Introduction and the Chipset
To coincide with the launch of the Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme processors, many manufacturers released new or updated motherboards to support Intel's cutting edge CPU. Over the past few months, we've taken a look at a handful of these motherboards, including products based on chipsets from Intel as well as NVIDIA. Today, however, we're going to focus on a trio of boards all based on Intel's current flagship chipset for the Core 2 and Pentium D, the 975X Express.
The 975X Express has been available for quite some time. In fact, it was released in late 2005 just before the Presler-based Pentium Extreme Edition 955, which is an eternity in tech-years. The longevity of the 975X Express is a testament to its performance, stability, and feature set. To date, NVIDIA is the only other company to have released a chipset for the LGA775 platform that is more feature-rich and as highly regarded as 975X Express.
Intel 975X Express High-Level Overview
As we've already mentioned, the chipset at the heart of the three motherboards we'll be looking at here is Intel's 975X Express. The 975X Express is very similar to the older 955 that it supplanted at the top of Intel's desktop chipset line-up, but the 82975X Northbridge that's part of 975X has a more flexible PCI Express lane configuration and a few other enhancements. The 975X allows for x16 / x1 or x8 / x8 electrical connections to its PEG slots for high performance multi-GPU support (namely CrossFire). The 975X Express chipset also supports all Intel LGA755 processors with 800MHz / 1066MHz bus speeds, and it supports up to 8GB of DDR2 RAM (with or without ECC). The memory controller in the 975X Northbridge incorporates Intel's "Memory Pipeline Technology" as well, which accelerates transfers between system memory and the CPU.
The second component in the 975X chipset is the ICH7 / ICH7R / ICH7DH Southbridge. The ICH7R and ICH7DH have full support for Intel's Matrix Storage Technology (RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10), Intel Active Management Technology, and High Definition audio. The ICH7R and ICH7DH are also equipped with 8 USB 2.0 ports, and Intel PRO/1000 Gigabit LAN support. The vanilla ICH7 lacks support for RAID.