Monday: 31.May.2004

Intel's New Chipsets: Grantsdale & Alderwood, i915P, i915G & i925X

The boys at Intel are fixin' to release a new chipset next month. This chipset consists of *two* chips (a matched set), commonly known as the "north-bridge" and the "south-bridge". These chips connect together everything else in your computer, such as your CPU, RAM, hard drives, CD/DVD burners, graphics card/monitor, printer, network, etc. Those you who visually-oriented, see HERE (60-KB).

Most people think the CPU is the most important component in a PC, but it's not. The chipset is. Because the chipset (also called "core-logic") determines which CPUs your computer can use--not the other way around. Actually, Intel will be releasing *two* new chipsets (on the 21st):

Grantsdale: i915P and i915G
Alderwood: i925X

Unlike a CPU (such as the popular Pentium 4 processor) which can be easily upgraded/replaced. The chipset comes embedded on the motherboard and cannot be upgraded without replacing the motherboard itself (not a simple upgrade).

When someone decides to build a new system, they first select the chipset, and build the computer around the chipset (motherboard). This is why a new chipset is such big news in the world of Technolusters. It means we get to use new toys: better, faster, shinier ones.

One of the chips in the chipset is called the "northbridge" (graphics and memory controller hub), which controls how your memory (RAM) and CPU work together. See HERE (27-KB) for a graphic illustration. (Image grabbed from Corsair.)

The two Grantsdale chipsets are the same except that the one designated "G" comes with onboard (on the motherboard) graphics, so you could save money by NOT having to purchase a separate graphics card. But both Grantsdale chipsets are merely watered down versions of the Alderwood, which is the high-performance "rocket-sled" of the three. So that's the one we-technolusters are really interested in.


Currently, Intel's premier chipset (for desktop computers) is the 875P (released April, 2003), which comes on the Asus P4C800-E Deluxe motherboard (~US$180), which I like so much.

You cannot yet purchase a motherboard containing any of these new chipsets. When they first come out, it's usually a good idea to wait a month or two and allow someone else (called "early adopters") to work out the initial kinks. Unless you have lots of patience, and well-developed troubleshooting skills, let someome else blaze the trail for you. Some people (such as the Doc, who wrote the FDISK Partitioning guide) are good at that sort of thing. Soon, they will learn what works, and what doesn't .. and will post their findings at online forums such as ABXZone.

So what features will the Alderwood (i925X) have? And how will they be different from features currently-existing in today's chipsets/motherboards? In what follows, I tried to distill & organized the info I gathered from many different web sites.

The i925 will be the only one of the three to support Intel's PAT: Performance Acceleration Technology. (Current chipsets support PAT.) Some sources call this "Incredible Intel DT Performance".

Support for CPUs that run at a FSB (Front Side Bus) of both 800-MHz and 1066-MHz (266x4). Current chipsets max out at 800-MHz. Grantsdale will support 533 and 800. I'm not sure if Alderwood will support the lower 533, but it doesn't matter because no one is likely to use this lower speed.

Support for new Prescott CPUs with LGA-775 packaging, with 775 pins, which are located on the *motherboard*, not the CPU itself, like current CPUs are designed. LGA = Land Grid Array. LGA-775 packaging will also be know as Socket-T. Current CPUs have 478 pins, which are attached to the CPU itself. You'll be able to purchase a CPU with *either* (both) 478 or the new 775-pin packaging at the following rated speeds: 2.8-GHz, 3.0, 3.2 and 3.4. At the 3.6-GHz speed and above, only LGA-775 packaging will be available. (linkage)

Pricing for these new processors will be as follows (linkage):

* Pentium 4 560 - 3.60-GHz - $637
* Pentium 4 550 - 3.40-GHz - $417
* Pentium 4 540 - 3.20-GHz - $278
* Pentium 4 530 - 3.00-GHz - $218
* Pentium 4 520 - 2.80-GHz - $178

None of these new chipsets will work with Windows 98 or ME. (linkage)

The familiar AGP port (Accelerated Graphics Port) will be replaced by PCI-Express X16. Linkage. The bandwidth offered by this new X16 port is 4 times more than what is currently provided by AGP-8X.

Support for new DDR-II memory (RAM), up to 4-GB of it, also in dual-channel configuration, like current motherboard designs, which use DDR-I. New chipsets will support both 400 and 533 speeds. (Current motherboards max out at DDR-400 and do not support DDR2) Alderwood will support DDR-II only, not DDR-I, which Grantsdale will still support, along with DDR2.

Another chip in the chipset is the ICH6-R. It is known as the "southbridge" controller hub and will support the following 5 features listed below (Note: ICH = Input/Output Controller Hub, R = RAID):

1. 4 Serial-ATA ports (Current boards support only 2)
2. 8 USB 2.0 ports (Current boards support 6)
3. 1 ATA-100 port (current boards support 5)
4. RAID-0 and RAID-1 using 2 drives (not 4). Non-R ICH6 hubs will not support RAID.
5. 4 PCI Express X1 lanes . Current boards do not support PCI Express. Rather they support PCI 2.3. The new PCI Express standard is the most confusing of all the chipset's new technologies. See the chart at the bottom of THIS page for clarification. Note that "PCI Express" and "PCI-X" are two different things. PCIX, like current PCI, is a parallel bus (64-bit width, vs PCI's 32-bit), whereas PCI Express is a serial bus (8-bit width). PCI Express (the serial bus) is faster, and supports a much greater bandwidth. See the graph on THIS page for an idea of PCI Express "lines" (1, 2, 4, 8, or 16) vs bandwidth. Some sites seem to use the terms "lines" and "lanes" interchangably.

"Azalia" high-definition audio: 192-KHz, 32-bit. This used to be called "Dolby Pro Logic IIx".

New BTX form factor (BTX = Balance Technology eXxtended) Current boards use the ATX form factor. This change will come close to, but independent to the chipset release. BTX will involve a new power supply unit and different (quieter/better) CPU cooling.

The two features I want most in my next rig will be:

1. An FSB-1066 CPU with LGA-775 packaging (socket-T)
2. DDR2 at the higher 533 speed

With so many design changes in this chipset, it might take the "early-adopters" longer to work out all the kinks. I know it's hard, but we need to be patient. If you need more info, here is a Google search pre-configured for the query-string "intel+alderwood+i925x+chipset"

Posted by Rad at May 31, 2004 01:04 AM


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Looks like there is a problem with DDR2 ECC support. See here.

Posted by: Poncho at May 31, 2004 12:55 PM

Socket-478 Prescotts are bad. See here.

Precotts were made for Socket-T packaing. That's why they run so hot with socket-478 packaging.

Posted by: xlr at June 2, 2004 02:19 PM

I've read that most manufacturers are going to wait on DDR2, so I'm surprised the Alderwood will require this unecessarily. Basically means big $$ all around. Worth the wait. -chad

Posted by: chad at June 12, 2004 09:58 AM