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Intel’s 32nm Clarkdale – Nehalem for Everyone
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by Rob Williams on January 3, 2010 in Intel Processors

To help kick 2010 off right, Intel has filled out the rest of its current-gen processor line-up with the help of Westmere. We’re taking a look at the desktop variant here, which brings a lot to the table compared to the previous generation. For those who’ve been holding out for that next affordable PC upgrade, the wait has been worth it.

Intel’s H55, H57 & Q57 Chipsets

With all we’ve discussed so far, it would make little sense to skip over mention of the chipsets themselves, so let’s take a moment here to look at them a bit deeper. As of today, Intel will be launching three new chipset models: H55, H57 and Q57. It’s a little important to note the differences between these, because it may affect your decision-making process when looking for a board.

The trio of chipsets here can be best compared to P55, as there’s no Northbridge, and everything is divided up between either the processor or the Southbridge. Since the graphics are moved to the CPU, the Southbridge’s job is to handle the PCI-E lanes, the various display support, S-ATA and eSATA, USB, LAN and also Intel’s Management Engine, which handles all of the on-chip components in the OS.

One of the more interesting things about the H55 chipset, is that up to now, the majority of motherboards I’ve seen to use it have been mATX, so we’re truly entering a time where small PCs are pushed more than ever. I might be an enthusiast at heart, but it’s easy to understand this direction. Most people don’t need an ATX motherboard, or three PCI-E slots, or 10 S-ATA. Rather, they need a single PCI-E for graphics, and another slot for some other peripheral, whether it be WiFi or audio.

Intel's Q57 Chipset

So with that all in mind, the most popular chipset of these three will surely be the H55, as it’s slightly less expensive ($40 vs. $43), and lacks nothing truly important. But… there is one notable difference between the H55 and H57 chipsets that may sway your decision… AHCI. H55 doesn’t support it, but H57 does. Why Intel took this route, I have no idea, but it’s a bit inconvenient if you ask me.

The situation around this right now is a little murky, and in talking to board vendors, I’m only left even more confused. One company in particular told me that they were looking into supporting AHCI on its H55 boards, but didn’t know if it was going to be possible. The person I talked to led me to believe that it could be possible to write a specific driver to enable the support, or to just go with another chipset. But at that point, it would make much more sense to just opt for H57, given the minor price difference.

AHCI isn’t the only other benefit H57 brings to the table. It also increases the number of available PCI-E lanes and number of USB ports (12 to 14). I sure most would agree that neither of these two increases will affect much people, so if the lack of AHCI doesn’t bother you, then the H55 chipset is going to suit you just fine.

The third chipset is Q57, which is essentially an H57 with Intel’s Active Management Technology added in. This feature allows IT environments extra features for efficient handling of a large number of computers, by being able to diagnose a machine remotely, isolate it from all other computers (except the one you are accessing it with) and much more. This is an IT-type feature, and one that would never be used in the home (unless you own a serious mansion, maybe), so for the end-consumer, the choice would between H55 and H57.