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The stage is set: seven young guns are ready to face off over matters of pride and respect. Their weapon of choice, Intel's latest P965 chipset, was designed to support the company's latest Core 2 series desktop processors. Better high-frequency memory stability and better overclocking potential are bullet-point reasons for choosing it over the elder 975X, but a few other changes were also added to "modernize" this part.
The new Northbridge officially supports DDR2-800 RAM, and is more likely to be stable with DDR2-1066 than the earlier 975X; the older board officially supported speeds only as high as DDR2-667 (though many performance boards offered higher settings). But unlike the high-end 975X, the "mainstream" P965 no longer allows splitting its PCI Express x16 graphics interface into two x8 pathways for native Crossfire support. One other aspect of being a "mainstream" component is that the P965 is reputed to provide slightly lower performance in some applications than its 975X predecessor - though comparison to our most recent reviews may prove otherwise.
Even bigger changes come with the new ICH8R Southbridge, which supports ten USB 2.0 ports and six Serial ATA ports, two more of each than the ICH7R. Once again there's a tradeoff, as the two "added" Serial ATA ports were actually taken away from the two ATA-100 drives supported in the ICH7. While some may criticize Intel's complete removal of Ultra ATA support at a time when SATA optical drives are rare and expensive, this move may actually prove pivotal in forcing new products to the market. To aid in the transition, all seven test candidates include add-in ATA controllers that can be addressed by Windows XP's built-in "Standard Dual-Channel PCI IDE Controller" driver when set to non-RAID (native) mode.
Like the ICH7R, the ICH8R supports Intel Matrix RAID for modes 0/1/5/10, and mixed modes that place two arrays across the same set of disks. New to the ICH8 series is Intel Quiet System Technology (QST), an algorithm that slows fan speed changes to reduce annoying spin-up/spin-down cycles.