915P Chipset Roundup: ABIT AG8, ASUS P5GD2 Premium, and Foxconn 915A01-P
ASUS' P5GD2 Premium Closeup
The back panel of ASUS' P5GD2 Premium gives some indication that there's something special going on with this board. There are, of course, standard components such as the PS/2 connectors, a single parallel port, four USB 2.0 ports, and one IEEE 1394a interface. However, some of the P5GD2's more advanced features back there include optical and coaxial audio output, an RJ-45 plug that communicates through a PCI Express Gigabit chip, six 1/8-inch mini-plugs for eight-channel analog output, and a threaded antenna jack, which accepts the bundled antenna for wireless reception and broadcasting.
Rather than use a fan and air ducting to cool its power circuitry (a la ABIT IC7-MAX3), ASUS tops its toasty power parts with a copper assembly that sports a tight array of fins secured through two push-pins. Though not nearly advanced, ASUS' solution does seem like the most elegant answer and isn't susceptible to mechanical failure, as fans often are. As with ABIT's AG8, the P5GD2 leaves plenty of room for installing and removing Intel's reference heatsink design, in addition to some of the larger LGA-775 coolers. And keeping with its silent cooling motif, both the 915P and ICH6 hub components are passively cooled. The bottom of the board also bears the product of ASUS' engineering in its Stack Cool technology. ASUS claims that the second PCB mounted below the processor is able to conduct up to 10 degrees away from the board itself.
ASUS implements the 915P chipset to its full potential by incorporating support for DDR2 memory at up to 533MHz. The company's Web site even claims that the P5GD2 Premium officially supports DDR2 at 600MHz, along with tighter chipset timings. Each of the four 240-pin memory slots accepts up to 1GB, for a total of 4GB. Although the memory bus at 533MHz transfers up to 8.5GBps of information, the processor's frontside bus is still limited to 800MHz (6.4GBps). Thus, there isn't a significant performance difference between the faster DDR2 modules and the standard DDR modules featured on ABIT's AG8. Unfortunately, our only problem with the P5GD2 Premium cropped up when we tried to use the board with Corsair's DDR2 667MHz memory modules. The combination simply wouldn't boot and was allayed by replacing the Corsair modules with some standard Micron DIMMs.
The P5GD2 Premium's feature set is by far its most distinguishing attribute. While Intel's ICH6-R enables four channels of Serial ATA with RAID capabilities, ASUS contributes Silicon Image's 3114 controller, adding four more RAID-capable channels and an ITE 8212F parallel ATA RAID controller on top of that, supporting four more IDE devices. Then, there's Intel's High Definition 7.1-channel audio solution (192kHz, 24-bit resolution), complemented by Dolby Digital Live, enabled through the CMI9880 codec. You'll need to output the encoded stream to an appropriate DD or DTS decoder to get the full surround experience, though. There are two onboard Gigabit Ethernet chips, one being Marvell's 88E8001 PCI controller and the other being Marvell's 88E8053 PCI Express controller. Finally, while there's one IEEE 1394a port on the board's pack plate, headers on the P5GD2 enable two IEEE 1394b ports, each capable of transferring at up to 800Mbps through TI's TSB81BA3 transceiver/arbiter.
Perhaps the most visually prominent feature of the P5GD2 Premium is the small, shiny square shown in the picture above. That enclosure actually houses Marvell's 88W8000G RF transceiver, one part of a two-component wireless chipset. The other part, Marvell's 88W8310 provides the MAC functions, including DSSS and OFDM. Marvell advertises that the chipset supports WEP and the draft-standard of 802.11i. WEP isn't necessarily the best security feature since it's already been circumvented; however because the chipset boasts 802.11i support, it would presumably also feature WPA. Compatibility with 802.11g and the implied backwards compatibility with 802.11b make the chipset a good match to the P5GD2; it's fast, secure, and powerful enough to work with future wireless technologies.
Board layout on the P5GD2 Premium is remarkably clean, especially considering the number of features that ASUS manages to integrate. There's even enough space between the PCI Express x16 slot and the first PCI slot to install a dual-slot graphics card without obstructing any of the available expansion slots. The least accessible connectors are those affiliated with the Silicon Image SATA controller. Fortunately, SATA cables can be up to a meter in length. The only other layout snafu would be the auxiliary power connector, which is in the board's uppermost corner.