The ULi chipsets that make up the package
Before we take a look at the test board and its feature set, its time to take a good look at the chipset and see just what ULI has put on offer.
The M1695 comes in a two chip solution and while we have voiced our dislike on two chip AMD Athlon 64 solutions with VIA, our opinion still stands that there is no need for this with the memory controller now on the CPU. One thing ULi does have though is a segment of several other Southbridge's coming later this year in order to augment the design for server, workstation and mainstream markets - all using the same Northbridge.
ULi places on the Northbridge its PCI Express root port controllers, in total there are 20 PCI Express lanes available. 16 lanes are routed to the primary PEG or PCI Express Graphics Port. After this there are 4 PCI Express lanes available for additional devices. ULi recommends either 2x PCi Express x1 slots with 2 lanes free for PCI-E Networking and PCI-E SATA controllers for the mainstream/performance market or using all 4 lanes in a single PCI Express x4 slot for use with new SAS PCI-E controllers and other devices coming into the server/workstation market.
ULi has designed its PCI-E graphics link with Dual Graphics in mind. If the motherboard manufacturer decides to go for a Dual Graphics setup, the PCI Express x16 port can be split into two PCI Express x8 ports, similar to how the SLI setup of nVidia works - currently there is no definitive answer if the ULi chipset will support SLI but nVidia are working with other chipset makers at the moment to added SLI certification to their chipsets.
At this currant stage, ULi has only one Southbridge available, with 1 or 2 others coming in the near future. Currently the M1567 is the Southbridge of choice available with the option to add in an additional chip to the PCI-E bus. The M1567 uses the HyperTransport protocol to connect the Northbridge to the Southbridge. ULi has stood out in terms of connection speed, ULi allows for a 16x uplink and 16x downlink connection from North to Southbridge's in order to accommodate extremely bandwidth intense products, which we will explain shortly.
The M1567 uses a 16x Uplink and 8x downlink HT interconnect, as the M1567 isn't as intense with bandwidth as the upcoming companion chips. First off the unique design of the Southbridge has a built in AGP 8x graphics controller. That's right, it's on the Southbridge. Rather than building it into the Northbridge, the AGP is moved to the Southbridge. This has some advantage as it allows the motherboard manufacturer the freedom to incorporate the AGP Southbridge or one of the others ULi also has on the horizon.
A new Southbridge is on the way that uses a 16x up and 16x down link to the Northbridge for a couple major upgrades - the first is that the newer Southbridge will have SATA-II support with 4 ports. The other is ULi plans to add a second PCI-E x16 lane - that's right - a dedicated PCI-E x16. This means that ULi will have the first Dual Graphic system (or even Quad Graphics or 4-way SLI maybe *grins*) that has two dedicated x16 PCI-E ports. If you want to run three graphics cards, this can be done by splitting up the PCI-E x16 on the Northbridge into two PCI-E x8 slots and either having an AGP or a second PCI-E x16 slot, ULi has thought of the server market in great detail. Another advantage of the ULi design is the ability to add in other Hypertransport devices such as the AMD Hypertransport to PCI-X controller chip used for Opteron processors - it truly is universal.
ULi also has another trump card up its sleeve. ULI has a Southbridge chipset that currently runs on the PCI-E interface which allows a manufacturer the ability to add in a second or third Southbridge onto their boards, simply by adding in the ULi chip onto a free PCI-E x1 link. This means ULi can bridge its SATA support and expand it from the current 2 up to 4 ports, and with the new Southbridge, from 4 up to 8, making the design that much more flexible.
Unfortunately in this series Southbridge, ULi has only included a 10/100 Ethernet MAC onboard. With the trend from SiS, nVidia and Intel moving to Gigabit as standard, it would be nice to see ULi add in a Gigabit MAC to its next line of Southbridge's.