Most of the results we found for the new P45 chipset are somewhat disappointing, as we expect a new product generation to at least match the previous one in all relevant disciplines and test categories—especially when it’s an Intel chipset. While this is the case in terms of features, we were not able to find true additional value for the end user, as the added features are not necessarily relevant. In addition, the P45 failed to deliver better performance while it increases power consumption over its predecessor—so much for performance per watt.
The latest Intel chipset for 2008 introduces a few new features, of which only PCI Express 2.0 is nice to have, because the faster interface standard is required to provide maximum bandwidth to the latest graphics cards. Chipset improvements such as Extreme Tuning and Extreme Memory Profiles (XMP) are solid, but of little use for the true enthusiast who tweaks everything manually, and with questionable relevance for beginners, who probably won’t bother with them. However, the features do make sense (up to 16GB RAM is now supported) and they don’t introduce disadvantages for the Intel platform, which continues to be a reliable workhorse for the mainstream despite the lack of palpable progress.
Performance Stagnates, Power Goes Up
Performance-wise, the P45 chipset does not beat the P35, and it is also comparable to the X48. 1600 MHz FSB speeds are not officially supported by Intel, but most motherboard makers added support for it anyway. However, we found little to no performance differences between the 1333 MHz and 1600 MHz speeds in virtually all benchmarks, and none of our P45 samples was capable of clearly outperforming the P35 boards when it comes to overclocking. We reached 525 MHz on the Asus P5Q-E, which can also be reached by some P35 products.
At the same time, all P45 motherboards required up to 10 W more power than P35 motherboards, on average, and this is independent of the type and efficiency of the voltage regulators used. The new 65 nm PCI Express 2.0 chipset clearly consumes more power than the P35 across the board, which we don’t find convincing when we look at the stagnating performance.
Finally, performance for USB 2.0 and SATA operation has slightly decreased as well. We found that the ICH9 is quicker when it comes to USB 2.0 throughput and maximum transfer rates in RAID operation. At least Intel managed to improve I/O performance, clearly outperforming all other built-in SATA RAID controllers in this discipline. Unfortunately, that isn’t very relevant to desktop users.
Waiting for Nehalem
Finally, our conclusion is simple: the P45 is a transitional product that makes limited sense. It is not worth purchasing a P45 platform system, unless you insist on PCI Express 2.0 and want to avoid forking out the money for an X48 motherboard or a platform based on Nvidia’s nForce 790i Ultra SLI. The P45 doesn’t deliver better performance, while it increases average power consumption. It offers some new features, but it cuts back on USB 2.0 and SATA throughput.
If you want to buy a new Intel system today, P35 will most likely be the best option, as real benefits such as USB 3.0 and architectural advances are still only on the horizon. If you already have a Core 2 system or a fast Athlon 64 X2 or Phenom, you shouldn’t rush now. It makes more sense to for wait for Intel’s Nehalem architecture with the X58 chipset, as well as AMD’s Socket AM3 platform. Although the mainstream versions won’t be around before 2009, the enthusiast product launches will provide a good preview of what to expect.