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Intel D845PEBT2 i845PE Motherboard Review
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Date: Dec 29, 2002
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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Intel D845PEBT2 i845PE Motherboard Review - Page 1

Intel D845PEBT2 i845PE Motherboard Review
Intel Appeals to the Enthusiast

By: Chris Angelini
December 29, 2002

Intel certainly has an established reputation when it comes to motherboards.  In most regards, its reputation is solid but hardware enthusiasts generally don't recognize Intel for supporting those whom derive utility from pushing a processor or motherboard to the limit.  Intel would rather see a group of power users purchase 3.06GHz Pentium 4 processors instead of overclocking their less-expensive 2.53GHz chips to the same level.  Clock multipliers on both Pentium 4 and Athlon XP processors are locked by both chip manufacturers as a result of this mentality.  Most motherboard manufacturers are more sympathetic to mongering overclockers, though. With so many boards on the market, features like voltage modifications and 1MHz front side bus settings help differentiate the unique boards from the bland.  Further, integrated add-ons like USB 2.0, onboard Ethernet, Firewire and most recently Serial ATA, infuse value which also attracts those that consider themselves enthusiasts.  Unfortunately, an impressive specification sheet doesn't always equate to comparable reliability.  This is where Intel sets itself apart.  Simply, Intel takes pride in offering some of the most stable motherboards on the market. 

But in taking a no-nonsense approach to system stability, performance and feature sets are often sacrificed.  Intel boards work well in mission-critical machines and servers but we wouldn't expect to find one in a tweaked out gaming rig, at least up until now.  It seems as though Intel has deviated from the straight-and-narrow a bit, in order to deliver a motherboard that includes a few more bells and whistles than previous products.  The D845PEBT2 (affectionately referred to as Blue Mountain 2) comes equipped with 6-channel audio, IEEE 1394, Serial ATA and integrated Ethernet.  Its BIOS provides memory timing options and the board is even laid out on an aesthetically pleasing black PCB!  While it may not be usual Intel fare, we certainly love to see Intel making an earnest appeal to the hearts of performance enthusiasts.

Specifications and Features of Intel's D845PEBT2
All of the bells and whistles.

CPU:

  • Supports Intel Pentium 4 Socket 478 processors with 400/533 MHz FSB (with HyperThreading support)

Chipset:

  • Intel i845PE / ICH4

  • Supports Ultra DMA 33/66/100

  • Accelerated Graphics Port connector supports AGP 4X Interface

Memory:

  • Two 184-pin DIMM sockets

  • Supports PC2700/2100/1600 (Max. 2GB)

Serial ATA:

  • Silicon Image Sil3112A controller supports two Serial ATA connectors (RAID 0 or RAID 1)

Audio:

  • Analog Devices AD1980 codec featuring SoundMax Cadenza (six-channel output through analog or coaxial/optical)

USB 2.0:

  • 6 USB 2.0 ports

IEEE 1394:

  • Up to three IEEE 1394a-2000 ports (Agere FW323-05) (optional)

LAN:

  • Intel 82562 MAC/PHY with integrated 10/100Mbps Ethernet

Internal I/O Connectors:

  • 1 AGP 4X slot, 5 PCI slots, 1 CNR slot

  • Floppy Port supports up to 2.88MB

  • 2 x Ultra DMA 33/66/100 Connectors

  • 2 x Serial ATA 1.5G bps Connectors (RAID)

  • 1 x USB headers, 2 x IEEE 1394 header

  • 1 x Smart Card Reader connector

  • 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 IEEE 1394 connectors

  • 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector, 1 x coaxial 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

  • Intel Precision Cooling Technology

  • Three fan headers


  

As you can see from the listed specification sheet, Intel has put some effort into the D845PEBT2.  To begin with, the Silicon Image Sil3112A controller enables two Serial ATA channels.  This, of course, is in addition to the parallel ATA channels provided by the ICH4.  Native S-ATA drives are still hard to come by, but once availability improves, a pair can be used in conjunction to form a RAID 0 (for performance) or RAID 1 array (for data security). 

Analog Devices has made continual improvements to its audio codec family, culminating in the AD1980 that Intel utilizes on the D845PEBT2.  Most gamers opt for an add-on sound card that offers surround sound output and digital connectivity, but the AD1980 helps eliminate the need for an expensive card by supporting 6-channel analog output through three 1/8" mini-jacks available on the board's back panel.  Also present are coaxial and optical digital outputs that can be connected to an external receiver.  Audio quality differences are hardly discernable and with a 3.06GHz Pentium 4, there is little performance penalty due to the use of the onboard codec.

Intel has championed the use of USB, so it is no surprise that USB 2.0 support is included in the ICH4.  Four ports are offered on the board's back panel and an additional two are available through a header.  Surprisingly, Intel has also included the Agere FW323 Firewire Link/PHY that interfaces with a single Firewire port on the back of the board and two more optional ports available through a header.  LAN capabilities have also been integrated using Intel's own 82562 MAC/PHY, rounding out the D845PEBT2 back panel with an RJ-45 connector that delivers 10/100Mbps speeds.

The BIOS, Layout and Quality 

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Intel D845PEBT2 i845PE Motherboard Review - Page 2

Intel D845PEBT2 i845PE Motherboard Review
Intel Appeals to the Enthusiast

By: Chris Angelini
December 29, 2002

Board Layout and BIOS of the D845PEBT2
Feature-rich, at least for Intel!

Designing a reliable motherboard starts with power delivery.  Many motherboard manufacturers skimp in this department, opting for a two-phase power solution instead of three, which negatively impacts the life of the motherboard.  Intel doesn't hold back though, as the D845PEBT2 utilizes a three-phase solution.  Eleven capacitors surround the Socket 478 processor interface but are small enough to not interfere with heat sink installation.  However, the i845PE MCH is passively cooled with a large heatsink that does have the potential to obstruct a larger heat sink.  The 20-pin ATX power connector is thoughtfully located on the upper right-hand corner of the board, far from the processor.

  

The big addition to the i845PE chipset is validated PC2700 DDR memory support.  It's no secret that the Pentium 4 processor demonstrates top performance on a platform with lots of memory bandwidth, so i845PE is a significant improvement over the original i845E.  As a trade off for the faster memory support, the D845PEBT2 is only able to offer two memory slots with a 2GB memory ceiling.  If you'd prefer a little more flexibility in terms of future upgrades, ASUS' P4PE i845PE board features the same PC2700 memory support and includes three DIMM slots instead of two. 


One AGP and five PCI slots


Silicon Image SATA Controller


Intel includes a CNR slot even though the D845PEBT2 comes with integrated Ethernet.  Also present are five PCI slots and a single AGP 4x slot.  At this point we aren't too concerned with the lack of AGP 8x support as many of the other AGP 8x-compliant boards we've tested exhibit some degree of instability, namely with the ATI RADEON 9700 Pro.  All of the i845PE boards we've tested work properly, though.  We did notice that the AGP slot is placed uncomfortably close to the two DIMM slots, so if you were to install a RADEON 9700 Pro at the wrong angle you may risk shearing the capacitor at the bottom of the card.  Further, if you want to perform a memory upgrade, you'll certainly have to remove the graphics card.  The floppy and IDE connectors are behind the AGP slot but orientated in such a way as to clear the graphics card with no problem.

THE BIOS:

     

In the past, we've seen Intel implement some fairly mundane BIOS options.  Choices essential to the system setup are about all that are offered.  However, the D845PEBT2 deviates from that path, if only just a little.  When it comes to tweaking features like the AGP bus, very few options are given (as illustrated in the first picture).  But memory timings are opened up for modification, though not to the extent we've seen from some of the more popular Taiwanese manufacturers.  With the latest BIOS release Intel has even implemented an overclocking feature that is offhandedly called "Burn-In Mode" and is to be used for "validation and test purposes only."  There aren't many options available in burn-in mode, but the settings that are available can be seen in the second picture.  In the interest of noise control, Intel has also added a variable fan control that can increase or decrease the cooling fan speed based on operating temperature.

     

A standard hardware monitoring screen shows voltages, fan speeds and temperature readings on the board, even 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 HyperThreading (in the case of applicable processors, of course).  Among the other chipsets that share HT support are Intel's i850E (which has also been validated with PC1066 RDRAM support), the i845GE chipset and VIA's P4X400 core logic. SiS will join the ranks soon, as its 655 dual-channel DDR chipset is still in the works.

OVERCLOCKING:

Overclocking is a luxury we've grown accustomed to thanks to competition in the hardware enthusiast market.  Intel still doesn't condone it and so it is consequently no surprise that the D845PEBT2 doesn't offer selectable front side bus settings. It does, however, offer the aforementioned "Burn-in Mode" that reportedly adjusts the host clock by up to four percent.  We updated our board with the necessary BIOS and tried our hand at overclocking Intel-style, but to no avail.  We tried power supplies, different video cards, memory modules, and processors, but in each situation the board would reboot before finishing the POST.  C'est la vie, we weren't expecting much in the overclocking department anyway.  At least Intel is on the right track by incorporating some sort of option to run its products out of spec.

 

System Setup, SiSoft Sandra, and Unreal Tournament 2003

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Intel D845PEBT2 i845PE Motherboard Review - Page 3

Intel D845PEBT2 i845PE Motherboard Review
Intel Appeals to the Enthusiast

By: Chris Angelini
December 29, 2002

Quake III v.1.17 Demo001
Classic OpenGL

ASUS' P4PE outperforms the D845PEBT2 by about six percent in Quake III.  The i850E board is even faster than that.   Then again, these tests are at 800x600, so if you like to play games at 1280x1024 or 1600x1200 you probably won't notice the small difference, especially if you've got a powerful graphics card.

3D Mark 2001 SE
Synthetic DirectX 8 Gaming

Even at 1024x768, 3D Mark demonstrates the same results we've seen from all of the other gaming benchmarks. 

Content Creation Winstone 2003 and Business Winstone 2002
Simulated Application Performance

We recently replaced Content Creation 2002 and Business Winstone 2001 with Content Creation 2003 and Business Winstone 2002, the most recently released benchmarks from PC Magazine.  We'd like to say that the transition was a smooth one, but Content Creation 2003 is quite possibly the most finicky, unstable benchmark we've ever battled.  Nevertheless, weeks of troubleshooting and repeated installations later, we've managed to glean a few numbers from the metric.  As we saw in the gaming tests, Content Creation 2003 favors the RDRAM-equipped i850E system, while the D845PEBT2 takes a last-place finish.  Business Winstone shows the ASUS i850E and i845PE board switching spots by a tenth of a point, though the Intel board finishes in the back of the pack.

 

CONCLUSION:

In this case, performance benchmarks are a tad deceiving.  Intel's D845PEBT2 finishes in last place in our tests, but in each scenario, the point spread is miniscule.  The fact that Intel is competing against ASUS on a performance level, speaks volumes about its apparent decision to appeal to hardware enthusiasts. However, Intel stopped short with this board where we would like to see it.  The board may offer a host of connectivity features and some minor memory timings, but it really needs a more comprehensive BIOS and functional overclocking settings, to compete aggressively against products from more popular motherboard manufacturers. 

Intel's edge lies in the stability associated with its motherboards.  Aside from our attempts at overclocking using the "Burn-in Mode", we didn't encounter a single issue with reliability. If you aren't planning to modify your system in any way, the D845PEBT2 is definitely a top-end contender, thanks to the plethora of features built onto the board and its stability.  Intel's use of a three-phase power solution means it should also last until your next platform upgrade. 

Intel's first "enthusiast" motherboard may be a departure from similarly labeled boards from other manufacturers, but it will satisfy those looking for a fully featured board that doesn't compromise stability for high-end performance.  If you are looking for something a little more flexible with regard to overclocking, check out ASUS' P4PE, which we've tested the Intel board against, or, if you prefer a simpler Intel board, consider the Intel D845PESV, that can be found for about $25 less than the D845PEBT2.

 

  • Stable board, Intel quality
  • Feature-rich (S-ATA, IEEE 1394, 10/100 Ethernet)
  • BIOS options allow some memory tweaking
  • BIOS options still lacking
  • Not quite up to the performance level of competing i845PE boards
  • No AGP 8x support

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