Back in August 2010, AnandTech published its Sandy Bridge preview—an in-depth examination designed to tantalize consumers and industry alike as to what Intel’s latest production has to offer. I would like to review some of the major points as an introduction to the platform.

As you would expect, the new socket 1155 processors are incompatible with socket 1156 motherboards. The new motherboards will come in H and P varieties, with the H series taking advantage of the graphics on the processor die, whereas the P series will utilize discrete graphics only. At launch, both P67 and H67 chipsets will be available, with the H61 chipset released during Q1 2011.

Despite losing the on-chip graphics with the P series, these boards will support dual PCIe lanes running at x8 speed. The PCIe lane bandwidth of the new chipset is double that of previous Intel chipsets, firstly to increase correlation with chipsets, but also to help support SATA 6 Gb/s which runs over PCIe 1x, and future movement into USB 3.0.

The P/H67 chipsets will natively support two SATA 6Gb/s ports, with the possibility of some manufacturers adding an NEC/Marvell/Etron chip to increase this to four. Four SATA 3Gb/s will be included as standard. No USB 3.0 native support is included, much to the disappointment of some consumers, but again manufacturers at their own discretion can add an chip to give a couple of ports in the back panel, or a few more through onboard headers. USB 2.0 is provided copiously, with at least 10 ports available across the range, through either the back panel or onboard headers.

One major benefit, which I wholeheartedly approve of, is that the holes for the new coolers are identical to the socket 1156 coolers, and various board manufacturers may include socket 775 holes as well, allowing customers to keep their old air or water coolers.

You may remember the following comparison table:

Chipset Comparison
  P67 H67 H61 P55 H57 H55
CPU Support Sandy Bridge
Sandy Bridge
Sandy Bridge
Lynnfield / Clarkdale LGA-1156 Lynnfield / Clarkdale LGA-1156 Lynnfield / Clarkdale LGA-1156
CPU PCIe Config 1 x 16 or 2 x 8 PCIe 2.0 1 x 16
PCIe 2.0
1 x 16
PCIe 2.0
1 x 16 or 2 x 8 PCIe 2.0 1 x 16
PCIe 2.0
1 x 16
PCIe 2.0
RAID Support Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
USB 2.0 Ports 14 14 10 14 14 12
SATA Total (Max Number of 6Gbps Ports) 6 (2) 6 (2) 4 (0) 6 (0) 6 (0) 6 (0)
PCIe Lanes 8 (5GT/s) 8 (5GT/s) 6 (5GT/s) 8 (2.5GT/s) 8 (2.5GT/s) 6 (2.5GT/s)

Another major step over previous sockets and chipsets is the introduction of UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). UEFI is a replacement for the older BIOS firmware present in most motherboards, designed to enhance the usability of the motherboard firmware over previous BIOS implementations. Major benefits include a graphical interface, the ability to use a mouse, improved possibility for overclocking on the fly, and the capability of booting from GPT hard drives (those with capacities over 2.2TB where the MBR partition table is unsuitable). Each implementation of the UEFI will be different from manufacturer to manufacturer, and we will look at ASRock’s implementation here today.

One other aspect of note with the new chipsets is the overclockability prospects on Sandy Bridge. Intel’s decision to integrate the clock generator onto the chipset die means that every BUS speed is a derivative of the clock speed. Various buses are highly sensitive to the clock speed, and will allow very little overclocking—maybe, at most, 1 or 2MHz above 100MHz. Thus, for the most part, people will leave the clock speed alone and end up adjusting the multiplier to increase the CPU speed (with the appropriate multiplier unlocked chip), and the divider to increase the RAM speed. For complete scalability, both will have to be adjusted in order for the CPU to reach optimum efficiency. On the P67 chipset, memory speeds up to 2133MHz are selectable, as well as adjustment of the memory sub-timings. We will examine the UEFI options ASRock provides, but please check Anand’s CPU overview for the full Sandy Bridge scaling picture.

On that note, let us have a look at one of the first Sandy Bridge motherboards to market, the ASRock P67 Extreme4.

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  • GTVic - Monday, January 3, 2011 - link

    On page 3 there is a BIOS version listed?
  • cmdrdredd - Monday, January 3, 2011 - link

    no SATA 6Gbps, only two 8x PCIe lanes not two 16x, and it's generally low end.
  • IanCutress - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    The PCIe bandwidth for P67 is double that of P55/X58, so an 8x here is equivalent to an old 16x. A lot of people gloss over this fact, similar to wondering why the 6xxx cards have less SPs than 5xxx counterparts - it's an architectural change.

  • drvelocity - Monday, January 3, 2011 - link

    Why was the ASUS p8p67 getting spanked so hard in the single GPU tests? Any insight on that?
  • Spivonious - Tuesday, January 4, 2011 - link

    Please stop stating that mouse use is something new. I could use the mouse in the BIOS setup of my Tyan 440BX motherboard in 1998.

    Also, you state that you prefer two ethernet ports but never explain why. Unless you're using the computer as a gateway, why do you need more than one?
  • IanCutress - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    We never state that using a mouse is something new. We state it's an improvement or a major benefit over the majority of previous BIOS implementations, especially in the last ten years of mainstream computing and to most consumers.

    In terms of dual Ethernet ports, there are many options:
    1) Link Aggregation
    2) Large format printers/plotters
    3) Various file/server systems require a second NIC for metadata

    It's true 99.99% of people won't need it, but for the low price of the chip, it's not too much to ask. Ideally, we'd want the Intel NIC every time - it's more configurable.

  • Spivonious - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    "Major benefits include a graphical interface, the ability to use a mouse..."

    Maybe you didn't mean to, but it definitely implies that these things are new with UEFI.

    1) Gigabit switches are under $30. The average broadband connection is well under 100Mbps. There is also very limited support for link aggregation in consumer-level products.

    2) Yeah, let me pull that one out of the closet. Again, P67 is targeted at home users.

    3) Can you name a few? And again, the average home user might have a simple file/media server.

    I would be surprised if the next X series boards don't feature dual ethernet ports, but to mention it more than once on a board targeted towards the midrange is more than a bit silly.
  • IanCutress - Saturday, January 8, 2011 - link

    P67 may be targeted at home users, but industry will look at it as well as a viable option, regardless of where it's targeted. It's easy to get roped into a home-users own little world when that's the only thing that maybe important to you. As a reviewer, it's important not to overlook that fact.

    The point we make is that it is easy enough for a manufacturer to increase the range of appeal of the hardware, by adding a small hardware element for which there is space. If you read through recent Anandtech motherboard reviews, there is a trend for industry level readers to take note of various products we review and add comments on the benefits/drawbacks certain products have for their line of industry, regardless of where the board is actually aimed for. This is why we cover things like dual Ethernet in reviews.

  • mapesdhs - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    I could use a mouse for my SGI's equivalent setup in 1992. :D

  • ibudic1 - Tuesday, January 4, 2011 - link

    Thank you for posting your benchmark. We do 3D rendering, and some 3D computation (planned), and your benchmark makes sense for us.

    If I were to produce a benchmark for you to test would you be interested?

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