The 2001 VHJ Awards

By Van Smith

Date: January 3, 2002

As we welcome the new year along with the hopes it brings for better times, VHJ looks back on 2001 to acknowledge those products and technologies that stood out for their excellence, and recognize achievements with outstanding positive contributions to the computer industry.

While last year was difficult for us all, the high tech industry has been sagging in one of the worst slumps of its history.  Despite adverse conditions, lost jobs, dying businesses, evaporating revenue, shrinking markets, complete retreat of venture capital and a future clouded with uncertainty after the September 11th attacks, the industry continues its inexorable momentum forwards towards faster chips and lower costs.

And like the computer industry, we all have to continue to move ahead.  Good times will follow bad, they always do.


High-End Processor of the Year: Tie – The IBM Power4 and the AMD Athlon MP
The IBM Power4 is easily the fastest microprocessor on earth. This 170-million transistor monster features two CPU cores and three cache levels including a 1.5MB shared L2 cache and a 32MB off-chip L3. IBM deserves accolades for its forward-looking multi-core design, some aspects of which will be seen in upcoming designs from AMD.

The Athlon MP brings a new level of high-powered multiprocessing to economical, but brawny servers and workstations. Boasting performance levels that soundly beat comparable Intel offerings, the Athlon MP is also AMD’s first major foray into SMP. Dual processing Athlon MP systems have been both a critical and commercial success from the upstart CPU maker. Expect market share for these systems to continue to grow strongly throughout 2002.

Desktop Processor of the Year: The AMD Athlon XP
Attractively priced with peerless computational muscle, the AMD Athlon XP is an easy choice for VHJ’s 2001 Desktop Processor of the Year. With a die size only about sixty percent that of its closest competitor, the Intel Pentium 4, the Athlon XP blows by its rival in performance at a much lower price. While the Pentium 4 can be said to be a CPU made for marketing, the Athlon XP is a chip designed by perhaps the most gifted engineering house currently in existence.

Embedded Processor of the Year: Tie – The Intel StrongArm and the VIA C3
Making a clean sweep of the PDA world, Intel’s impressive StrongArm has won its place with performance, high clock speed, and low energy budget.

The VIA C3 is a glimpse of things to come as it delivers high-performance x86 computing to new generations of low-power embedded devices. While able to leverage the vast library of x86 code including Microsoft Windows-based programs, the VIA C3 trounces its nearest rival, the Transmeta Crusoe, in overall application execution speed.  The VIA C3 also has competitively low energy budgets.  Lastly, the VIA C3 provides all this for very thrifty prices.

Chipset of the Year, Intel Platforms: The VIA P4X266A
Although the VIA P4X266A is the center of some controversy between VIA Technologies and Intel, there is no controversy regarding its performance merits. The VIA P4X266A runs applications as fast or faster than Intel’s i850 RDRAM-based product, but at costs much, much lower.

Budget Chipset of the Year, Intel Platforms: The SiS635T
The SiS635T is a product impossible to overlook. Currently the fastest Socket 370 chipset, the SiS635T is also remarkably inexpensive. A “single chip” DDR SDRAM chipset, this core logic controller wins both in terms of price and raw speed.

Chipset of the Year, AMD Platforms: Tie – The NVIDIA nForce 420 and the VIA KT266A
Known for its legendary prowess producing graphics controllers, NVIDIA has given birth to a landmark product in its nForce line of Athlon-based DDR SDRAM chipsets. By its innovations alone, the nForce 420 merits this award. We praise the San Jose, California-based chip designer’s determination to blaze new trails in the core logic wilderness. The nForce 420 features two channels of DDR SDRAM providing the most bandwidth of any desktop chipset in the world. Coupled with an integrated GeForce2 controller, the nForce 420 dominates all other integrated chipsets in terms of embedded graphics performance. With industry leading features like an 800MB/s HyperTransport interlink and mind-blowing 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, the nForce is a tour de force of bleeding edge technology.

The VIA KT266A has earned the reputation as the world’s fastest Athlon DDR SDRAM chipset. It is delivered at very attractive price-points, and perhaps most telling is that current AMD Athlon XP reference systems are based on this product.

Budget Chipset of the Year, AMD Platforms: The SiS735
SiS makes a clean sweep of our awards for the budget chipset categories this year. The SiS735, while not quite as fast as the VIA KT266A, provides very acceptable DDR SDRAM performance. Another of SiS’s famous “single chip” chipsets, the SiS735 delivers good performance and full feature sets at almost absurdly low prices.

Interconnect Technology of the Year: HyperTransport
2001 was the year of the interconnect with HyperTransport, Rapid I/O, and Intel’s Infiniband and Arapaho making headlines. While some of the other designs deliver promises that are years away, HyperTransport is here today in products like nVidia’s nForce and Microsoft’s Xbox. An elegant, simple, flexible, scalable and inexpensive design, HyperTransport easily wins this year’s award for best interconnect technology.

Riser Card Technology of the Year: ACR
Although a relatively arcane category that’s image has been tarnished by Intel’s inadequate AMR, the Advanced Communications Riser, or ACR, is a critical enabling technology for next generation computing. Immensely flexible, ACR offloads a cornucopia of communications features, freeing up PCI slots and reducing total costs of ownership with comprehensive driver packages.

Graphics Controller of the Year: NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti 500
NVIDIA is the perennial champ of graphics controllers and this year is no different. Although widely reported fab difficulties has caused delays in NVIDIA’s next generation 3d graphics engines and ATi has produced a strong product in the Radeon 8500, the GeForce3 Ti 500 retains NVIDIA’s leadership position. With the best performance overall, combined with driver support that is almost as legendary as NVIDIA’s hardware, the GeForce3 Ti 500 is VHJ’s Graphics Controller of the Year.

Budget Graphics Controller of the Year: Tie -- NVIDIA GeForce2 MX400 and the Imagination Technologies Kyro II
Both the GeForce2 MX400 and the Kyro II power graphics cards start around $70 and both jockey back and forth for overall performance leadership. The GeForce2 MX400 earns its title as the Budget Graphics Controller of the Year for it rock-solid driver support as well as great performance and relatively full feature set. The Imagination Technologies Kyro II is our co-Budget Graphics Controller of the year because of good performance coupled with innovative tile-based rendering whose ideas will be copied in upcoming products from rival companies.

Audio Product of the Year: The NVIDIA nForce APU
A technology that promises to transform the industry, the NVIDIA nForce’s integrated Audio Processing Unit is essentially free in all nForce-based motherboards. Capable of real-time Dolby Digital 5.1 encoding and a horse trough full of advanced DSP accelerated DirectSound gaming features rendered directly to main memory thanks to the nForce’s 800MB/s HyperTransport interlink, the nForce APU might be the most powerful consumer-level audio processor, period. With an nForce motherboard selling for about the same price as a comparable sound card, the nForce APU is an astounding technological advance.

Motherboard Manufacturer of the Year, Intel Platforms: MSI
Providing innovation and quality in new Pentium 4 motherboards, MSI wins our award for best Intel-based Motherboard Manufacturer for 2001.

Motherboard Manufacturer of the Year, AMD Platforms: Tie -- Epox and Iwill
These two manufacturers came on strong in 2001 with their support for AMD Athlon and Athlon XP processors.

Budget Motherboard Manufacturer of the Year, All Platforms: ECS
ECS has surged ahead and is now the leading Taiwanese motherboard producer, dethroning Asus.  Providing feature packed products for eye opening prices, ECS (and its subsidiaries such as PCChips) wins the 2001 VHJ award for Budget Motherboard Manufacturer of the Year.

Internet Browser of the Year: Mozilla
The Open Source Mozilla has made great strides in the last year to overtake Microsoft's Internet Explorer as top Web Browser.  Mozilla is now more flexible and attractive than its Microsoft adversary.  That it is Open Source, makes the decision for Browser of the Year an easy one.

Digital Camera of the Year: The Nikon 995
The Nikon 995 improves upon the already excellent 990, while significantly reducing prices.

Budget Digital Camera of the Year: The Casio QV-2900UX
No other digital camera delivers so many features for so little money. The image quality of the little 2.1 mega pixel Casio QV-2900UX is also very good.

Most Promising Future Memory Technology: Kentron’s Quad Band Memory
Doubling DDR SDRAM's bandwidth while adding little cost, this module level (or board based) technology has gained tremendous momentum over the last year. Expect to see Kentron QBM support in upcoming chipsets from major vendors.

Fabrication Facility of the Year: AMD's Dresden Megafab
In a year that has seen many embarrassing stumbles by rivals such as Intel, AMD's amazing Dresden, Germany-based Fab30 keeps humming.

Most Promising Future CPU Design: AMD’s Hammer
Recognizing precisely which bottlenecks are retarding today's computing, AMD has presented a design with the 64-bit Hammer that is elegant, simple, fast and cost effective. In the next few years, Hammer will change the face of computing.

Media Award for Best Internet-based IT News Publication: the inquirer
In an unprecedented short period of time, Mike Magee has taken his startup to the very top of the IT news heap. The little-site-that-could battles vastly wealthier companies, but the inquirer, remaining true to its ideals, has become the most influential IT news publication in the world.

Product of the Year: The Microsoft Xbox
The Xbox represents a paradigm shift in the computer world.  The first truly successful convergence device melding traditional x86 computers with entertainment devices, Microsoft's Xbox blazes trails into vast new markets for the IT industry.  Not just the most powerful gaming console around, the Xbox is a hotrod-style stripped down PC that is sneaking into living rooms all over the world.  In time, the Xbox may well turn out to be the most important computer product introduction in 2001.


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