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Intel D865GBF 865G Motherboard Review
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Date: May 21, 2003
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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Intel D865GBF 865G Motherboard Review - Page 1

Intel D865GBF 865G Motherboard Review
Springdale Goes Mainstream, With Graphics

By: Chris Angelini
and Dave Altavilla
May 21st, 2003


We've come to know Intel as a conservative company, generally unwilling to take precarious risks on unproven technology.  Yet, just last month, Intel unveiled its first true flagship platform since the i850E, complete with an 800MHz front side bus and two channels of 64-bit DDR400 memory.  We certainly can understand the importance of an 800MHz front side bus.  Not only does the faster bus establish a performance advantage over AMD's best effort (which incidentally also recently saw an increase in front side bus speed), but it also lays the foundation for the upcoming 'Prescott' core that will also launch on an 800MHz bus.  Similarly, the rationale behind DDR400 is also clear.  In order to avoid incurring the performance penalty associated with clock synchronization, Intel needed the memory bus to run at a derivative of the system bus.  NVIDIA encountered the same issue with its nForce2 platform, which is why we saw Athlon XP processors running faster with synchronous memory, even though NVIDIA boasted DDR400 capabilities.  As Intel's luck would have it, DDR400 memory is more available now than when nForce2 launched. But why does DDR400 still sound so risqué?  Well, we haven't found memory modules from any two manufacturers that behave in exactly the same way.  Although we'd expect the D865GBF to run properly with aggressively tuned memory settings, the board has to be manually de-tuned a bit to operate properly.  Even still, Intel looks to have built a platform worthy of succeeding the RDRAM-equipped i850E. 

Keep in mind that the 865G board on the bench today represents one chipset from a family of three other "mainstream" platforms.  The "G" denotes that the silicon includes an integrated graphics controller. Its brother, 865P, is the entry-level solution with 400/533MHz front side bus support and DDR266/333 memory support.  Finally, the 865PE features a 533/800MHz FSB and the same dual-channel DDR400 memory bus as the 865G we're looking at today. 

Specifications and Features of Intel's D865GBF
Dual Channel DDR400 Goes Mainstream

  

CPU:

  • Supports Intel Pentium 4 Socket 478 processors with 800/533 MHz FSB (with Hyper Threading support)

Chipset:

  • Intel 865G / ICH5

  • Supports Ultra DMA 33/66/100 and Serial ATA 150

  • Accelerated Graphics Port connector supports AGP 8X Interface

Memory:

  • Four 184-pin DIMM sockets

  • Supports 3200/2700/2100 (Max. 4GB)

Serial ATA:

  • Integrated Serial ATA; two channels, no RAID support

Audio:

  • Six channel audio

USB 2.0:

  • 8 USB 2.0 ports

LAN:

  • Intel 8254 Gigabit Ethernet through Communications Streaming Architecture (CSA)

Internal I/O Connectors:

  • 1 AGP 8X slot, 6 PCI slots

  • Floppy Port supports up to 2.88MB

  • 2 x Ultra DMA 33/66/100 Connectors

  • 2 x Serial ATA 1.5G bps Connectors

  • CD/AUX/Modem audio input

Back Panel I/O:

  • 1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1 x PS/2 mouse

  • 4 x USB connectors

  • 1 x 15-pin VGA connector

  • Audio I/O

  • 1 x RJ-45 LAN Connector

  • 1 x parallel port, 1 x serial port

Miscellaneous:

  • ATX form factor (12" x 8.5")

  • Hardware monitoring - Including Fan speeds, Voltages, CPU and System environment temperature

  • Three fan headers


By integrating Serial ATA and an extra USB 2.0 controller, Intel has given the 865G chipset enhanced functionality that results in space savings on the board itself and increased connectivity.  Intel gives third-party manufacturers the option to connect a 10/100Mbps PHY to the chipset's ICH5, but the D865GBF instead features a Gigabit Ethernet controller that stems from the MCH with its own dedicated link. 

Intel has championed the use of USB, so it is no surprise that USB 2.0 support is included in the ICH5.  Four ports are offered on the board's back panel and an additional four are available through headers.  Because the D865GBF is a more mainstream product, the board doesn't sport Firewire capabilities.  However, Intel's "enthusiast" 865PE board, the D865PERL, does offer Firewire connectivity.  The D865PERL also sports the ICH5-R controller, a feature that Intel lists as option for the 865G product family.

The BIOS, Layout and Intel Extreme Graphics 

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Intel D865GBF 865G Motherboard Review - Page 2

Intel D865GBF 865G Motherboard Review
Springdale Goes Mainstream, With Graphics

By: Chris Angelini
and Dave Altavilla
May 21st, 2003

 

Board Layout and BIOS of the D865GBF
Features, Performance, and Value, Oh My!

Intel has, as we'd expect, done a fair job at laying out components on the D865GBF.  Ten electrolytic capacitors flank the Socket 478 processor interface and the 865G MCH is passively cooled with a large aluminum heat sink, but for the most part, there is plenty of room to work around the board.  The memory slots are positioned parallel to each other and are labeled to ensure that the user enables dual-channel memory operation.  The 4-pin auxiliary power connector isn't in an optimal location, but Intel's choice for the 20-pin ATX connector was much better.  You'll also notice that there is a lot of excess space at the bottom of the D865GBF, due in part to the number of features Intel has integrated into the ICH5.  At the back of the board, Intel has included four USB 2.0 ports, an RJ-45 port with Gigabit Ethernet compliance, a 15-pin VGA output, one serial port, a parallel port, PS/2 connections and three, 1/8" mini-plugs for audio. 

     

 

When Intel's E7205 chipset launched, the big news was that the platform utilized dual-channel DDR266 memory for a combined 4.2GB per second of bandwidth.  This go 'round, Intel has incorporated dual channel DDR400 support to compliment the 800MHz front side bus.  The 875P chipset includes similar capabilities; the main difference between the two is that 875P also comes equipped with Intel's Performance Acceleration Technology, purportedly giving it a performance edge.  But even while Intel cites DDR400 compliance for its 865G platform, we were unable to boot the board using programmed SPD settings.


One AGP 8x and six PCI slots


Integrated SATA Controller


Even though the D865GBF can technically be viewed as a mainstream product, Intel has forsaken the CNR slot normally found at the bottom of its boards.  Instead, Intel includes integrated audio and Gigabit Ethernet, which comes compliments of Intel's new CSA bus, as previously mentioned.  The board sports a total of six PCI slots and a single AGP 8x slot.  Fortunately, none of the AGP problems we ran into with the E7205 chipset and RADEON cards ever materialized, and it seems that Intel has patched up the erratum previously responsible for random rebooting.  

Back when we reviewed Intel's D845PEBT2 i845PE board, we noticed that the memory slots came a bit close to the installed AGP card and the same potential hazard exists with the D865GBF.  If you're looking to perform a memory upgrade, the graphics card will certainly have to come out first.  Of course, the new ICH5 lends the board native support for Serial ATA.  Proponents of Serial ATA RAID will have to look elsewhere, though, since only the ICH5-R includes that feature.  Intel's D865PERL is one alternative with software-based RAID 0.

  

The BIOS:

There are more than a few third-party motherboard manufacturers that have developed reputations for building high-quality boards and then including capable BIOS options to unlock the hardware's potential.  Intel, for the most part, has historically opted to equip its boards with more conservative settings, the sort that business and OEMs favor for ease of use.  Let's face it: without the option to overclock, frying processors becomes significantly more difficult.  But Intel's staunch anti-overclocking stance has loosened up as of late.  The D865GBF includes a special Burn-In mode that facilitates, at maximum, a four percent overclock.  So, our 3GHz engineering sample was bumped up to a comfortable 3120MHz.  Additionally, the board features several options for adjusting memory timings, many of which were incidentally too aggressive for the board itself (our XMS3200LL modules work at 2-2-2-5 on several other boards).  Beyond the "enthusiast" features, the D865GBF's BIOS has a few AGP and USB configuration settings.

  

  

  

A standard hardware monitoring screen shows voltages, fan speeds and temperature readings on the board, though there are no adjustable voltage options within the BIOS.  Intel also offers a software utility that displays these same readings from within Windows.  The main BIOS screen contains general system information, as well as a switch for Hyper Threading (in the case of applicable processors, like the newly released 2.4, 2.6, and 2.8GHz Pentium 4 chips). 

Intel Extreme Graphics 2:

One of the more significant selling points for Intel's D865GBF is its integrated graphics, based on the 266MHz core previously found in the i845GE MCH and updated with AGP 8x support.  We'd suppose that Intel is adding a "2" to its Extreme Graphics moniker because the 865G provides for more graphics bandwidth, thanks to the dual-channel DDR400 memory configuration.  Even still, the graph above speaks for itself.  Intel will need a lot more than extra memory bandwidth if it wants to compete with some of the other integrated graphics products we've been hearing about.  Intel's 865G does provide impressive 2D image quality.  But, if you are going to venture into 3D, pick up a RADEON 9000, at the very least.

     

  
Intel Extreme Graphics 2 Driver Properties

 

PC Mark 2002, XMPEG and Unreal Tournament 2003

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Intel D865GBF 865G Motherboard Review - Page 3

Intel D865GBF 865G Motherboard Review
Springdale Goes Mainstream, With Graphics

By: Chris Angelini
and Dave Altavilla
May 21st, 2003

 

Quake III v.1.17 Demo001
Classic OpenGL

Quake III has the 865G chipset performing right up there with the higher-end 875P.  Both chipsets are capable of delivering 6.4GB per second of throughput to the Pentium 4 processor, and they both run stably at the 800MHz front side bus setting.  The E7205 "Granite Bay" chipset doesn't do nearly as well, likely due to the more restricted bandwidth pipeline, though its 339 frames per second isn't shabby.  AMD's Athlon XP 3200+ trails further behind "Granite Bay," though Quake III has never favored the K7 architecture anyway.

3D Mark 2003
Synthetic DirectX 9 Gaming

At 1024x768, the difference between the competing platforms is somewhat dulled.  However, there is still a discernable difference that seems to mirror what we saw in the Quake III tests.  That is to say, the 875P board reigns supreme with the 865G and E7205 systems following, in that order.  The nForce2 Ultra 400 system take last place, though by a fairly narrow margin.

Content Creation Winstone 2002 and Business Winstone 2002
Simulated Application Performance

In a somewhat surprising twist of events, the Athlon XP 3200+ turns the tides on Intel's entire product lineup, besting even the mighty 875P in both Content Creation and Business Winstone 2002.  The 875P takes a second place finish in Content Creation, right above the 865G and E7205 platforms, respectively.  Business Winstone actually favors the E7205 "Granite Bay," which may be due to the 60MHz speed advantage held by the 3.06GHz chip.  875P takes a second place finish and the new 865G is forced to the back of the pack this time around. 

 

Conclusion:

With the release of the 865 chipset family, Intel is making its first venture into the world of mainstream chipsets with dual-channel memory support.  The E7205 "Granite Bay" chipset proved that Intel was serious about eliminating RDRAM from its repertoire.  Then, the subsequent 875P release proved to be the first time the 850E chipset had been eclipsed.  Both chipsets were, and continue to be, prohibitively expensive for mainstream buyers, though. In fact, both E7205 and 875P motherboards continue to sell for more than $160 online.  Intel 865-based boards, on the other hand, promise to be much more affordable, and as we just saw, performance isn't a far cry from the 875P above it.

With regards to Intel's entry-level D865GBF, the board performs well, offers several useful features, and can be found online for under $140.  It isn't for everyone, but the board does have some particularly endearing features.  The first, and most obvious, is support for the new 800MHz front side bus.  It also features native Serial ATA support, though Intel's ICH5-R is missing, meaning RAID 0 support isn't available.  Instead look to features like USB 2.0 and integrated graphics to satiate the average user who is more concerned with general Web usage than Half Life 2.  The included Gigabit Ethernet feature may be a bit overkill, but it does allow the platform to utilize Intel's CSA networking architecture. 

Of course, there are downsides to go along with the D865GBF's virtues.  As we mentioned, there is no RAID 0 support on the Serial ATA interface (though Intel  claims there will be other boards to incorporate the 865G and ICH5-R components).  Most obvious is the integrated graphics performance, which is insufficient for most 3D applications.  Sure, it may keep the casual user happy, but as we found, even an older game like Quake III will reel from the lack of 3D punch.  If you're serious about Intel's new 865 chipset and would like a little more flexibility as a power user, consider Intel's D865PERL.  It costs about $20 less (at the expense of the integrated graphics) and is more closely tailored to the needs of an enthusiast.

 

  • Stable board, Intel quality
  • Feature-rich (S-ATA, Gigabit Ethernet, 800MHz FSB support)
  • BIOS options allow memory tweaking and minimal overclocking
  • Much more competitive price than 875P and E7205 boards
  • We'd like to see the ability to adjust front side bus settings
  • Integrated graphics are fairly mundane
  • Price is a bit higher than some other attractive 865-based motherboards

Discuss This, Or Any Other Review in the PC Hardware Forum!

 

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