Back in January Intel launched its mainstream lineup of processors
codenamed "Sandy Bridge" - also known as Core i3/i5/i7 2000 Series. These CPUs were accompanied by the Cougar Point "6 series" chipset, which was initially crippled by a bug which set Intel back by $1 billion
and caused a recall of eight million motherboards
By now a fixed revision of this chipset is under production and the rampup continues with some delay. Sandy Bridge's Socket 1155 platform replaced the Socket 1156 platform used for previous generation mainstream offerings (32nm Westmere, 5 Series Chipset). We received information on the successor of high-end Core i7 processors that used the Socket 1366 platform - "Sandy Bridge E" processors and the Z68 and X79 Chipset.
Intel Desktop Chipset Roadmap for 2011. Note that Ivy Bridge and Panther Point will debut in First Quarter of 2012, most likely on CES 2012.
Historically, high-end offerings for enthusiasts are often derived from server and workstation offerings. Currently this segment is served with the X58 chipset and Core i7 quad- and sexa-core CPUs based on the now outdated Nehalem/Westmere-generation.
Intel is already readying a replacement based on the "Sandy Bridge E" core (server versions carry the names EN and EP). While the mainstream core featured an integrated GPU, the high-end/server parts scraps that. The new high end will comes with eight physical cores, 16 threads and a massive 20MB L3 cache. The only real difference between the two is the number of memory channels: old Nehalem/Westmere had three memory channels and used Socket LGA-1366 while the Sandy Bridge E features four memory controllers and will utilize Socket LGA-2011.
Intel is also bringing official support for DDR3-1600 memory, doubling the system bandwidth from 24.98GB/s (officially, even the 990X supports only DDR3-1066
) to 50GB/s.
On the server side, the need for Sandy Bridge-EN and Sandy-Bridge-EP processors came from the yield perspective, as Sandy Bridge E is expensive to make - we estimate that the die will only be slightly shy of 400mm2 in Intel's 32nm High-K process. We expect to see Sandy Bridge EN having six physically enabled cores and two disabled for yield purposes, while EP processors will be "best of the best" in terms of silicon performance. For now, the eight-core, quad-channel Sandy Bridge E and its LGA-2011 are the only ones to debut on desktop side, but don't exclude LGA-1356 and Sandy Bridge EN - it all depends on just how fast AMD Bulldozer will be.
According to slides released by Chinese IT.com.cn website, Intel will release Sandy Bridge E and X79 chipset in the fourth quarter of 2011. Bear in mind that back on CeBIT 2011 we saw various motherboard makers show their next-gen Z79 motherboards
, featuring quad-channel memory interface eight, and some with only four memory slots. According to the sources in the know, X79 boards with only four memory slots will be crazy overclockers, with estimates targeting DDR3-2600, i.e. 81.25GB/s of memory bandwidth.
The feature description lists SNB-EP LGA 2011 CPUs. Whether it's a coincidence for the socket to feature exactly 2011 pins to match with the year is left to the reader to think about. Prominent features include overclocking support and dual PCIe x16 or quad x8 support to allow crazy multi GPU setups. In this regard the same functionality as in X58 is offered. It is still only PCIe 2.0, the next generation has to wait until 2012.
High-level overview of Intel X79 Express Chipset
While the X79 is said to offer 14 USB 2.0 ports, USB 3.0 is still absent even from the high end offerings. There is some hope left, that the next mainstream desktop chipset for the 22nm Ivy Bridge CPUs will deliver this feature. For now, expect manufacturers to deliver USB 3.0 via companion chips - NEC already offers a new chip supporting up to 4 ports. Storage support has been massively extended to 14 SATA ports, of which a whole 10 can support 6Gb/s speeds. If AMD's Bulldozer-based products deliver the much needed performance, Intel just may have a pricing headache on their heads, as some of AMD's 900 Series chipsets have native USB 3.0 support.
Regarding the chipset name, there is some criticism to throw at Intel. While X79 is clearly used to differentiate the chipset from the 6 series offerings, it's feature set - while massively extended - still belongs to the same 6 series generation. The upcoming Panther Point chipset scheduled for 2012 mainstream platform is reported to integrate USB 3.0 support and PCI Express 3.0. Their model numbers will be lower than 79 though, unless Intel skips 7 series and proceeds with 8 series. History has shown that Intel doesn't care as the "975X" enthusiast chipset launched in 2005 which also carried a higher number despite the mainstream G/P965 chipsets of 2006 having a more modern feature set. Similarly it was repeated with the X48 chipset (based on the 3-series Bearlake) and the 4-series "Eagle Lake" chipsets in 2008.
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