Intel Springdale Showdown - HotHardware

Intel Springdale Showdown

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The Springdale Showdown
Which board should you "spring" for?

Brought to you by Robert Maloney
July 10, 2003

         

This is the kind of article that PC Hardware Tech Editors live for, not only a simple one-on-one comparison, but a full-blown, knock-em-down, street fight for bragging rights.  Actually, we think round-ups like this are similar to a beauty pageant.  Sure, there's plenty of good-lookers on the stage, but which of them has that special something which will distinguish them from the rest?  Bikini jokes aside, it's what separates the stellar candidates from the mundane, that really makes for an interesting showcase, or reading, in this case.  What will each board bring to the table in its effort to claim the top spot?  Will it come down to the fastest performer, the best looking board or perhaps the number of goodies in the bundle?  Or will any of the boards bring all three aspects into one fine package? 

Following right on the heels of Marco's roundup of some I875-based motherboards, we focus today on the Canterwood's little brother, otherwise known as Springdale or the i865PE.  It's been quite a while since we have seen this much enthusiasm in the Intel camp, as both of these chipsets have really brought the performance edge back to the Pentium 4 side.  Quick to follow up on their Canterwood offerings, all of the major manufacturers have created their own take on the Springdale chipset and we have five of them on display here today.  So, without further hesitation, let's bring out the contestants.

     
  
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Specifications of the Intel i865PE "Springdale" Chipset
The Canterwood's little brother

Don't be too surprised if the block diagram above looks familiar.  The Canterwood and Springdale boards are basically the same architecture.  The only major differences between the two would be a memory system enhancement dubbed "PAT", short for Performance Acceleration Technology, and ECC-checking capabilities for the memory.  ECC won't be a big issue for most users out there, but what about PAT?  Early results were dubious as to whether or not PAT was really making a difference, but the general feeling was, having it was better than not.  So, the Springdale-based boards would already be at a disadvantage -- or so it would seem.  More on this later.  Other main attractions of Springdale are its Dual-Channel DDR400 support, AGP8X graphics, CSA (Communication Streaming Architecture) networking technology, a native SATA interface built into the ICH5 and ICH5R South Bridges and support for 800MHz Bus Hyper-Threaded CPUs.  For the first time in a mainstream chipset, RAID capabilities are built in as well.  The ICH5R South Bridge natively supports RAID 0 and RAID 1 for serial ATA hard drives.  It's a combination of truly robust features that make the I865PE a chipset to be reckoned with.  At $30-50 cheaper than a comparable i875 product, it's also a great bargain as well.  But, what if the Springdale boards somehow, someway, could also support PAT?  Would that make the Springdale the perfect scenario, great price and high performance?


It's PAT (or is it?):

Soon after the official release of the first batch of Springdale-based boards, rumors began to circulate about certain manufacturers "cracking the PAT code".  Intel even speaks of PAT as a sort of performance selection, rather than true innovation.  Much like the way CPUs are binned, the two new chipsets appeared to be speed binned i875Ps.  Some are capable of the timings required for PAT operation, the others fall into the 865PE bin.  Asus was the first to officially claim that their board, the P4P800 would support PAT, but eventually would back off from this statement under pressure from Intel.  Intel, you see, claims that PAT is a unique feature to Canterwood boards, and cannot be simply "enabled" by ordinary means.

So, where does that leave us now?  Instead of risking future battles with Intel, Asus (and others) would eventually incorporate some kind of memory performance enhancement technology, but label it as something else.  Stop by Asus' website, and you will surely see their advertisement for HyperPath.  Abit has gone to great lengths to promote their Game Accelerator technology.  In fact, as long as Intel doesn't make any drastic changes with a new rev of the 865PE chipset, just about all of the boards have, or will have, a PAT-like enhancement in the BIOS, it's just a matter of when.  In the course of writing this review, we set out to test using the absolute latest BIOS files available to us, and in almost every case the performance gains were more than noticable.  Early reviews on some of the boards we are going to look at today will not show the true potential they are capable of.  Whether or not it's called PAT, or some other fancy marketing term, we don't care.  What we do care about is that it works, and unlocks a whole new level of performance for these boards.
 

Let's Take A Look At The Boards...

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