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  Socket-775, an update from the trenches 
  Oct 01, 2004, 07:30am EDT 
By: Sander Sassen

On June 22nd Intel launched their socket-775 platform which meant the introduction of a new socket for Pentium 4 processors and two new chipsets. Initially we were skeptic about the new socket-775, many of the motherboard manufacturers we talked to described it as fragile and they were expecting many product returns due to customers damaging the socket. In the past few months weíve worked with quite a few socket-775 motherboards and we can honestly say that socket-775 isnít as fragile as we thought. If you insert and remove the processor as intended you wonít damage the socket, nor will it cease to function after a few insertions.

Empty socket-775

Populated socket-775

Socket-775, shown without and with a processor populating the socket.

But how much is a few? Well, to give you an example the motherboard we use to test PCI-E products with is well into the double digits for the number of processor insertions, and we havenít had any problems sofar. The same cannot be said about the heatsink though, which is mounted onto the motherboard by plastic pins. Given the size and weight of the heatsink this mounting mechanism works well until it becomes susceptible to the wear and tear of frequent processor insertions. Our current heatsink would not stay in place if it was to be subjected to the ordeals of transporting it to another location, and naturally a heatsink of that size and weight roaming freely in the inside of a PC can cause irreparable damage.

Socket-775 heatsink

Plastic heatsink retention pin

The socket-775 heatsink and one of four plastic retention pins.

How about the performance? It is safe to say that from a performance perspective the socket-775 platform isnít any faster than a similarly equipped socket-478 system. But thatís not what Intel was after, it isnít about performance alone. The new features, such as HD audio, Matrix technology for storage and PCI-E are what give the socket-775 platform the edge over socket-478. From our perspective neither one of these features is compelling enough to upgrade or invest into a new socket-775 PC however, but Intel doesnít give you much of an alternative. In the past few months supplies of socket-478 Pentium 4 processors have dried up. If you want a high-end Intel-based PC basically your only choice is to go with a socket-775 based PC.

PCI-E and PCI slots

HD audio connectors

PCI-E and PCI slots and the HD audio connectors on the motherboard.

This isnít necessarily a bad thing, but will end up costing you more than a similarly equipped PC based on the socket-478 platform. For the enthusiasts matters are worse, you canít take your new AGP graphics card with you on your next upgrade, nor will you be able to use your old processor on your new socket-775 motherboard. We are currently in the process of testing the new features of socket-775 as they were intended, in a PC which is the center of the digital home. Will socket-775ís new features indeed enhance our multimedia experience, or are we looking at another empty promise, much like the slogan that Intel pitched about how the Pentium would enhance your internet experience?

DDR2 memory

Power connector

The four DDR2 memory slots and the power connector of the i925X chipset motherboard.

At the end of the day however, many of the potential pitfalls of the socket-775 platform turned out to be less of a problem than expected. The socket is performing admirably, provided you use caution when inserting or removing processors, much like with any other processor. The new features will probably go unused for most people but they have the potential to bring a better multimedia experience at lower cost to a bigger audience, which is always a good development. Performance, but also power requirements of the platform still need work though, for the first time during the introduction of a new processor power consumption and heat dissipation has actually gone up, whereas performance hasnít improved, or only by a tiny margin. Intel has said it will address the performance issue with the new 1066MHz front side bus chipsets and processors due out soon. In the mean time, if youíre looking for a good deal on a new PC, socket-478 is your best bet. If you however need to be on the forefront of technology, wait until the new 1066MHz front side bus is launched, as thatís a safer investment than the current chipsets and processors.

Sander Sassen.

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