Intel yesterday launched its 815 and 815E chip sets, the first to support the PC-133 SDRAM memory specification.

Aimed at users of midrange PCs, the chip sets let vendors pair everything from low-end Celeron processors to high-speed Pentium III chips with memory that costs significantly less than the Intel-backed Rambus memory (RDRAM) standard.

Similar to Intel's existing 810 and 810E chip sets for budget systems, the 815 and 815E offer integrated graphics. However, the 815 products give both the PC vendor and buyer more graphics options.

The 810 chip set has one graphics option, a 4MB display cache memory chip that sits on the motherboard and solely handles 3D functions (that configuration is technically known as the 810-DC100).

With the 815 products, PC vendors can choose to use the integrated graphics controller, integrated graphics controller supported by a 4MB graphics performance accelerator (GPA) card in an AGP slot, or a third-party 4X AGP graphics controller in the AGP slot.

Graphics upgrades are not limited to the vendor: using the AGP slot, consumers who buy an 815 or 815E-based system can also upgrade to the graphics card option themselves.

Intel's three-option graphics solution offers consumers the best of both worlds, says Kevin Krewell, senior analyst with MicroDesign Resources. You can get just the basics, or you can pay more and get noticeably better performance.

The integrated graphics option is the least expensive, but it offers the lowest quality of graphics, which is fine if you need just a basic system to run business applications, Krewell says.

The 4MB graphics accelerator (a graphics memory card that Intel claims can boost 3D performance up to 30 percent over a basic system without the card) is for those in the middle. Intel estimates the part, which goes into the 4X AGP slot, will cost vendors less than £7. If only the best graphics will do for you, there's the 4X AGP option with a good graphics card. That should offer excellent 3D graphics for PC games or other programs, he says.

While both 815 chip sets offer support for PC-133 and the three graphics options, that's where the similarities end.

The 815E, which will cost vendors more, offers a handful of additional integrated features through its new I/O Controller Hub 2 (ICH2). The ICH2 improves upon Intel's original ICH, which the 815 uses.

Despite a relatively small number of systems from top vendors at launch, Krewell says the 815 and 815E chip sets definitely offer the right combination of features.