Chipsets and Motherboards: 975X and P965
Intel DX975XBX Rev. 2: We used a number of motherboards to test Intel's new Core 2 processors, a couple of which you've probably seen before. The first motherboard we used was Intel's own D975XBX, which is based on the 975X Express chipset. We've already shown you this motherboard in our coverage of the Pentium Extreme Edition 955, but the latest revision has been outfitted with a new voltage regulator module and a new BIOS to fully support the lower voltages and features inherent to Intel's new micro-architecture.
The D975XBX's features and specifications read like some of the enthusiast-class boards that come from partners like Asus or Abit. The D975XBX features three physical PCI Express X16 slots (with varying electrical connections) and supports ATI's CrossFire multi-GPU technology. NVIDIA's SLI technology isn't supported, however. By simply inserting a second video card, the first and second PEG slots' PCI Express lane configuration is automatically changed to an 8x8 configuration.
The D975XBX has a 5-phase power array and each FET in the array is adorned with a relatively large aluminum "flame" heatsink. The Northbridge and Southbridge are also equipped with their own aluminum heatsinks as well. Four of the board's SATA ports are controlled by the ICH7R Southbridge and the other four by a Silicon Image controller. Its got 4 DDR2 DIMM slots, Gigabit Ethernet, and HD Audio support courtesy of a Sigmatel CODEC.
Intel P965 Chipset Overview
Intel recently released the new P965 chipset with Core 2 support as well. Although you'd think the "P" in P965 and this chipset's coincidental release just prior to the introduction of the Core 2 would mean this is Intel's performance chipset, it's not. The P965 is being marketed as a mainstream chipset, and as such it'll command a more palatable mainstream price than the 975X Express. Unlike the very similar i875 and i865 chipsets from days past, the P965 and 975X Express are actually quite different.
With the P965, Intel is introducing a new I/O controller hub, the ICH8, that features 6 SATA 3Gb/s channels, along with 6 PCI Express lanes, Matrix Storage Technology, 10 USB ports, and of course HD audio and GbE LAN support. Noticeably absent from the ICH8's specifications is PATA support. With this chipset, Intel is going all SATA, which means we'll likely see an influx of SATA optical drives in the not so distant future. Another difference between the P965 and 975X Express is the chipset's PCI Express lane configuration for graphics. Whereas the 975X Express has the flexibility to be set up in an 8x8 or a 16x1 lane configuration when dual graphics cards are used, the P965 will offer only 16x4 and 16x2 configurations.
Asus P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP Edition: The P965 based motherboard we used for testing is a brand new member of Asus' AI Lifestyle line of products, the P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP Edition. In typical Asus fashion, this motherboard is chock full of integrated peripherals, including an 802.11g wireless NIC. Other features of this board include dual-PEG slots, power LEDs, an 8-Phase power array, Firewire support, dual Gigabit LAN, and Asus proprietary features like AI NOS (automatic overclocking), AI Gear (overclocking / power profiles), and AI Nap (low-power standby).
As you can see in the pictures above, although the board is equipped with the ICH8. The Asus P5B Deluxe does have a PATA port. PATA support comes by way of a JMicron JMB363 PATA / SATA controller, that also happens to power this board's eSATA port.
The Asus P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP Edition also features a very complete system BIOS, loaded with overclocking and performance related features. Although not officially supported by Intel, this board gives users the ability to dial in RAM frequencies of 1066MHz and higher without overclocking the processor, and there are a variety of tweakable voltages as well. Using this board and a combination of multiplier, voltage, and FSB tweaks, we had no trouble taking our Core 2 Extreme X6800 processor to well over 3.5GHz. It may be based on a mainstream chipset, but this motherboard has "power user" written all over it.