While ATI's Radeon Xpress 3200 Crossfire chipset was originally designed to be a competitor against nVidia's nForce4 SLI X16 chipset, it also holds its own against nVidia's newer nForce 590 SLI chipset. Both ATI and nVidia have left their Northbridge chips fairly similar to their Socket-939 targeted variants with these new Socket-AM2 versions, whereas the real innovations are featured in the updated Southbridge controllers.
As mentioned before, the XPress 3200 CrossFire chipset for Socket-AM2 is the first chipset of ATI's to use the new SB600 Southbridge controller, which replaces the aging SB450 controller which was used on some Socket-939 platforms. The SB450 was commonly listed as a "weak spot" on previous generation Crossfire platforms, as it only supported Serial ATA-150 hard disks and did not support NCQ/ACHI, along with suffering from terrible USB performance. While these issues could be worked-around by using third-party controller chips, in this day and age SATA-II/300 and a proper USB implementation are more or less standardized features for the chipset.
The new SB600 Southbridge brings the XPress 3200 Crossfire chipset up to date (mostly) with modern standards. The Southbridge now supports four ports of Serial ATA-II/300 connectivity with full NCQ/ACHI support, including support for RAID 0, 1, 0+1, although RAID-5 support appears to be missing in action. The chipset also includes support for an increased number of USB 2.0 devices (10 vs. 8), but still does not support native Gigabit Ethernet connectivity like nVidia's product lines. The Southbridge has support for High Definition (Azalia) 8-channel audio configurations, although this feature was also available in their previous generation SB450 chipset. Like most modern chipsets, ATI is also cutting back support for Ultra ATA devices, as the new SB600 only supports 2 devices (i.e, one Ultra ATA connector), whereas the previous generation supported 4 devices (two Ultra ATA connectors).
The XPress 3200 Crossfire chipset supports a full 40 PCI Express lanes natively, allowing for dual full-speed PCI Express x16 graphics card slots. Both this chipset and nVidia's nForce 590 SLI chipset support 16 x 16 PCI Express configurations, although obviously each chipset is limited in that they can only run their particular variant of multi-GPU graphics. Thus, this chipset and motherboard are capable of supporting dual ATI graphics cards in a Crossfire multi-GPU configuration, but not nVidia SLI. If you don't use Crossfire, you can use the secondary PCI Express slot to support a second (independent) graphics card for quad-monitor output, or you can stick a high-end PCIe SATA/SAS RAID card in this slot, or any other high-bandwidth PCI Express device, and not have it affect the speed of your PCI Express graphics card slot. ATI will also be producing a Radeon XPress 1600 chipset for Socket-AM2, which has support for 8 x 8 PCI Express Crossfire configurations, which will rival nVidia's less expensive nForce 570 SLI chipset. Let's see how these new chipsets stack up on paper.
|ATI Radeon XPress 3200 for AM2||ATI Radeon XPress 1600 for AM2||nVidia nForce 590 SLI||nVidia nForce 570 SLI|
|CPU Support||Athlon64 / X2 / FX Socket-AM2||Athlon64 / X2 / FX Socket-AM2||Athlon64 / X2 / FX Socket-AM2||Athlon64 / X2 / FX Socket-AM2|
|HyperTransport Support||800 MHz / 1 GHz HTT||800 MHz / 1 GHz HTT||800 MHz / 1 GHz HTT||800 MHz / 1 GHz HTT|
PCIe 16 x 16
PCIe 8 x 8
PCIe 16 x 16
PCIe 8 x 8
|PCI Express Lanes||40 Lanes||20 Lanes||46 Lanes||28 Lanes|
|32-bit PCI Slots||6||6||5||5|
|Serial ATA||4 x Serial ATA-II/300 Ports||4 x Serial ATA-II/300 Ports||6 x Serial ATA-II/300 Ports||6 x Serial ATA-II/300 Ports|
|SATA RAID||RAID 0, 1, 0+1||RAID 0, 1, 0+1||RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5||RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5|
|Parallel ATA||2 Devices||2 Devices||2 Devices||2 Devices|
|Audio Interface||High-Definition (Azalia) 8-Channel||High-Definition (Azalia) 8-Channel||High-Definition (Azalia) 8-Channel||High-Definition (Azalia) 8-Channel|
|USB 2.0 Ports||10||10||10||10|
|Ethernet Interface||N/A||N/A||2 x Native Gigabit Ethernet||2 x Native Gigabit Ethernet|
|Ethernet TCP Offload||N/A||N/A||Yes||Yes|
|ATI XPress Route *||Yes||No||N/A||N/A|
|nVidia LinkBoost **||N/A||N/A||Yes||No|
Like their previous generation variants, the Radeon XPress 3200 Crossfire chipset remains a fairly low power, low-heat component. MSI is able to cool these two chipset components with simple aluminum alloy heatsinks, and do not have to rely on chipset fans and/or expensive copper heatpipe cooling solutions, which are seen commonly on new, high-end nForce 570/590 series platforms. In this age of performance per watt, ATI's lower power consumption levels are certainly a feature which should be noted.