessary cooling tech to cope with the heatpumper extraordinaire, Intel's Prescott cored Pentium 4.

Based around Intel's high end i925X chipset, this XPC has a raft of changes brought about by the new features of Intel's ICH6 southbridge. It starts with the cooling, in which Shuttle has brought the CPU to the front of the chassis and oriented the cooler to create a side vented tunnel, which keeps the hot air away from the other components. Above this assembly is a 3.5in and a 5.25in drive bay, above which sit brackets for two side mounted SATA hard drives.

It also has the x16 PCI-Express slot on the opposite side of the chassis to previous XPCs, which has finally enabled Shuttle enough room to support NVIDIA's high end dual slot VGA cards (although we worry how the 350W PSU will cope with a Prescott and a 6800 Ultra).

And it also features a CMOS reset button on the back of the chassis, which is hands down one of the best features I have seen on one of these systems. Quite frankly, I cannot wait to get one of these suckers into the labs to see how they perform.

Later in the day we got the chance to visit Gigabyte and see some of its new products. Again the focus was on the new generation of Pentium 4 products, beginning with the i925X and i915P based motherboards. Gigabyte has crammed the high end products with features, adding a new heatpipe cooled dual power device, which provides 8-phase power to the board. They also feature dual gigabit Ethernet and a swag of other features.

In terms of memory support, some of Gigabyte's high-end 915P based products come with support for both DDR1 and DDR2 memory, however the i925X chipset can only support the new DDR2 533 RAM.

Following on from its successful entry into the cooler market last year, Gigabyte hinted at some exciting new directions, but actually showed off a little plastic bracket that got us all excited. This bracket is designed for the 3D Cooler range of products to work in the drastically different heatsink mounting holes for the new Socket T form factor, and another product that I cant wait to take a look at.

Gigabyte was also showing its PCI-Express range of graphics cards, with GeForce PCX 5900, 5750 and 5300 on the NVIDIA side, and RADEON X600 cards on show. I'll have more info on these after meeting with ATI and NVIDIA later today.

After that it was time to walk the floor and check out the range of weird and wonderful products on display. We tinkered with MSI's awkwardly dancing robot, gasped in awe at ASUS' near ridiculous sized Prescott heatsink and accompanying sleek case, and scoped everything from plugs to power supplies and back again. But strangely every year we seem to end up at the stand of a small German company, with a name to die for, Assmann.

Until tomorrow, enjoy.

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