The Core i7 and X58 represent a marked change from previous architectures.
First and foremost, Intel has moved the memory controller off the Northbridge and onto the processor itself. This is not a new concept; AMD first did this on its K8 architecture quite a while back and successfully demonstrated the wondrous effects this had on memory performance, especially latencies.
Like the X48, the X58 uses only DDR3 memory. Of greater interest, however, is that the X58 supports triple-channel operation, which requires three sticks of similar memory to function. With this new development, we will likely see memory showing up in stores in threes instead of the current pairs.
Note that it is still possible to use only two sticks of DDR3 memory in an X58 board, the drawback is a fall back to dual-channel operation. This could be useful for upgraders and users wanting to use their older pairs in the interim.
Triple SLi and CrossfireX Support
The X58 now supports flexible PCI-Express lane configurations, which also means that all X58 boards now support both Nvidia’s (triple) SLI and ATI’s (quad) Crossfire modes. After all those debacles with the nForce chipset involving data corruption and driver instability, some might be relieved to know that an alternative now exists without having to resort to driver hacking.
The last important change is that the front-side bus that previously connected the CPU with the Northbridge has been replaced. In its place is a new bus known as the Quickpath Interface. It runs at extremely high frequencies and boasts a much higher bandwidth. Quickpath appears to be Intel’s answer to the Hypertransport bus found in AMD chips.
Socket B (LGA1366)
With the switch to a new architecture came a new socket. Intel dropped the LGA775 (Socket T) in favor of LGA1366 (Socket B), shown below. Subsequent processors will use either LGA1366 or LGA1160.
Those who have a penchant for mounting enormous coolers will also be pleased to know that Socket B has a metal backplate as a standard feature to prevent warping of the motherboard.
The ICH10 Southbridge is nothing new. The variant on the motherboards we are looking at today is the ICH10R, which supports RAID 0,1,5 and JBOD as well as Intel Matrix RAID.