Early in January 2010, Intel has almost put an end to the era of processors based on the Core architecture. By a twist of fate, the latter will still be used (for some time) in the cheapest Celerons for Socket 775 which will be reviewed in a later article. Today we'll speak of the Socket 1156 that has got a lion's share of Intel's desktop processors, both Core and Pentium. As you may already know from our Clarkdale review, the overhauled platform also implies the use of the newly supported H55 and H57 chipsets. However, we cannot say that you're bound to use the novelties or that they uncover the potential of the new processors to a fuller extent. Well, let's take a look at the first integrated chipsets for Nehalem (or Clarkdale, to be more exact).
You probably already know why some chipsets are referred to as "integrated". As a rule, those solutions have integrated graphics. But now the graphics processor has moved from chipset into CPU, just like the memory controller (see Bloomfield) or the PCI Express controller (see Lynnfield). Intel's product names have changed accordingly: "G" has been replaced with "H". We don't think the new naming is quite right. You see, the H55 and H57 are very similar in terms of functionality, and the H57 is indeed ranked higher. However, if you compare the features of the new products with those of the P55, which used to be the only chipset for Socket 1156 CPUs, you'll see that the P55 is very close to the H57. There are only two differences implied exactly by the graphics subsystem. While the H55 is the lower-end
ICH PCH in the series that has reduced functionality. Intel doesn't care about our opinion, though. Besides, the chipsets are ranked accordingly to market positioning which is what you actually pay for (the selling price of the P55 and H55 is $40, while that of the H57 is $43). To put it simply, the H55 should have been named H53, while the H57 should have been named H55. Anyway, let's have a look at chipset specifications now.
Key features of the H57:
- Support for all Nehalem Socket 1156 processors (including the corresponding Core i7, Core i5, Core i3 and Pentium series) when connected via the DMI bus (~2 GB/s).
- The FDI interface for obtaining fully rendered screen shots from a processor, and a unit for outputting those screen shots to a display.
- Up to 8 x PCIEx1 ports (PCI-E 2.0 operating at PCI-E 1.1 speed).
- Up to 4 x PCI slots
- 6 SATA-II ports for 6 SATA300 devices, AHCI and NCQ, hot plug, eSATA, and port splitters.
- RAID 0, 1, 0+1 (10) and 5 with Matrix RAID function (the same array of drives can be used in several RAID modes, for example, two drives may form RAID 0 and RAID 1, and each array will use its own part of the disk).
- 14 x USB 2.0 devices (on two EHCI host controllers) supporting hot plug.
- Gigabit Ethernet MAC controller and a special LCI/GLCI interface for connecting PHY controllers (i82567 for Gigabit Ethernet, i82562 for Fast Ethernet).
- High Definition Audio (7.1).
- Support for low-speed and legacy peripherals.
As we have assumed in the P55 review, the novelty has only minor differences. The architecture remains the same: a single chip, no separate North and South bridges (de facto, it's a Southbridge). No peripheral functionality has changed. The first difference is that the H57 has a special FDI interface by means of which a CPU sends a fully rendered screen shot (be it a Windows desktop, a full-screen movie, or a 3D game), while the chipset, having configured an output device, outputs that screen shot to a display (Intel HD Graphics supports up to two monitors). We'll talk about the new generation of Intel's integrated graphics in a separate review. Right now there's nothing to add, as the company unfortunately does not provide additional information about how FDI works. However, there is nothing new in the fact of an additional interface between a processor and a chipset (or between chipset bridges). When we say that the DMI bus is the only appropriate channel, we just mean that it's the primary channel for generic data, that's all. As for specialized interfaces, those have always existed.
The second difference is impossible to notice in the chipset flowchart. It's also impossible to see in real life as well, as it exists only in the marketing reality. Intel uses the same approach that has segmented chipsets of the previous architecture. The top chipset (X58) has two full-speed interfaces for external graphics, the medium solution (P55) has only one interface which can be split into two half-speed ones. Finally, low-end and integrated products (reviewed in this article) offer only one full-speed interface which does not allow to use two graphics cards. Obviously, the chipset itself cannot affect support for two graphics interfaces or the lack of it (P45 and P43 were also based on the same die). It's just that a motherboard with the H57 or H55 chipset fails to provide an option to set up two PCI Express 2.0 slots, while a P55-based motherboard can do that. Common users don't care much about the hardware background of this issue, though. So, SLI and CrossFire configurations are available in the P55, but not in the H55/H57. Though let's not forget that CrossFire can also be set up by installing the second graphics card into a chipset-based x4 slot (PCI-E 1.1) to work at a reduced performance.
Now let's take a look at the H55.
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