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Intel's 865PE and 865G chipsets

Springdale gets sprung

WE'VE ALREADY SEEN the scorching performance of Intel's workstation-class 875P chipset with its 6.4GB/s of bus and memory bandwidth. Now Intel is bringing all that bandwidth to the desktop with its new 865PE and 865G chipsets, formerly known as "Springdale." As is our custom, we've lined up the new 865 chipsets against a bazillion of their competitors for a WWE-style benchmark beatdown. Keep reading to see what happened when somebody busted a folding chair over the SiS 655's head.

Meet the 865 chipset family
The 865 chipset family is derived from the same basic technology used in Intel's 875P chipset, which we reviewed last month upon its introduction. If you're unfamiliar with the 875P, I'd advise you to go read our article about it, because the 865 family is very similar.

The 865 family has three members, the 865P, 865PE, and 865G. The 865P will primarily find its way into sub-$1K machines—probably many with Celeron processors in them—and probably won't be of much interest to folks here at TR. It has many of the 865 line's new features, but it only supports 400 and 533MHz front-side bus speeds. Accordingly, we're not reviewing it here today. The 865PE is the workhorse of the 865 line, and the 865G is essentially an 865PE plus integrated Intel Extreme Graphics.

The 865PE and 865G chipsets feature a number of improvements over the 845PE and 845GE chipsets they replace, including an 800MHz front-side bus, a dual-channel memory controller with support for DDR400 memory, AGP 8X, Serial ATA, and Intel's Communication Streaming Architecture. This last feature, Intel CSA, allows mobo makers to hang an Intel Ethernet controller right off the north bridge for high-speed networking, including Gigabit Ethernet.

A block diagram of the 865PE chipset — Source: Intel

As you may have deduced from the features list, the 865 family marks a total chipset refresh in that both north bridge and south bridge chips get an upgrade. The new 865 north bridge chips are paired up with Intel's ICH5 south bridge, which offers native support for two channels of Serial ATA. Some motherboard makers will opt for the ICH5R, which includes RAID 0 support right on the chipset.

The 865G also features version 2 of Intel's Extreme Graphics. Extreme Graphics 2 has more of that most precious commodity in graphics, memory bandwidth, thanks to the 865 family's dual-channel DDR memory configuration. The 865G's graphics core runs at the same 266MHz clock speed that the 845GE's graphics core did, but this revised version supports AGP 8X for faster data transfers. Like the 845GE, the 865G isn't going to threaten the latest GeForce or Radeon cards for 3D graphics supremacy, but it ought to be good enough for many corporate desktops or "basic PC" configurations.

(Geek 1: "Extreme Graphics?" Geek 2: "Yeah, extremely slow!" Both geeks: [milk through nose])

The 865PE and 865G chipsets are positioned as "mainstream" products, while the 875P is aimed at the high end: workstations and serious enthusiast PCs. If you want the extra kick that 875P supports, you'll have to pay a little more for it. The 875P's distinctiveness comes in two forms. First, the 875P supports ECC RAM, so if you want protection from cosmic rays, you'll have to pony up for an 875P board. That oughta keep the 865PE from edging into workstation territory. Second, the 875P has Intel's PAT, or Performance Acceleration Technology. PAT is pretty simple, at heart. Intel cherry picks the best MCH chips and certifies them to run at more aggressive timings internally, cutting memory access latency by a couple of ticks per request. We'll be testing, of course, to see how much of a performance advantage PAT really bestows on the 875P.

That said, these new 865 chipsets are no slouches. They're easily out ahead of the Taiwanese competition. VIA doesn't yet have a dual-channel DDR memory controller, let alone an 800MHz bus, and the SiS 655 chipset can't support an 800MHz bus, either. Support for an 800MHz bus has just become more important, too, because to complement the 865 family, Intel is releasing a range of new Pentium 4 speed grades with 800MHz bus support and Hyper-Threading, ranging as low as 2.4GHz. You can see how these new chips compare to the competition in our review.