|Introduction to the 945Ps|
With the Dual-Core processor push in full effect, prospective upgraders now have a whole new line of products to consider before making a purchase. From the Intel side you have the Intel Pentium D series, which offers two non-HyperThreaded cores in a single package and the Pentium Extreme Edition with its dual-HyperThreaded cores. While Intel's Pentium D processors do have an attractive price point, the newer CPUs require an upgraded chipset to function. This adds to the overall cost of upgrading since most users will need a new motherboard to go along with a new dual-core CPU. Conversely, there is the pricier AMD X2 processor line. AMD's price point is currently less attractive than Intel's, but it's balanced out with the fact that the processor works with existing hardware, requiring a simple BIOS update to the motherboard.
When we first reviewed the Pentium D 820 processor in June, we found the relatively economical CPU to be a decent contender for those looking for a better multitasking experience. There was no clear advantages with single threaded application performance, however, with support for 64-Bit computing and the eventual growth of multithreaded software, the Pentium D is a viable option to those on a limited budget.
Today, we are going to take a look at two new Intel 945P motherboards designed for the Pentium D series of processors from Foxconn and Gigabyte. Both Foxconn and Gigabyte have delivered interesting 945P series options with a lot of features. We're going to weigh each board's options and performance, comparing them to the Intel reference motherboard used in our Pentium D 820 release. By the end, we hope to highlight the virtues of both pieces of hardware and see if either has a major advantage over the other. First, let's summarize each package's retail bundle, then we'll cover each board in more detail in the coming pages.
The Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G
The Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G included a series of rounded IDE and Floppy cables of a braided design, which is much more flexible than the vinyl type we've seen in the past. Gigabyte also included a single SATA cable and custom I/O shield fitted to the board's rear port configuration. Two manuals were provided, one being a detailed user's guide and the other a RAID installation manual. Lastly, Gigabyte included a fold out quick installation guide with pictures and easy to read text for the novice PC builder. Notably missing was a Setup CD and RAID drivers on Floppy Disk, both of which are expected to be a part of the full retail package (we tested an early pre-production sample).
Being a part of their "Intense Series", the Foxconn 945P7AA-8EKRS2 package was a complete retail box including a good complement of extra materials. We found two IDE cables and one Floppy cable provided, as well as two SATA cables. Foxconn included an I/O shield along with two Molex to SATA adapters that converted a single Molex power lead into two SATA power leads. Foxconn also provided a Setup CD as well as two floppies including RAID drivers needed during Windows installation. The user's guide was very clear and well organized as was a Quick Installation poster that covered the basics of board installation.
Overall, both Gigabyte and Foxconn offered similar bundles with their respective hardware. Each company provided ample cabling and instructions for a successful installation of the hardware. Next, we'll take a closer look at each product, highlighting its features and attributes. We'll start things off with the GA-8I945P-G from Gigabyte.
|First Up: The Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G|
The GA-8I945P-G is a colorful ATX motherboard with a hefty array of features. Built around Intel's Dual-Core ready 945P chipset coupled with the ICH7R Southbridge, the board brings a lot of functionality to the table. To start, the design brings four DDR2 DIMM slots with a maximum capacity of 1GB per slot at a peak speed of 667MHz. Additionally, the board sports three IDE ports, one ATA 100 driven by the Southbridge and two ATA 133 driven by the board's GigaRAID ITE8212 IDE RAID controller. The ITE8212 RAID controller offers RAID 0 and RAID 1 and JBOD, while the four SATA II ports provide speeds up to 3Gb/s and deliver RAID 0, 1, 0+1 or 5 via the Southbridge.
A Broadcom 5789 Gigabit Ethernet controller handles the boards integrated Ethernet while a Realtek ALC882 audio codec delivers the system's integrated audio capabilities. Handling expansion, the GA-8I945P-G is equipped with three standard PCI slots for legacy support while two PCI Express x1 slots support future expansion cards. Lastly, a single PCI Express x16 slot provides support for the latest in PCI Express graphics.
The rear of the board packs a solid collection of inputs and outputs. We found legacy PS/2 ports as well as an LPT and COM port. One Coaxial and one Optical SPDIF port is situated adjacent to the COM port. On the other side, four USB 2.0 ports are situated in banks of two. Two headers on the board can expand the USB complement to an additional four ports as well. Atop the second bank of USB ports was the board's RJ-45 for Gigabit Ethernet. The most notable omission was FireWire which is reserved for the Pro version of the board.
On the Northbridge, Gigabyte mounted a stylish gold passive heatsink to keep the chip running within normal operating temperatures. Around the LGA775 socket, the board layout was clean and left ample room to work with the tension pins of the CPU cooler. Lastly, three fan headers were provided to drive the CPU cooler and an additional two system fans.
|Gigabyte's GA-8I945P-G BIOS|
From a BIOS standpoint, the Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G covered the bases well, especially with regards to overclocking options. One of the added features Gigabyte is pushing with the GA-8I945P-G is their Q-Flash capability. In essence, the board has two distinct BIOS chips as a fail-safe. If for any reason the primary BIOS becomes corrupted, the system will default to the backup BIOS. This can be a life saver if you lose power during a BIOS update, which can leave you with a dead board.
The remainder of the BIOS's strengths lie in the MB Intelligent Tweaker screen, but you'll need to hit CTRL-F1 to access the more advanced features. Here, there are several avenues one can take when attempting to overclock the system. The first option is the no-brainer method for those not looking to spend a lot of time fine tuning system settings. Dubbed C.I.A.2, the system has five custom profiles that will adjust system performance in ever increasing degrees of intensity. In this scenario, the system overclocking dynamically adjusts, increasing in times of heavy demand and throttling back to normal when not needed. This is a useful option for the novice overclocker or the user looking for a simple boost once in a while.
For the overclocker looking for more control over system behavior, Gigabyte offers up several options. First, the CPU frequency adjustment offers an exceptionally broad range from 100MHz to 600MHz FSB. The PCI Express frequency was adjustable from 90MHz up to 130MHz. The Memory Frequency Divider offered a lot of options, ranging from 1.5, 2, 2.5, 2.66, 3, 3.33 and 4. The DDR Voltage was able to be raised from .1 through .6v in .1 increments, while PCI Express voltage increases ranged from .1-.3v. The CPU voltage was also adjustable in very fine increments. The scale ranged from .8275 through 1.6v in increments of .125v, offering very precise CPU voltage tuning.
The CAS memory timings ranged from 3, 4, 5 and 6 while RAS-to-CAS and Precharge went from 2-6 in increments of 1. Aditionally, Gigabyte offers M.I.B.2 which offers optimizations based on memory brand. Whether you have Micron, Hynix, Kingston, Samsung or other listed models, the BIOS will adjust performance accordingly.
|Next Up: Foxconn's 945P7AA-8EKRS2|
Foxconn's take on the 945P comes in the form of the 945P7AA-8EKRS2. This board comes with a similar feature set to the Gigabyte model, with a few more options. Centered around the 945P and ICH7R chipsets, the 945P7AA brings the same dual-core Pentium D support as well as supporting legacy LGA775 single-core Pentium processors. Essentially, the only processor not supported is the Pentium Extreme Edition dual core which has two Hyperthreaded cores on a single die. The 945P is not equipped to support dual core HT technology, with Intel reserving that solely to the 955 Chipset.
This model comes with a single PCI Express x16 slot, two PCI Express x1 slots and three standard PCI slots. Four DIMM slots support 4GBs of DDR2 at 533 and 667MHz. Four SATA II ports powered by the ICH7R Southbridge offer RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 and Matrix while an ITE8212 controller drives two ATA 133 IDE ports capable of RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and JBOD. There was also a single ATA 100 port and Floppy port as well.
For Ethernet, the 945P7AA sports dual Gigabit ready RJ-45 ports. Under each Ethernet port are two banks of USB 2.0 ports with headers on the board expanding the total to 8 ports. Coaxial SPDIF and FireWire ports reside under the LPT1 port while a COM1 and PS/2 group is situated at the left-most side of the rear cluster. There was an additional FireWire header on the board to add an additional FireWire port. Rounding out the package is the boards 8-channel audio supporting Intel's High Definition Audio.
Foxconn mounted passive cooling on both the Northbridge and Southbridge chips, although the mounting of the Northbridge cooler was a bit too loose for our taste. Overall, however, the design and layout of the board was clean with little spacing issues to report. We found the board's two fan headers less than desirable if adding cooling is planned. We also found the spacing around the CPU tight with capacitors, where we could easily bend a capacitor trying to remove the cooler.
|Foxconn's 945P7AA-8EKRS2 BIOS|
When it comes to naming features, Foxconn is big on the word "Super". There is SuperBoot, SuperBIOS-Protect, SuperRecovery and SuperSpeed. SuperBoot stores certain BIOS data after first POST, so subsequent POSTs are quicker, while SuperBIOS-Protect locks the BIOS so a Virus cannot find its way in, essentially killing the board. SuperRecovery is designed to protect hard drive data by storing backups in a hidden partition on another drive. Lastly, there is SuperSpeed, the system's overclocking menu options.
The SuperBoot did offer basic overclocking options, including Memory Frequency settings of 400, 533 and 667MHz. The FSB options were more realistic than the Gigabyte board, ranging from 200 to 265MHz. The CPU Voltage regulator offered a broad range of precision voltage options from +.0125 through 1.6v in .0125v increments. The Memory Voltage and System Core Voltage both offered three choices; +.03, +.06 and +.10v.
Something the Foxconn 945P7AA had that the Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G sorely lacked was memory timing options. Here we found CAS settings of 3, 4, 5 and 6 whereas the CAS to RAS delay and RAS Precharge ranged from 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
|HH Test System and SiSoft SANDRA|
We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. SANDRA consists of a set of informative diagnostic utilities that can provide a host of useful details about a system's hardware and operating system. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2005 suite (CPU, Multimedia, Cache, and Memory).
Doing a quick comparison between the two systems, we find that both performed at essentially the same level. The Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G was clocked slightly more aggressive in the BIOS, reporting a 2.81GHz speed vs 2.80GHz with the Foxconn 945P7AA-8EKRS2. This resulted in slightly better CPU Multimedia scores with the Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G. We were more curious with memory performance considering the Gigabyte board's limited options. Memory performance was also edged in favor of the GA-8I945P-G with a 201MHz FSB recorded compared to the Foxconn's 200MHz FSB. These are common variations we see regularly that are far from conclusive either way. We'll save our conclusions after we run our battery of tests and come up with a clearer overall picture of each product.
|Overclocking the 945Ps|
Overclocking Gigabyte's GA-8I945P-G:
We started our overclocking segment off with Gigabytes GA-8I945P-G.
Overall, we had no real issues overclocking our Pentium D 820 from 2.8GHz to an impressive 3.57GHz. We achieved this by running the FSB at 255MHz while dropping the memory divider to 2.0. Unfortunately, eventhough we've pushed this memory up to 672MHz with timings of 4-4-4-12 in previous articles, we had no luck here. The system even reset with CAS 4-4-4-12 timings running at 638MHz with a memory multiplier setting of 2.5. No other combination of memory ratio, voltage or timing settings helped us get past the 510MHz barrier. In the end, the CPU overclocking score was quite good but the memory's results were unimpressive. Certainly we can find a balance between CPU and Memory overclocking, but in the end, the CPU was more important.
Overclocking Foxconn's 945P7AA:
With the Foxconn 945P7AA-8EKRS2, the picture was in complete contrast to the Gigabyte board. Here we had no problem pushing our memory to 594MHz with room to go further. The limiting factor here was the FSB which simply would not go past 222MHz no matter what we tried. We've had shakey experiences with overclocking Foxconn boards in the past and we are still seeing less than stellar results. Even when we set memory and PCI frequencies below their specified limits, the system simply would not break past 222MHz FSB.
|Benchmarking with PCMark04|
"The CPU test suite is a collection of tests that are run to isolate the performance of the CPU. There are nine tests in all. Two pairs of tests are run multithreaded - each test in the pair is run in its own thread. The remaining five tests are run single threaded. These tests include such functions as file encryption, decryption, compression and decompression, grammar check, audio conversion, WMV and DivX video compression."
We really don't expect wide variations between the 945 series hardware, but based on BIOS configuration and other factors, variations will exist. In this case, the Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G managed the best overall CPU score with its slightly more aggressive stock settings. Here, the score eclipsed that of the Foxconn board by 32 points while the Intel reference board topped the Foxconn board by 17 points. Our Athlon 3200+ comparison system delivered scores roughly two thirds that of the 945 series.
"The Memory test suite is a collection of tests that isolate the performance of the memory subsystem. The memory subsystem consists of various devices on the PC. This includes the main memory, the CPU internal cache (known as the L1 cache) and the external cache (known as the L2 cache). As it is difficult to find applications that only stress the memory, we explicitly developed a set of tests geared for this purpose. The tests are written in C++ and assembly. They include: Reading data blocks from memory, Writing data blocks to memory performing copy operations on data blocks, random access to data items and latency testing."
Memory performance followed a similar trend, with the Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G taking the top spot again. This time the Foxconn and Intel board's tied at 4632, while the GA-8I945P-G added 20 points to that total. The Athlon 3200+ comparison system fell roughly 25% or 1000 points to the 945 series.
|Content Creation 2004 and World Bench Testing|
The Veritest Content Creation Winstone 2004 test utilizes the following applications in its benchmark routine. For more information about this test, see this page:
Interestingly, the synthetic tests did not support the real world testing trend with Content Creation 2004. Here we saw the Athlon 3200+ test bed take the best overall performance, while the Foxconn 945P7AA-8EKRS2 was the quickest 945 board by the slightest of margins. In essence, the 945's can be considered a tied for the most part.
PC World Magazine's WorldBench 5.0 is a new breed of Business and Professional application benchmark, poised to replace the aging and no-longer supported Winstone tests. WorldBench 5.0 consists of a number of performance modules that each utilize one, or a group of, popular applications to gauge performance. Below we have the results from WB 5's Photoshop 7 and Office XP modules, recorded in seconds. Lower times indicate better performance.
Once again, at least with the Photoshop Module, we see the Athlon 3200+ making a strong showing, beating out the 945's by roughly 33 seconds. As the Photoshop test has no multithreaded capabilities, the Pentium D 820 offered no real advantage over the Athlon system.
With Office XP SP2 testing, all four test beds were right in line with each other. Technically, the Intel reference system was the best performer while the Foxconn and Gigabyte boards fell to the Athlon 3200+. But when we really break it down, we are talking about differences of 6 seconds between the fastest and slowest tested boards, an almost negligible difference overall.
|WME 9 and LAME MP3 Testing|
We continued our testing of the with a video encoding benchmark based on Windows Media Encoder 9. In this test, we ran the Windows Media Encoder 9 portion of the WorldBench 5 suite with encoding times were recorded in seconds. Lower times indicate better performance.
The picture we saw with the first two WorldBench modules changed with the Windows Media Encoder test, which has multithreaded facets to the test. Here the 945's all competed closely, with the Foxconn board delivering the best score followed by the Intel reference model and then the Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G. In this test, the Athlon 3200+ was lapped by no less than 83 seconds.
In our custom Lame MP3 encoding test, we convert a large digital audio file to the MP3 format, which is a very popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis, to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content. In this test, we chose a large 223MB WAV file (a never-ending Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format. Processing times are recorded below. Shorter times equate to better performance.
With MP3 encoding, we saw the Athlon 3200+ gain ground again, offering the only score under two minutes. With the three 945 systems, the Gigabyte GA-8I945PP-G completed the test the fastest, followed by the Foxconn 945P7AA-8EKRS2 and the Intel 945G. Again, the 945s were tightly grouped, with a mere 2 second variation between the fastest and slowest results.
|Benchmarking with Kribibench v1.1|
Next up, we ran the Kribibench rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development. Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer. A 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU, and the average frame rate is reported. We used two of the included models with this benchmark: an "Exploded Sponge" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and then its enormous "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polygons.
The Kribi engine is based on 100% software rendering for a scene, which makes it a perfect CPU benchmark. It also makes heavy use of SSE instructions, Symmetric Multi-Processing and is multi-threaded.
With the Sponge Explode Model, the Gigabyte and Foxconn boards were neck-in-neck, while the Intel reference board was a third of an FPS quicker overall. The Athlon 3200+ was a full 1 FPS behind the 945Ps. With the Ultra Model, the Athlon 3200+ still lagged, averaging roughly 50% of what the 945 series were capable of. Once again, the Intel 945G was the best performer, but the two 945Ps were tied, while narrowing the 945G's lead to hundredths of a frame.
|Performance Tests with Cinebench 2003 and 3DMark05|
The Cinebench 2003 benchmark is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on the commercially available Cinema 4D application. This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The time it took each test system to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below (listed in seconds).
When assessing single-threaded testing, the Athlon 3200+ test bed managed to beat the faster Pentium 820 D platforms. This lead was short lived once we weigh in with multi-threaded testing, as the Athlon 3200+ is not capable of completing that task. Here we see all three 945 based systems running closely in both single and multi-threaded testing, with the Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G having a fractional advantage in both tests. Note how the benefits of dual-cores helps to virtually halve the time it takes to complete the testing sequence.
With 3DMark05's CPU module, all three 945 based test beds were close in performance, with the Intel D945GTPLR delivering the highest results. The Gigabyte board came is second positions with the Foxconn a close third. As 3DMark05's CPU module has some multi-threaded software characteristics, the Athlon 3200+ was over 1100 points slower on average, unable to complete all of tasks the Pentium 820 D could.
|Gaming Tests with Unreal Tournament 2004 and Doom 3|
Next, we assessed the gaming side of things, performing some low-resolution benchmarking with Unreal Tournament 2004. We used a "Low-Quality" game setting which allows us to isolate CPU and memory performance with little burden on the graphics subsystem.
As you can see, the Athlon 3200+ can easily take on the faster Pentium 820 D with regards gaming. The 945's all trailed the Athlon 3200+ test bed by 20 FPS. Regardless, all systems easily exceeded triple-digit frame rates, which is well above acceptable limits in all cases.
With Doom3, we also loaded a low quality video setting and ran our timedemo used for multiplayer testing in video card reviews.
Once again, the Athlon 3200+ was the top performer, but the 945 systems were also well up to the task. Like UT2004, the Pentium D 820 still trailed the Clawhammer by roughly 20 FPS. This demonstrates that gaming is still a major strength of the Athlon line, even with a processor that has been around for several years.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
Performance Summary: On average, the Foxconn 945P7AA and Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G were very competitive on a performance level. In every instance, the variance in scores were extremely close, with no one board having a clear advantage over the other. With several of the single-threaded tests, such as gaming, MP3 encoding and Office Application testing, the older Athlon 3200+ Clawhammer-based CPU was the better performer. However, once we factored in the multi-threaded testing, the Pentium D 820 and 945 chipset showed the real advantages of dual-core processing.
With dual-core processors ushering in the next evolution in personal computing, we expect to see an increase in the number of related products from both Intel and AMD. The benefits of two cores is becoming clearer and clearer as the new technology continues to permeate the market. The benefits not only allow users to tap the potential of multi-threaded applications, but there are multitasking benefits as well as two single-threaded applications can utilize their own cores at any given time.
Both Foxconn and Gigabyte bring viable options to the table for those looking to upgrade to a Pentium D processor. The Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G brings a solid feature set and decent overclocking potential but it doesn't have all of the features offered by the Foxconn board, like Firewire or SuperRecovery for example. We did have a relatively weak overclocking experience with the memory, but CPU overclocking was very good.
The Foxconn 945P7AA-8EKRS2 brings more features to the table, including FireWire support, but is hindered somewhat by its limited overclocking potential. This is something that has been the norm for most of the motherboards we've reviewed from Foxconn. Overclocking has historically not been a strong point, or focus, for Foxconn, although their products have improved steadily over time. Nonetheless, aside from a loose fitting heatsink on the Northbridge, the build quality seemed good and the BIOS was adequate for performance tweaking and light overclocking.
In summary, if overclocking is not a major factor, the Foxconn 945P7AA-8EKRS2 is a great choice, with its well balanced feature set and solid stock performance. With an MSRP of $150 (street prices should be lower), we think it's a good value, especially if FireWire is important to you.
However, if overclocking is more important to you than FireWire support, the Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G board has a solid feature set as well, and currently sells at a more palatable $125. The Gigabyte GA-8I945P also proved to be more adept at overclocking, and had an extensive selection or related options in its system BIOS. In the end, for our audience we feel the GA-8I945P-G should get the nod.
We Give the Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G a Hot Hardware Heat Meter Rating of a 8.5
We Give the Foxconn 945P7AA-8EKRS2 a Hot Hardware Heat Meter Rating of an 8