Intel is buildng networking directly into the system chip set, heralding a new level of freedom for system manufacturers to roll out new products quickly and inexpensively.

The company has introduced the 820E chip set, which includes an integrated I/O Controller Hub (ICH2) for greater connectivity options, including integration of a networking chip directly in to the chip set.

A chief advantage of the integration will be to give system manufacturers greater design flexibility, according to Intel officials. The 820E is an enhancement of the company's trouble-ridden 820 chip set and uses the same Direct Rambus DRAM Memory Controller Hub.

Taiwanese manufacturers have also started showing off motherboards using Intel's 815E chip set, which is not yet available. It will also use the ICH2 and will offer the option of integrated graphics, Intel officials said. Instead of RDRAM, it will support the PC133 SDRAM specification.

"We want to get rid of as many of the design (headaches) as possible for system manufacturers," said Sean Conlon, regional marketing manager for Intel Microelectronics Asia Ltd.'s Network Infrastructure Division. Doing so will save manufacturers the cost of much integration work and respond more quickly to changing demands for systems, he added.

The brains for connecting a PC or server to a network have migrated over the past few years from separate PCI cards to the motherboard, as chip development has shrunk the components and the growing importance of networking has made high-speed connectivity a check-off item.

The networking support allows manufacturers to integrate one of three types of connectivity, depending on the type of device: 10/100M bps Ethernet with Alert on LAN technology for remote management, conventional 10/100Mbps connectivity for less expensive systems, and 1Mbps wireline home networking. Conlon declined to comment on whether a future version will support wireless home networks.

At a press conference announcing the 820E, Intel executives defended the Rambus DRAM (RDRAM) supported by the 820 and 820E chip sets. The competing Dual Data-Rate (DDR) SDRAM technology is not yet robust enough for the coming generation of processors, which are heading toward 1.5GHz performance, they said.