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LGA 2011 Platform and Intel X79 Express Chipset

LGA 2011 platform is a completely new processor socket that will replace LGA 1366. This way it is going to be the fourth type of the CPU socket introduced by Intel since the release of their Nehalem microarchitecture. However, in this case the Socket modification doesn’t seem unjustified. First of all, LGA 1366 platform is soon turning three years old, which is a pretty significant age for the computer industry. Secondly, LGA 2011 is introduced not only to refresh the mainboard variety. The new socket will deliver completely new functionality, such as compatibility with quad-channel memory.

Of course, in this case Intel could do just fine with significantly fewer pins, because desktop Sandy Bridge-E processors do not need the QPI bus. However, they decided to unify the desktop and server platforms that is why some of the pins out of over two and a half thousand available in the new Core i7 processors are not used.

The new platform will finally make the overall structure of the enthusiast systems meet contemporary standards - namely, use a single-chip core logic set. The PCI Express graphics bus controller in the new systems has moved into the processor, which leaves the chipset to perform the role of the South Bridge. This implementation is similar to that in LGA 1155 systems.

The PCI Express controller inside the Sandy Bridge-E processors is very powerful: it supports up to 40 PCIe lanes, which may be configured in different ways. The processor can take on up to 10 PCIe devices of all sorts. So, SLI and CrossfireX fans should be very happy with the new LGA 2011 platform, because unlike LGA 1155 it allows combining pairs of graphics accelerators using the fullest-speed organization of the graphics bus.

The PCI Express controller in Sandy Bridge-E has one more distinguishing feature: it supports 8 gigatransfers per second rate, i.e. meets the PCI Express 3.0 specification requirements. However the current Intel processors haven’t been certified yet that is why in most cases PCI Express 3.0 compatibility is not officially stated.

Since the memory and PCI Express graphics bus controllers have been moved into the processor, there is no need for high-speed bus between the CPU and the chipset, that is why they use DMI bus here – the same as in LGA 1155 platforms. And this is where we find something truly unexpected: Intel X79 Express chipset turns out virtually identical to Intel P67 Express used in LGA 1155 systems:

Unification is not only a good way to reduce the side effects. By using a well run-in chipset, which no longer suffers from any of the early issues (such as the notorious SATA-controller bug eliminated in the B3 revision), Intel has every right to guarantee the enthusiasts that there won’t be any unpleasant surprises this time.

However, we have a different concern: what we got in the end wasn’t exactly what they had originally promised us. And I am not talking about X79 Express missing the USB 3.0 bus, having only two SATA 6 Gbps ports and not supporting the Intel Smart Response technology. About a year and a half ago Intel told us completely different things about X79 Express: this chipset was supposed to have 14 SATA ports, ten of which had to support SATA 6 Gbps and eight of which had to support SAS devices. But things may have gone not quite as planned. Does it mean that we should expect a platform refresh in the near future? This is quite possible, although there is no official confirmation from Intel at this time.

Despite all the tricks with the chipset, the mainboard manufacturers were ready to welcome the new platform and are offering a wide range of products, in which numerous additional controllers fully compensate the scarce functionality of the chipset.

 
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