Crossfire 3200 in Detail
While this is a motherboard review, it's also the first time we have looked at the Crossfire 3200 (RD600) for the Intel platform, so we are going to have a look at its major components.
First off the name of the chipset is simply ATI Crossfire 3200. When AMD/ATI from Taiwan were here in Sydney for their Christmas party, we attended this and asked some of the questions on our minds - one of them was if they will continue to make chipsets for Intel processors and they answered, a big yes, as the market is ripe for that. If people want to use the competitors CPU, they will provide chipsets to run it, as they will still make money.
Chipsets designed for the AMD Athlon processors will be given an AMD name such as the AMD580 which is the Crossfire 3200 for AMD renamed. Chipsets for the Intel market will bare the ATI logo, as this prevents any confusion on this part. It's probably gonna be a little strange having a consumer buy an AMD motherboard for his Intel processor.
ATI uses a two chip platform for the Intel Core 2 Crossfire 3200 chipset. There is the RD600 Northbridge and the choice of SB450 or SB600, the latter being the more intelligent choice for motherboard manufacturers, as it does resolve some of the issues that the previous Southbridge suffered with, such as performance.
- The Northbridge
First thing we want to cover is the RD600 Northbridge. While its features are somewhat similar to that of the RD400 chipset, it's a totally redesigned setup. RD600 has been designed from the ground up in order to take on nVidia in the overclocking department.
The RD600 Northbridge while being called the Crossfire 3200 does not contain dual PCI Express x16 graphics lanes. The graphics system supports Crossfire however, when Crossfire is setup the graphics cards share a PCI Express x8 lane each. While this is slower than the Dual 16 lanes the AMD setup receives, it's still enough to give it full Crossfire compatibility. Both of these slots run off the Northbridge chipset, so there is no need for communication to a Southbridge based PCI Express slot like nVidia does. The next impressive feature is the addition of a third PCI Express x16 slot. This though is only set to run at PCI Express x2 speeds but what is it for? Physics.
ATI demonstrated hardware physics to us last year using an X1600Pro graphic card in a separate PCI Express slot to handle the physics side of things. This has finally been implemented on the RD600 Northbridge. The extra slot runs of a PCI Express x2 lane that is also wired into the Northbridge.
Now we get down to the last past of the RD600, the memory controller. DFI has tried to follow nVidia in terms of its memory configurations. Its able to run almost totally asynchronous to the FSB, however, our board didn't have 1MHz increments for the memory controller, they were 3MHz increments. This does allow for you to set the memory and FSB at different rates so you don't have to overclock the memory as high as the FSB, if your RAM cannot handle it.
- The Southbridge
Not it's onto the second half of the equation, the SB600. First introduced to be the companion to the AMD Crossfire 3200 chipset, it now finds it way to the Intel based version, and why not? It's been beefed up since the SB450 chipset. First off it's got a new storage system. It natively supports 4 SATA ports with the SATA 2.5 spec fully compliant, so it allows for NCQ, hot swap and 300MB/s data transfers. The IDE system has been cut from 2 port to a single IDE channel, similar to nVidia's setup.
The Southbridge also implements Azalia HD audio, so it doesn't miss out on the new 7.1 audio standard. The Southbridge doesn't use any network features but rather relies on PCI Express based controllers to be added on rather than adding in one itself.
Lastly is the link ATI uses for connecting the North and Southbridges. While it may be called A-Link, it's nothing more than a PCI Express x4 lane that the Southbridge sits on, allowing for seamless changes of Southbridges in the future.