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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.

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“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. ”

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