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Many users are awaiting impatiently for Intel Corp. to release its long-awaited code-named Conroe processor that promises to have higher performance amid moderate power consumption compared to today’s offerings from the world’s largest chipmaker. Unfortunately, the situation with the platforms that would support Conroe is not completely clear.

Given that the launches of Intel Conroe central processing units (CPUs) and Intel 965 chipset series seem to be aligned, it is highly probably that the forthcoming mainboards will support the forthcoming processors. The status of Conroe support by currently available mainboards is not that obvious. It looks like today’s mainboards, even those built on the latest Intel 975X chipset, will not be compatible with the upcoming processors known as Conroe. Nonetheless, Intel seem to have no plans to release a new high-end core-logic in the middle of the year, thus, the chipset that is to support possible high-speed Conroe processors is the Intel 975X. That said, there seem to be no actual compatibility issues between the Conroe processors and the Intel 975X chipset: the problem lies with the mainboards.

According to several mainboard manufacturers, the platforms designed to support Conroe processors will feature a new type of Voltage Regulation Module (VRM) onboard. In other words, one the same mainboard on Intel 975X chipset may have different VRM depending on the mainboard revision. Note that one revision will support only Pentium 4 and Pentium D processors and another will also support Conroe processors. It looks like the mainboard voltage regulator should be adapted for stable work with Conroe processors that can support lower voltages and have smaller voltage adjustment increments. The modified mainboards will work fine with the previous generation CPUs as well as with the upcoming Conroe based CPUs. The new VRM should be more universal from this standpoint.

We have already witnessed similar situation with the Intel 815-series chipsets and Pentium III Tualatin CPUs compatibility. The existing mainboards acquired new voltage regulator and only then the new mainboard revisions could actually work fine with the Tualatin based processors. The chipset did support the processor core from the very beginning, it is the power conditions that needed adjustment. There have also appeared a few volt-modding methodologies for these particular cases, so that users could actually use Tualatin CPUs in mainboards not designed to support them. The corresponding converters have also been rolled out into the market.  

According to this logic, Conroe support could have been implemented even on the modified Intel 945-series and Intel 955 based mainboards. However, you should keep in mind that the set of signals and the peculiar working principles of the “dual-core” 1066MHz bus can also impose certain limitations on Conroe compatibility with these chipsets. Intel 975X has already been designed to support the dual-core Pentium XE 955 with 1066MHz bus from the very beginning, so the Conroe processors working with the same bus should theoretically be able to work with this chipset, too. On the other hand, there are some cases when Pentium XE 955 would work fine with Intel 955X and Intel 865PE based mainboards, so there are still quite a few unrevealed surprises here. Furthermore, there is a possibility that some desktop chips would acquire 1333MHz processor system bus this year, which would require a new chipset to support them.

Discussion

Comments currently: 18
Discussion started: 02/02/06 02:28:19 PM
Latest comment: 08/25/06 08:21:44 AM
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1. 
On the modern note, Intel has made the upgrade path a complete mess of late, probably owing to their rushed and half thought out plans. Whatever the reason, it's become quite disconcerting to the market, and yet another reason to try alternatives with better upgrade paths...
0 0 [Posted by:  | Date: 02/02/06 07:39:20 PM]
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While I agree that the upgrade market is confusing these days, I'm not sure it even matters much to Intel.

Very few people upgrade their processors, and most of the time it is a mistake anyway. It always has been. By the time one piece becomes obsolete, the rest of the machine probably is too. Surely that's not an absolute, but in general it applies to most people. The ones is doesn't apply to, don't really matter much in terms of sales. They are a tiny, tiny fraction.

Upgrading CPUs is relatively new anyway. The 8086/88,286 and 386 generations were not supporting "overdrive" processors from Intel. The 486s did, and even the Pentium had overdrive processors. The Pentium Pro was the swansong for this though, with the Pentium II overdrive being the last of such processors. Since then, Intel simply doesn't care, and if it works out that you can upgrade easily, that's almost accidental. The Tualatin incompatibility bites me a lot, since I can't stand the current garbage AMD and Intel sell and won't buy them, and getting new Tualatin motherboards is not very easy anymore, especially dual processor boards. So, it's frustrating for me, but when you consider the percentage of people that are impacted by this, compared to the benefit of the changes they made (for example, lower voltages on the FSB) it probably is a worthwhile tradeoff.

In this instance, it sounds a lot the same to me. Intel is creating compatibility problems, but it seems only with the VRM instead of both it and the chipset, to create lower power solutions for their newest processors. The tiny number of people that don't like this, compared to the number that will benefit from the heat and power savings, simply don't matter enough to make this a bad idea. Progress is more important than minor compatibility, particularly if you can simply buy a new motherboard and get what you need. It's not like motherboards are expensive anyway. They are cheap junk compared to the past when motherboards costed $1000 and lasted close to forever. So, upgrading processors without motherboards is not a priority for Intel, and while I've suffered from this, I can understand it completely.
0 0 [Posted by:  | Date: 02/02/06 08:00:22 PM]
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Sorry but I disagree a little.

The question is not just upgrade, but use current selling platforms with the processor.
Intel with this is making hard life to retail system vendors, since they will have to keep motherboards they can’t sell because won’t work with new processors.
0 0 [Posted by:  | Date: 02/03/06 02:31:19 AM]
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I'm not sure this has much to do with Intel in this case. The motherboard makers knew about the new VRM requirements, even if you didn't, but chose to make boards based on existing VRM requirements. They could also have chosen to jump the gun, but that would have meant a little less profit per board, probably.
0 0 [Posted by:  | Date: 02/03/06 06:30:34 AM]
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