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Intel's New P35 Chipset

Intel is officially launching Bear Lake—the codename for the new P35 and G33 chipsets—at Taiwan's Computex trade show in early June. But motherboard manufacturers are already prepping new motherboards using the new chipset beforehand. ExtremeTech will have reviews of two P35 motherboards later this week, but wanted to offer a technical overview of the new chipset. The new core logic adds new features and a refined memory controller. The G33 version uses Intel's GMA 3100 graphics core, which is essentially the same as the GMA 3000 core used in the G965 products. Intel will be launching a brand new integrated graphics core in a product called G35 in Q3 of 2007.

Intel also noted that the P35 and G33 chipsets will support the new 45nm Penryn processors, which are still on track for release late this year.

What P35 is not is a replacement for Intel's "enthusiast" chipset, the 975X. The current 975X is getting pretty long in the tooth, but the Santa Clara chip company plans on shipping the high end version, dubbed X38, about the same time as the G35.

Intel P35 Architecture

The P35 is the classic Intel 2-chip core logic set, with a matched MCH (memory controller hub) and ICH (I/O controller hub.)

Intel P35 Core Logic Block Diagram

Intel has tuned the P35 memory controller to support both DDR2 and DDR3 memory, allowing motherboard makers to ship products that can support either DDR2 or DDR3. Both G33 and P35 chipsets use the PCI Express 1.0 standard for graphics and I/O. If you want an Intel-based PCI Express 2.0 solution, that will need to wait for the high-end X38 product.

The P35 MCH is ready for the next generation Intel processors, with full support for 800MHz, 1066MHz, and 1333MHz front-side bus products. (Note that older CPUs that only have a 533MHz front-side bus will also run, but 400MHz FSB CPUs won't be supported.) This includes upcoming 65-nm CPU products with 1333MHz FSBs as well as the next generation Penryn 45-nm multi-core CPUs.

In addition to supporting DDR3, the MCH has been architected for more efficient main memory access and lower latencies. The combined P35 MCH and ICH9 combination supplies a total of 22 PCI Express lanes. The MCH connects to the PCIe X16 graphics slot, while ICH9 houses six PCI Express Lanes.

Intel will be offering three variants of ICH9, instead of the two ICH variants in recent history. As in the past, there will be a standard ICH9 that leaves out RAID support—what Intel dubs Matrix Storage Technology. Above that is the ICH9R, which integrates RAID support.

ICH9 supports only 4 SATA ports, and doesn't implement Intel Matrix Storage. ICH9DH ("DH" for "Digital Home") adds two more SATA ports, plus Intel Matrix Storage technology (without RAID.) It also supports Intel's ViiV multimedia capability. Finally, ICH9R adds the above, plus RAID.

Also optional is Intel Turbo Memory—the technology formerly known as Robson. This is essentially a large flash memory cache on the motherboard to take advantage of the ReadyBoost feature built into Windows Vista.

The new ICH9 also supports up to a whopping 12 USB 2.0 ports. Also integrated into ICH9 is eSATA (external SATA) capability, including a built-in port multiplier. We've already seen P35 motherboards with two eSATA ports on the rear I/O array

Motherboards

Already, Intel's OEM partners are readying motherboard products for shipment, including boards using DDR3 memory. We currently have two Gigabyte motherboards and two ASUS products. Three of them, the Gigabyte P35-DQ6, Gigabyte P35-DS3R, and ASUS P5K Deluxe use current generation DDR2 modules while the ASUS P5K3 Deluxe supports DDR3. The mainstream P35 motherboard from Gigatybe, the P35 DSR3, builds in DDR2 memory support.

Gigabyte's P35 DSR3 Motherboard

The upcoming ASUS P5K3 will enable support for DDR3 memory modules.

ASUS P5K3 Deluxe P35 Motherboard

Most of the major memory suppliers have announced DDR3 memory products, but pricing is uncertain. It's very likely that early pricing will be very high—consider it the "early adopter" tax. As production of systems supporting DDR3 ramp up, the price will start to come down.

The High End
Performance enthusiasts who have been waiting for Intel to ship a high-end replacement for the 975X chipset will have to wait a little longer. Intel supplied a teaser slide with the presentation announcing the P35 core logic.

X38 Features

Also shipping about the same time as the X38 will be the G35, which implements the upcoming GMA X3500 graphics core. Intel has designed a new graphics core that the company claims is ready for Microsoft's DirectX 10 API. However, the features slide was careful to distinguish hardware shader model 3.0 support as separate from shader model 4.0.