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Intel 6 Series Desktop Chipset Overview

Posted February 10, 2011 12:00 AM by Kaplin

Intel's Second Generation Core chipset recall has been getting a lot of media attention since the story broke last week. With all the focus on Intel's estimated losses, it's a good time to take a closer look at the differences between the chipsets, which can have a huge impact on features, performance, and expandability. A chipset is group of integrated circuits on a PC's motherboard that connects the CPU with other components and peripherals.

The Sandy Bridge line includes eleven different chipsets to pair the new processors with: 7 desktop chipsets and 5 laptop chipsets.

Desktop Chipsets
Although chipset selection is not one of the first specs many PC buyers look at, there is a niche of advanced users that build their own desktops and take chipsets into consideration before anything else. Heavy gamers also usually look at the different chipsets since they are usually looking for top-of-the-line motherboards that can support dual video cards or other high-end features.

Intel's Second Generation Core CPUs support a total of six different chipsets, each with different features. However, not all of them are available yet and some of the platforms will be more prevalent than others.

Intel H67 Chipset
One of Intel's major bragging points for their Second Generation Core CPUs is the inclusion of a GPU on the same chip. The H67 chipset is set to take advantage of these graphics capabilities and is targeted at average users who won't be doing any serious gaming or graphic intensive work. Although H67 supports overclocking the memory and graphics, it will not overclock the processor.

Intel P67 Chipset
Sure, Sandy Bridge is a leap forward for integrated graphics, but the built-in GPU still won't cut it for many power users; these users will want to go with a P67 motherboard. P67 mainboards aren't able to take advantage of the built-in GPU and require a dedicated video card, which will drive up the price and power consumption along with increasing the system's performance. Another feature of the P67 chipset is being able to split the 16 PCIe lanes into 2 channels of 8 lanes each for taking advantage of multiple video cards.

Intel H61 Chipset
The H61 chips will be arriving to the Sandy Bridge party fashionably late, being released about two months after the H67 and P67. H61 motherboards are set to be low-end motherboards, sacrificing some features to trim down the price. One of the big components removed from H61 boards is the SATA 3.0 interface for connecting next generation hard drives and solid state drives. H61 motherboards also drop the number of USB ports to 10, 4 less than the other boards.

Intel Q67 Chipset
The Q67 motherboards will be the main business-end platform for Second Generation Core chips, including support for 14 USB 2.0 ports, 4 SATA 2.0, 2 SATA 3.0, PCIe 8X, and legacy PCI support. None of the business motherboards support overclocking. One the business side, Intel has included the newest version of AMT 7.0 for system administrators to manage a large network of computers remotely.

Intel Q65 Chipset
The Q65 chipset specifications are very similar to the Q67, but only has a single SATA 3.0 port. Q65 boards also lose full RAID support, but maintain hardware and software support for Advanced Host Controller Interface (ACHS).

Intel B65 Chipset
Intel's B65 chipset is the no-frills business mainboard that also only has a single SATA 3.0 port, and also drops a couple USB 2.0 ports -- bringing the total down to 12. RAID support was also removed from the B65 chipset to keep costs low.

Intel Z68 Chipset
The Z68 platform won't be available until the second half of 2011, but enthusiasts may consider it to be worth the wait. Z68 motherboards are ready to take full advantage of Sandy Bridge's capabilities by being the only chipset that can access the on-die GPU or a discrete video card, possibly switching back-and-forth between the two as extra graphics performance is required. Full overclocking ability is enabled on these boards, making them the only overclockable board that doesn't require a video card. The last big feature of the Z68 motherboards is SSD Caching, which utilizes your blazing fast SSD as a cache drive while leaving regular storage duties to your hard drive

PCI / PCI-Express Support
One major point to note is that the P67, H67, H61, and Z68 chipsets have all discontinued support for Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) cards in favor of the newer PCIe 2.0 standard. The Q67, Q65, and B65 business chipsets will retain PCI support to make them more compatible with legacy parts still in-use around the office. Even without PCI slots, many motherboard manufacturers will continue PCI support through an add-on ITE bridge.

Check back next week for a rundown of Intel's new mobile chipsets for Second Generation Core CPUs including HM65, HM67, QM67, QS67, and UM67 platforms.

More Info:
Compare Intel Products
Core i Series Chipsets (Wikipedia)
An Introduction to Sandy Bridge
Intel's P67, H67 and H61 Chipsets will Lack Native PCI Support

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