Its finally that time, the dawn of PCI Express, with AGP reaching its peak it was only a matter of time before we had a faster standard, and here we have it. PCI express with speeds in excess of a massive 4000MB per second.
How much of a difference will this make right now? Well until the hardware can catch up not a great deal. Over the coming year assuredly graphics boards will be released to take full advantage of the extra bandwidth available. Before we get into testing the ATI X600XT graphics card let me detail the new Driverheaven PCI Express Testing Rig which courtesy of INTEL will be used in alot of our forthcoming PCI express reviews.
I will be testing a PCI Express system based around a formidable Pentium 4 Extreme Edition clocked at 3.4ghz. It is important when testing a graphics card not to have any CPU bottlenecks within your system, this processor allows us this luxury.
As you can see from the pictures above this Extreme edition cpu is the new "LGA775" varient (Land Grid Array), its quite a radical change and one I find favourable, the pins are now on the motherboard cpu socket which will hopefully lower the risk of bent pins on your CPU over the course of time. You can see this more clearly from the image above top right. Ive heard concerns voiced from some people over the pins on the motherboard being bent or broken, but I honestly cant see this happening unless you are really careless, its a robust principal and I for one think it is a major improvement over the old setup.
The CPU is inserted by placing onto the socket then by pulling down on the arm, until it locks into place. Its an easy to use setup and very safe. Its worth mentioning Intel are also releasing a 3.6ghz (non EE) processor for the express chipset family. Ill delve into this more in a later article.
The LGA 775 package "brings robust power and signal delivery enables future performance headroom". The CPUz image above was the only version I could get to correctly display the cache, multipler and FSB, ignore the voltage reading (its showing an incorrect value) - its set at the default figure of 1.55 volts. For those of you who arent aware, the Extreme edition has a 512k level two cache and a whopping 2 megabytes of Level 3 cache, its one of my favourite processors and im fortunate enough to have one in my main system. Using intels own Desktop Utilities Version 2.0 shows the correct values across the board.
The Heart of the
system is Intels new D925XCV, a fully loaded motherboard with
PCI express x 16 capability, it supports 800mhz or 533mhz bus
speeds has 4 port sata 150 with the noticeable exception of dual
IDE, only 1 port is available on this board and this is quite
clearly due to the "phasing" out of the older ATA standard.
Intel is the largest player in the chipset market with the innovations
in their chipsets always having a massive impact on other makers
designs and not just within the P4 processor market, but SIS,
Nvidia and VIA. Not only are they the largest maker of chipsets
but they could be classed as the "reference" board maker,
designs and concepts which will filter down over the coming months.
Intel Desktop Board D925XCV Extreme Series - Performance ATX
Support: Intel Pentium
4 in the LGA775 package
Attaching the power to the motherboard and the 12volt rail with additional molex is made easy by good motherboard positioning.
With the introduction of the Enthusiast 925X Chipset, which was known as Alderwood during development and the mainstream 915 chipset known as grantsdale, Intel have raised the bar with a signficant new architectural design. This board takes a new socket design called 775, has a new bus technology called PCI Express along with using the the new memory technology called DDR2. Some might say this is in fact the biggest changes to the PC in over 10 years.
All of the new 775 chipsets use the updated ICH6 southbridge (seen above right) which integrates the new 24 bit 192khz High definition audio. Intel HD audio features eight independent DMA audio engines which can enable multiple seperate simultaneous audio streams. This new southbridge also now supports four SATA ports, which doubles since the ICH5 days. These new SATA ports can accommodate either optical drives or hard drives with hot plug capabilities and Native Command Queuing (NCQ). This support is still SATA 1 (150mbs) but Intel have stated the new NCQ will allow for faster booting and increase file copying speeds. As I briefly mentioned earlier these new intel chipsets only support one IDE controller, so two IDE devices on the same channel is now your only option, I find this move understandable but at the same time a little unfortunate, I cant see the addition of another controller adding much to the complexity or cost of the design. This is the first major sign that Intel are in fact making people accelerate their move to SATA drives. Gigabit LAN is a welcome addition.
Looking carefully at the images on this page we have ascertained that new power connectors are needed on the new motherboards, in fact both 925x and 915 are 24 pin and no longer use the common 20 pin ATX connector which is found on current Pentium 4 power supplies. 925X only supports DDR2 and PCI express 16x graphics. 925x is also the only 775 chipset version that is stated to support ECC memory, unfortunately I could not verify this as I dont have access to DDR2 ECC memory at this current time. Intel first differentiated their "Enthusiast" boards with enhanced performance on the 875 chipset, the same applies with the 925x compared with the 915 chipsets. After talking to Intel this new acceleration technology is more complicated than the older PAT and is not likely this will be filtering down to 915 chipset solutions from other manufacturers.