2006 was a dramatic year that saw the upsetting of the AMD Athlon 64 applecart as Intel stormed back into the lead with Core 2 Duo. The consequences rang out far and wide as Pentium 4 was consigned to the history books and the only important question was to decide which speed Core 2 Duo you fancied inside your new PC.
The move to Core 2 technology lowers the power requirement for the processor from the ludicrous levels of Prescott which in turn bangs the nails into the coffin of the BTX platform. You can happily install an LGA775 motherboard with a Core 2 Duo processor into any PC case that you choose in the sure knowledge that it will run as cool and quiet as you could wish so thereâ€™s no need to re-invent the PC case and motherboard.
AMD moved its Athlon 64 from a mixture of Socket 754 and Socket 939 to a unified 940-pin Socket AM2 but the guts of the processor changed very little, except for the memory controller which now works with DDR2 rather than DDR. That sounds the death knell for DDR which is fine and dandy as DDR2 has picked up speed which has helped to nullify the effects of the extra latency.
It has to be a good thing that both AMD and Intel are using the same type of memory technology. However, we are some distance away from a one-size-fits-all memory. Indeed, in the past week Iâ€™ve seen two nVidia nForce 680i SLI motherboards that are positively festooned with warnings to â€˜only use compatible memoryâ€™.
The most dramatic move in 2006 was AMDâ€™s purchase of ATI. Suddenly we had a situation where ATI was frozen out of its relationship with Intel as a chipset supplier, and this in a year when nVidia bought ULi while whatever the exact legalities are, VIA has been comprehensively dissed by Intel and has released no chipsets for Core processor. Apparently SiS still makes chipsets but youâ€™d be hard-pressed to find a motherboard that sports its silicon while nVidia services both AMD and Intel.
A couple of years ago you could buy practically any combination of motherboard, chipset and processor but as 2006 closes these corporate moves have severely restricted the permutations of processors and chipsets. You can readily buy AMD Athlon motherboards that use ATI or nVidia chipsets with almost any combination of features from a micro-ATX design with integrated graphics up to a powerhouse with dual graphics slots. Thatâ€™s PCI Express graphics as AGP has met its maker in 2006.
While thereâ€™s a decent amount of choice in the world of AMD motherboards itâ€™s a completely different story when you look at motherboards that support the more desirable Intel Core 2 Duo. At the top of the food chain you have high-end designs featuring the new nVidia nForce 680i SLI chipset that sell for the thick end of Â£200 or you have models that use Intel P965/975X with support for CrossFire for something over Â£120. If you want a Core 2 Duo motherboard with a single graphics slot youâ€™ll pay at least Â£80 for a decent 965P model which is a bit steep for the mainstream.