Intel Core Duo: AOpen i975Xa-YDG to the Rescueby Gary Key on May 4, 2006 8:00 AM EST
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"L'imagination est la seule arme dans la guerre contre la réalité."
For those of us who have not fully embraced the French language, this quote by the French philosopher Jules de Gaultier translates into, "Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality." A very fitting quote when realizing the imagination involved on AOpen's behalf in designing and then bringing to market a performance oriented desktop board that utilizes the current star of Intel's microprocessor lineup, the Core Duo. Our reality has been living with the minimalist number of Mobile on Desktop products available for Intel users wishing to break free of the NetBurst architecture since the introduction of the Pentium-M product line.
While the Intel Pentium-M series started off with a bang in the notebook sector with the release of the Banias (130nm) product family a few years ago, this processor series did not fare well against its Pentium 4 and AMD Athlon64 competitors when utilized in desktop boards based upon the Intel 855GME chipset, an i865/875 derivative, which featured a single-channel DDR333 memory controller, AGP4x, and PATA drive support. However, the chips did bring the promise of a low noise and low power consumption processor to the desktop and was an HTPC builder's dream choice for a silent PC, a total reversal of the Prescott family traits. The Banias based processors just did not have the clock speeds, chipset support, memory bandwidth, or architecture improvements at the time to effectively compete on the desktop even with their considerable noise level and power consumption advantages. In fact, Intel was dead set against the idea of utilizing mobile processors on the desktop so the availability of boards was further limited, a very misguided idea as it turns out.
Intel continued development on the Pentium-M series and released its second generation product family called Dothan a couple of years ago. Dothan represented the move to the 90nm process, L2 cache increased from 1MB to 2MB, clock speeds increased up to 33%, and minor architecture improvements in the areas of Micro Ops Fusion, Local Branch Prediction, Integer Division, and Register Accesses were included. Although the Dothan series were still limited in overall system performance by the Intel 855GME equipped boards at launch, Asus released a unique socket 479 to socket 478 adapter in early 2005 that allowed the use of non-low voltage Banias and Dothan processors in certain socket 478 motherboards based upon the Intel 865/875 chipset family. This adaptor card allowed the Pentium-M series to take advantage of a mature desktop platform, increased memory bandwidth, and allowed the user to overclock the processor.
The test results with the adapter card were impressive at the time with certain benchmark scores equaling or surpassing the Pentium 4 and Athlon64 competition, but floating point and SSE performance continued to be an issue in video encoding and some 3D rendering tasks. The availability of the Intel 915GM chipset later in the year featuring PCI Express, SATA support, HD Audio, Dual-Channel 533MHz DDR2 support or Single-Channel DDR333, and Gigabit LAN meant the Dothan finally had a fairly competitive platform to showcase its performance enhancements and abilities against the desktop processors. However, Pentium-M desktop board availability continued to be limited with the focus being on micro-ATX designs designed for HTPC or SFF users, certainly nothing targeted to the performance oriented enthusiast crowd. Further information about the Pentium-M along with test results using the ASUS adapter can be found in our Intel's Pentium M on the Desktop and Intel's Pentium M Desktop Part II.
Intel's development cycles continued in earnest on the Pentium-M series resulting in the Yonah family of products and a name change to the Core Duo/Solo series. These Core series processors include a move to the 65nm process, dual-core capability in the Duo models, thermal enhancements, Smart Cache implementation on the Duo, and architectural improvements that include improved floating point performance, SSE/SSE2 Micro Ops Fusion tweaks, support for SSE3 instructions, and SSE decoder throughput enhancements. These changes and additions addressed the floating point, media encoding, and 3D gaming weaknesses of the prior Pentium-M product family while maintaining near equal thermal characteristics. Note that the Core Duo/Solo series, like the Pentium-M series before it, does not support 64-bit extensions.
Intel released the Core Duo and Core Solo products earlier this year with a splash that included almost immediate availability in the revised Apple iMac and MacBook Pro product lines while widespread availability in the Intel PC market space is just now occurring. Along with this impressive rollout comes another core logic update in the form of the Intel 945GM chipset family. This update to the 915GM chipset includes improved power consumption, a move to 667MHz DDR2 memory and front side bus support, improved integrated graphics, a modified 479-pin socket, and the addition of the ICH7MDH Southbridge featuring SATA 3Gb/s support and increased PCI-Express lanes when compared to the previous ICH6M. While the core logic chipset improvement tweaks are certainly welcome, including the 25% increase in front side bus bandwidth, the mobile desktop boards based on this chipset are still mainly targeted at the HTPC and general office application user.
The support and general interest of the motherboard manufacturers in releasing a wider variety of Mobile on Desktop products has greatly increased with the roll out of the current Core series processors. We expect a few of the upcoming 945GM based boards will be more performance oriented for the enthusiast user, but from all indications their roots will still be firmly planted in the mobile design sector. Additional information on Core Duo can be located found in Intel Core Duo (Yonah) Performance Preview - Part II.
This leads us into the main star of today's discussion, the AOpen i975Xa-YDG, so let's take a closer look at its features and performance.