Intel’s 865PE and 865G chipsets

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.

Swanky 865 motherboards from Intel
Intel has long sent out its own motherboards for testing when it launches a new chipset, but those boards have grown more interesting over the course of the past year or so. The latest boards, based on the 865PE and 865G, are solid examples of of this trend—especially the D865PERL board, which is downright swanky.

In the D865PERL, Intel nearly has an enthusiasts’ motherboard

Six-channel audio comes from analog output ports, digital coax, or optical

The jet-black D865PERL has all the advantages Intel’s 865PE and ICH5R can confer upon it, including dual-channel DDR400, Serial ATA RAID, Gigabit Ethernet via CSA, and four USB 2.0 ports. The board also has a Firewire port thanks to an auxiliary Firewire controller chip. The ICH5R audio controller teams up with a SoundMAX codec chip and software to deliver six channels of 3D positional audio via analog or digital outputs. The gigantic passive cooler on the north bridge shouldn’t get in the way of hearing that audio, either. This board is a few more overclocking options, a couple of neon glowy things, and maybe some naked dancer chicks away from being a True Enthusiast’s Mobo.

Intel’s D865GBF motherboard: fully operational without a single card installed

The D865GBF, meanwhile, is a little more button down, with a eyeshade-green PCB and no Firewire or digital audio outputs. Still, it comes with fully six PCI slots and a AGP slot, even though you don’t need to fill a single one in order to have a fully functional PC based on this board, thanks to its built-in graphics and sound.

Chipset features compared
Forgive the extremely wide formatting here, but I’m trying to fit all of the relevant chipsets into our comparison table, so you can see how these products differ. I’ve omitted less interesting chipsets like the 845GL and 865P in order to save some space.

Intel 845PE Intel 845GE Intel 850E Intel E7205 Intel 865PE Intel 865G Intel 875P SiS 648 SiS 655 SiS R658 VIA P4X400
Max. bus speed 533MHz 533MHz 533MHz 533MHz 800MHz 800MHz 800MHz 533MHz 533MHz 533MHz 533MHz
Max. effective memory clock speed 333MHz 333MHz 1066MHz 266MHz 400MHz 400MHz 400MHz 333MHz
(400MHz unofficial)
(400MHz unofficial)
1066MHz 333MHz
(400MHz unofficial)
Memory bus width 64 bits 64 bits 2 x 16 bits 2 x 64 bits 2 x 64 bits 2 x 64 bits 2 x 64 bits 64 bits 2 x 64 bits 2 x 16 bits 64 bits
Peak theoretical memory bandwidth 2.7GB/s 2.7GB/s 4.2GB/s 4.2GB/s 6.4GB/s 6.4GB/s 6.4GB/s 2.7GB/s
4.2GB/s 2.7GB/s
Maximum addressable RAM 2GB 2GB 2GB 4GB 4GB 4GB 4GB 3GB 4GB 4GB 3GB
Max. AGP mode 4X 4X 4X 8X 8X 8X 8X 8X 8X 8X 8X
North/south bridge interconnect Accelerated Hub Accelerated Hub Accelerated Hub Accelerated Hub Accelerated Hub Accelerated Hub Accelerated Hub MuTIOL MuTIOL MuTIOL V-Link
Interconnect clock speed 266MHz 266MHz 266MHz 266MHz 266MHz 266MHz 266MHz 533MHz 533MHz 533MHz 533MHz
Interconnect bus width 8 bits 8 bits 8 bits 8 bits 8 bits 8 bits 8 bits 16 bits 16 bits 16 bits 8 bits
Peak theoretical interconnect bandwidth 266MB/s 266MB/s 266MB/s 266MB/s 266MB/s 266MB/s 266MB/s 1.06GB/s 1.06GB/s 1.06GB/s 533MB/s
Disk interface support up to… ATA/100 ATA/100 ATA/100 ATA/100, Serial ATA 150 ATA/100, Serial ATA 150 ATA/100, Serial ATA 150 ATA/100, Serial ATA 150 ATA/133 ATA/133 ATA/133 ATA/133
USB mode support 2.0 2.0 1.1 2.0 2.0 2.0 2.0 2.0 2.0 2.0 2.0
USB controllers/ports 3/6 3/6 2/4 4/8 4/8 4/8 4/8 3/6 3/6 3/6 3/6
IEEE 1394 controllers/ports 0/0 0/0 0/0 0/0 0/0 0/0 0/0 2/6 2/6 2/6 0/0
AC97 audio channels 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
Network interfaces 10/100Mbps Ethernet 10/100Mbps Ethernet 10/100Mbps Ethernet 10/100Mbps Ethernet CSA CSA CSA 10/100Mbps Ethernet
1/10Mbps HPNA
10/100Mbps Ethernet
1/10Mbps HPNA
10/100Mbps Ethernet
1/10Mbps HPNA
10/100Mbps Ethernet

The 865 family chipsets lead on the technology front, with a couple of possible exceptions. For one, they lack Firewire support, which SiS chipsets have. Also, chipsets from SiS, VIA, and NVIDIA support the ATA/133 disk I/O mode. Like many drive makers, Intel elected to skip this step and go straight to Serial ATA. Finally and perhaps most notably, even the new 865 and 875 chipsets have a relatively pokey 266MB/s peak transfer rate between north and south bridge chips. The 865 could fill that channel to overflowing by bursting data from cache on a pair of Serial ATA drives in RAID 0—and nothing more. CSA’s relocation of network I/O from the ICH to the MCH will help some, but Intel is still behind the curve on chipset interconnect bandwidth for some reason. This 266MB/s link is a built-in bottleneck—in theory, if not in practice.

Test notes
We tested the 865PE and 865G against six of their closest competitors, including the SiS 655, which has dual-channel DDR memory support. Watch for several key things in the benchmark results.

First, you can see how the 865PE and 865G stack up against older chipsets with a top bus speed of 533MHz. For the time being, these chipsets are the 865’s primary competition, even if they don’t support a higher bus speed.

Next, we’ve tested the 865G both with and without its integrated graphics enabled. The 865G does perform a little differently than the 865PE, even without graphics, because of its graphics-enabled memory controller. Also, watch to see how having integrated turned on affects the 865G’s overall performance. Some memory bandwidth will be dedicated to graphics, slowing overall system performance to some degree.

Also, watch the battle between the 865PE and 875P to see the impact of Intel’s PAT. The 875 has it, and the 865PE doesn’t. Otherwise, they’re essentially the same. You can decide whether PAT is worth a price premium.

Finally, we’ve included scores for an Intel 845PE-based Abit BH7 motherboard with its front-side bus overclocked to 800MHz and its single memory channel at DDR400 speeds, just for kicks. The 845PE is overclocked in this scenario, so nothing it does will be official, but the results should be officially interesting to see.

Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least twice, and the results were averaged.

Our test systems were configured like so:

Intel 845PE Intel 850E Intel E7205 Intel 865PE Intel 865G Intel 875P SiS 655
Processor Pentium 4 3.06GHz Pentium 4 3.06GHz Pentium 4 3.06GHz Pentium 4 3.0GHz Pentium 4 3.0GHz Pentium 4 3.0GHz Pentium 4 3.06GHz
Front-side bus 533MHz (133MHz quad-pumped) 533MHz (133MHz quad-pumped) 533MHz (133MHz quad-pumped) 800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped) 800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped) 800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped) 533MHz (133MHz quad-pumped)
Motherboard Abit BH7 Intel D850EMV2 Aopen AX4R Plus Intel D865PERL Intel D865GBF Intel D875PBZ Gigabyte 8SQ800
North bridge 82845E MCH 82850E MCH 82845G MCH 82865PE MCH 82865G MCH 82875P MCH 648
South bridge 82801DB ICH4 82801BA ICH2 82801DB ICH4 82801ER ICH5-R 82801EB ICH5 82801ER ICH5-R 963
Chipset drivers Intel Application Accelerator 2.3 Intel Application Accelerator 2.3 Intel Application Accelerator 2.3 Intel Application Accelerator for RAID 3.0 Intel INF update Intel Application Accelerator for RAID 3.0 SiS AGP 1.15
Memory size 512MB (2 DIMMs) 512MB (4 RIMMs) 512MB (2 DIMMs) 512MB (2 DIMMs) 512MB (2 DIMMs) 512MB (2 DIMMs) 512MB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair XMS3200 DDR SDRAM at 333MHz Samsung PC800/PC1066 Rambus DRAM Corsair XMS3200 DDR SDRAM at 266MHz Corsair XMS3200 DDR SDRAM at 400MHz Corsair XMS3200 DDR SDRAM at 400MHz Kingmax DDR-400 SDRAM at 400MHz Corsair XMS3200 DDR SDRAM at 333MHz
Hard drive Seagate Barracuda V 120GB ATA/100 Seagate Barracuda V 120GB ATA/100 Seagate Barracuda V 120GB ATA/100 Seagate Barracuda V 120GB SATA 150 Seagate Barracuda V 120GB SATA 150 Seagate Barracuda V 120GB SATA 150 Seagate Barracuda V 120GB ATA/100
Graphics ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB (7.84 drivers)
Sound Creative SoundBlaster Live!
OS Microsoft Windows XP Professional
OS updates Service Pack 1, DirectX 9

All tests on the P4 systems were run with Hyper-Threading enabled.

Thanks to Corsair for providing us with memory for our testing. If you’re looking to tweak out your system to the max and maybe overclock it a little, Corsair’s RAM is definitely worth considering.

The test systems’ Windows desktops were set at 1024×768 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Memory performance

The 865PE and 865G are neck and neck with one another in our bandwidth tests, and they’re well ahead of the rest of the competition in Sandra. The 875P peaks out at over 200MB/s faster than the 865PE/G thanks to lower access latencies.

Last time out, I left out Linpack results, thinking they were superfluous, and someone complained. So, for whoever you are, here are Linpack results for all the different chipsets. Mysteriously, I seem to have misplaced the Linpack results for the SiS 655, so we’ll have to do without it here. As ever, Linpack shows floating-point math performance when accessing data matrices of various sizes, from blocks small enough to fit into L1 cache to blocks large enough to require constant access to main memory. The 865 chipsets look strong here, and the 865G only loses a little with graphics enabled.

Cachemem’s bandwidth test makes the 875P look really good compared to the 865PE/G.

The 845PE with an 800MHz bus wins out here, as one might expect from a chipset that’s wildly overclocked. Among the more legitimate contenders, the 865PE looks pretty good. The 865G exhibits quite a bit higher access latencies, even with graphics disabled. Nothing, though compares to the High Latency Duo of the SiS 655 and Intel 850E. Intel’s DDR memory controllers generally keep latencies down, but SiS chipsets usually won’t even boot with CAS latency set to 2.5. The 850E suffers from RDRAM’s traditionally high latencies, coming in dead last. But you haven’t seen the half of it yet.

Below are 3D graphs of the entire set of latency data cachemem produces. I’ve color-coded the data series just for fun, so dark orange bars represent main memory accesses, while light orange represents L2 cache. Yellow bars represent L1 cache accesses.

You can see from these results that our single sample on the previous page was fairly well representative of the chipsets’ overall performance. The effects of the 875P’s tighter internal timings—PAT, please—show vividly here. The 875P achieves some impressively low latency numbers.

Business Winstone

The 865PE essentially ties with the 875P in this scripted test of office applications. Oddly, the 865G scores a couple of points lower than the 865PE, even below the older 845E. Then again, Business Winstone is typically sensitive to memory access latency, and the 865G has higher latencies than the 845PE and E7205. Content Creation Winstone

Where Business Winstone favors latency, Content Creation Winstone likes bandwidth. The 800MHz-capable chipsets take all the top spots. Once more, though, the 865-family chipsets are only a step behind the 875P. LAME MP3 encoding
We used LAME 3.92 to encode a 101MB 16-bit, 44KHz audio file into a very high-quality MP3. The exact command-line options we used were:

lame –alt-preset extreme file.wav file.mp3

Here are the results…

CPU clock speed is more important in LAME than memory subsystem performance, so the systems with 3.06GHz processors and 533MHz bus speeds outperform the system with 3.0GHz CPUs and 800MHz front-side bus speeds. DivX video encoding

DivX video encoding is all about bandwidth, and the 865-family chipsets can definitely deliver that. The 865PE chipsets finishes encoding our test video clip 39 seconds before the 845PE chipset it replaces.

Speech recognition
Sphinx is a high-quality speech recognition routine that needs the latest computer hardware to run at speeds close to real-time processing. We use two different versions, built with two different compilers, in an attempt to ensure we’re getting the best possible performance.

There are two goals with Sphinx. The first is to run it faster than real time, so real-time speech recognition is possible. The second, more ambitious goal is to run it at about 0.8 times real time, where additional CPU overhead is available for other sorts of processing, enabling Sphinx-driven real-time applications.

The 865G and 865PE both record sub-0.7 encoding rates, leaving about 30% of CPU time available for housekeeping and other tasks. Interestingly, the 845PE with and 800MHz bus and 400MHz DDR memory outruns the dual-channel DDR266 and DDR333 chipsets, the Intel E7205 and SiS 655, respectively.

Cinebench 2003 lighting and rendering
Cinebench is based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D modeling, rendering, and animation app. This new revision of Cinebench measures performance in a number of ways, including 3D rendering, software shading, and OpenGL shading with and without hardware acceleration.

Cinebench 2003 is multithreaded, so it takes advantage of Hyper-Threading. For all of our contestants, I’ve reported the multithreaded rendering test result, which was always better than the single-threaded result.

CPU clock speed again rears its head, as our 3.06GHz systems exploit their mighty 66MHz advantage over the newer Intel chipsets with 3.0GHz CPUs.

Both CPU clock speeds and bus/memory performance affect the slight margins of difference in this test. The 875P lands in the top spot, while the 865 chipsets settle into the middle of the pack.

The two OpenGL shading tests have similar results. The 865PE finishes just behind the 875P and overclocked 845PE, while the 865G falls behind the SiS 655. I’ve omitted results for the 865G with graphics enabled, because, well, comparing a Radeon 9700 Pro to Intel Extreme Graphics 2 isn’t quite fair. We’ll cover 865G graphics performance separately with some more appropriate comparisons.

Quake III Arena

You can see marked differences between the four classes of bus speeds and memory subsystems represented here. The 875P with PAT stands alone at the top, just a hair shy of 400 fps. (We test games with sound enabled, by the way.) The other three 800MHz-bus systems place very closely together at about 385 fps, while the chipsets with 533MHz bus speeds and dual-channel memory controllers bunch together in the 360s. The single-channel 845PE finishes alone in last place. 3DMark03

Obviously, chipsets aren’t making a huge difference in the overall 3DMark03 score. Maybe things will be clearer with the CPU tests.

Much better. The 865-family chipsets outperform all of the competition, save the 875P. Serious Sam SE

The story in Serious Sam is similar to our other gaming tests. The 865 chipsets are only challenged by the 875P and our overclocked 845PE.

Comanche 4

Yep. Uh huh. Unreal Tournament 2003

UT likes to ride the fast bus, and the 865 chipsets have it. Somewhat surprisingly, PAT is good for a 10 frames per second advantage over the 865PE in the flyby test.

SPECviewperf workstation graphics
SPECviewperf simulates the graphics loads generated by various professional design, modeling, and engineering applications.

With AGP 8X and 6.4GB/s of memory bandwidth, the 875P and 865 chipsets whup the competition in this graphics benchmark.

865G integrated graphics in action
Now we’ll take a look at 865G graphics performance on a little bit fairer playing field. We’ve decided to test the 865G’s Extreme Graphics 2 against one of the cheaper low-end AGP cards we have around, an ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 64MB. We picked the Radeon 9000 Pro because it sells for as little as 80 bucks at online vendors. This still isn’t a fair fight, but it’s closer.

Like I said, not a fair fight. If you care at all about 3D graphics performance, pony up the 80 bucks or so for a Radeon 9000 Pro, or maybe throw $67 at a GeForce FX 5200 card. Many of our benchmark tests wouldn’t run on the 865G’s built-in graphics, because it has only a fixed-function graphics pipeline and no hardware T&L engine. We’re not talking about vertex and pixel shaders here, folks, just fixed-function transform and lighting. Still, Intel’s Extreme Graphics cores have their virtues, including very acceptable video signal quality and solid, compatible 3D drivers. Extreme Graphics’ 3D image quality is also quite good, too. The 865G should serve well enough in corporate desktops that need occasional 3D acceleration with good image fidelity.

The 865PE and 865G chipsets are Intel’s new high-volume, mainstream products, and with their companion Pentium 4 2.4 to 3.0GHz processors, these chipsets should carve out the lion’s share of the PC chipset market in the coming months. Intel caught competitors like SiS and VIA flat-footed with the introduction of an 800MHz front-side bus, and so it will enjoy some time alone at the top. The 865 chipset family has nearly all the checklist features one might want on a new PC, and it has the performance to back up the hype. For enthusiasts looking to upgrade to a new PC—and aren’t we all, really?—the arrival of the 865 family and its 875P cousin is welcome news. Either the 865PE or 875P should be your platform of choice if you’re planning to go with a Pentium 4 processor.

The tough question is whether to fork over the extra bucks for an 875P or save a little and grab an 865PE-based motherboard. This review will give you the performance info you need to make a call, but we don’t have enough other information to make a clear-cut recommendation on that front. The 875P definitely is the highest-performance Pentium 4 platform available today; there’s no denying that. But whether the 875P or the 865PE is a better deal will depend on final motherboard pricing, product mixes, and things like that. Also, will we be able to “overclock” 865PE north bridge chips to run PAT? Dunno yet. In many cases, your final decision will probably come down to this question: what price bragging rights? We’ll let you answer that one yourself.

As good as the 865 family is, it’s not perfect. I do have a wish list for future revisions of these chipsets. For starters, I realize this is a transitional product, but eventually we’ll want the ability to connect more than two Serial ATA devices. I’d like to see more RAID levels available in the ICH5R—RAID 1 now, and RAID 5 and 10 once we get support for more devices. Also, I’d like to see Firewire support, so this feature would be cheaper to implement on motherboard. Next, perhaps the biggest weakness of Intel’s new chipsets is that 266MB/s interconnect between the MCH and ICH chips. Other core logic chipset makers have interconnects four times that speed. The USB 2.0, Serial ATA, and PCI devices hanging off the ICH could use the extra capacity, especially in a system with 6.4GB/s of memory bandwidth. Finally, I’d like to see all south bridge chips make a move toward higher audio fidelity, to at least 24-bit/96kHz sample rates, like the latest discrete sound cards.

But I’m picky, no?

My nitpicking aside, the 865PE and 865G chipsets look very strong. Obviously, the extra performance offered by an 800MHz front-side bus and dual-channel DDR400 will change the game between Intel and AMD. For a look at how the new Pentium 4 speed grades perform, go look at our review of the new Pentium 4 “C” processors, as well.

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