The Southbridge Battle: nforce 6 MCP vs. ICH7 vs. ICH8

Intel 82801HR (ICH8, P965)

ICH8 is the underdog in this comparison; it has only been paired with the mainstream chipset P965 and not with the flagship 975X. In contrast to ICH7, ICH8 offers more SATA ports and more USB 2.0 ports. But there are more differences that are not obvious without in-depth testing.

It clearly offers the highest I/O performance across all four benchmark categories (workstation, database, file server, Web server). Even the RAID throughput performance is constantly higher than with ICH7; you get 302 instead of 298 MB/s read throughput in RAID 0, 134 MB/s reads and 78 MB/s writes in RAID 0+1, 225 MB/s read and 142 MB/s write in RAID 5, all of which are excellent results. If, however, your RAID 5 gets degraded by a faulty hard drive, performance drops considerably to 51 MB/s reads and as little as 5.3 MB/s write performance. Knowing this, it is imperative to replace the faulty drive as quickly as possible, because such a slow write performance is unacceptable.

In order to achieve these high performance numbers you have to enable write back caching after creating the array; it will give you a 2-3x performance increase in write performance! However, you should take into consideration that a power loss will interrupt incompletely written data, so be careful with write caching or purchase a UPS.

The USB 2.0 throughput numbers are very interesting; although there is little difference with a single hard drive attached (at 29 MB/s, the ICH8 is the fastest product), operating two high-performance storage devices on one root controller will cause the data rate to drop to 18.8 MB/s. Nvidia manages to stay at 20.3 MB/s. But then if you connect the two storage devices to different USB root controllers, ICH8 is the only Southbridge product that maintains almost full speed (27.5 instead of 29 MB/s)! This means that you can copy data from or two different USB root hubs at almost the full bandwidth that you would get with a single drive.

82801HH is the version for the digital home, while 82801HR offers extensive RAID support.