Mainstream Parts For High-End Systems?
We’ve heard that Intel’s LGA 1156 platform was intended to bring its Nehalem architecture to the mainstream market. But the first processors to support that platform are hardly what most of us would consider inexpensive. Starting with a $200 Core i5-750, the range currently tops out with a surprisingly-expensive $550 Core i7-870. At those prices, the cheapest processor barely fits into the top of what most folks consider mainstream.
On the other hand, a simplified platform architecture based on Intel's single-component platform controller hub, which looks amazingly similar to the previous-generation’s southbridge, has allowed comparable motherboards to cost around $100 less than their LGA 1366 predecessors. The tradeoff for this cost savings is the loss of 20 PCI Express (PCIe) lanes and a scale back from triple- to dual-channel memory support.
The combination of fairly expensive processors and a scaled-back chipset puts us in a difficult position when considering the market for full-feature motherboards. Can any LGA 1156 system truly be considered high-end? After all, there’s no practical way to supply two graphics cards with a full 16 lanes of bandwidth. However, only the most expensive graphics cards need more than eight PCIe 2.0 lanes, and not every high-end buyer wants a gaming system.
Current LGA 1156 hardware thus cuts a broad swath across both sides of the line that normally separates high-end from mainstream systems, appealing to mid-budget gamers, non-gaming power users, and technophiles who think of themselves as both gamers and power users. They are among the users who are the most likely to want more performance than they are willing to pay for, to be tempted by the easy gains of overclocking, and to find themselves surrounded by Tom’s Hardware forum members. Some of these users are on our staff.
Now that we’ve figured out why someone might want to build a moderately expensive system using parts that are mainstream in name only, let’s take a closer look at how well some of those parts, specifically the motherboards, fit in this market.