Now this is something I thought I would never see: AMD and Intel lying side-by-side. Sadly the great feud is not over though, it is just the result of some clever ECS developers who have engineered this technological entente.
How? Well what ECS has come up with is a converter card for Intel LGA775 chipsets. Called the PF88, is has an AMD 939 processor connector on it, dedicated SiS756 Northbridge to carry out the chip’s K8 instructions and two slots for DDR400 RAM (there are power management circuits and a FSB200T on it as well which are also required for the conversion but now we are getting super technical).
To install, ECS claims you just mount the processor on the card, push in the RAM and slot in the card. It is plug and play and there is no need to re-install Windows. Nifty.
(NB: If you are wondering where to look on the photographs: check out the white AMD processor connector sticking out just below where you would expect to see the graphics card installed. The Intel processor connector is to the right, in black).
Now the catch with the PF88 converter card is that is only works on motherboards designed to be specifically compatible with it so those of you thinking of buying the card to ease the upgrade of your current mobo are out of luck. Whether anyone outside ECS will be making compatible motherboards is also not yet known (and I’m sure there will be a race on to build competing products).
That said, this technology is still incredibly new so perhaps we are jumping the gun a little with all these questions. After all, the first ECS mobo to support the PF88 (obviously shown in the photography) has not even been named yet! We do, however, have some specs on it and pretty impressive they are too: it has four slots of DDR2 667MHz memory, a 1066MHz Front Side Bus (FSB), SATA2, GigaLAN, 1394a Firewire and SiS656 Northbridge and SiS965 Southbridge (the latter is shared with the converter card). On top of this, 64bit processing and dual core technology from Intel and AMD is supported as standard.
No word on availability yet, while pricing for the converter card has been loosely outlined as retailing at “a third of the cost of purchasing an additional motherboard”. Whether we will see an Intel based converter card to work on AMD motherboards is also a question which still hangs in the air.
In sum, while it feels unfair to place too much pressure on the PF88 converter card at this early stage, it must to be said the idea that processors could become as interchangeable as graphics cards is a significant development. Should the technology become standardised (or at least implemented in its own versions) by the majority of motherboard manufacturers it would take a lot of the heat out of upgrading.
The only thing better would be for AMD and Intel to make truly compatible processors that shared the same connections allowing them to compete on a level playing field, vying honourably with each other over the latest innovations and fastest clocks speeds… but that folks ain't never gonna to happen!