Dual DDR For Pentium 4: Intel E7205 Chipset Put To The Test

Summary: A Steady Drip Wears The Granite Down

The two E7205 and E7505 chipsets are Intel's official final bell for Rambus chips in the workstation and server sector. The future now belongs to dual-channel DDR.

Considering the fact that Intel wants to position the E7205 chipset (Dual DDR266 SDRAM) as successor to the i850E (dual PC1066 RDRAM), the limited performance is disappointing, especially with regard to memory.

Up to now there have been only two reasons to buy the E7205 (Granite Bay): AGP 8X and a maximum memory expansion of four GB. However, our early tests have shown that AGP 8X currently does not provide any enhancements in performance. For one, there exist hardly any applications that need a bandwidth of 2.1 GB/second - as provided by AGP 8X. Modern factory-set AGP 8X graphics cards now have memories of 128 MB, which in practice considerably satisfies the hunger for bandwidth.

Intel's decision to equip the Granite Bay chipset with only a memory interface for DDR266 seems odd. After all, the leader in processors already gained validity for DDR333 with the "older" 845PE/ GE chipsets.

We can only suppose one thing: the dual-channel interface could date from an era well prior to the 845PE/ GE. For overclocking enthusiasts, it may seem like an advantage at first glance that the chipset only allows synchronous operation between the CPU front side bus and the memory. You have to boost the FSB from 133 to 166 MHz to make optimum use of the DDR333 memory. But internal lab tests have shown that even minimal overclocking raises the performance of the E7205. So, souping up a PC1066 RDRAM platform is not a problem.

The E7205 requires a motherboard that is manufactured in a six-layer configuration. In addition, the complete chipset is pricey at $57. Both factors will bring up the manufacturing costs for motherboards. Because of this, the E7205 platform will only be attractive to the corporate market. Joe Bloggs will have to dig deep to afford this one.

A steady drip wears away the stone eventually - an old German saying. Many drips still have to fall on the "Granite" before our expectations are met. However, there is already a comforting thought: Intel is planning a chipset for mid-2003 that will offer dual-channel DDR400 for desktop PCs. The "newcomer" will enable the cheaper four-layer configuration and also support AGP 8X. It will probably be packaged with the ICH5 Southbridge, which has integrated serial ATA for hard drives. It may be worth the wait.

Uwe Scheffel