To complement the new chipsets is the new range of ICH6 â€œsouthbridgesâ€ and this is really where you will find a lot of the new technology. The most basic version doesnâ€™t have support for RAID, as with the previous generation, ICH5, but this time around there will also be an ICH6W, which adds support for WiFi. However, the most interesting version is the ICH6R which adds Intelâ€™s new Matrix Storage Technology.
This allows for some new types of RAID configurations that so far have not been possible. The Matrix RAID is in fact RAID 0+1 on two hard drives; a feat achieved by having two partitions on the hard drives. Each drive holds data as well as a backup, which means that as long as only one drive fails you still have all your data, but you also gain some of the performance benefit that you would get from a RAID 0 system.
Intel has made it very easy to set up a RAID configuration as it can all be done in Windows. You can even make a RAID from an existing Windows installation on a single drive by adding a second hard drive at a later stage, as long as it is identical to the first unit.
Another much talked about improvement is Native Command Queuing which allows the hard drive to decide how to store and read the data from the platters. This reduces the amount of revolutions the hard drive has to perform in order to store the same amount of data, which in turn improves the overall hard drive performance.
Intel is touting High Definition Audio as one of its major selling points and to be honest, no one is really going to be missing ACâ€™97. The High Definition Audio standard supports 192kHz 24bit 8-channel audio which is a real step up from the fairly basic specifications of ACâ€™97.
Whatâ€™s more, it supports more advanced microphone arrays with up to 16 elements that allow for better voice recognition, although that kind of microphone doesnâ€™t come cheap. Another feature that has been added is improved jack retasking, which should allow you to plug in any device to any audio jack and allow the motherboard to correctly detected and assign an input our output device. In practice this might not work as well as Intel hopes, as it does depend on how well the motherboard manufacturers implement the feature. Due to time limitations I did not manage to check how well it works, but I will follow up on this shortly.
In terms of test kit, Intel supplied us with a 925XCV which is Intelâ€™s top of the range motherboard based, as the name implies on the 925X chipset. The board features four memory slots for DDR2, four PCI slots, an x16 PCI Express slot and two x1 PCI Express slots. It does of course come with ICH6R to allow for Matrix RAID. A Realtek ALC880 7.1-channel HD Audio codec caters for the sound, but there are only five audio jacks at the back panel, which means that the line in jack is reconfigured if you are using the full 7.1-channel output. There are also optical and coaxial S/PDIF outputs, four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port and an Ethernet connector around the back, and letâ€™s not forget the two PS/2 ports and the single serial and parallel ports.
One final important change to the new motherboards is the power supply requirements, as you now need an EPS PSU, which features a 24-pin power connector instead of the 20-pin ATX power connector that most PSUs have. There are however converters that can be used, as long as you have a good enough PSU to start with. The Intel 925XCV board allows for a standard ATX PSU to be used, as long as you plug in one of the four-pin Molex plugs into the extra socket next to the 12V AUX connector towards the rear of the motherboard.