Intel's latest platform launches - The Chipset
Now we get to what controls the board, the new Intel 975X chipset. The chip is a two part series, like all of the chipsets from Intel. It's very unlikely we will see single chip unless a Northbridge is integrated into the Intel CPU in the future.
The block diagram shows Intel's layout of what and how the 975X supports and how it is connected. The Dual PCI-E X16 slots are routed off the Northbridge to either a single x16 slot or two x8 slots. The DDR-2 memory controller is also located on the Northbridge and has been tweaked to work with the latest DDR2-800 memory (though there is no official support for this yet). One of the major triumphs of the 975X Northbridge is that Intel has worked with ATI to achieve official support for Crossfire Dual Graphics. That's right, if you plan to go ATI Crossfire; 975X supports this and it is incorporated into the latest Catalyst drivers on the web. Intel hasn't been granted SLI certification yet and we aren't sure if this will happen, as nVidia already makes its own Intel Pentium 4 chipsets for SLI, but these have been problematic with supporting the Pentium XE chips in the past.
The Southbridge is the same ICH7R used on the 955 and 945 series chipsets. This includes two SATA-II controllers supporting four SATA 2.5 ports, Azalia High Definition Audio, 6 PCI Express lanes, one IDE controller, 6 PCI Masters and 8 Hi Speed USB 2.0 ports. The link connecting the chips is Intel's Direct Media Interconnect operating at 2GB/s.
The Intel board uses two passively cooled heatsinks to disperse the heat from the chipset. One rather large one on the Northbridge and a smaller low profile one on the Southbridge.
Intel has now started to jazz up even their desktop boards with additional features. Since the ICH7 series only has a single IDE controller and the four SATA ports on the Southbridge can be used up pretty quick, Intel has added a Silicon Image SIL3114 PCI SATA controller chip. This chip uses the older SATA-150, so despite the SATA-II ports at the bottom of the board that are connected to the chip, you will only get SATA-150 speeds out of it. Another limitation of the chip is it uses the PCI bus to connect, which when using RAID can eat up all or just about all of the PCI bandwidth.
Firewire is now a household name with a lot of products using the standard, like Apple Ipod, DV cameras and external HDD storage boxes. To that end a Texas Instruments PCI based IEEE-1394 chip is added to give two Firewire-400 ports. One is located on the back I/O, the other needs to be connected to a header bracket or to a front panel case Firewire port.
Lastly we come to Intel's latest Gigabit Ethernet controller, the Tacoma. This new chip is a 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet PCI-Express x1 based chip. This chip is also a part of gaining Intel ViiV certification, which we will cover when our ViiV system arrives at our labs.