Intel C202, C204, C206 Bromolow Xeon E3 Sandy Bridge Chipset Preview
Since I have reviewed the Xeon E3-1220, E3-1230 and E3-1280 I have received a lot of questions surrounding the C200 series chipset codenamed Bromolow for the Xeon E3 family which has not yet arrived to market. There is enough information out there to at least make some educated guesses between what information has leaked and what we know about Cougar Point. For the record, the C200 series chipsets are not officially shipping at the time of this writing.To level set all readers, the following table depicts what the alleged Intel Xeon E3 lineup will be:
As one can see, Intel has low power variants and versions with onboard GPUs denoted by “L” designations and E3-12×5 model numbers respectively. I expect the Core i3-2100 series to be supported by most C200 series motherboards just as the current Core i3 series is supported on Lynnfield LGA 1156 platforms. Current LGA 1156 Lynnfield CPUs will not fit in the new LGA 1155 Sandy Bridge socket.
Memory support seems to be only UDIMMs at this point, both ECC and non-ECC. Like the Sandy Bridge desktop platform memory support will be limited to dual channel, four DIMM configurations with up to 32GB of memory installed. On the Lynnfield’s Intel 3400 series one could use 32GB of registered DIMMs but only 16GB of unbuffered DIMMs. Speeds will likely be in the DDR3-800, 1066 and 1333 varieties. Frankly, I think most users in the UP market are going to be OK with 16-32GB practical limits (16GB is currently under $250 US). It seems like Intel both aligned the memory specs with desktop parts (save the ECC feature) and rationalized the capabilities with current market needs.
Expansion slot configuration will likely vary depending upon the chipset. Rumors place both PCI and PCI-X support on the Bromolow platform. This is surprising given Intel’s recent move in the desktop arena to move all boards to the PCIe standard. On desktop Cougar Point boards, PCI capability is provided by additional controllers. On one hand, spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on PCI-X RAID card, Fibre channel card and iSCSI card upgrades for a $200-300 motherboard upgrade does make a case for maintaining legacy support. On the other hand, PCIe is the current generation technology, and the near term future while PCI-X is the past by at least one generation. If it is true that the Bromolow platform supports PCI and PCI-X, then one would hope this is the last stop for that kind of backward compatibility for UP platforms.
The C206 chipset will be geared towards the E3-12×5 series CPUs with integrated graphics. This could be a very interesting configuration, especially if Intel offers its Active Management Technology (AMT) across the line. Intel AMT allows for many of the same out-of-band management technologies similar to the ASPEED and Nuvoton BMC based IPMI 2.0 and KVM-over-IP functionality in many server boards. Intel AMT uses a specialized VNC protocol as one can see from Q57 and Q67 based products with the technology. The one downside is that viewers for AMT KVM-over-IP like remote access require an upgraded VNC viewer that costs approximately $100. One can easily argue that if there are many fewer administrators than servers, it makes sense to purchase software at $100 per license rather than spend $20 more per board for the features.
It appears as though the C202 chipset will support three SATA II 3.0gbps ports while the C204 and C206 chipsets will support four SATA II 3.0gbps ports and two SATA III 6.0gbps ports. From the LAN standpoint, like the Cougar Point platform, Bromolow will support an Intel integrated Gigabit MAC but it will be up to the motherboard manufacturer as to whether they will take advantage of it. Since the chipset only supports one Gigabit connection, it is likely that vendors will continue to supply boards with onboard Intel 82574L’s or other highly-compatible network controllers. One other option that manufacturers may opt for, much as ASUS did in the Cougar Point based P8P67 WS Revolution employs, is utilizing the platform’s integrated Gigabit capabilities (e.g. Intel 82579) alongside a 82574L or similar controller. The fact is that the platform’s Gigabit interface is not as well supported as other, more seasoned Intel NICs and therefore simple things like an included default driver in Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 are not present. With both consumer and server platforms sporting this capability onboard, it is likely that support for the onboard NIC capabilities will gain momentum over time.
I will of course update readers as the Bromolow platform finally launches. Overall, Intel is doing some new things here which is good. We have already seen in the Xeon E3 series excellent performance and from my headless Linux installations on the H67 platform, I can say that the speed is likely to be a bit faster than the Lynnfield CPU plus Intel 3400 series platforms. While the platform may be compelling for those using LGA771 and 775 systems, there is no overly compelling reason to upgrade from LGA 1156 unless there is a use case that requires the extra CPU speed, SATA III, or additional PCIe lanes (where the Tylersburg and Tylersberg-EP platforms excel anyway.) More information will come shortly. I have started a thread with all of the known C202, C204 and C206 motherboards on the forums.