CrossFire Xpress 3200 / SB600 for AM2
ATI has some skin in the game obviously as well with the release of socket AM2. With a revamped Southbridge and an identical Northbridge in the form of RD580, we were given the opportunity to test ATI's CrossFire Xpress 3200 for AM2. This motherboard came in the form of a reference design from ATI directly, but we're told the motherboard partners are as follows: Asus, Abit, DFI, ECS, MSI, PC Partner, and Sapphire.
Since this clearly is a reference design motherboard as opposed to anything even remotely close to what might actually ship in retail form, we're not going to labor over its design and feature set too much. This board did come equipped with a pair of X16 PEG slots of which all PCI Express links are integrated into the single RD580 Northbridge, versus the nForce 590 which partitions out 16 of those PCIe lanes for graphics into the 590 MCP. This particular reference board also has several USB ports and a single Gigabit Ethernet port, though the chipset is Dual Gig-E ready. The chipset also supports DDR2-800 memory driven from the AM2 Athlon 64's on-chip memory controller. In addition, ATI has parted ways with ULI (recently acquired by NVIDIA) for their Southbridge solution, and just in the nick of time, has finally launched their own long-awaited ATI-designed SB600 Southbridge in support of RD580.
ATI SB600 Southbridge, Finally:
By now, you're all probably familiar with the shortcomings of ATI's aged SB450 southbridge. It's was hindered by poor USB and PCI performance, that could not be fixed via drivers or a motherboard BIOS. And it lacked any support for SATA 3.0Gb/s transfers. In lieu of using the SB450, some motherboard manufactures opted for ULi's 1575 chip. Since NVIDIA acquired ULi, however, we all knew that arrangement would be coming to an end. All the while though, ATI was hard at work designing their own new southbridge, the SB600.
As we've already mentioned, the reference RD580 AM2 motherboard we used for testing was equipped with the new SB600. This new southbridge provides up to 10 USB 2.0 ports, it has SATA II support with various RAID modes, and full compliance to the PCI and LPC bus standards to support all legacy devices. And like the SB450 and ULi1575, it features high-definition audio as well.
The new disk controller in the SB600 is vastly superior to the SB450's. Aside from SATA II support, the SB600's disk controller also supports AHCI and native command queue (NCQ), and it supports the native Windows Vista storage driver. Native Vista support means the SB600 won't need any additional drivers to perform well with Windows Vista. It also supports some new features in Vista that encrypts information as it's being written to the hard drive to lock out all unauthorized users.