Summary: With support for their next-gen Penryn CPUs, 1333MHz FSB, and DDR3 memory, Intel's Bearlake family of chipsets is packed with features. In this article we go over the raw specs and performance of the chipset. How does it compare to nForce 680i and previous Intel offerings? Find out in this article!
While weíre waiting for AMD to spur new competition with faster and more efficient processors we witness the chipset wars with companies trying to create the best chipset for the Core 2 CPUs. The companies who create chipsets for the Intel Core 2 are SiS, VIA, nVidia, and Intel themselves. The first two make budget boards. You can find SiSís and VIAís motherboards in value bundles or combo deals. This does not necessarily mean that SiS and VIA motherboards for the Core 2 are bad. It just means that they are not for the overclocking, tweaking, gaming, and performance crowd, which makes a tiny fraction of the computers utilizing Intelís Core 2 processors.
This is a battle of who knows Intelís Core 2 CPUs best. For enthusiasts Intel introduced Core 2 on their old i975X chipset originally made for the Pentium D series. NVIDIA quickly followed with the nForce 500 series chipset. NVIDIAís nForce 500 chipset was ported from their nForce4 line and never gained any traction in the marketplace. The nForce 590 SLI chipset was late to market, lacked performance, and didnít overclock very well. Alongside 975 Intel also engineered a newer, cheaper, chipset with insane overclocking potential. This became the P965 chipset. Soon after, NVIDIA released its 600 series chipset. Featuring a remade North Bridge, the nForce 680i is the current performance and overclocking leader. However it is the most expensive platform for Core 2 too, with most motherboards selling for over $200.
To pave the way for the next-generation of Intel CPUs (read: Penryn) and technologies Intel has developed a new chipset for the Core 2 platform. Codenamed Bearlake and Broadwater, Intelís new 3 series chipsets are revolutionary, at least on paper. With new features such as integrated DirectX 10 and DDR3 memory, Intel really packed the new 3 with features no other chipset on the market has.
Like NVIDIAís nForce 680i platform, Intelís 3-series is a two chip chipset. Both have 12 USB 2.0 and 6 SATA2 ports with eSATA (external SATA) support and both chipsets have high definition audio provided by a Realtek codec. Intel provides Gigabit Ethernet as well.
One feature that sets the 3 series chipset apart from others is the integration of DDR3 memory. This feature is completely unique to the 3 series and Intel for now. AMD is scheduled to integrate DDR3 in 2008.
Intelís fast memory access is designed to increase system performance by optimizing memory bandwidth. Latency is also reduced as well. You will see in our benchmarks that Intel does accomplish this, even though it did not help gaming tests. From their tests, the increase looks huge, but in fact the 945G is Intelís slowest chipset. Fast memory access technology was first introduced in Intelís P965 chipset last year; this, combined with DDR3ís 8-bit prefetch buffer (compared to four bits in DDR2) should help to increase P35ís performance when paired with DDR3 memory.
Here is a DDR3 kit running at 1333MHz. It was supplied to us by Kingston and is their top of the line HyperX series performance memory. This memory is rated for PC3-11000 (1375MHz) at 1.7V and at the high timings of 7-7-7-20. While these numbers are extremely high, these HyperX DDR3-1375 modules support the lowest latencies on the market, other 1333MHz modules run at timings of 9-9-9-24.
In comparison the fastest DDR2 tops out at 1200MHz (and typically require over 2.3V), though they run at much lower 5-5-5-15 timings. The DDR3 technology has not matured yet, so in time we will see DDR3 modules with tighter timings.
The DS3R is the cheaper of the two Gigabyte P35 boards. The name DS3 comes from the P965 chipset. That Gigabyte P965-DS3 proved to be a cheap overclocking board, and is a favorite among overclockers. This DS3R is also a no-frills board. While it may be lacking in features, it has the P35 chipset at heart, so performance should be the same. The board looks fairly plain. The Northbridge cooling on the P35 is enormous. This is because it has no heatpipes to take heat elsewhere. Gigabyte cut costs on the intricate cooling solutions used before, but this alternative method should do the job just fine. Around the CPU socket area, you can see that the power management and MOSFETS run without any form of cooling. Gigabyte cuts costs here too. This will affect overclocking a tiny bit, lowering the maximum available headroom. The DS3 only has one PEG slot since it is supposed to be a mainstream board, not an enthusiast product. Gigabyte is able to charge less, since the enthusiasts will probably opt for the board with dual slots and pay almost double the price. The rest of the expansion slots are typical and arranged for maximum usability.
Gigabyte uses an ITE I/O chip for system monitoring. The HD Audio is powered by the ALC889A codec. The 680i uses the ALC888 codec, but there is no difference. The different revision is based on the chipset. Like most motherboards the Gigabit Ethernet controller is provided by Realtek as well, not by the chipset itself.
Gigabyte P35-DS3Rís 4 memory slots are color coded according to channels. However, they only support DDR2. DDR3 versions may come in the future, when DDR3 is commercially available, but for now, we will use DDR2 with the P35-DS3R. The 6 SATA2 ports provided by the ICHR9 chipset are colored orange. Another two SATA ports are provided by an onboard controller provided by Gigabyte. The PATA connector in green is strangely placed, since most PATA drives are optical and are on the top of the case. It would have been logical to switch the location of the black floppy drive connector with the PATA connector for less able clutter. The rear panel ports of the P35-DS3R are very standard. All of the legacy connectors are there. Most expensive enthusiast motherboards remove the parallel and serial ports and replace them with eSATA and other premium features. Gigabyte provides only 4 USB2.0 ports on the back, but a whopping 4 headers for 8 USB2.0 ports on the front.
Now on to Gigabyteís elite P35 board!
Gigabyteís P35-DQ6 is the elite board for that chipset. The DQ6 name has been featured with their P965 and 680i board. The DQ6 ending signifies Six Quad functions. They range from quad cooling to quad SLI. Weíll have to see which quad features this board has.
The P35-DQ6 has a new PCB with everything moved around. The cooling on this board dominates the photographs above. The cooling wraps around the whole CPU socket. It has multiple layers stacked on the Northbridge and moved up the motherboard by heatpipes. The MOSFETS are cooled, as are some of the power management chips. This is the first quad feature on the DQ6.
The cooling is made up of 4 sections, all connected by a network of heatpipes. The Southbridge, Northbridge, and MOSFETS and some power management chips are cooled. After that comes the next quad feature. Even though Gigabyte didnít have to specifically engineer this feature, Quad Core CPUs are supported. So because there are four cores, this becomes another quad feature of the DQ6.
The third quad feature is the quad triple phase power subsystem. This power regulation system provides much cleaner, smoother and more stable power. Most other enthusiast board only have 8-phase cooling, versus Gigabyteís 12. In theory, we should see better stability and high overclocking potential from better power management. Like the DS3, the DQ6 has all solid capacitors for ultimate performance, overclocking, and stability.
The expansion slots are very standard. A PCI slot was taken out and an extra PEG slot was added for multi graphics processor support by AMD/ATIís Crossfire. The last photo shows the front panel audio connector. Gigabyte had to stack three of the headers to allow easier access to the connector over its massive Northbridge cooling solution.
The controllers on the DQ6 are all on the DS3R. The board uses an ITE chip for power and temperature monitoring for the BIOS. The HD audio is provided by Realtekís ALC889A codec. The Gigabit Ethernet is provided by Realtekís 8111B controller. Finally, three Firewire ports, one on the back and two on the board as headers are provided by a Texas Instruments controller. This feature isnít found on the DS3R, so Gigabyte can have a feature, and therefore price separation.
The bottom corner of the P35-DQ6 is no more feature filled than the DS3R. The connectors are all rearranged. The PATA controller is still at the bottom, but it is on the edge of the board, for less cable clutter. The BIOS has a second chip for flashing protection. This, paired with special proprietary recovery software makes the fourth quad feature called Quad BIOS. Quad BIOS fixes faulty flashes and provides protection from BIOS corruption.
The next quad feature is the quad eSATA. If you donít use all the SATA ports for internal drives, you can use them for exterior drives with provided PCI expansion brackets, which link the internal ports to the outside.
The last quad feature is the four DDR2 slots. This is a feature found on just about every Core 2 motherboard, so we think this is purely marketing slang. They had to have 6 quad features so the only way to accomplish that was to add it as a quad. So as you can see, many of the advertised quad features are not unique to the DQ6 board. The rear panel is uneventful and very standard, like the DS3R. All the legacy ports are there, along with 4 USB2.0, gigabit Ethernet, and a Firewire port.
ASUS provided us with a pair of Intel P35 based motherboards. Like Gigabyte, ASUS builds the most feature filled boards for both Intel and AMD processors.
The P5Kís layout is similar to that of the Gigabyte boardsí layouts. The cooling used is not as ornate as that of the DQ6, but more complicated than the DS3R. This setup is very traditional, covering both bridge chips and MOSFETS. The power management is left untouched. Gigabyte uses much larger heatsinks for the Northbridge, however ASUSís setup did the job just fine. The CPU socket area is not cluttered.
Most heatsinks like our Thermaltake Big Typhoon have small bases, with their mass at the top of the heatpipes. However, larger coolers like the Scythe Ninja and Scythe Infinity are large from top to bottom, and will not fit because of the capacitors around the CPU socket. All water cooling blocks will fit fine though. ASUS has an extra PCI slot instead of a third PCI Express x1 slot like the Gigabyte boards. This really doesnít matter though, because many graphics cards have dual slot cooling, which will render the slot next to a PEG slot unusable. Even if your video card takes up only a single slot, you should not have any cards in the slot beneath. This will choke the video card of air.
ASUS uses a JMicron RAID controller which supports two eSATA ports on the P5K. Next comes the Realtek wireless controller. ASUS provides an onboard wireless LAN card and antenna with both P35 boards. This is a very nice touch, which might save you money even if you pay a small premium for the board. Intelís ICH9 doesnít support Firewire so ASUS added an Agere 1394 controller for two ports, one on the back panel, and one in the form of a header onboard. ASUS uses a Winbond chip for voltage and temperature monitoring.
ASUSís P5K supports DDR2 only, like both Gigabyte boards. Next to the 24 pin power connector is the floppy drive connector. The PATA connector is nowhere in sight. It is at the bottom of the board at a 90-degree angle to the edge, like the Gigabyte boards. This placement can create a lot of cable clutter, especially since PATA drives are usually optical, and at the top of the case. If youíre not sure which memory type the ASUS P5K supports from the picture, you can look at the marking near the groove point on the DIMM slot. They say 1.8V, which means this board supports only DDR2.
The bottom corner of the ASUS is very boring. The six SATA ports are shared by the JMicron controller and Intelís ICH9 Southbridge. The two other ports from the ICH9 are on the back panel. Other than that there isnít anything happening in the bottom corner other than a few USB headers and the oddly placed PATA connector. The back panel is very fancy. ASUS substituted a PS2 mouse port for two USB ports. ASUS colors the single Firewire and two eSATA ports red. The most unique feature is the built in wireless LAN card. A plastic antenna is included.
So what does the 3 add to the P5K? Letís find out.
The P5K3 doesnít look too much different from the P5K. The cooling on the MOSFETS at the top of the motherboard (to the left in the photo) is upgraded slightly, with more fins and a heatpipe. Other than that, the board is identical, and thatís because both boards were built on the same PCB. Now that the heatpipes encircle the whole PCB, some coolers may not fit. Those heatskins with fans on the side blowing across, not the top blowing down may hit the top heatpipe near the memory slots. Make sure you find measurements for your particular cooler to see if it fits.
Like we said before, the two boards are nearly identical. This means that no controller was added, and none were removed. The JMicron still controls two of the onboard eSATA controllers, while the remaining SATA ports are handled by the Intel ICH9 Southbridge. Realtek takes care of the wireless LAN which comes in an onboard card facing the rear panel. Two Firewire ports, on the back panel, and the other a header are provided by an Agere controller. The Winbond I/O chip handles monitoring duties.
So we have scoured the whole board, yet there are still no signs of the reason for adding a 3 to the P5K. Could ASUS really have added a 3 to the name just because of a small cosmetic heatpipe change? ASUS isnít that dumb. In fact the 3 in P5K3 is the most important feature of the P35 chipset. The only difference between the P5K and the P5K3 is DDR3 support. Thatís a huge difference isnít it? We think so. This is a step forward for Intel, opening up new possibilities for overclocking and memory bandwidth. Look at the memory slots. Not only is the groove placing moved over to the left, but look at the notation by the notch. It reads 1.5V, the standard spec for DDR3 memory. Since the difference between the P5K and the P5K3 is the sticks of RAM, we will be able to see the difference that faster and looser (timings) DDR3 makes over slower and tighter DDR2. The bottom corner of the board is the same as the P5K. The PATA connector is placed at a 90 degree angle, causing possible cable management problems. The rear panel is unchanged as well. ASUSís wireless LAN adapter is the highlight here, since it is a rare feature.
Now onto testing, to see if the P35 is the new way to go for Intelís Core 2 CPUs.
Intel Core 2 Duo E6700
ASUS P5K Deluxe
ASUS P5K3 Deluxe
Gigabyte GA-965P-DQ6 (P965)
Shuttle SD37P2 (975X)
2GB Corsair PC2-6400C4 (DDR2-800 4-4-4-12 2.0V)
2GB Kingston PC3-11000 (DDR3-1066 7-7-7-20 1.7V)
250GB Samsung SATA2
Now letís examine just current Intel vs. future Intel. The P35 is supposed to be an upgraded P965 chipset. In some ways it is. Performance wise, the P35 definitely shows improvement over the P965. The real advantages over the older chipset are the included features. Intel integrates support for their future 45nm CPUs codenamed Penryn. This is why the 975X was so valued. It worked with the older Pentium CPUs, and then the revolutionary Core 2 Duo CPUs. Next, Intel integrated official support for 1333MHz FSB and 1333MHz memory speeds. We donít need this just yet for stock CPUs, but this is great for overclocking, permitting higher guaranteed overclocks.
Finally, we have DDR3. This is the future. Because of higher latencies and high pricing though, DDR3 is nothing significant now. Our benchmarks did prove, that DDR3 running at horrendously high timings of 7-7-7 at only a moderate high speed of 1066MHz was able too keep up, and sometimes slightly overtake DDR2 running a bit slower at 800MHz and much lower timings of 4-4-4. Considering the HyperX modules we tested are expected to retail for over $500, this is a high price to pay for such little real world benefits.
Should you upgrade to Bearlake if youíre in the market for an upgrade right now? Thatís really going to depend on how important Penryn support is to you. If having an upgrade path beyond todayís Core 2 CPUs is important, then upgrading to a Bearlake motherboard should be a high priority. Considering the high price and latency of DDR3, price conscious consumers will likely opt for DDR2-based Bearlake motherboards, but again, if the upgrade path is important, you might want to opt for DDR3.
Until prices come down on Bearlake motherboards, this is likely going to be a difficult decision for many enthusiasts. Fortunately as more P35 motherboards hit the market prices will slowly creep down to more reasonable levels, the debut of the X38 chipset may also help a little as well. Intelís 3-series chipsets may not be the revolutionary performance upgrade many enthusiasts were hoping for, but with the platform does lay the groundwork for the next generation of Intel CPUs. This is an important aspect that canít be overlooked if you plan to hold on to your motherboard for a long period of time.
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