|Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 Motherboard: P55 vs X58|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Thursday, 24 September 2009|
Page 17 of 18
Intel P55/LGA1156 Final Thoughts
Back on November 2008 when Benchmark Reviews helped launched the Intel Core i7 CPU & X58-Express platform, there was also news that Intel would soon return to reveal their mainstream P55-Express chipset. The new P55 was expected to support yet another new processor socket, switching out LGA1366 for LGA1156. The decision to follow-up with the P55 chipset made sense, primarily because Intel's been doing the X-before-P dance for a short while now. But to alienate an already fresh socket with another in the midst of an economic crisis? That just didn't make consumer sense.
Even after reading many of the technical reviews, it still doesn't. There's no industrial reason behind the move, and there's no technical advantage to it either. Intel could have easily fit the Lynnfield Core i5 and i7 processors all inside the same LGA1366 socket and reduced pin count. Or could they? The overall dimensions of the Nehalem Core i7-9xx series are larger than Lynnfield Core i7-8xx and i5-7xx series processors, which is the primary reason behind the socket change. Core i7-9xx series processors are 32 x 35mm, while the i7-8xx series is 32 x 32mm. Even still, a very small waste of silicon couldn't possibly cost more than a whole new socket. Of course the Core i3 'Havendale' processor is still poised for release in 2009 on the LGA1160 socket, which will again change the game.
So while Intel could have started with a standard die and forge ahead with improvements it, similar to the Pentium 4 era, they instead began at the top and worked backwards. This explains why the only processor to improve on the Core i7-965 Extreme Edition since its launch has been... the Core i7-975 Extreme Edition, another $1000+ processor. This essentially moved the i7-965 down into the high three-digit price range, and replaced the price point with the equally-charming i7-975. That's good and fine for 'enthusiast' X58 users, but the 'mainstream' P55-Express chipset didn't seem so economical when you had to shop for another aftermarket cooling solution.
Consider this: the LGA775 socket couldn't possibly fit the LGA1156 processor, but the CPU is roughly the same exact size. What this means is that the Lynnfield Core i7-8xx and i5-7xx series processors share the same dimensions as the LGA775 Pentium and Core 2 processors. Now imagine the number of aftermarket cooling systems designed for the old LGA775 socket, and ask yourself why Intel couldn't have adopted the exact same socket cooler mounting positions. From my perspective it seems like intentional support-market alienation, stressing after-market suppliers to create whole new products or adapters to fit LGA1156. This is all very familiar to how Intel dropped DDR3 onto the memory industry as the economic recession began, and then backed away from forcing chipset support.
Taking my complaint one step further, consider the budget-conscious overclocker and what they've just lost by being chiseled down to LGA1156 from LGA1366 size processors. CPU coolers made for the LGA775 platform were designed for use with a Core 2 (Duo or Quad) or Pentium 4 and D processor with an integrated heat-spreader measuring 28.5 x 28.5mm (812.25mm total), which is about equal to the new Lynnfield Core i7 and i5 processors. But then consider that the LGA1366 socket requires a much larger 32 x 35mm (1120mm total) footprint to accommodate the extra 591 'pins'. If you use an LGA775/1156 cooler on a LGA1366 socket, your missing out on 38% (307.75mm) of the contact surface. Had Intel kept the LGA1366 socket for Lynnfield, overclockers could take advantage of a 38% increase in surface area for cooling their overclocked processor.
With DRAM being sold at the lowest prices we've seen in many years, the introduction of a motherboard willing to harness large amounts of DDR3 may be a blessing in disguise. Even though enthusiasts have yet to fall in love with 64-bit versions of the Windows Operating System, there has been a renewed interest in it since the launch of Intel's X58 platform. The market already supports memory kits with 4GB modules, and it will be a short matter of time before we have 8GB modules commonplace in these kits. Thankfully the Windows 7 launch is only weeks away, giving me that hope for change I had in 2009.
As the Intel P55 chipset has now demonstrated, the future is in PCH-based designs, and 32- (or 22nm) technology has paved the way for Moore's law to continue as predicted. Herein lies the problem: software hasn't been keeping up with its end of the deal and most of us still use the 32-bit technology introduced back in Windows 95. it's sad but true. Games like Crysis helped give reason for advancing graphics technology, just like virtualization technology and Terminal Services helped push processor power. But the apex of software demands hasn't really changed in several years.
I said this at the end of 2008, and will say again now as we near the end of 2009: consumers will greet 2010 with video games that require the same graphical power as they have over the past few years, albeit in DirectX 11 packaging. Newer server and virtualization technology continues to refine efficiency and uses fewer CPU cycles. So essentially software barely moving while hardware is making leaps and bounds. Which raises the question: to what end?
I used to overclock my Pentium 4 (and later Pentium D and Core 2) processor to get a few extra frames out of Battlefield 2 and earn more work units per day with Folding @ Home. But now I have a graphics card that performs 600x better at folding proteins than my CPU ever did, and I have a Core i7 processor that can encode my authored DVD's in a fraction of the time it used to take. We haven't hit the wall, but the light at the end of the tunnel is getting very close. If software doesn't come around soon, with perhaps a widespread adoption of 64-bit computing with Windows 7, we'll soon share the automobile dilemma: high-horsepower engines with break-neck speed driving on roads with a 65 MPH speed limit. I personally feel that this has been the case since Core 2 was launched, which is why we're now sharing the other auto-industry dilemma: power efficiency. Welcome to big business, and remember what just happened with that other industry.