ULi M1697 in Detail
ULi's latest chipset has come at a great deal of research into the enthusiast and mainstream market and appears on paper to be a direct competitor to the nForce 4 chipset line as well as VIA's latest K8T900 chipset with many of the same features.
ULi has followed the nVidia line of thinking in that a single chip is better than two, in this instance. Traditionally, a two chip solution is used when you have a graphics controller and memory controller off the CPU. This is the design for Intel, as you can upgrade the graphics and/or memory controller without having to change a Southbridge. In the case of the Athlon 64 and Sempron CPU's, the memory controller is built into the CPU die. The CPU has an internal Northbridge of its own that connects the CPU core, the memory controller and a 2Ghz Hyper Transport tunnel into one system.
With the memory controller removed from the external chip equation, there is only the graphics controller left, and with AGP now the way of the Dodo in terms of future expansion and PCI Express now the way of things, there is simply no real reason to have a separate North and Southbridge external chipset, rather just a single.
The M1697 supports a HT link from 1GHz up to 2GHz allowing you to run all current AMD socket 754, 939, 940 processors and even the new M2 when it debuts, as there is no memory controller to worry about.
For expansion purposes the M1697 has up to 20 PCI Express lanes that can be variably configured. There are 16 lanes for the graphics system; however, these can be split down to 2 PCI-E x8 slots for running Crossfire and SLI graphics system. If, however, a motherboard manufacturer prefers to use two PCI Express x16 slots, the M1697 can be coupled to a Hyper Transport supporting ULi Southbridge with a dedicated PCI-E x16 controller onboard to give the same full speed PCI-E x16 SLI setups that nVidia currently offers to its customers. You can then have three PCI-E x1 slots with one spare for onboard PCI-E devices or one PCI-E x4 slot for Server PCI SATA and SCSI controllers. Legacy supports comes with a 6 PCI Bus Master controller with support for up to 6 PCI slots. While you won't see this many slots, there are still SATA, Firewire controller and other devices being added to motherboards that still use the PCI bus.
Mass Storage system is relatively similar to that of the nForce offerings. There are two dedicated IDE Bus masters ports supporting two ATA-100, ATA-66 or ATA-33 IDE drives per port, a total of four IDE devices. The Serial ATA gets a boost on this chipset with two extra SATA ports added to give a total of four SATA ports supporting the SATA 2.5 specs with 3Gbps transfer rates as well as supporting RAID functions. Unfortunately, the RAID doesn't bridge between the IDE and SATA controllers on the ULi board - something for the future we would like to see added.
The USB system has been upgraded to support eight Hi-Speed USB 2.0 ports. The MAC system however, is only a 10/100 Fast Ethernet. With nVidia's Hardware Gigabit MAC and Firewall a permanent feature in the nForce 4 chipsets, it's hard to see why this chipset wouldn't incorporate a Gigabit Ethernet controller.
One of the biggest features of the ULi board that no other competitors have for AMD is the Azalia HD Audio Codec. ULi and Intel have at present a cross licence agreement that allows them to have Intel technology including the P4 bus and the Azalia HD Audio. This has now been added to the M1697 chip to give the AMD64 platform the same HD Audio that Intel uses have been getting for some time now.