It's hardly a secret among the tech savvy that Intel's next-gen processors, codenamed Sandy Bridge, will be making its grand entrance in early January, most likely at CES 2011. For months now, Intel has been slowly teasing details about these new processors, with the biggest nugget of information revealed at this fall's IDF (Intel Developers Forum).
The successor to its current Intel Core family of processors, Sandy Bridge will be built on Intel's 32nm manufacturing process with a new ring architecture that's arguably designed with one thing in mind - integrating a graphics processor within the CPU die. It's a further step along the path of integration that Intel has been taking in recent years and promises the best integrated graphics from Intel ever. We highly recommend that you take a moment to read our Day 1 coverage of IDF to get a quick idea of what Sandy Bridge is all about.
In any case, the actual launch may be more than a month away, but the supporting hardware ecology, the all-important chipsets, Intel's P67 and H67 Express chipsets and their motherboards are prepped and ready. In this article, we'll be taking an early look at some of these boards. In fact, it's very likely that you can get these motherboards from retail stores on launch day if not earlier.
Among the features that you can expect from these motherboards, besides each manufacturer's proprietary technologies, are USB 3.0 (from NEC/Renesas) and SATA 6Gbps ports, dual-channel DDR3 memory architecture and multi-GPU support (for the Intel P67 Express based boards at least). Legacy devices are also kept to a minimum, with the PS/2 interface retained mostly, but there's no more IDE support at least. As for the rest, well, read on!
Due to Intel's restrictions before its big day in January 2011, we can only talk about the motherboard features and not so much on the chipset and processor.
Before we get to the motherboards, ASUS took the opportunity recently to unveil some of the latest features that will be found on its new motherboards next year. While some are refinements of existing features that enthusiasts who have used ASUS products should be familiar with, there are some that will change how you use your motherboard, particularly with ASUS including an EFI BIOS that makes quite the visual difference from the usual bland and keyboard-centric BIOS.
Since EFI supports a shell environment complete with a graphical user interface that you can navigate easily with a mouse, that's the first real difference you'll find using the BIOS on supported boards from ASUS in the future. There's potential for more with such a BIOS, like preloading device drivers, but at the moment, it has the usual features and options of existing ASUS BIOS, but tidied up and made more user-friendly.
The other important new development is what ASUS calls its 'Dual Intelligent Processors 2', which consists of its digital power design known as Digi+VRM and its TPU (Turbo Processor). As its name suggest, ASUS is going fully digital with its power design for these new motherboards, with the company touting more precise adjustment and greater stability as the main benefits from having a digital VRM controller. Meanwhile, its TPU is additional hardware IC that does auto-overclocking of the processor and the integrated graphics on the Sandy Bridge processors.
On a side note, fans of ExpressGate will be disappointed to know that ASUS has removed this feature, quoting its low popularity among users as a reason. They however left the option of a return open, depending on user feedback.
Of course, ASUS also took the chance to show off some of these new, upcoming boards and we have captured some of the more interesting ones below: