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Computex 2011 recap: Intel Z68 motherboard dominates but AMD Bulldozer missing

Analysis From slates to servers
Thu Jun 09 2011, 13:34

WITH ITS OVER 1,800 EXHIBITORS across some 5,200 booths, Computex 2011 in Taipei was big, busy and well spread out as usual, with nearly five miles separating the two main show venues, Taipei WTC and Nangang Hall.

As usual, handling this show is an adrenaline overdrive experience not unlike overclocking oneself, with a hundred 'hi hi, bye bye' meetings within just a few days, and mad runs between multiple venues and schedule-squeezed events. You can read enough about show statistics and such at the official Computex web site, but let's talk about some key observations and move away from the Android tablet discussions for once.

Yes, just like in the general IT industry, there was an increasing proportion of cute consumer stuff such as myriad varieties of tablets in all sizes, and a little less emphasis on the usual components, boards or desktop systems. Let's have a look at those usual goodies first.

First comes the AMD platform. In the expectation of a Bulldozer pre-launch showing, most major motherboard vendors such as Asus and Gigabyte announced their new 9-series mainboards optimised for the upcoming AMD 8-core processors, but there was no Bulldozer processor to be seen anywhere. According to the vendors' comments at the booths, we'll have to wait for it now until roughly August.

The impact of this might not be great on the bottom line, but basically the chance for AMD to have a one-quarter performance lead over Intel at the high end, at least in some aspects, is now diminished. By October, Intel's own 8-core Sandy Bridge Socket 2011, also with eight full FP units, will debut, taking back that performance advantage. It's been a really long time, around five years, since the last time AMD had a high end performance lead over Intel in the uniprocessor or dual-processor markets, so a refreshing change would have been welcome.

Talking about Intel, the Z68 chipset platform for the standard quad-core desktop Sandy Bridge processors has now become the standard, completely pushing away the old and troubled P67 chipset with its infamous SATA issue. Allowing switching between integrated and discrete graphics, the Z68 will support the upcoming Ivy Bridge 22nm processors next year, and in the same mainboards with a BIOS update, although there will be a new chipset at the same time for Ivy Bridge as well, which is expected to support Thunderbolt and a few other new features.

The Intel Z68 mainboard spread was everywhere across the show, in sizes as small as mini-ITX this time. Having a powerful quad-core system with a good enough GPU for basic gaming and full HD home theatre use, yet all packed into a supersmall chasis, is quite a proposition. But AMD's Llano will be a very serious contender there due to its much faster GPU, which is due out later this month. The Intel Z68 platform nevertheless has stronger bandwidth capacity, and ultimately I believe that all higher end Sandy Bridge CPUs that are put on it will use discrete graphics anyway.


Going a step up, the upcoming Intel X79 Socket 2011 chipset platform for those huge eight-core, 20-ish MB cache Sandy Bridge high end processors was shown by Gigabyte and MSI here. The socket is absolutely huge, as you can see, and it needs two levers to lock it for mounting the CPU. Luckily the cooling solution mounting is compatible with the Socket 1366, easing the transition somewhat.

Another impact of the large socket is that only four memory sockets fit in on the typical ATX mainboard now, and they are usually positioned as two on each side - one per memory channel - for the total of four memory channels from the CPU. The chipset itself has plenty of USB3 and SATA3 ports for expansion as well, but of course, the crowning glory is 40 PCIe v3 - yes, the next generation - lanes from the CPU, allowing for dual GPU full bandwidth slots plus an extra for, say, a fast PCIe SSD on board.


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