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Intel P45 / G45 Express Launch and Technology Preview
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Date: Jun 03, 2008
Section:Motherboards
Author: Chris Connolly
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Technology Overview

Today at Computex, Intel has officially launched their updated lineup of x45-series chipsets, which will likely be the last major mainstream chipset launch from Intel on the Core 2 platform as we know it today. The names and specifications of these products have been rumored and reported on for the past few months, although today everything is set in stone and products are beginning to hit the market. The products which are launching today will make up the lion’s share of Intel’s chipset lineup until their next generation high-end X58 chipset launches with the Core 2’s successor, codenamed Nehalem.

While all of these new chipset products which are being launched today are based on the same core architecture, Intel has segmented this one architecture into four individual products. Those four products are the G45 Express, G43 Express, P45 Express, and the P43 Express. As implied by this naming schema, these four products are very close in terms of features, capabilities, and performance. The P45 and P43 products are the “high-end” and “low-end” models which do not have integrated graphics support, while the G45 Express and G43 Express are the “high-end” and “low-end” models which do have Intel’s new integrated graphics engine, the X4500 / X4500HD.


Intel P45/ICH10 Chipset


Intel G45/ICH10 Chipset

While it’s always exciting to see new chipset products launched from Intel, it’s important to keep in mind that this newly launched family of products is aimed at the mid-range market, replacing the Intel P35/G35 products which are out today. Intel is still keeping the X48 Express chipset as their high-end product of choice, whereas the G45/P45 series products will fall one notch below, bringing almost all of the features of this high-end product to a much broader audience. These newly launched chips will be the big-sellers which will be seen in most Intel systems throughout the next year.  Feel free to take a quick glance at how the specifications of these new chipset products line-up.


 
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Intel P45 / P43 Express

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.

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Intel G45 / G43 Express and Thoughts

Perhaps a bit more exciting than the P45/P43 Express is their more feature packed brothers, the G45/G43 Express. In terms of their feature sets, such as processor support, memory interfaces, and storage/audio/networking, these two product lines are nearly identical. However, the G45/G43 Express chipset products have Intel’s new GMA X4500/X4500HD integrated graphics engine lodged inside.


Intel G45 Chipset Diagram


The GMA X4500HD, with its impressive sounding name, replaces the GMA X3500 graphics engine.
The primary benefit which Intel is touting with the new GMA X4500HD graphics core is the ability to push high-definition/Blu-Ray video with good performance and image quality. Intel has improved the performance of their integrated graphics core to allow for full 1080P HD video playback and the X4500HD is also the first Intel integrated graphics solution to support both DisplayPort and HDMI with full HDCP support.  X4500HD also supports Intel's Clear Video technology, which uses hardware-level processing to enhance image quality and clean up video.  The "HD" in the X4500HD denotes support for AVC and VC1 decode acceleration, which the standard X4500 graphics engine does not have.

This, in short, basically means that this chip will be better than Intel's previous solutions for home theater and media center boxes. How it compares with discreet GPUs, however, remains to be seen. We will start to see motherboards with onboard video interfaces rivaling expensive third-party graphics cards with HDMI/DisplayPort – and since the chipset houses both the integrated graphics engine and the audio engine, motherboards will be able to output video/audio through these ports properly, without the need for any digital audio cabling internally.

Performance wise, Intel is not elaborating in their official documentation, which makes us believe that the GMA X4500 won’t be a game-changer in this regard. We are expecting performance gains on some level, but nothing we’ve seen thus far has convinced us that this will be a decent graphics component for any type of serious gaming. For casual gaming, Intel’s integrated graphics components can sometimes get the job done, and we expect the GMA X4500 to be similar in this regard. The GMA X4500HD is, however, technically up to date with modern gaming graphics standards, as it’s a Shader Model 4.0 compliant GPU, which means it supports DirectX 9/10 titles, and also supports OpenGL 2.0 as well. However, just because it supports modern titles doesn’t mean it has the raw processing horsepower or driver support to render everything properly at acceptable frame rates. It's up to Intel to empower their chipset with solid drivers that will allow end users to get the most out of their IGP solution.

The G45 Express chipset does suffer one drawback in comparison to the P45 Express, in that the G45 does not support dual graphics cards. The G45 Express supports a single PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot if you do not want to use the onboard graphics, but it does not officially support the ability to split multiple x16 slots into an 8x8 multi-GPU configuration. Beyond this limitation and the inclusion of the onboard GPU, the G45 and P45 series chips are essentially identical. Both can be paired with either ICH10 or ICH10R Soutbridges, depending on what the motherboard maker selects.

As for G45 Express versus the G43 Express, as far as we can tell by looking over Intel’s spec sheets is that the G43 Express only supports a single DDR2/DDR2 DIMM memory module per channel, which means motherboards will only have two slots instead of four. This likely means that G43 Express motherboards will top out at 4GB as their peak memory capacity as opposed to 8GB on G45 Express motherboards. Also, the G43 Express uses the GMA X4500 graphics engine, as opposed to the GMA X4500HD, which means the G43 Express will not have AVC/VC1 decode acceleration support.



Assuming Intel P45/G45-based motherboards hit the market at the same price point as Intel P35/G35-based boards, there is very little not to like here. This new lineup of chipsets will bring lower power consumption, PCI Express 2.0 support, and better integrated graphics abilities to the mix.  In general, Intel's new chipset genuinely offers solid improvements across the board. Given the expected overclockability and power improvements with this series of chipsets, it will be hard for Intel to really push their “high-end” X48 chipset, which shares so many attributes with the P45 – although we’re certain they’ll try.

Motherboards based on the P45/G45 series chipsets will start shipments very soon, and you should be able to grab one off the shelves by the end of the month. We’ll be following up with reviews of finalized P45 motherboards soon, so stay tuned.
 


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