It wasnâ€™t so long ago that Intel released the 925X chipset and took PC computing to the next level. To be fair to Intel, there was a lot to shout about with the 925X chipset, not least of which was the long awaited debut of PCI Express.
The 925X chipset broke a lot of other new ground, like the introduction of DDR2 memory, Matrix RAID capability and High Definition Audio. But one thing that remained static with the launch of the 925X platform was the Front Side Bus (FSB) speed of 800MHz.
Now, only four months on from the launch of the 925X chipset, Intel is launching the 925XE chipset. So, how much difference can a single letter tacked onto the end of a chipset name make? Well, to be honest, there isnâ€™t a whole host of new features on offer, but there is one definite step forward and thatâ€™s the FSB speed.
With the 925XE chipset Intel is raising the bar again, with the Front Side Bus tearing along at 1066MHz. Of course this is utilising a Quad Pumped model, so in reality youâ€™re getting 4 x 266MHz, as opposed to the 925X chipset which was based on a 4 x 200MHz Quad Pumped model, which achieved the 800MHz FSB.
The main upshot of the increased Front Side Bus is that it stops processor clock multipliers spiralling out of control. Take the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition for instance â€“ this is a 3.4GHz chip, so with an 800MHz FSB youâ€™re looking at a clock multiplier of 17x. Using a board with a 1066MHz Front Side Bus allows you to reduce the clock multiplier of a CPU without reducing its frequency. In fact, Intelâ€™s new Pentium 4 Extreme Edition runs at 3.46GHz, but only employs a clock multiplier of 13x â€“ obtained by dividing 3460MHz by 266MHz.
As well as the increased Front Side Bus the 925XE also gives you a little boost in the memory stakes. Although the 925X chipset supported 533MHz DDR2 memory, it was limited to CL4 latency. In fact we tried dropping the latency down to CL3 on a 925X chipset, and although it seemed to be working fine, when we checked the memory timings after boot-up, they had relaxed to CL4. However, with the 925XE chipset, there is native support for DDR2 running at 533MHz with CL3 latency â€“ this was borne out when we checked the memory timings on our test rig and were pleased to note that it was running at CL3.
Of course, the 925XE chipset requires a new generation of processors to take advantage of the new Front Side Bus frequency, and at present that range consists of the 3.46GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. This makes a certain degree of sense, since the 925XE platform is definitely geared towards high performance, and the Extreme Edition is Intelâ€™s weapon of choice in this arena. As well as the support for the faster FSB, the Extreme Edition also sports a hefty 2MB of Level 3 cache, on top of the 512KB of Level 2 cache thatâ€™s intrinsic to the Pentium 4 breed.