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P4 i845 SDRAM Motherboards from Asus and MSI
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Date: Dec 15, 2001
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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P4 i845 SDRAM Motherboards from Asus and MSI - Page 1

 

P4 i845 SDRAM Motherboards from Asus and MSI
The Asus P4B and MSI 845Pro2-R do battle

By, Dave Altavilla
September 24th, 2001

 

The Pentium 4 definitely has had it fair share of struggle and strife.  In part, one of the reasons why Intel took some "heat" about the P4, was their choice of system memory interface.  True, RAMBUS does provide serious bandwidth advantages over legacy PC133 subsystems but cost factors and business practices of Intel's memory partner, have proven to be a serious thorn in their side.  Not too long after the release of Pentium 4, arch rival AMD signed up in the DDR SDRAM camp and provided a lower cost alternative with bandwidth in the same ballpark as Intel's RAMBUS solution.  It became evident that regardless of performance, Intel also needed a solution for the value segment and RAMBUS couldn't be part of that picture. 


Naturally, one would think that a DDR SDRAM P4 solution would be a logical move for Intel.  However, with so much invested in the RAMBUS architecture, Intel wasn't going to steal their own thunder by ushering in new memory support so soon, that would compete head on with RDRAM.  No, instead they decided to take an interim step backwards somewhat, to PC133 SDRAM again and then follow on later in Q1 '02, with a DDR SDRAM i845 solution for the P4.

 

The following two motherboards are some of the first to hit the market based on the i845 chipset with SDRAM support.  MSI and Asus sent in evaluation units to the HotHardware Labs and we're here to tell you about the features and performance within these two Intel value platforms.

    

 

Dualing i845s - The MSI 845Pro2-R and Asus P4B
Pentium4 Motherboards loaded with creature comforts - Specifications

The i845 Chipset - Block Diagram - Socket 478 System Architecture

The heart of the two motherboards we have on the test bench today, is the i845 chipset from Intel.  As you can see, it supports all of the standard interfaces, including integrated 10/100 LAN (optionally configured by the motherboard manufacturer but support is there) and 6 channel audio.  One obvious drawback is noted here however, the bandwidth available across the memory bus is limited to 1.06GB per second.  This is far below that of the i850's Dual Channel RDRAM interface, at 3.2GB/second.

MSI 845Pro2-R

CPU
-- Supports Intel® Pentium® 4 processor in the 478 pin package.
-- Supports 1.3 ~ 2GHz and up.

Chipset

Intel® 845 (593 FC-BGA) Chipset
- AGP 4x slot
- Support PC133 SDRAM

Intel® ICH2 Chipset

- AC'97 Controller Integrated
- 2 full IDE channels, up to ATA100
- Low pin count interface for SIO

FSB

- Support 100MHz FSB
- Support 400MHz Intel NetBurst micro-architecture bus.

Main Memory

-- Supports three PC133 SDRAM slots.
-- Supports up to 3GB memory size.

Slots

-- One AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) 4x slot (1.5V only)
-- One CNR (Communication Network Riser) slot

On-Board IDE

-- An IDE controller on the ICH2 chipset provides IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO, Bus Master and Ultra DMA66/100 operation modes.
-- Can connect up to four IDE devices.
-- IDE RAID 0, 1 supported by Promise PDC20265R (for 845 Pro2-R only).

Audio

C-Media CMI8738 / PCI-6ch supports 2/4/6 channel sound
On-Board Peripherals
On-Board Peripherals include:
- 1 floppy port supports 2 FDDs with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88Mbytes.
- 2 serial ports (COM A + COM B)
- 1 parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
- 4 USB ports (Rear * 2/ Front * 2)
- 1 audio/game port

Asus P4B

CPU
-- Supports Intel® Pentium® 4 processor in the 478 pin package.
-- Supports 1.3 ~ 2GHz and up.

Chipset

Intel® 845 (593 FC-BGA) Chipset
- AGP 4x slot
- Support PC133 SDRAM

Intel® ICH2 Chipset

- AC'97 Controller Integrated
- 2 full IDE channels, up to ATA100
- Low pin count interface for SIO

FSB

- Support 100MHz FSB
- Support 400MHz Intel NetBurst micro-architecture bus.

Main Memory

-- Supports three PC133 SDRAM slots.
-- Supports up to 3GB memory size.

Slots

-- One AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) 4x slot (1.5V only)
-- One CNR (Communication Network Riser) slot

On-Board IDE

-- An IDE controller on the ICH2 chipset provides IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO, Bus Master and Ultra DMA66/100 operation modes.
-- Can connect up to four IDE devices.

Audio

Optional audio for S/PDIF-out (SONY/Philips Digital Interface)
On-Board Peripherals include:
- 1 floppy port supports 2 FDDs with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88Mbytes.
- 2 serial ports (COM A + COM B)
- 1 parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
- 4 USB ports (Rear * 2/ Front * 2)
- 1 audio/game port
 
 

 
MSI's 845Pro2-R :

These two boards are setup almost identically, with the exception of the MSI's on board Promise ATA100 RAID controller.  We've always liked RAID equipped boards for the simple fact that you can attached up to 4 drives, each on their own channel.  This is great for those who have both DVD and CD-RW drives in their systems and need to have a dedicated channel for the burner.  Of course, the added drive performance that a RAID 0 configuration brings, is nothing to sneeze at either. 

Additionally, the MSI board uses the C-Media CMI8738 chip for its on board sound.

The 845Pro2-R also comes bundled with a number of trinkets including additional USB cabling and an active heat-sink/fan assembly that you can attach in place of the passive chipset cooling, that is installed on the board when it ships.


 

Let's have a closer look at the Asus P4B.

 



The Asus P4B Up Close and Personal,
BIOS Comparison and Overclocking

 
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P4 i845 SDRAM Motherboards from Asus and MSI - Page 2

 

P4 i845 SDRAM Motherboards from Asus and MSI
The Asus P4B and MSI 845Pro2-R do battle

By, Dave Altavilla
September 24th, 2001

 

 

The Asus P4B
A closer look

There are a few interesting notables with respect to the Asus P4B.  This board also, like the MSI 845Pro2-R,  has 6 PCI slots for great expansion potential.  What is surprising and disappointing to us here at HotHardware, is that we have yet to see even one i850 based board with 6 PCI slots, with 5 being the default configuration.  Yet, both of the first two i845 boards we have seen have 6.  We hope this is a trend. 

Asus also goes the extra mile with pack-in features.  This time, in addition to the additional USB header, they have included an SPDIF output connector and header for full digital output.  If you intend to have your computer sit next to your TV, not only can you game on the big screen, with a Graphics card that has TV-Out, but you can also have full Dolby Digital Sound while playing DVDs and using the on board audio of the P4B.


As you can see, both of these so called "value" oriented boards have a wealth of expandability and features, the likes of which you typically don't see in the low end price segment.  Our hats off to both Asus and MSI for including the tools required to take full advantage of the i845 chipset's capabilities.

The Setup and BIOS - The MSI 845Pro2-R and Asus P4B
Underneath the hoods

Both boards have a fair amount of configurability in the BIOS and incorporate a "software" CPU setup.  Let's have a look at the MSI 845Pro2-R's setup.

MSI 845Pro2-R BIOS
From left to right: CPU Clocking, SDRAM Timing, Voltage Adjust and Integrated Peripherals

Although bus speed setting in 1MHz. increments are available, with the 845Pro2-R, things top out at 132MHz.  This may or may not prove limiting in the area of overclocking for some folks.  Let's face it, if you were to set a stock 1.5G Pentium 4 up at 132MHz. FSB, that would be a total of 1980MHz., a speed that we have seen no 1.5G P4 ever hit in the lab.  So, in short, 132MHz. top end FSB settings are most likely all you'll ever need.  That is, unless you have an unlocked engineering sample CPU that we typically get here in the lab for testing.

Asus P4B  BIOS
From left to right:
CPU Clocking, Memory Ratio, SDRAM Timing, Voltage Adjust and Integrated Peripherals

The P4B has a little bit more room to play within its BIOS.  It has a top end FSB setting of 200MHz. and a Memory Ratio setting that allows you to set the memory clock synchronously at a 1:1 ratio or asynchronously at 3:4.  This will tone down the memory settings quite a bit if you are running high FSB speeds. But then again, are FSB speeds in the 150MHz.+ range, really useful for the P4?  Most likely they're not.  Again, only if you have an unlocked CPU (which doesn't exist in the retail or OEM channel), will you be able to back down the multiplier, so that your overall CPU speed isn't way over the top.  We did manage to play around with our engineering sample 2GHz. Socket 478 CPU with both of these two board.

That brings us to our next section.

Overclocking The Asus P4B and MSI 845Pro2-R
It's in there

We won't spend much time in this section, since frankly we didn't get a chance to dig in too deeply with these boards with respect to overclocking.  However, we were able to take some preliminary measurements in ability and stability, while running these boards and the CPU that drives them, out of spec.

Both boards exhibited excellent stability while overclocking one of our 2GHz. processors in the lab.  In fact, the peak performance we achieved in our efforts, with either board was 2.24GHz.  This is really a function of the CPU more than anything.  At 240MHz. over stock speed, it is at its outer limit.  However, we would have to tip our hat to the Asus P4B for its wider range of options in overclocking with a higher FSB settings all the way up to a theoretical 200MHz. and the ability to set the memory clock ratio and keep memory timings within reasonable tolerances.

Let's stop tap dancing around the subject...  How do these two SDRAM powered P4 boards really perform versus a RDRAM setup or an Athlon with DDR?  That's what you most likely came here for and that's what we'll aim to deliver in the following pages.



Testing and Head To Head Comparisons

 
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P4 i845 SDRAM Motherboards from Asus and MSI - Page 3

 

P4 i845 SDRAM Motherboards from Asus and MSI
The Asus P4B and MSI 845Pro2-R  do battle

By, Dave Altavilla
September 24th, 2001

 
MadOnion provides our next suite of tests.  Their MPEG2 Encode (part of the Video 2000 Suite) and 3DMark2001, really pour the pressure on our test systems.
 
MadOnion's Video 2000 MPEG Encode and 3DMark 2001 DirectX 8 Testing
Serious fun

Surprisingly enough, we see both the i845 and i850 platforms at 1.8GHz., best the Athlon/DDR setup.  The Asus P4B showing is showing its strength of the two i845 boards and the RDRAM i850 based system, pulls away from the rest of the pack.  This is one test, as you have seen the converse within the Winstone tests, that favors the Pentium 4 architecture.

In a much more current proving ground, the i850 and Athlon boards prove to be too much to handle for the i845 SDRAM systems, based on the MSI 845Pro2-R and Asus P4B motherboards.  Here lower end system memory bandwidth, proves to be the bottleneck it is expected to be.  Regardless, these are still respectable scores for the Pentium 4, even with one hand tied behind its back.

Quake 3 Time Demo Testing - OpenGL Performance
Let's wrap it up

Finally, if you are an avid Quake 3 player, you won't be all that disappointed with the performance of a Pentium 4 system, based on either of these two i845 boards from Asus or MSI.  Both the MSI 845Pro2-R and Asus P4B close in tightly behind the Athlon DDR combination, in this OpenGL based test.  Once again however, we're going to place weight more heavily on the 3DMark 2001 score above.  The 3DMark 2001 test is much more of an up to date reference point for overall gaming performance.

 

First and foremost we feel compelled to underscore our concern, for where PC133 SDRAM based i845 boards are headed and their future.  The performance of this platform falls short of comparable RDRAM i850 based systems as well as AMD DDR solutions.  This was an obvious conclusion.  Furthermore, RDRAM although slightly more expensive than PC1333 SDRAM, is relatively cheap at current levels, hovering around $40 for a 128MB stick.  Finally, with DDR i845 and VIA P4X266 DDR solutions almost imminent, it is probably more wise for the custom do-it-yourselfer or PC enthusiast, to wait a few months and skip past right past SDRAM based P4s.  Regardless, we do see a small market window for i845 SDRAM based solutions in the value segment for large OEMs and integrators.

With regards to our two contenders here from MSI and Asus, both of these boards are excellent examples of top quality feature rich designs on this platform.  In some ways we tended to lean toward the Asus P4B for its wealth of options in the BIOS for overlcocking.  However, the MSI 845Pro2-R also has an Ace up its sleeve with its on board RAID controller.  If only either of these two boards were designed to utilize DDR memory, we would have been much more impressed overall.

We're giving both the Asus P4B and MSI 845Pro2-R i845 Pentium 4 Motherboards, a Heat Meter Rating of...

Are you talkin' to me?  Get into the HotHardware Conference Room!



 

 
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