Intel P45: The New Chipset Lacks Progress

Eaglelake Has Landed

Intel’s chipset business is a well oiled machine. The firm has been releasing a new desktop chipset family every year right around Computex in June. This time, the P35 family (Bear Lake) is being replaced by the P45 series, code-named Eaglelake. The new chipset family consists of four different models (two with integrated graphics) and mainly introduces PCI Express 2.0 to the mainstream. Although there are several new features and improvements, we found that the sum of Intel’s changes is actually quite minimal.

The P45 family is Intel’s fifth core logic product family for the socket LGA775 platform. The first of this line was the 915 Express Chipset, which launched in 2004. Looking at the number of new features that were introduced then, such as the Land Grid Array processor socket LGA775 itself, PCI Express graphics, DDR2 support, Matrix RAID and High Definition audio, the recent improvements to the P45 make are clearly more evolutionary in nature.

The 945P chipset introduced DDR2-667 memory speeds and 1066 MHz front side bus speeds, but it wasn’t until the advent of P965 with its ICH8 I/O controller that the interface connectivity was improved from four to six SATA 3 Gb/s ports, and from eight to 10 USB 2.0 ports. The P35 upped the ante to 12 USB 2.0 ports, DDR3 memory and 1333 MHz FSB speeds. But the real benefit for end users was, again, minimal.

Much Ado About Nothing?

To hide the fact that chipsets are already very mature and difficult to improve significantly, the industry has shifted attention towards multi-graphics card setups, tweaking, and overclocking—even Intel, a traditionally conservative manufacturer. Nvidia adapted its SLI technology to work with three or even four graphics chips. Intel has been supporting AMD’s/ATI’s CrossFire feature (albeit on the more expensive 975X, X38 or X48 chipsets, which don’t really provide better performance than their mainstream counterparts, but give more sophisticated features and support for unlimited overclocking). From this perspective, the P35 has been the most reasonable and powerful chipset choice, and we’re looking forward to analyzing the P45, being its official successor.

However, looking at the list of new features of the P45 compared to the P35, we remain a bit skeptical. Many of the features introduced in the past have been quietly removed. Think of Intel’s Wireless Connect technology, introduced with the 915 and ICH6, and Active Management Technology (iAMT with ICH7), which was finally merged into vPro. Then there was Quiet System Technology and Matrix Storage Technology, and finally Turbo Memory Technology, which allows motherboard makers to add flash memory to motherboards. These were all improved and eventually recycled in recent years; this was probably due to a lack of true innovations, which, we admit, are difficult to find.

P45, P43, G45, G43

We received six motherboards that are all based on Intel’s latest mainstream chipset P45, and used two of the six (Asus and Gigabyte) for benchmarks. Please be advised that we did not look at the feature-capped P43, which does not support hardcore overclocking or dual graphics setups, and we did not look at the integrated graphics chipsets G45 and G43. The difference between these last two is more comprehensive decoding support for H.264, VC-1 and MPEG-2 video in HD resolution in the G45.