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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Enter the 64-bit Chipset

It's safe to say that, once AMD released its Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX CPUs, we quickly lost interest in Athlon XP chipsets and motherboards. It's not that they were suddenly horrible; it's just that, well, we love speed.

The big change in this new chip architecture was AMD's decision to move the memory controller—one of the biggest variables affecting chipset performance—to the CPU die itself. This made for a nice little performance boost.

Whereas the Pentium 4's frontside bus canters along at 800MHz, the Athlon 64's runs at full CPU speed—that is, 2.2GHz for a 2.2GHz processor. Furthermore, AMD estimates that its integrated memory controller gives the Athlon 64 a latency of just 50 nanoseconds, or about half that of a Pentium 4 running on an 800MHz bus.

MSI 875P NEO

With its sexy-looking PCB and fun, multicolored AGP, IDE, and RAM slots, MSI's Intel Socket 478 motherboard is festive. We're not typically huge fans of bling, the 87P Neo's heatsink fan, which lights up in stylish blue and red colors, takes the cake.

Figure 3.13Figure 3.13 MSI's 875P NEO mobo features lots of features, a powerful memory controller, and a tasteful touch of flashiness.

This mobo is brimming with features: FireWire 400 with support for two six-pin ports using VIA VT6306 silicon, eight High Speed USB 2.0 ports, and optical and coax SPDIF running off an ADI1980 audio codec. Also present is dual SATA, which uses the capabilities of the Intel 875P south bridge and an additional Promise PDC 20378 chip. Finally, there's full Gigabit support that uses Intel's CSA for top networking performance. MSI also equipped the board with its signature "D" bracket, which features four LEDs that indicate what goes right—or wrong—when you boot your PC.

The 875P features "Performance Acceleration Technology." This sounds neat, but from what we can tell, this is really just a matter of Intel grabbing the best chips from manufacturing and running them at higher internal clocks.

Because the CPUs for these chipsets don't have memory controllers embedded in them (like the Athlon 64 FX), the memory controller plays a more critical role in overall performance. When Intel released the 875P, the company wanted to own the fastest DDR performance out of the gate; thus far, the chipset hasn't disappointed. We tested the 875P against VIA's PT880 chipset (on a MSI 875P NEO mobo), and the 875P won most of our benchmark tests. Intel's chipset won handily in AquaMark 3, both 3DMark2001 and 3DMark 2003, and Unreal Tournament 2003.

Oddly, we witnessed a score we're at a loss to explain: The PT880 crushed the 875P in our Quake III Arena tests. Its QIIIA scores even bested the extremely fast Athlon 64 FX-53/K8T800. Why doesn't this performance translate into the other gaming benchmarks? We're not sure, but our Lab is dutifully investigating the phenomenon.

In application performance testing, the 875P beat out the PT880 by 2 to 3%. That's pretty darn good. Features, looks, performance, and Intel's famous stability make this chipset tough to beat.

Figure 3.14Figure 3.14 MaximumPC verdict.

Originally published May 2004

Moving the memory controller onto the CPU die also created some interesting ramifications for the entire family of Athlon 64-based chipsets. This shift essentially reduced the variance among chipsets and motherboards across the board. While this has made our head-to-head mobo comparisons in this category less exciting, it does mean that, across the board, users will get consistent performance. This essentially reduces the buying decision to one central factor: features.

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