Counting Down to 2011 - Sandy Bridge Motherboards Preview


Counting Down to Intel's Sandy Bridge

Counting Down to Intel's Sandy Bridge

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.

ASUS Reveals New Motherboard Technologies for 2011

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:

 Though it's more than a month away from the actual Sandy Bridge launch, ASUS gathered the regional media in Asia Pacific for a technical briefing on some of the new technologies that you're likely to see on its motherboards in 2011.

 Here's a glance at the EZ Mode in the new EFI BIOS on ASUS' upcoming boards. It's a quick summary of your system along with three profiles for those who don't wish to fiddle too much. You can navigate with your mouse and for the advanced users, there's an advanced view that looks like a more visually appealing version of past ASUS BIOS.

Another exclusive feature on ASUS' new boards is BT GO! BT here refers to Bluetooth capability, which will be found integrated on supported boards. Using it and the ASUS software, you can do certain tasks like transfer files between your smartphone and PC and use your mobile to control Windows Media Player (sadly, only this media player is supported currently).

This is the future of TUF, ASUS' military grade motherboard series. The upcoming P67 based Sabertooth features a cooling system inspired by vents. Or you could say they took some ideas from coolers on graphics cards, where the movement of air is directed in an optimal way through the board using an enclosed vent system. Hence, the mostly plastic ventilation guide covers most of this board, with only the connectors and slots exposed.

There are even thermal sensors on various parts of the Sabertooth P67 to help users monitor which are the hot spots and whether you need to increase the fan speed.

With all the emphasis on the P67 chipset, let's not forget that the new Intel processors will have integrated graphics and hence, is a boon for boards with integrated graphics support like this ASUS P8H67-M EVO which is based on the H67 chipset.

Another ASUS H67 board, this Deluxe version comes with GPU Boost feature (that increases your integrated graphics core frequency) and the BT GO! Bluetooth module.