Server platforms are always behind the desktop when it comes to technological enhancements. This is true when one considers the kind of reliability and stability that is often required for mission critical systems. Although new technologies often get deployed over to desktops first, it does not mean that they are unreliable. On mission critical systems, the validation process is often longer, stricter and more comprehensive and thus, it's unusual to see new platforms introduced in the server area first, though not impossible.
PCI Express and DDR2 technologies have made their appearance in desktops this year with the introduction of Intel's 925X, 915P and 915G Express chipsets. Although the introduction of these chipsets were relatively smooth (save for minor issues with the initial batches of ICH6), devices supporting PCI Express were few although a lot of technology partners have pledged support for this revolutionary new interface. It was not until months later that we began to see more products made available for PCI Express, but even so, much of them were graphics cards and not any peripherals taking advantage of the wider PCI Express bandwidth.
On the other hand, DDR2 memory technology was hailed as the replacement technology for DDR and it boasted speeds that could relief the memory bottleneck faced by modern desktop platforms. Sadly, its latency was high and DDR2-533 memory's performance was just about on-par with DDR400. It seems there were no real benefits from DDR2, especially when users started comparing prices of DDR and DDR2 memory. In a nutshell, it wasn't worth the trouble or investment to upgrade.
Fast forward to Intel's introduction of the latest Lindenhurst and Tumwater chipsets and you can see these new key technologies integrated into the server platform. It's an eventual evolution for Intel's server line-up and it was good to see that the Intel Xeon finally catching up to support the 800MHz FSB speed although the desktop side, by now, has moved on to 1066MHz. With an 800MHz front side bus, the memory controller hub (MCH) has to increase its memory bandwidth as well and it adopted DDR2-400 speeds to keep up with the higher FSB frequency. However, as with most server chipsets, only registered ECC memory is supported and you can guess by now that registered ECC memory will be expensive, even more so with DDR2 modules.
Lastly, we should not forget that the latest generation of Intel Xeon processors based on the Nocona core will support the Intel Extended Memory 64 Technology. Thus, if you need to build future proof server systems, this is one platform to consider since it will support 64-bit operating systems from Microsoft, or 64-bit Linux operating systems distributed by Redhat or SuSE.
The ASUS NCL-DS1 server board.
Today, we'll look at ASUS' latest server board offering based on the new Lindenhurst chipset. Although they have already listed a DDR2 version based on the Lindenhurst solution (NCL-DS), they are also offering a DDR version. As we know it, DDR is still very much the mainstream memory solution today and they are a lot more affordable than DDR2. That is the main motivation behind ASUS' latest NCL-DS1 server board.