Intel’s Patsburg chipset comes with a few unexpected surprises

Many not set in stone yet

TODAY WE FOUND out some details about changes to Intel’s upcoming Patsburg chipset for Sandy Bridge LGA-2011 processors and we were slightly surprised at what we heard. What struck as very unusual is the fact that Intel is developing a single chipset that is intended for at least both the high-end desktop Sandy Bridge B2 processors and the Xeon destined Sandy Bridge EN processors. Traditionally Intel has developed these types of chipsets separately, but apparently this is no longer the case.

The Patsburg chipset is destined to be Intel’s first single chipset solution for its high-end desktop products and mid-range server solutions, as with the rest of Intel’s range of Sandy Bridge processors, we should see the PCI Express controller being moved from a separate chip into the CPU itself. Unlike the LGA-1155 parts, the LGA-2011 processors are still set to feature PCI Express 3.0, although, unless AMD launches Southern Islands with PCI Express 3.0 support, it’ll be quite a while before anything will take advantage of this faster interface.

It seems like Intel has yet to make up its mind up with regards to storage connectivity. It’s been suggested that Intel was set to fit as many as 10 SATA 6Gbps ports with SAS support, but from what we were told today, this isn’t the case. Instead the new chipset is something of a mess, as it’ll have support for two or three SATA 6Gbps ports, six SATA 3Gbps ports and six SAS ports, via three independent controllers in the chipset. This all has to do with Intel’s new great idea to develop a single chipset for desktop and server products and as such both teams have added the features they want. You won’t be able to make RAID arrays across the various ports either, despite the SAS ports supporting SATA 3Gbps drives. We can’t quite figure out why Intel has gone down this route if this proves to be the final solution.

Luckily for Intel, we should be about 9-12 months away from the launch of the LGA-2011 platform, so the company has plenty of time to iron out whatever needs to be fixed. One thing that we had confirmed as well is that the desktop parts will get quad channel memory support, not triple channel as what was believed earlier. Intel is meant to have vastly improved the memory performance as well thanks to the new ring bus type memory controller that the new Sandy Bridge LGA-2011 processors use.

The CPU is supposedly going to use the QPI bus to interface with the chipset, unlike the LGA-1155 processors which are stuck with DMI, although a version that should offer twice the bandwidth of today’s LGA-1156 platforms. The LGA-2011 processors might still use DMI, as we haven’t been able to verify if QPI will be used as the chipset interconnect, but considering that the CPUs have an external QPI link, it would make sense for Intel to use this as the chipset interconnect, as otherwise it would be left unused in the desktop and single socket Xeon LGA-2011 platforms.

With eight memory slots and up to 15 SATA/SAS connectors on the board, we’d expect to see a lot more EATX boards in the market, as a standard ATX board just won’t be able to fit it all. EATX boards measures 13-inches (330mm) in width, compared to 9.6-inches (244mm) for a standard ATX board, although the length remains the same. There’s no other way you could fit eight memory slots – if that is what the motherboard manufacturers will go for – on a standard ATX board. It’s possible that we’ll see some LGA-2011 boards with just four memory slots, but this means that you’d have to scrap all your memory if you’d want to upgrade it in the future. For most people this would also mean buying a new case, as most standard PC cases can’t handle EATX boards.

Although the person we talked to is a trusted source, it seems like Intel either hasn’t finalised its specs for the Patsburg chipset, or it’s telling different stories to its partners. In all fairness, our previous article about Patsburg was back in April and based on details from another publication and very little information seems to have trickled out since then. We can’t quite make heads or tails of what’s going on and as much as we trust our source in as far as what they were telling us, we’re not as confident that Intel is telling the same story to all of its partners, so take this information for what it is.S|A

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