Back when Lynnfield was launched, we were introduced to an all new chipset layout from Intel where many of the usual Northbridge functions were consolidated onto the CPU die. This P55 Express “Ibex Peak” chipset allowed for a more integrated layout and also moved away from the traditional two-chip layout of a Northbridge and Southbridge towards a single chipset design.
Sandy Bridge LGA1155 motherboards use the “Cougar Point” 6-series chipsets of which the P67 boards will target the upper end of the spectrum while others like H67 and Q67 will be destined for slightly lower-end products. Cougar Point won’t change the ballgame like Ibex Peak did last year. Rather, this new chipset design uses the same building blocks as past PCH-equipped chipsets yet features expanded capabilities in several key areas.
The high-end P67 Express chipset layout is nearly identical to the P55 Express but there are several key changes. Sandy Bridge processors themselves will feature an integrated PCI-E controller which supplies 16 PCI-E 2.0 lanes. When installed on a P67-equipped board, they can be used in one of two ways: either one slot operating at x16 or dual slots running at x8. This means both Crossfire and SLI are supported but not at their full theoretical bandwidth.
Sandy Bridge processors will also retain the same basic memory layout as the last generation with two memory channels (versus the three memory channels of the high-end Bloomfield series) with the capability of running DDR3-1333 modules in each of the two channels. A total of 32GB can installed when using dual sided 8GB DIMMs.
The link between the CPU and the P67 Platform Controller Hub (PCH) is still done via the DMI interface but in this case, the specifications of this interface have been upgraded from past generations. It now features four lanes in each direction which can operate at speeds of up to 2 GB/s. This results in 4 GB/s of aggregate bandwidth if both upstream and downstream lanes are used to their theoretical maximum.
The Cougar Point chipset (in this case P67 Express) acts as the control hub for all of the peripheral and storage connectors on Sandy Bridge motherboards. Not much has changed here since it still features eight PCI-E lanes, an Intel HD Audio module along with Intel’s Extreme Tuning support. Intel Extreme Tuning will only be available on the P67 boards and adds Windows-based overclocking if you have an unlocked K-series processor as well as some basic system monitoring tools.
For the most part, external storage capabilities of Sandy Bridge-based boards haven’t changed all that much from the previous generation since up to fourteen USB 2.0 ports are available but native support for USB 3.0 is missing. The real difference lies in the Serial ATA interface as Intel has decided to add native support for the new SATA 6 Gbps standard. Of the six support SATA ports, two can be converted to SATA 6. Naturally, motherboard manufacturers still have the option of adding third party controllers for both USB 3.0 support and additional SATA 6 Gbps ports.
One advantage P67 Express-based boards will have is their ability to support the full range of overclocking and unlocking capabilities for Sandy Bridge processors. At this point, lower end products simply lack the support for processor tweaking and tuning but they will allow some extension to on-board processor graphics performance.
While board partners are once again sure to add in some basic overclocking options into the BIOSes of certain lower-end products, Intel seems to be pushing users to choose a K-series chip along with a P67 board in order to push their processors to the limit.
That's about all there is to know about the chipset, so let's move on to the motherboard itself. Despite being a mid-level motherboard from a mainstream platform, the ASUS PRO model is definitely outfitted with just about anything you could want on a motherboard.
As you can see, the P8P67 PRO has one heck of specifications list, in part due to the fact that ASUS have added a whole bunch of exclusive new features to this model.
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