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Intel D865PERL - getting acquainted
Last month we saw Intel launch the 875P and it's companion 3.0GHz 800MHz FSB CPU. It was greeted with much acclaim and even the production problems that also hit the headlines now seem like a minor blip in what was an extremely successful launch for the Santa Clara chip giant. The 875P, otherwise known as Canterwood is firmly aimed at the high-end desktop and workstation market, and whilst it may represent the highest level of performance and glamour it certainly doesn't mean the highest number of sales for Intel.

To fill in the mainstream gap, Intel today launched the 865, otherwise known as Springdale. Available in several incarnations, with or without onboard graphics, Intel are pinning much hope on Springdale to move them forward over the next 16 months. With the 875P giving such great performance it was always a worry that the Springdale chipset would be a rather large turkey. Today we'll find out whether it can stand on it's own two feet.


Intel has a reputation of producing reliable but ever so boring motherboards. Whilst the mainstream is generally regarded by most hardware enthusiasts as something best left to people who dress in suits and drive Volvos, it's where the vast majority of sales occur and the key factors here are reliability and value for money. That said, performance isn't overlooked completely, but whereas at the high-end you may see performance being the driving factor in sales, here we see a more balanced view of the product. Intel, keen to push their motherboards to the mass market have included many features that are commonplace on other motherboards and most interesting of all, and there's even an overclocking option in the BIOS. Intel presents you the D865PERL, otherwise known as Rock Lake.


Starting with the macroscopic properties, the D865PERL certainly surprises. A black PCB contrasts sharply with the anodized passive 865PE chipset cooler and whilst initial inspection shows some issues with layout the initial impressions are fair and certainly better than expected one might even stretch to cool.

        

The top half of the board is dominated by the Northbridge heatsink. Intel opt for a passive cooling solution on both the 865 and 875 which is great news for a number of reasons. From a general point of view active cooling on the Northbridge doesn't send out the right image. It sends out one of instability and for Intel it's important to look like they are producing products that work and work well within it's thermal boundaries. Secondly, the greater the number of moving parts there are, the greater the risk of failure.

In the mass market, where your typical customer doesn't know a great deal about computers, it's important to decrease the chance of failure simply because they would have little or no idea how to fix it themselves. A computer being sent back because of a faulty fan is not great news for the system builder. Thirdly, noise. Fans create noise and the fewer of them there are, the lower the noise.


Only on one side of the CPU socket do we see a row of smoothing capacitors and people with larger heatsinks will find this to be a worry, especially when they see that the heatsink mount is placed close to the top edge of the motherboard. Although you may question how many heatsinks require space greater than that of the CPU heatsink mount.


The 4-pin ATX connector is placed in its standard location between the AGP slot and CPU socket. Sadly this is far from ideal. The cable is stretched over the CPU heatsink, and it does very little for the airflow around that area. The other downside of having it placed there is removing the 4-pin plug. The Northbridge heatsink's edges are sharp and we ended up small injuries trying to remove the power connector.

Surprisingly Intel have done well with the placement of fan headers. They are well placed with three in and around the vicinity of the CPU socket allowing those that have an exhaust fan, PSU fan and CPU fan with short cables to be in easy reach of monitored fan headers.

The two banks of 2 DIMM sockets are well positioned, although the first bank is a bit too close to the AGP slot for our liking. However they are placed far enough apart from each other to ensure those of you that have heat spreaders on your RAM modules will not encounter problems. The ATX power, floppy and hard drive connectors are all lined up, two abreast on the edge of the motherboard. A much better position than having the power connector, with all it's smaller cables nearer the CPU.

        

Down south we see the bulk of the on board gubbins present on the PCI slot side of the motherboard. This is where the Intel LAN controller lives (which does support and take advantage of Intel's CSA), the FireWire controller from Agere and the 6 channel sound controller from Analog Devices. We see the two audio sockets, one being for the CD and the other auxiliary connections.

The AGP slot is fairly close to the Northbridge heatsink and whilst this may worry some of you, when we fitted a 9700 PRO and 9800 PRO there were no problems. Although one may see issues arise if they intend to use large passive cooling solutions such as Zalman's unit on their video card. Since this board is aimed at enthusiasts we don't see an AGP Pro slot. Not that many enthusiasts use VGA cards that utilize AGP Pro slots anyway.


We see an interesting AGP card retention system here. It's pretty good too, although the capacitor that is just behind the latch can cause problems when trying to release the card that is held in place. It works as well as any other AGP card retention system we've seen.

There are two pin arrays for two extra Firewire headers. It's certainly surprising to see so many Firewire headers (three including the one that is present on the back plane of the motherboard) on a motherboard designed for mainstream use, still it's worth pointing out as it will prove mighty useful for those A/V freaks.

Beside the ICH 5 controller you have the 2 Serial ATA sockets. One of the big introductions in the ICH 5 controller was the built in support for Serial ATA, removing the need for add-in controllers from the likes of Silicon Image or Promise. No RAID functions are supported by this controller, although Intel's Canterwood board (a review of which will be published in the following weeks) does support this through having the ICH 5R. The 865 does support the ICH 5R too, however we don't see it present on this motherboard.

We see the bare solder pads for what looks like the parallel ATA RAID sockets and secondary Serial ATA controllers. It's not surprising to see some extras missing and it's a good way of providing competitive prices and retaining the core values of the product.


The so-called true 6 channel sound backplane sees S/PDIF links (behind an impressive trap door to minimize dust entry), digital AC link and 3 speaker inputs. 1 FireWire port, 4 USB 2.0 and 1 Gigabit Ethernet socket is also present to bring up a functional back end.