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MSI 845G MaxL i845G Motherboard
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Date: Jul 01, 2002
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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The MSI 845G MaxL i845G Motherboard Review - Page 1

 

The MSI 845G Max-L Motherboard Review
Integrated Graphics and Bluetooth Technology

By -Chris Angelini
June 28th, 2002


The i845 chipset gained quick popularity due to its DDR memory support, providing an alternative to the once-expensive RDRAM standard.  In fact, many proponents of the chipset went so far as to call the i845 ?the next 440BX,? referring to the immensely popular Pentium III chipset that spanned more than 18 months in production.  Technology is evolving faster than ever before, though, so it was only a matter of time before Intel updated the core logic of the i845. In fact, several new iterations of the chipset have been unveiled, including the i845E, i845GL, and i845G, which we are looking at today.

MSI has become a force to be reckoned with in the motherboard industry.  A combination of quick adoption of technology and speedy implementation of innovative features, has helped MSI become one of the top three manufacturers in the world.  The 845G-L Max exemplifies MSI?s initiative.  Not only does the board include Intel?s latest i845G chipset, but it also supports Bluetooth wireless technology.  Compatibility with the latest 533MHz front side bus Pentium 4 processors and USB 2.0 round the package out nicely. 

We can understand how Intel would be reluctant to embrace the latest advancements in DDR memory technology.  After all, it was a demand for DDR that led to the demise of Intel?s aggressive plans for RDRAM.  The unfortunate result is that the i845G doesn?t officially support PC2700 memory.  MSI has added its own "unofficial" PC2700 BIOS setting however, to circumvent the only glaring drawback of the i845G chipset.

Specifications of the MSI 845G Max-L i845G Motherboard
Mainstream Pentium 4 with Cutting Edge Communications
Special Features
Supports USB 2.0 through ICH4
Bluetooth transceiver and key
Intel Extreme Graphics Architecture
Integrated 10/100Mbps LAN controller

CPU
Socket 478 for Intel Pentium 4 Northwood/Willamette

Chipset
Intel i845G/ICH4
400/533MHz FSB
AGP 4x
Support for PC1600/2100 DDR SDRAM

FSB
Supports 400/533MHz FSB

Main Memory
Three, 184-pin sockets
Maximum memory size up to 2GB

Slots
One AGP 4X slot (1.5V only)
Six PCI 2.2 32-bit Master PCI bus slots
One Communication Network Riser (CNR)
On-Board IDE
An IDE controller on the Intel ICH4 chipset provides IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO, Bus Master and Ultra DMA 66/100 operation modes
Can connect up to four IDE devices

Audio
Realtek AC-'97 Codec

On-Board Peripherals
1 Floppy port supports 2 FDD with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88Mbytes
1 Serial port (COM A), 1 Parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
6 USB 2.0 ports (2 rear and 4 front)

USB Interface
6x USB 2.0 ports

BIOS
The mainboard BIOS provides AMI "Plug & Play" Flash BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically

Dimension
ATX Form Factor

Bluetooth Technology
One transceiver and one key for Bluetooth communication

 

Below is a list of the items that accompany the MSI 845G Max-L  Motherboard

2 - 40-pin 80 Conductor UDMA 100Ribbon Cable
1 - Floppy Ribbon Cable
1 - MSI 845G Max Support CD
1 - 2x USB 2.0/D-Bracket 2 module
1 - User Guide
1 - Bluetooth transceiver
1 - Bluetooth key

Setup and Installation:

Installation of the 845G Max is fairly straight forward.  However, it is easiest to install the memory modules before mounting the board, since the slots are on the far right side, near the edge and may be a tight fit in certain chassis layouts.  The support CD includes the latest drivers for the integrated video, Intel's Application Accelerator, the necessary drivers to enable USB 2.0 through the ICH4 and inital Bluetooth drivers.

The 845G Max's accessory package is fairly comprehensive - two IDE ribbon cables, a single floppy ribbon cable, an extra two-port USB 2.0 header and MSI diagnostic LED module, are all included.  However, the kit is missing a connector to enable use of a second COM port. 

Layout, BIOS, and Overclocking

 

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The MSI 845G MaxL i845G Motherboard Review - Page 2

 

The MSI 845G Max-L Motherboard Review
Integrated Graphics and Bluetooth Technology

By -Chris Angelini
June 28th, 2002


845G Max-L Layout
Spacious like a King sized bed!

At 8.5?x12,? the 845G Max-L isn?t a huge board.  That hasn?t stopped MSI from doing a great job laying the board out, though.  Both the ATX and 12V Auxiliary power connectors are located at the top of the board, so as to not interfere with air circulation around the processor.  Several 2200 micro-farad electrolytic capacitors are packed close to the heat sink retention mechanism, but we had no problem installing our reference cooling solution.  While many manufacturers favor a three-phase power regulation circuit, MSI has opted for a less-expensive dual-phase solution.  The MOSFET transistors are consequently covered with heat sinks to dissipate the extra heat. 

  

Officially, the i845G chipset supports PC1600 and PC2100 DDR memory.  The board has three, 184-pin DIMM slots for a maximum capacity of 2GB.  VIA?s P4X333 and SiS? 645DX chipsets are already compliant with the PC2700 standard, so the i845G is at a slight disadvantage in terms of memory bandwidth.  Of course, Intel is fully expected to bolster the memory bus frequency in subsequent chipsets. MSI has added an interim setting that enables PC2700 memory speeds on the 845G Max-L; another example of MSI?s innovation at work.

  

Unlike many of MSI?s high-end motherboards, the 845G doesn?t include an external ATA-133 RAID controller.  USB 2.0 functionality comes courtesy of Intel?s new I/O Controller Hub (ICH4) and the included two-port bracket brings the count up to four USB 2.0 connectors.  Disk transfers are unfortunately still limited to ATA-100 with the ICH4.  Six PCI slots are provided, as is a single AGP and CNR slot.  One of the PCI slots is occupied by the Bluetooth header should you decide to take advantage of the 845G?s Bluetooth capability ? a fair trade in my book.

The back panel houses standard keyboard and mouse connections as well as a single LPT and COM port.  A 15-pin VGA output completely replaces the second COM port.  Intel?s 82562ET controller adds 10/100Mbps Ethernet capabilities, though Wake on LAN is not offered.  MSI lists three fan headers in the motherboard documentation but the board I tested only came equipped with two.  The lack of a second COM port, a third fan header, three-phase power regulation and six-channel audio indicate an eagerness to save money.  More than likely, these extras won?t be missed, but we fell manufacturers should not be skimping on features that are now considered standard.


The BIOS of the
845G Max-L  Motherboard:

  

As one of the largest motherboard manufacturers in the world, MSI has to concern themselves not only with hardware enthusiasts but also average consumers looking to upgrade an old PC.  While companies like ABIT and Soyo include highly configurable BIOS settings, MSI tends to lean towards conservatism. 

The AMI BIOS offers very standard features with the addition of configurable DRAM timing settings.  Voltages, fan speeds and temperatures are all displayed in the PC Health property page using the Winbond 83627 chip integrated onto the motherboard.  Additionally, MSI has enabled front side bus frequencies between 100 and 200MHz (remember, quad-pumped) and voltage manipulation over the processor (1.5-1.8V), AGP (1.5-1.8V) and DDR (2.5-2.8V) busses.  Since the board also includes integrated video, there are several options for setting the primary adapter (Integrated, AGP and PCI). 

Overclocking the 845G Max-L  Motherboard
Mainstream Performance on Steroids

When the Pentium 4 first launched, I was able to take the i850 chipset to 133MHz without any stability issues.  Now that the chipset runs at 133MHz straight from Intel, I've seen it hit as high as 160MHz.  Considering that the i845 family is based on similar logic, I would expect similar results.  Of course the i845G also contains integrated graphics, which could affect the overclockability of the chipset.

Using MSI's Fuzzy Logic 4 overclocking software, the 845G Max had no problem reaching a 158MHz front side bus.  Unfortunately, every successive attempt at setting the front side bus using Fuzzy Logic crashed the system.  No sweat - I am more inclined to trust BIOS settings anyway.  Increasing the front side bus in 1MHz increments, I was able to hit 155MHz without any stability issues in Windows.  As a result, memory bandwidth rose from 1.94GB per second to 2.18GB per second.  Quake III scores increased from 211.3 to 234.4 frames per second.

Though it may not directly relate to overclocking, it should be noted that we were unable to test MSI's 333MHz memory setting.  Our 512MB Corsair XMS2700 module didn't want to cooperate, no matter how conservative we set the memory settings.  This could indicate an incompatibility with the board or the memory, but either way it should be kept in mind that MSI's PC2700 is unofficial ,so don't expect it to work with every brand of PC2700 module.

Sandra 2002, SysMark 2002 and Comanche 4

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The MSI 845G MaxL i845G Motherboard Review - Page 3

 

The MSI 845G Max-L Motherboard Review
Integrated Graphics and Bluetooth Technology

By -Chris Angelini
June 28th, 2002


Benchmarks and Comparisons Continued...
Synthetics and Games

PC Mark 2002

PCMark's Hard Drive score reiterates the results from SysMark 2002 Office Productivity - the SiS 645 suffers tremendously.  In fact, both Intel-based motherboards perform more than 33 percent better in disk transfers!  Nevertheless, the SiS 645 still manages to outperform the i845G chipset in memory bandwidth, thanks to well-implemented PC2700 support.

3D Mark 2001 SE

There isn't much to report here.  All three systems perform comparably, though the 845G Max-L is edged out by both the P4T-E and the 645 Ultra.  Once again, memory bandwidth plays an important role in this 3D benchark.

Quake III: Arena

Quake III has always demonstrated a particular sensitivity to memory bandwidth, so it is a little surprising that all three boards perform so closely despite different bandwidth capabilities.  When the 845G Max is overclocked, the extra bandwidth and processing power lends quite a boost, as the score jumps to 234.4 frames per second. 

Serious Sam SE

The P4T-E has consistently taken first place finishes and the Serious Sam SE  benchmark shows no different. The 845G Max takes second and is followed closely by the 645 Ultra.

Bluetooth Communications
Convenient, but Slow

It's difficult not to like the 845G Max-L. It sports an impressive list of features, the most unique of which is a Bluetooth setup.  I'd like to set the record straight on Bluetooth, though.  By no means will this wireless technology replace your broadband adapter or suffice as a 802.11b alternative.  Instead, Bluetooth is designed to eliminate cables coming from printers, laptops, PDA's and even cell phones.  Bluetooth draws relatively little power and as a result, cannot transfer more than 20 or 30 feet.  The kit MSI includes with the 845G Max-L comes with a transceiver and a USB key.  I had no problem installing the key on my laptop (running Windows XP) and establishing a Bluetooth connection between it and the PC.

Several Bluetooth services are offered - wireless serial port, faxing, information synchronization (between a PC and PDA or cell), dial-up networking (share a modem wirelessly), network access, and file transfer.

I conducted my own benchmark, transferring a 6,840,515 byte file from a 2.4GHz desktop to a 1GHz laptop.  The entire transfer took two minutes and 18 seconds.  A quick calculation yields 397kbps - a far cry from the 11Mbps maximum of 802.11b and even the 1Mbps limit for Bluetooth.  Clearly, you wouldn't want to transfer large files over a Bluetooth network.

Integrated Graphics
Enough power?  No such thing!

Another of the 845G Max's selling points is integrated graphics.  For those who aren't interested in 3D performance, the integrated graphics solution will suffice.  If games are of interest, though, keep in mind that the graphics core features neither DirectX 7 hard-wired T&L support nor DirectX programmability.  It contains one rendering pipeline (clocked at 200MHz) capable of processing four textures per pass.  Unfortunately, the combination of low operating frequency and a single pipeline is a bane for graphically intensive games, like first person shooters.

When I think of extreme, I am reminded of sky diving, street luge, or Cannonball Runs.  R300 and NV30 - these graphics processors will be extreme.  Intel's Extreme Graphics Architecture is more accurately likened to a group of elderly women, knitting. You'll certainly want to invest in an AGP card if gaming is a priority.

MSI has put together a fairly comprehensive product.  The 845G Max-L offers highly competitive performance and a long list of features.  It would have been nice to see functional PC2700 memory support, but it is an unofficial feature, after all.  Bluetooth and USB 2.0 are both high points, as is the overclockable nature of the i845G chipset. 

The most compelling quality of the 845G Max-L, though, is it's price.  The board can be found online for under $100, which is an undeniable bargain considering graphics, audio, USB 2.0 support and 10/100 Ethernet are also part of the package.  Despite a couple minor oversights on the part of MSI, the 845G Max-L is deserving of an '8' on the Hot Hardware Heat Meter.


 

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The MSI 845G MaxL i845G Motherboard Review - Page 4
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