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Intel And Sapphire

CES '09: Morsels From Our Meetings
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Intel: Content With The Crown

We met briefly with Intel, but already knew that the company didn’t have much to talk about so close on the heels of its Core i7 launch. Representatives reiterated plans for the mainstream Core i7 variant later this year with on-chip graphics, a different socket interface, and two channels of DDR3 memory support.

We also talked a bit about Nvidia’s Ion platform and Intel conceded that supply of the popular Atom processors is currently tight. However, the chip is, in fact, available in one of two forms: by itself or in a package with Intel’s complementary chipset, which jives with what we heard from Nvidia. In essence, it all boils down to price.

Afterward, we spent some time meandering around Intel’s large booth and ran into the guys from Hardcore Computers. They had their Reactor system on display, which is unlike any machine we’ve ever seen. It starts with a 790i motherboard sourced from Tyan and attached to a rack-like tray, which drops down into a large reservoir that is, in fact, the body of the chassis. Depending on the model you choose, the platform includes anything from a Core 2 Duo E8600 to a Core 2 Extreme QX9650 onboard. Some of the base specs look a little anemic, like 2 GB of DDR3 and a single 1 TB hard drive on the $4,500 Reactor Pro, but Hardcore does offer customization to up that to 4 GB.

Of course, if you’re really swimming in cash, you can take the Reactor to its limit with optional SLC SSDs, 3-way SLI using GeForce GTX 280s, and redundant 650 W power supplies. But the feature common to all Reactor configurations is Hardcore’s total submersion cooling system, whereby all of the components inside are surrounded by a synthetic, non-conductive (obviously) coolant. It was hard to tell on the noisy show floor, but the result of a design like that is naturally going to be quiet operation as the array of fans found in air-cooled machines get cut down to one 250 cfm blower.

There’s a lot of custom work that went into bringing the Reactor to market, so it’s hardly a surprise that Hardcore isn’t quite ready with its next-generation design. Nevertheless, the company says it’s still selling the systems based on Core 2 processors, and is completely comfortable putting the Reactor up against competing i7-based configurations. We’re looking forward to getting one of the boxes in-house in the near future.

Sapphire Talks Re-Worked Radeons

Nvidia is on the offensive right now with its GeForce GTX 295 and GTX 285 graphics cards, based on a new 55 nm manufacturing process from TSMC. As we’ll see over the next couple of days, both boards challenge AMD in areas where it has enjoyed significant success over the past six months. AMD’s Radeon HD 4870 1 GB and HD 4870 X2 cards have taken the company a long way in attracting enthusiast affection, but now it knows it needs to counter Nvidia’s moves.

In talking to Sapphire, we learned that, in addition to significant price cuts on the Radeon HD 4870 X2 (expected to take it to $399 after mail-in-rebate or $449 without), the company will also be re-working its Radeon HD 4850 X2, at the very least, to offer more compelling performance against Nvidia’s latest creations. If you were looking to scoop up a good deal on the 4850 X2, it might be worth waiting until those cards get whatever tweak Sapphire has planned.

Our own Don Woligroski had encountered some issues with the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 chosen for his last System Builder Marathon. Because that card remains a Sapphire exclusive, drivers still need to come from the company’s own Website rather than from AMD's. However, there are a new BIOS and driver available, which are said to fix the issues we were encountering last month.

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  • -2 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , January 16, 2009 11:00 AM
    So a new socket is planned for mainstream core i7 systems? If that's the case, why even invest in an x58 in the first place?
  • 0 Hide
    squatchman , January 16, 2009 1:19 PM
    Reading hard!

    "Core i7 variant later this year with on-chip graphics, a different socket interface, and two channels of DDR3 memory support. "

    It sounds like a crippled version of i7. Dual channel memory that takes DDR3 and some weak IGP? No thank you.
  • 0 Hide
    enewmen , January 16, 2009 2:19 PM
    At about that time, the socket LGA-1366 and LGA-1567 will be moving to server space while the LGA-1156 is for Desktop platforms. The good news is the Desktop platform when Sandy Bridge is released should be a lot faster for apps like games, recoding, etc. While the server platform will be better for databases, VMs, and other high-IO applications. I don't know yet if Sandy Bridge will be LGA-1156 or 1366, but I guess 1156.
    .001 cents worth. Lots of info on the web.
  • 1 Hide
    cangelini , January 16, 2009 6:15 PM
    squatchmanReading hard!"Core i7 variant later this year with on-chip graphics, a different socket interface, and two channels of DDR3 memory support. "It sounds like a crippled version of i7. Dual channel memory that takes DDR3 and some weak IGP? No thank you.


    It's all about getting that architecture into the mainstream though, right. For as well as it performs, i7 is still an expensive proposition.
  • 1 Hide
    JonnyDough , January 19, 2009 2:32 PM
    Too expensive. Which is why Phenom II seems to be picking up a bit of steam. Intel always seems to have issues with socket changes.
  • 0 Hide
    TwoDigital , January 19, 2009 3:25 PM
    Reading through multiple web sites (including Intel's 2009 roadmap presentations) the socket 1366 is being targeted at 'enthusiast' users. They are also releasing a socket 1567 server connect (replacing the current Xeon socketj 771) and an entry-level socket 1160.

    Rumor has it the 1160 will retain the dual-channel memory controller system. The current i7s are based on LGA 1366 and the high-end motherboards I would expect to stay that way for the foreseeable future.