Introduction To Bearlake
Motherboard chipset technology isn't refreshed at the same fevered pitch that processors, memory or IO products are. A CPU or GPU speed-bump is like low-lying fruit relatively speaking, but chipset enhancements can usher in a whole host of stability, interoperability and verification challenges. Let's face it, when the product is the basis for a platform foundation, forward migrations can be painful if not carefully planned, so the upside benefits need to be worth-while for both the end customer as well as the manufacturer.
If you asked us a year ago, what Intel's path to a higher bandwidth system bus and memory access was, we might have told you serial links from the CPU to the Northbridge and serial FBDIMM technology on the system memory. Of course, that would have been almost completely misguided, since obviously Intel is still pushing hard on their now aging legacy front side bus architecture, with only a hint of a serially connected CPU architecture on the horizon. In addition, though serial FBDIMMs have taken hold in the server market, where high density memory configurations benefit from the technology's intrinsic signal integrity advantages under multi-drop loads; it won't be showing up in consumer desktop volumes any time soon.
You might say Intel's desktop platform is in transition at this point. And that transition is being made today to DDR3 memory technology. The vehicle to get us to the land of higher bandwidth bus speeds and memory is Intel's Bearlake chipset family. Today we'll be looking at the first of three flavors of Bearlake, the P35 courtesy of Asus, accompanied by Corsair's new XMS3 DDR3 memory modules. First let's have a quick glance at the entire Bearlake clan.
In the mainstream, Intel's new "965" equivalent is the P35. As you can see, support for DDR3-1066MHz is in there, as well as support for up to a 1333MHz system bus. You can be sure motherboard manufacturers, like Asus, will offer BIOS options for DDR3-1333 memory speeds as well, though technically the chipset doesn't officially support it. The chipset does also offer legacy DDR2 memory support, though that will depend on the DIMM sockets that are populated on the board.
On the subject of memory, Intel has made great strides with the memory controller architecture on the Bearlake family of chipsets. Dubbed "Fast Memory Access" technology (talk about vaugue!), Intel has also tweaked and optimized latency characteristics of the Memory Controller Hub (MCH). That, coupled with the latency enhancing 8-bit prefetch of DDR3 (versus 4-bit -prefetch in DDR2), and the pair should prove to be a potent combination.
Beyond that, we see that Intel has revamped their ICH Southbridge technology, now known as ICH9R. The new Southbridge has support for a total of 6 SATA ports, with Intel Matrix Storage RAID technology and Intel "Turbo Memory" support for Microsoft's Vista ReadyBoost flash-based hard disk caching. On a side note, Intel has added another pair of USB ports to the Southbridge as well, increasing that capacity up to 12 total.
Finally, the G33 chipset will be essentially a P35 equivalent, but with the added benefit of Intel's integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 3100 with "Clear Video" technology. Though we haven't yet put Clear Video to the test, in this incarnation of the chipset, consider the technology similar to what is offered in Intel's G965 chipset, for hardware assist of high definition video processing, motion compensation and other IQ enhancements.