Last week PC Authority was in Taiwan checking out some of the latest and greatest gear coming down the pipeline from the component centre of the world. We swung by Gigabyte's headquarters to sit down with some of its upcoming "Sandy Bridge" motherboards.
Among the new motherboards was the the P67A-UD7 - a power user's dream motherboard. This beast supports up to three graphics cards, has 24 power phases and an astonishing 18 USB ports. Each USB port has a dedicated fuse - so a malfunctioning device won't do damage to the rest of your PC.
the P67A-UD7 supports six USB 3 ports on its backplane and has two headers to attach USB 3 to the front of your case, thanks to a combination of NEC USB 3 host controller chips and four-port USB hub processors sprinkled around the board.
Gigabyte has been doing some fascinating things with USB 3, and while other companies like ASUS are also adopting the new standard rapidly, no one is going quite so USB 3 crazy.
Even more fascinating is what the company is doing with the integrated graphics of Sandy Bridge - officially called "2nd generation Intel Core" - processors.
One of the key features of the new processor architecture is that Intel's graphics are now built straight into the silicon of the processor. This allows for better performance, thanks to shared cache memory. In addition, new CPU features such as AVX (Advanced Vector Extensions), allows for 256-bit floating point calculations to be done on CPU. Floating point calculation improvements are vital when transcoding - converting video from one format to another, and Sandy Bridge improves performance in that area.
What the integrated graphics improvements mean for motherboard manufacturers is that while their motherboards support discrete graphics cards, if you use integrated graphics the PCI-Express bandwidth that would usually be used by the graphics card goes to waste.
Normally on a motherboard there are two kinds of PCI-Express. One kind communicates directly to the CPU, allowing for fast transfers such as for graphics cards. The second, used for things such as USB ports, communicates via the chipset.
On the H67A motherboards, Gigabyte is introducing a feature it calls Turbo USB. This tech kicks in when you are running integrated graphics and redirects the CPU-connected PCI-Express lanes to the USB 3 chips on the motherboard instead. This opens up to 5Gbps (theoretical) of bandwidth to each USB 3 port. USB 3 transfer speeds are ultimately limited by the controller chip on each end of the USB cable, but such unfettered bandwidth will make transfers much smoother at minimum.
Sandy Bridge won't launch for a few months, so don't expect to see any officially sanctioned performance testing going on (early samples of the processors have appeared on Ebay, which may be the source of benchmark data found online). But it looks like component manufacturers are well and truly ready to pick up where Intel has left off when it comes to USB 3.
ALSO: See our gallery for close-up shots of Gigabyte's new Sandy Bridge motherboard
Outputs for Intel's integrated graphics include DVI, D-Sub, HDMI and Display-port.