Up to this point, our Core 2 articles have basically focused on one platform: Intelís 975X chipset with ATI Radeon X1900 XTX and X1900 CrossFire graphics cards. This is because the 975X/SLI combo was the first multi-GPU platform that was ready for Core 2 and we wanted to include both single-GPU and dual-GPU benchmark results in our testing with the processor. Hot on the heels of the Intelís 975X chipset however are new chipset offerings from both ATI and NVIDIA with native support for Core 2 and multi-GPU operation.
ATI is hard at work putting the finishing touches on their upcoming RD600 chipset for Core 2. According to ATI, you should see the first RD600 boards hit shelves about a month from now. Due to NDAís, we canít tell you much about RD600ís feature set just yet, but we have learned that it wonít be a direct translation of RD580 for Core 2, there will be some distinct differences, just about the only thing you can expect RD600 to have in common with RD580 is ATIís new SB600 South Bridge and the chipsetís 90-nm manufacturing process. In fact we expect RD600 to be a very capable chipset when it comes to overclocking because of its smaller manufacturing process, with passive cooling a very viable option (without exotic copper heat pipes) for some motherboard manufacturers if they chose to go that route.
If you recall our Computex 2006 coverage from earlier this year, we saw ATIís RD600 chipset up-and-running live with 3 PCI Express slots, two of the slots were used to handle graphics duties, while the third graphics card was responsible for ATI physics. We donít know how many of ATIís board partners will integrate three graphics slots on their RD600 motherboards, but we wouldnít be surprised to see quite a few retail RD600 motherboards with three PCI Express graphics (PEG) slots, after all, ATIís got a reference board with 3 PEG slots already available demonstrating the viability of the concept.
nForce 570 SLI/590 SLI Intel Edition
New from the NVIDIA camp comes the nForce 570 SLI and nForce 590 SLI Intel Edition chipsets. Both chipsets are ready and are in full production now, with motherboard manufacturers putting the finishing touches on their retail boards as we speak. Weíve been told to expect the first wave of nForce 570 SLI and nForce 590 SLI Intel Edition motherboards later this month. ASUS, DFI, and ECS should be the first manufacturers with boards, with other manufacturers following shortly thereafter.
From a features perspective these chipsets have all the same core features found in the AMD nForce 570/590 chipsets, including NVIDIAís LinkBoost technology, as well as other features such as DualNet, Teaming, nTune, and NVIDIA MegaShield. The big difference is obviously the integrated memory controller for Core 2; for AMD chipsets the memory controller is obviously integrated directly into the Athlon 64 CPU.
If you canít wait a few weeks for nForce 570 SLI/590 SLI Intel Edition motherboards to become available and want SLI now however ASUS offers their P5N32-SLI SE motherboard, which supports NVIDIAís SLI technology and is ready for Core 2. The P5N32-SLI SE is based on ASUSí older P5N32-SLI motherboard and uses NVIDIAís nForce4 SLI X16 Intel Edition chipset. The P5N32-SLI SE has been updated to support Core 2 CPUs, and shares all the key features found in the original P5N32-SLI including ASUSí heat pipe cooling, which allows the motherboard to run silently, and is built around an 8-phase power solution, ensuring more than enough power to support the latest Intel CPUs. ASUS also equips the board with eSATA, dual GigE ports, 8-channel Realtek ALC850 audio, and twin IEEE-1394a ports. Those of you with two GeForce 7900 GTX cards will also be glad to know that ASUS provides extra space between the PEG slots for dual-slot graphics cards like the GeForce 7900 GTX and GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB. Like other high-end ASUS motherboards, the P5N32-SLI SE also supports ASUS features such as Q-Fan (which automatically adjust fan speeds based on temperatures) as well as extra options in BIOS for overclocking, which ASUS refers to as AI NOS and Precision Tweaker.
Right now, ASUSí P5N32-SLI SE is the only game in town if you want Core 2 support with SLI. In fact, the motherboard even supports NVIDIAís Quad SLI technology with the GeForce 7950 GX2. Armed with this motherboard and a pair of GeForce 7900 GTX graphics cards, we were eager to see how well Intelís new Core 2 CPUs performed on this platform. We were particularly eager to see how it compared to NVIDIAís AM2-based nForce 590 SLI chipset for AMD Athlon 64 processors.