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Intel Santa Rosa - The Future of Notebooks Unveiled

Intel Santa Rosa - The Future of Notebooks Unveiled

Crestline and the New GMA

Santa Rosa: Crestline – The Mobile Intel 965 Chipset

MCH – The Northbridge
On the chipset front, Santa Rosa will receive an update in the form of Crestline, the codename for the Mobile Intel 965 Express chipset family. There will be three variations of the chipset, mainly the discreet PM965 and the onboard GMA enabled GM965 and GL965. The main difference between Crestline and the previous generation Calistoga (Mobile Intel 945 Express chipset) is its 800MHz FSB support, up from 667MHz.

Besides this, the 965 MCH will feature a new power saving feature called Intel Display Refresh Rate Switching (DRRS). Much like the platform's Dynamic FSB Switching feature we talked about before, DRRS will dynamically reduce the LCD panel's refresh rate when the system detects that the user is running applications that do not benefit from a high refresh rate, like typing a text document for example. While LCDs do not really have a refresh rate to speak of, Intel explains that the LCD crystals are still constantly twisting to adjust to changes. In an application that does not require fast switching, there is no need for the LCD to be operating at such a speed, thus DRRS kicks in and turns the refresh rate down.

On the business side of things, Centrino Pro branded Santa Rosa notebooks will also include Intel Active Management Technology 2.5. Otherwise, its features are identical to the Centrino Duo.

ICH – The Southbridge
Santa Rosa will feature the ICH8M Southbridge component, which offers some major enhancements compared to the ICH7M family found on the older Napa designs. We say major enhancements because the ICH8M will finally feature a SATA 3.0Gbps interface that supports up to three HDDs, compared to the two SATA 1.5Gbps the ICH7M features. Other I/O improvements include ten USB 2.0 ports, up from eight ports and six PCIe x1 ports compared to four ports on the ICH7M.

Video and Graphics

The onboard GMA core on Santa Rosa will now utilize the Intel GMA X3000 series technology, similar to what is available on the desktop G965 chipset. The GMA core on Santa Rosa will be named GMA X3100 however, as to differentiate it from its desktop brethren. Like the GMA X3000, the GMA X3100 will have eight programmable function execution pipelines, but the GMA X3100 will run at a reduced clock speed of 500MHz (the desktop GMA X3000 runs at 667MHz). The GMA X3100 will have Shader Model 3.0 support and is fully certified for Windows Vista Premium. Initial reports stated that Santa Rosa will have DirectX 10 support, but the GMA X3100 will only feature DirectX 9.0c. However, this will still be a big boost up from the older GMA 950, which had a 400MHz clock speed, only four fixed pipelines and SM 2.0 support only.

More importantly, the real reason to be excited about GMA X3100 is its inclusion of the Intel Clear Video Technology. The GMA X3100 comes with hardware HD acceleration, advanced de-interlacing/cadence detection and an automatic, intelligent color control function called ProcAMP, which brings the quality of GMA X3100 video in contention with the 'Big Two'. What's more, Santa Rosa will feature proper HDMI/HDCP support on the GMA X3100 for greater connectivity and equipment support. This means that notebook manufacturer can actually develop Blu-ray and HD DVD notebooks natively using Santa Rosa GMA, without going for discreet graphics options.

However, we'd like to point out that the HD acceleration on the GMA X3100 is limited to MPEG-2 and WMV9 (VC-1) only. This isn't all that surprising however, as its features are well in line with onboard graphics products from giants such as ATI and NVIDIA. Without H.264 acceleration though, Santa Rosa is still not going to be a complete entertainment platform. If you have an MPEG-2 or VC-1 encoded Blu-ray/HD DVD (luckily, most first generation content are only found in these two formats), you should be able to enjoy your movies on a Santa Rosa platform using the GMA X3100.

In our limitless curiosity, we tried running a 1080p H.264 encoded Quicktime HD movie trailer (Stardust), just to see how Santa Rosa would hold up. In our tests, the clip played reasonably smoothly, but CPU usage shot to 80% on average. Now, while Quicktime HD movies are encoded in H.264, they are prepared for network download with low overall data rates of around 10-12Mbps. An average Blu-ray movie on the other hand is around 25Mbps and the format itself supports a maximum data rate of 54Mbps (audio and video combined). In short, you will be able to enjoy HD content using the GMA X3100 on Santa Rosa, providing that it is MPGE-2 or WMV9 encoded, or very low bit rate H.264 where the processor can still handle the brunt of the decoding tasks.