The chipset which most HotHardware readers will be interested in will likely be the P45 Express, which replaces the P35 Express, a common enthusiast favorite over the last year. The P35 Express chipset delivered excellent performance for the dollar, along with impressive thermals, low power consumption, and excellent overclockability.
The P45 Express and the P35 Express share much in common, although the most important attribute is that the P45 Express is fabricated on a 65nm manufacturing process, as opposed to the P35/X38/X48 chipset lineup which is manufactured on a 90nm process. The 65nm process will not only decrease the size of the Northbridge die, but will also allow for even lower power consumption, lower heat production, and (hopefully) improved overclockability. Architecturally, the two products are very close, but the manufacturing aspect alone could make the P45 Express much more attractive to some enthusiasts.
Intel P45 Chipset Diagram
The P45 Express supports Socket-775 Core 2 Duo/Quad processors at up to 1333 MHz, which means “official” 1600 MHz FSB support is still out of the mix. Currently, Intel only recommends the X48 chipset for front side bus speeds over 1333 MHz. However, considering even older generation P35 boards could easily hit 1800 MHz FSB speeds with little work, there is no doubt in our mind that P45 Express boards will easily hit 1900-2000 MHz+ FSB speeds given the proper BIOS controls.
The P45 supports both dual-channel DDR2 (800 MHz - up to 16 GB capacity) and dual-channel DDR3 (1066 MHz - up to 8 GB capacity), and it will be up to motherboard manufacturers to decide which standard to support. We’re expecting most major motherboard companies to release multiple products on the P45 to support both standards, as DDR2 still commands significant demand due to its excellent price/performance ratio.
New with the P45 is support for PCI Express 2.0, a feature which was only available on the X38/X48 chipsets on the Intel side until now. The P45 supports two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots and can support AMD/ATI Radeon cards in a CrossFire configuration. However, these are not true x16 slots, as when in multi-GPU mode, these slots will automatically drop down to PCI Express 2.0 x8 speeds. Even on ATI’s fastest Radeons, we doubt this will be a performance degrading feature, although it’s somewhat disappointing that Intel still doesn’t have dedicated PCI Express x16 lanes across the board, as rival Nvidia chipsets have had this for several generations. The P45 Express supports Intel’s ICH10 or ICH10R (w/ RAID) Southbridge controllers, which is largely feature identical to ICH9/ICH9R. ICH10 supports up to 6 x Serial ATA-II/300 storage ports, along with support for RAID 0/1/5/10 on the –R versions of the chipsets. ICH10 supports Intel Turbo Memory technology, up to 12 USB 2.0 ports, HD audio, an integrated Gigabit Ethernet controller, and Intel’s ASF 2.0 management technologies.Intel is largely playing down the ICH10 in this release, as for most users, it does not bring anything of value to the table.
Snagging yet another feature from the high-end X38/X48 series chipsets is support for Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility. ETU is a software-level performance tweaking suite which allows end users to overclock their systems through Windows. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before in other incarnations, but it’s still good to see Intel supporting enthusiasts this time around.
The low-end version of the P45 Express chipset is the P43 Express. Feature wise, it is identical to the P45 Express, but has been slightly neutered in some ways to make it more cost efficient. The P43 Express chipset only supports a single PCI Express 2.0 slot (as opposed to 2x on the P45), but beyond that is absolutely identical. If you don’t need multi-GPU support, you will be able to save a few bucks and go for a P43 Express board. P43 Express boards will likely be targeted at the budget market and will have trimmed down feature sets from the motherboard manufactures.