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Intel: Those Aren't Reference Designs

Tom's Hardware Visits Intel's Motherboard Team
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Making The Reference Distinction

So, one of the things we get asked in the comments section and on the forums is if Intel’s motherboards are just ODM designs that end up packaged and sold. This is painful for Brian’s team, which is completely separate from the division at Intel responsible for bringing processors up on actual reference boards.

Forbes says that, if you put one of his boards up against a reference design, you’d notice a few things. First, the reference platform wouldn’t really overclock—a couple of bins higher, if you were lucky. Second, the retail Intel boards have a lot more BIOS-based features. The components are different, routing is different, and features are different.

Intel Shows Off Its Custom Near-Field Scanning System

“Aside from the Intel logo and the CPU location, which everyone pretty much follows, that’s about what the two boards have in common,” Brian states. “I have a senior design engineer with multiple degrees in power delivery; his one job is to make these go faster, remain stable, and do what nobody else can do in six to eight phases, and he does it every time. I have another engineer that focuses on signal quality and analysis. He goes route by route from the CPU to memory, identifying where crosstalk occurs and where we’re losing performance. Then he’ll go back and fine-tune every signal.”

It’s actually pretty interesting to hear just how separate Intel’s two board divisions really are. “The primary role of the RVP team (responsible for the reference designs) is to intercept the silicon and determine if there are any tweaks or tunes that need to happen (glue logic and things of that nature). Once they have the board working 100% to spec, including processor wattage, memory transfer rates, PCIe, integrated USB, and so on, it’ll pass FCC and EMC testing. You could take that and make a design out of it if you really wanted. The board probably just wouldn’t be very competitive in the same market as Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI."

From there, Brian’s team is able to go and add features, change layout, and optimize performance. “The two things on there that are likely clips from the RVP board are the two main pieces of Intel silicon—they have the breakouts already complete, the placement’s pretty much perfect, and we might tweak it a little bit, but that’s actually where the similarities end. We then go down our own path on the type of vendors we use, in terms of the number of phases we use, and the heat sinks are different, as are the back-panel I/O features. ”

Display all 39 comments.
  • 2 Hide
    TheProfosist , June 17, 2011 10:09 AM
    great to hear. my P3 intel board was crazy stable. i have stuck with asus since the P4 era but ill turn some of my attention back to intel now.
  • 0 Hide
    compton , June 17, 2011 10:24 AM
    I just got a new DP67BGb3 and I'm diggin it. I had a great P4 Intel board, the D865PERL with sata, optical and coaxial digital audio out, and several other nice features -- except for overclocking. The board is still good 8 years later. The DP67BG feels like more of a successor to that, except for the overclocking and the Extreme Skull (which is actually kind cool -- I likes it). Some of the early criticisms of the board in January are no longer valid (like cold boot problems with 1600mhz ect). I very much appreciate the care and thought Intel put into the board and hope that they keep up the high level of excellence as represented by the DX58SO2 and DP67BG.
  • 9 Hide
    ivaroeines , June 17, 2011 11:03 AM
    I think the multi phased(8+) motherboards is more about marketing than a stability thing, we(the normal consumer) tend go for motherboards with many phases in the belief that their better than one with few phases.

    Intel is in a lucky spot, they are so well off that they dont have to compete, they can just work on a product till its ready and rock solid, and their products just become awesome and Intel become even more well off.
  • 0 Hide
    JackFrost860 , June 17, 2011 11:37 AM
    does that mean the 24 phase Gigabyte boards are compensating for a sh*t design ;) 
  • 4 Hide
    ojas , June 17, 2011 11:58 AM
    ivaroeines...Intel is in a lucky spot, they are so well off that they dont have to compete, they can just work on a product till its ready and rock solid, and their products just become awesome and Intel become even more well off.


    yeah pretty cool ppl...i remember reading that they entered the SSD market just for the sake of improving SSDs...respect these guys a lot, really...

    greghome...never had a Intel branded board fail in 10 years


    neither have I...very stable products...
  • 6 Hide
    Onus , June 17, 2011 12:45 PM
    ivaroeinesI think the multi phased(8+) motherboards is more about marketing than a stability thing, we(the normal consumer) tend go for motherboards with many phases in the belief that their better than one with few phases.

    Once you get past 3-4 phases, I agree. Two few phases doing too much work (including the poor balancing of many phases that Intel mentions) could cause failures. Varying the number of operating phases based on load does apparently yield some energy savings, although that shouldn't take more than 4-6 to implement either.
    ivaroeinesIntel is in a lucky spot, they are so well off that they dont have to compete, they can just work on a product till its ready and rock solid, and their products just become awesome and Intel become even more well off.

    That IS how Intel competes; they just need to do a better job of letting people know that. Read the comments here though to see word-of-mouth at work; I'll add my agreement that the Intel boards I've owned have been very stable.
  • -4 Hide
    fball922 , June 17, 2011 1:13 PM
    Surprised Tom's would post this after that embarrassing advertorial on Intel motherboards.
  • 4 Hide
    eyemaster , June 17, 2011 3:36 PM
    Articles such as this make me show more respect towards the work the companies (in this case, Intel) put into products they sell.

    Very nice, I like.
  • 3 Hide
    cangelini , June 17, 2011 4:18 PM
    fball922Surprised Tom's would post this after that embarrassing advertorial on Intel motherboards.


    This story--an editorial opportunity--had nothing to do with the advertorial that went up. I've already expressed my disagreement with the fact that was even posted to \articles\ (even though it's clearly labeled as a sponsored piece).
  • 1 Hide
    boiler1990 , June 17, 2011 4:29 PM
    ceh4702My last motherboard was an integrated 720p HD Video motherboard. It works great in dual display so we can watch Korean historical videos online. I have gotten to the point where almost no american TV is worth watching. My biggest problem is Microsoft operating systems and IE being a substandard video blocking product.


    There are American-made TVs? ;) 


    Back on subject - getting to visit Intel's lab must be just wholly awesome. Some of my professors at Purdue worked with them on some research a little while back, and I think that's how they're developing the 22nm and smaller transistors.
  • 1 Hide
    king_maliken , June 17, 2011 5:04 PM
    boiler1990There are American-made TVs? Back on subject - getting to visit Intel's lab must be just wholly awesome. Some of my professors at Purdue worked with them on some research a little while back, and I think that's how they're developing the 22nm and smaller transistors.

    They've had these transistors in the works for quite a while now, and they successfully made smaller chips by using these transistors...
    Onto this article; I personally really liked it, and must confess that I would love to have their job.
  • -3 Hide
    joshyboy82 , June 17, 2011 7:02 PM
    So I open the embedded video and it barely loads at 360p on a 22mb broadband connection. I hit the source link to youtube and it istantly fully loaded? Web fail.
  • 2 Hide
    razor512 , June 17, 2011 7:21 PM
    On some boards the additional phases is to reduce heat as it is cheaper to add an extra phase than it is to add a heatsink (when you consider pure production cost) The downside is since the phases are not 100% efficient, you increase overall power consumption)

    It is also largely marketing. People like higher numbers. To the average user, they may thing "I don't know what that is but this board has more of it than the other board for the same price"

    When I get these types of board, I run it without the side panel for the forst few hours while running a CUDA accelerated password cracker (mainly because it maxes the CPU and GPU the entire time and gets hotter temperatures than even prime95)

    I then use the thermal probe that came with my multimeter, then place it against each of the phase chips (my msi board had no heatsinks on them)

    I then monitor the temperatures, and what I found was that each phase had about the same temperature so the power was being shared evenly, especially with a CPU using well over 140 watts since it is overclocked (Phenom II x4 965 overclocked)

    So not sure about all other boards but in my case with the msi board, the crazy amount of phases was to avoid the production cost of adding heatsinks to the phases.
  • 1 Hide
    djridonkulus , June 17, 2011 8:19 PM
    Newb question:

    Why does Intel use Prime95 and not IntelBurnTest?

    I was told IBT works the cpu harder and produces more heat than Prime95 does, and it even does it faster, completing a pass in under 5 minutes as opposed to P95's hours.

    Please enlighten me.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , June 17, 2011 9:10 PM
    Good question Dj, I'll ask the guys over there about it.
  • 0 Hide
    thechief73 , June 17, 2011 10:27 PM
    Awesome article... I love the strait from the horse's mouth aspect of it, and not just a second hand overlook. Now can we get the same thing on Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI? Please =) Though this might require quite a bit more traveling than taking a trip to Intel.
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