Intel's new generation chipset
Intel's P965 chipset is aimed at the mainstream market for the Core 2 Duo as well as Core 2 Extreme processors. Intel has used what it learnt in the past with the 975X chipset and upgraded a few of the features. One of the main features of the P965 chipset is that it complies with Intel's ViiV technology requirement.
The FSB (Front Side Bus) supports 1066/800/533MHz which means this chipset can support the full Core 2 range as well as the Pentium D and Celeron D range of processors.
P965 also gets Crossfire support due to the ability to split the PCI Express x16 lane down to two PCI Express x8 slots - dual x16 slots would have been better, but Intel still hasn't caught onto this yet. There are rumours floating around that certain P965 boards can also support SLI but we haven't done any testing yet to prove that. Now that ATI and AMD are joining forces, nVidia and Intel announced support for SLI on some Intel chipset based boards but there is nothing too concrete in place yet.
Next is the DDR-2 memory controller. Intel has given up fully on DDR now; in fact the last of the DDR/DDR-2 chipsets was the 915 series. The P965 has put an upgraded memory controller supporting a 128-bit DDR2-400/533/667/800MHz controller with Intel's new Fast Memory Access Technology to reduce the memory latencies and this is all in the Northbridge, now we get onto the new Southbridge.
Intel has gone with the new I/O controller hub version 8 or ICH8 as Intel calls it. Again Intel has evolved on the ICH7 series with a few extra features. First off is a 6 channel PCI Express x1 lane which can be multi configured to run different speed slots. Next is a 10 port USB 2.0 controller system with Dual EHCI setup. In the past, Intel has used a single EHCI setup where all 8 USB 2.0 ports would share the same EHCI port. When all 8 ports were in use with USB 2.0 devices, 480MB/s was shared amongst 8 ports. With the Dual EHCI system, five ports are running on one of the EHCI controllers and the last five are on the second EHCI controller. This means 480MB/s is shared with five ports and another 480MB/s is shared with the other five, hence providing you with more USB bandwidth.
Intel HD Audio makes its appearance again in the ICH8 series for 8 channel sound systems for the Digital Home environment. Intel's ICH8 also has an upgraded Serial ATA-II controller system with 6 ports as opposed to the 4 ports on the ICH7. These 6 ports support Intel Matrix Storage for RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and RAID 5.
Intel Quiet System Technology is the software control system that allows the chipset to control the fans and voltages allowing the system to be put into power saving states. The ICH8 is connected to the Northbridge using the same Digital Media Interface at 2GB/s bandwidth that the ICH7 introduced.
It is interesting to see the P965 (the mainstream chipset) has more features than the 975X chipset, which Intel has set for the Performance and Enthusiasts segments. Now that we've covered the new P965 chipset itself, let's move onto the Gigabyte motherboard.