Intro and Chipset Features

ATI throws its hat into the AMD chipset ring with a chipset that supports PCI Express and a version with integrated graphics for the Athlon 64!


While ATI is by no means a new comer to the chipset market, it may come as a surprise to many of you that you are now seeing an enthusiast-based chipset from the vendor geared towards AMD’s K8 platform.  The ATI Radeon XPRESS 200 series chispet, previously dubbed the RS480 chip, comes in two flavors: 200 and 200P.  The first has integrated graphics and the second is for discrete graphics solutions only but both are PCI Express based solutions — let’s take a look at what sets the ATI XPRESS 200 apart from its competition.

Chipset Features

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This slide boasts ATI’s chipset history with a list of their past chipsets.  There is a good chance that you may have never heard of them, however, as none of these were really aimed at the enthusiast market.  OEMs and the notebook world is where ATI’s chipset division have been geared towards in the past, but the release of the ATI Radeon XPRESS 200 is a shift for them.

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THe XPRESS 200 comes in two flavors, the 200 and the 200P.  The 200P is the pure enthusiast chipset aimed at performance computing and gaming while the 200 is a solution for a complete, cost effective computer.  The XPRESS 200 is the industry’s first AMD K8 PCI Express chipset with on-board video, including support for DX9.0.  As both the 200 and 200P are pin compatible with each other, motherboard manufacturers can use a single board design for different SKUs.

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ATI is making claims here that their chipset is going to be competitive for the consumer in regards to high performance DX9 gaming, overclocking and more. 

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This is a quick break down of where ATI sees their XPRESS 200 and 200P chipsets.  The 200P for gaming machines with Athlon 64 or FX processors in the 939 platform; the 200 for Athlon 64 and Sempron-based multimedia and home user machines. 

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The chipset overview gives us a quick look at what features the Radeon XPRESS 200 series of chipsets brings to the table.  We can see that the chipset supports dual or single channel memory solutions meaning that both 754-pin and 939-pin processors are compatible.  Off the north bridge we see either a x16 PCIe slot for a discrete graphics solution and/or a DVO on-board video connector for the XPRESS 200 chipsets.  Four addtional x1 PCIe lanes are provided by the north bridge as is the ATI HyperMemory feature, which allows motherboard vendors to put dedicated video memory on the motherboard for use with the on-board video of the XPRESS 200 chipset. 

The south bridge offers support for AC97 audio, eight USB 2.0 channels, SATA and PATA and standard PCI slots.  The ATI chipset supports 4 SATA channels and 2 PATA channels for a total of 8 devices possible.  RAID 0 and 1 are supported, but 0+1 is not currently supported.  ATI did tell me that there is a coming south bridge from them that supports the Intel-developed Azalia audio codec.  More interestingly, ATI told me that 3rd party south bridge chipsets can be used in conjunction with the ATI north bridge as the chipsets merely use PCIe as an interconnect. 

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One of ATI’s big selling points with this chipset is the inclusion of integrated video on the XPRESS 200 chipset.  The graphics core is based on the X300 technology from ATI’s GPU line and has support for Vertex Shader 2.0, Pixel Shader 2.0 as well as having a full precision floating point pixel pipeline.  As this slide mentions again, the HyperMemory support allows motherboard designers to implement a local frame buffer for the core instead of using shared memory of the system.  I did inquire as to exactly how this was done (where was the memory on a board, how was it interconnected) but ATI hasn’t gotten back with me yet. 

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Comparing the ATI integrated video on the XPRESS 200 and the “competition” that is the 915G chipset from Intel shows an inability for the Intel graphics to properly render the pictured scene in 3DMark05.  This is not an isolated case of course, as the 915G graphics core has been shown to have some significant issues with compatibility. 

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ATI is also going to enable another feature for users that utilize both a discrete PCIe graphics card and an integrated graphics solution on an XPRESS 200 motherboard.  The ability to easily have multiple monitors from two different graphics sources enables the user to get affordable multi-monitor support.  Because the ATI on-board video supports both a VGA and a DVO output on the board, you could easily use four monitors when using an additional PCIe card with dual monitor support. 

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This solution from ATI is really aimed at the upcoming Windows XP Media Center Edition that is going to be bringing the PC to the TV like never before.  The ATI XPRESS 200 chipset, coupled with an ATI Theater 550 chipset card, enables an easy and cheap media center solution with a lot of great video features built in.

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To counter NVIDIA’s use of an integrated Gigabit network on their nForce3 and nForce4 chipsets, ATI is going another route.  Instead of offering their own networking, ATI leaves the decision of network integration up to the board partner.  This allows the manufacturer to choose whatever provider they wish and can there by bring about cost decreases and newer technology whenever it is available. 

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ATI also claims, now that PCI Express has come to the AMD platforms, there is really no need for an integrated networking solution for Gigabit connectinos, as PCIe offers enough bandwidth to eliminate the bottlenecks that came with Gigabit on the PCI bus.  Time and testing will tell.

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