Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile Socket P ProcessorIntel has released a line of Core 2 Duo Mobile (Merom) processors with a new 478-pin package, Socket P. This latest platform, code named “Santa Rosa,” is the upgrade from the previous “Napa” platform, utilizing a 479-pin package called Socket M. Santa Rosa is the fourth generation of Intel’s Centrino mobile processor. I for one, am quite happy that Intel continues to maintain a consistently confusing naming scheme—it really keeps me on my toes.

But, either way, the new platform does have some credible advantages over the earlier Core 2 Duo Mobile line of processors. Consumers should note that the newer Core 2 Duo Socket P processors are not backward compatible with Socket M processors. The reason for this (and this is where the Socket P name comes into play) is that Intel is always thinking ahead. The Santa Rosa platform is still utilizing the same 65nm process technology, but, Intel is brewing a new 45nm process technology, whereupon the new chips will be christened “Penryn.” This new chip will require a different processor pin-out, so as I said earlier, Intel is looking toward the future, and came up with Socket P. So, the mainboards that are compatible with Socket P now, will be able to support the future Penryn chips.

To help alleviate the confusion (this is really therapy for myself), I will briefly outline the main differences between these two platforms, and identify the latest Mini-ITX mainboards sporting this newest trend in processor fashion.

New Chipset: GM965
The Santa Rosa Platform can fully support Intel’s new GM965 chipset, featuring the advanced GMA X3100 graphics technology. The previous platform was equipped with Intel’s GMA 950 technology and 945GM chipset. Intel hasn’t yet provided a full spec sheet on its Web site (you have to download the 200-something page Operating Guide) regarding the GMA X3100 graphics core. But, after reviewing some reviews, and making some comparisons between the operating guides, some of the main differences I could discern between the two videocards, on a very topical level, are the following:

  • GMA X3100 has a 500 MHz core while the GMA 950 has a 400 MHz core.
  • GMA X3100 has Dynamic Video Memory Technology (DVMT 4.0; 384 MB maximum video memory); the GMA 950 has DVMT 3.0 with support for up to 224 MB of video memory.
  • GMA X3100 has Hardware Pixel Shader Model 3.0, the GMA 950 has the earlier 2.0 version.
  • GMA X3100 supports Intel’s Clear Video Technology.
  • GMA X3100 has full support for Vista Premium, including all the frills of Windows Aero
  • The GMA X3100 has a maximum resolution of 2048 x 1536 at a refresh rate of 60 Hz. The maximum resolution is the same for the GMA 950, but the refresh rate is 75 Hz.

Wikipedia has a decent comparison between Intel’s graphics cores, along with links to Intel’s product briefs and operating guides.

On Intel’s Web site, they promote the GM965 chipset as being able to fully support Vista, allowing for the “highest level of Windows Aero experience.” Perhaps that is what I am missing on my computer. I am have difficulties running Vista Home Premium on my office PC, and I think I am not actually experiencing the highest level of Aero experience. Once, I accidentally clicked on something and I was propelled into “Windows Flip 3D” world. I immediately wanted to come back. Not to mention, Vista makes a serious effort to convince me I am using my Mac at home. It looks similar, but every time my screen goes black, or I am reminded to check my security settings…again, I realize it is only Windows with very fancy graphics (no intention of insult, I am impartial to my Mac). Okay, so maybe that isn’t the best highlight here to discuss. The Web site also mentions that the GM965 is compatible with the faster 800 MHz FSB processors, has up to 10 USB 2.0 support, and features Intel’s new Clear Video Technology, promising enhanced HD video playback, sharper image quality, and better color control.

But, for some reason, the GM965 chipset cannot fully take advantage of the faster FSB speed of the compatible processors. It only supports up to DDR2 667 memory, forcing the processor to clock down. For a side-by-side comparison of the latest GM965 chipset next to the previous 945GM, 915GM, and 855GM chipsets, click here.

Now for Processor Confusion…

So, I can at least identify the differences between Intel’s new chipsets here; the names vary a little bit more and the “GM” is placed before the numbers, as opposed to after the numbers (GM965 vs. 945GM). But, the processor naming scheme consistently freaks me out. On one hand you have the T7200, T7400, and T7600 processors, which have an FSB of 667 MHz and are compatible with Socket M, 479 pin. Then, in the same happy T-series range, you have the T7100, T7300, T7500, and T7700 processors, which have an FSB of 800 MHz and are compatible with Socket P, 478 pin. Okay, I get it, the first two numbers, if odd, are the newer platform. But, how does that explain the Core 2 Duo Mobile T5500? Yes, it is the T-Series, but with only a 2MB L2 cache size; too bad, I thought I was developing a strategy here.

But really, I will attempt to write about the relevant differences, not my qualms with Intel’s naming scheme. It seems to me, and once again, this is a very topical comparison, that the main differences between the two processor platforms are:

  • Both platforms support Intel’s Core 2 Duo Mobile processors, but, it is only the dual-core architecture (T7000 family “Merom”) that the newer Santa Rosa platform supports.
  • The Santa Rosa has an FSB upgrade from 667 MHz to 800 MHz.
  • The Socket-P-based mainboards will be compatible with the new Penryn chips.
  • The Santa Rosa supports Intel Dynamic Acceleration. If you are running a single threaded application and both cores are not necessary, one of the cores can be turned off and the other clocked up. Intel’s mobility chief, Mooly Eden, said that it isn’t technically overclocking because the chip isn’t being run out of spec.
  • The new Santa Rosa Platform has Dynamic Front Side Bus Frequency Switching, in addition to the SpeedStep power saving technology that the older Merom versions had. This allows the system to reduce the FSB clock frequency when system load is low, allowing for greater power savings than SpeedStep by itself.

So, there you have it. There are some other differences as well, including the introduction of the PCI Express Mini Card. But those topics will have to be covered at a later date.

New Products for Mini-ITX

MSI Industrial Core 2 Duo Mini-ITX Mainboard Socket PDrumroll please. We have the new MSI Industrial GM965, or MS-9803, wearing the fashionable Socket P. This board has dual channel DDR2 667 memory for up to 4GB of RAM, dual Intel Gb LAN ports, support for up to 8 USB 2.0, VGA, 2 SATA II connectors, PCI Express, PCI Express Mini Card, and PCI 32-bit. Still fairly new, we are in the process of testing it and seeing which exciting new systems we can configure with the board.

MP965 Core 2 Duo Barebone UnitNext up, we have the AOpen MP965-DR multimedia, barebone MiniPC. This system is compact and efficient for the amount of performance it offers. You can read a little more about it in Tom’s blog entry.

For honorable mentions, mainly because we don’t carry all their products here, iBASE launched the MI910, which supports the Socket P processors and Commell also released the LV-679.