I/O Controller Hubs (ICH) - Say hello to ICH9!
With the new Northbridge or MCH as Intel now calls them, a new Southbridge or ICH will be put into play. This is set to be the 9th generation of ICH so creatively it's known as the ICH9. Intel plans to release four different variants, similar in design to that of the current ICH8 series - ICH9, ICH9R, ICH9DH and ICH9DO.
ICH9 will support the basic features such as the six SATA ports with port multiplier functions, Azalia HD audio and a total of six PCI Express X1 lanes. Like the ICH8 series, there will be no PATA port which means we can expect to see JMicron making more money thanks to their SATA and PATA PCI Express chip which have come in quite handy.
ICH9R will add to the ICH9 features by supporting RAID functions on the Serial ATA ports, just like the ICH8R did to the ICH8. This is the only major function of the ICH9R, there are no more or less SATA ports, no extra PCI Express lanes or any additional audio features. We are unsure about HDD performance at this stage but we'll find out soon enough in our benchmarks.
ICH9DH and ICH9DO are geared towards the Digital Home and Digital Office to gain vPRO support. Their feature sets are comparable to the ICH9R series, only with new power saving features to gain vPRO recognition from Intel.
All of the ICH9 series will support PCI Express 2.0 ports allowing for a doubling of bandwidth. For example, PCI Express x1 lanes on the 1.0 standard support 250MB/s in each direction, PCI Express x1 in 2.0 will support 500MB/s in each direction. One of the other major changes to PCI Express 2.0 is external plug in system. Instead of just having slots in the case, PCI Express 2.0 can be connected to external devices though standard copper cables up to 10 metres away according to the PCI Special Interest Group or PCI-SIG who set out the new standards. This will be extremely helpful for laptops who want to plug in an external graphics card, no more MXM modules needed, just a PCI Express 2.0 plug and your off and racing.
USB 2.0 support has gone up from 10 ports on the ICH8 series to 12 ports on the ICH9 series. It's not surprising why as even now I have maxed out my 10 ports on my home ICH8 based motherboard and require a hub for extra devices - the two extra ports will be most welcomed.