- A seismic event was to occur in 2006 for the CPU industry and that had far-reaching effects on the chipset segment. Even before the year started, Intel had been building up the hype for its next generation micro-architecture and the goods duly arrived in July 2006 with the release of the Core 2 Duo processors (Conroe), built on the Core micro-architecture and along with it, new chipsets.
But before that happened, AMD was shifting to a new 940-pin, AM2 socket in May 2006 in preparation for its official shift to DDR2 memory and this was heralded by the arrival of NVIDIA's nForce 500 series of chipsets. An early preview of the NVIDIA nForce 570 SLI chipset was done thanks to MSI's K9N SLI Platinum board and we got a look at the MCP. Most of the features on this chipset was expected, like dual PCIe x8 SLI support. There was also "six SATA 3.0Gbps connectors, dual Gigbit LAN and Azalia HD Audio." Soundstorm looked truly dead as NVIDIA did not seem to be continuing it.
We followed up this early look with more tantalizing glimpses of the nForce 590 from Gigabyte.
And we finally had the green light to publish the actual review of the NVIDIA nForce 500 chipsets:
Covering a range of price segments and varying in features, the nForce 500 had four members at launch, (in increasing order of price and features), the 550, 570 Ultra, 570 SLI, 590 SLI. They all supported the new AM2 socket, came with SATA 3.0Gbps, 1GHz HyperTransport link, Gigabit Ethernet, PCI Express x16 slots and Azalia HD Audio. NVIDIA again had its own unique technologies for the higher end models and they are LinkBoost, FirstPacket and SLI-Ready Memory. Our article had the details about these technologies and the new chipsets.
Overall, we found the "chipsets offer some very significant enhancements to the current core logic chipset market with features that are ready to take advantage of Socket AM2, faster memory and advanced operating systems like the upcoming Windows Vista." The Intel SLI editions of these chipsets were also announced.
For us, this would arrive in the form of the ECS NFORCE 570 SLIT-A, which is "basically a re-badged nForce 4 SLI XE and the use of the C19 A3 revision chipset and the design to support Core 2 CPUs." With some stability issues and average performance, this would end up as a decent entry level board, especially with its price tag.
ATI too had an updated chipset for the AM2 platform and this was the RD580 that became the Radeon Xpress 3200. Impressively, it was the first chipset to have up to 40 PCI Express lanes for full CrossFire bandwidth and paired with a new SB600 SouthBridge that had SATA 3.0Gbps, AHCI and NCQ among others, this looked like a promising start. An example of this would be the ECS KA3 MVP which turned out to be "a feature-packed gaming board and ECS's pricing makes it a very attractive board for users who are more interested in getting into some dual x16 CrossFire action."
The big event that we were talking about earlier, the launch of the Core 2 processors happened in July 2006 but before that, Intel had laid the groundwork by releasing the 965 series (codenamed Broadwater) of chipsets. Technically, it was an updated 945, with official support for higher DDR2 memory (DDR2-800) and to support the new Core 2 processors, the FSB was increased to 1066MHz. We got a sample from Gigabyte and that was used to introduce this chipset. Gigabyte GA-965P-DQ6
Other significant changes include a "new I/O controller hub, the ICH8 Southbridge family sporting several improvements over its predecessor including ten USB 2.0 ports with an additional EHCI controller, Gigabit LAN MAC (finally!) and up to six SATA 3.0Gbps ports with eSATA drive support and a reworked MCH architecture with Intel Fast Memory Access (FMA) technology."
The 975X chipset was then Intel's enthusiast level chipset and excepting some of the early versions that came out in 2005, the later boards could support the Core 2 processors with a BIOS update. Of course, manufacturers also brought out newer revisions of these boards to ensure there was full support for the Core 2 and one of those we saw was the ASUS P5W DH Deluxe.
This board had its own Digital Home entertainment components, despite using a ICH7R Southbridge and not the ICH7DH (Digital Home) variant that Intel had pushed with its Viiv platform. Some of our comments here apply to most of the revised 975X boards that came out during this period: "The P5W DH Deluxe comes as a straight upgrade for the P5WD2-E Premium with a cleaner layout, stronger cooling capabilities and much more enhanced VRM design."
This BIOS update to enable support for the Core 2 cropped up again when Intel prepared to release its first quad-core processor, the Kentsfield later that year. While not every motherboard could support the new processors, most were capable of doing so with a simple BIOS update.
- Before the year ended however, there was one more mega-announcement from the big players and that was NVIDIA and its 600 series of nForce chipsets. This was mainly an update for the Intel compatible nForce 500 boards, which had been struggling with modified/recycled nForce 4 core logic components and lacked true compatibility for DDR2-800. These new 600i boards addressed this head-on. NVIDIA promised "full Core 2 and above processor support and DDR2 compatibility to support overclocked DDR2-1200 enthusiast memory with extreme FSB overclocking to beat or at least match that of the Intel P965."
A board that represented the best of this chipset was the ASUS Striker Extreme which had the Republic of Gamers handle and besides the usual rich features on an ASUS, was a very solid gaming motherboard with lots of overclocking headroom.