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All the features and technologies I'm about to tell you about revolves around three new chipsets:
Now we can spend all day talking about the new features introduced by these chipset! Yippee! Keep in mind that we are going to focus on the 925x for the remainder of this review. We do have 915 boards ready for testing, but we'll leave that for another article (I am interested to see what this "PAT-like" technology does in real world). And as far as the integrated graphics? Well, as I already said, it's nothing you or I would get excited about. It does support DX9, and is the first integrated graphics to do so, but it's more in preperation for Longhorn than anything (Longhorn is expected to require DX9 hardware to work). Don't plan on playing Doom 3 on this bad boy (nevermind Quake 3 at that!).
Easily the most important feature of the new chipsets, PCI-E is also going to require the most explanation. At the heart of it, PCI-E is a serial connection intended to be a replacement to both PCI and AGP. Unlike PCI, on which all devices share the same amount of bandwidth on a common bus, PCI-E allows each device its own amount of bandwidth, depending on how many 'lanes' the slot is dedicated. On top of that, PCI-E has lower latency, and other features such as hot plugging, advanced power management, and more.
x1 PCI-E slots, or "one lane" slots, get 250MB/s of bandwidth in each direction, concurrently. This makes for an effective 500MB/s of bandwidth (think DDR). Compare that to PCI's paltry 75MB/s shared across every device on the bus. This will allow for everything from LAN cards, to audio cards, to storage controllers to be hosted on an x1 PCI-E bus. Most boards we've seen have 2 or 3 of these PCI-E connectors, and a couple PCI connectors as well (so you don't have to throw away that wireless card just yet!).
The x16 slot is the AGP killer. Let me put it this way - an x16 slot is capable of 8 GB/s. Compare that to 4GB/s AGP is capable of. This gives the graphics card almost direct access to the system memory (at this level, the system memory lane is around 8.5 GB/s). While this kind of bandwidth isn't going to do squat for us just yet - imagine the possibilities. To do so, you'll have to forget about gaming for a while. The real benefit of this technology will be things like streaming HD, and more. I'd like to get into this a bit more, but it's really beyond the scope of this article. For now, consider yourself introduced to PCI-E!
Intel has introduced a few new storage technologies with the 9xx chipsets. First and foremost is Matrix Storage Technology, which basically allows you to use RAID 1 and RAID 0 on a single pair of drives. It's not as great as it sounds though; it's not like you can have a single volume with RAID 1 and 0 in one. Instead, you set up a RAID 0 array to install the OS on, and create a RAID 1 array on a separate volume to store data, etc. If you crash and burn, your OS will be gone, but everything on that RAID 1 volume will be retrievable. It's not as great as Intel made it out to be in press conferences, but it's better than the alternative of using 4 drives!
The second new technology is Native Command Queuing. NCQ is one of the first advantages we are seeing from native SATA hard drives (as opposed to bridged solutions, which is what everything is right now). What NCQ does is allow the drive to 'decide' whether to execute commands, or queue them for later, depending on the current state of the drive (where the heads are, etc). If it is faster for the drive to access another command, it will do so. This will lead to a very slight increase in performance, but far more important is the increased durability provided. If you're looking for more info on this, check out this whitepaper from Seagate and Intel.
We've been hearing about it for ages. I got my first sticks of DDR2 from Kingston almost 2 months ago. FINALLY it's here. But what's it all about? Is it twice as fast as DDR1?
Unfortunately, it is not that much faster. The ideas behind DDR2 are not something we'll be noticably affected by. Basically, it's preparing for the future; it allows for a higher module density, higher clock frequency, and lower voltage ratings than regular DDR. Video cards have been using DDR2 to their advantage for some time now, and main systems are starting to catch up (video cards are on DDR3 now).
The fastest modules available today are DDR533, however they do carry the burden of increased latency. The DDR533 chips we have from Kingston are set for timings of 4-4-4-12. Compare that to the 3-4-4-8 timings of the "DDR533" chips available (which is overclocked DDR400). Of course we know that Intel is hardly affected by higher latencies, so it should be less of an issue here. When we start seeing AMD platforms employing DDR2, things may be different...
Hi Definition Audio
The 9xx series chipsets are also introducing a new audio standard which will hopefully get rid of the crappy AC97 we're seeing even on high end boards!
The new spec calls for capability of 192 kHz, 24 bit audio. Creative is gonna love that! On top of that, we get 7.1 channels, and support for Dobly Digital EX and DTS ES. FINALLY, PC's are catching up to 10 year old mid-range stereos on terms of fidelity!
Although not available to us just yet, Intel will have a version of their southbridge with integrated Wi-Fi (802.11g). 802.11g is capable of 54Mbps, and is fully backwards compatible with the well-rooted 802.11b. The only concern is that it has quite a lower range.
Now that you're aquainted with the CPU and the new chipsets, let's get down to business! Benchmark time!
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