As had been anticipated for quite some time, Intel released its 4 series chipsets last month. This new series which include the X48, G45, G43, P45 and P43 Express have been designed to couple Intel's own Core 2 processors, and as you will see in a moment, resemble a lot its '3' series predecessors.

Codenamed Eaglelake, the P45 is the mainstream offering in the 4 series. This partly new chipset will support upcoming Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme processors using a bumped 1600MHz Front Side Bus - current Core 2s use either a 800MHz, 1066MHz or 1333MHz FSB. In terms of features, the P45 can easily impress primarily due to the inclusion of the ICH10R south bridge.

Just as before, the X48 remains as the flagship offering, boasting more PCI Express lanes and greater DDR3 memory support. However, the P45 does offer a number of improvements when compared to the P35 chipset. The P45 is built using a 65nm design process compared to the larger 90nm design of the P35.

As you may recall, the P35 and even older P965 chipsets were not ideal if you wanted Crossfire support. The limitation of running only one graphics card in PCI Express 16x mode, while the second was limited to PCIe 4x could hurt performance. Even when manufacturers eventually found its way around this, for the most part users were left with the choice of the more expensive X38/X48 chipsets.

Intel has now solved this issue by including digital switches that can share the PCIe 16x bus amongst both slots, balancing the bandwidth. This is similar to how the Nvidia nForce 750i chipset works, which should help Crossfire become an even more competitive solution against SLI.

The ICH10R south bridge still only supports six SATA ports, just as the ICH9R did, and the USB 2.0 support has not been improved either, though most will find that 12 ports are more than enough.

After holding the release off for a few months, it is possible to buy an Intel P45 motherboard today from a number of makers, though you will find that prices can vary substantially. From as little as $100 for budget-oriented boards, to upwards of $200 for the most fully featured versions coming from usual suspects like Asus, Gigabyte and MSI.

Just recently Asus announced the Maximus II Formula which is based on the P45 chipset, and is the latest member of the elite Republic of Gamers series targeting gamers and overclocking enthusiasts alike. After all, they will need to aim at a certain niche willing to spend the big bucks given this board's suggested price tag of nearly $300.

This is one of the most equipped motherboards out there, even including the SupremeFX X-Fi sound card that makes use of the ADI 2000B audio codec, adding support for Creative's EAX 4.0.

Let's move on to check this board out in greater detail.