We came away
with very good first impressions, when opening the box and
removing the GA-8S648FX motherboard. First, the
board is color coordinated, from the plastic used for the
ports and sockets to the pins used for the front panel.
Gigabyte was one of the first manufacturers to start color
coding these pins, and it helps prevent confusion when
setting up the board. The bright orange CPU bracket
and lime green AGP and IDE ports stand out against the
teal PCB, which Gigabyte has become accustomed to using.
Light blue is used for all three DIMM slots, as there is
no need to have the two tone slots that we have gotten
used to with the dual-DDR channel boards. Each of
the corners is rounded off, which is a small touch that
DIY builders can really appreciate, especially after
getting jabbed by a sharp corner one too many times.
As for the
layout of the components, we didn't have too much to
mention, at least not without beginning to sound like a
broken record. For example, yet once again, the AGP
slot and DIMM slots are placed too close together.
In fact, this may be the closest we have seen these two in
some time. Take a peek at the picture of the lower
left of the board and you can see the DIMM retention clips
almost touching the AGP slot. Now that's close!
There was also a small capacitor to the left of the AGP
pull clip and a medium one on the right. That
results in having to squeeze your thumb and finger right
between the two to pull out the plug to release the AGP
card. Unless there is a strict need for these to be
placed here, Gigabyte should look into better placement
for these capacitors. Other than these two issues,
the IDE and ATX connections were placed in good positions,
along the edge of the board and away from other
components. The floppy port was placed further down
the board, just past the last PCI slot, which may cause an
issue with larger cases. It was placed perpendicular
to the front of the case, however, which will prevent the
cable from hindering airflow around the case.
One of the
first things we noticed when we looked over the components
was not so much what we saw on the board, but rather what
was missing. We quickly found the Realtek ALC650
Codec chip used for the on-board audio, a common chip
found on many modern motherboards. Just to the left,
however, was a label where a Realtek LAN chip could or
would have been. To save on some of the costs of
manufacturing, Gigabyte opted to leave on-board LAN off of
the list of provided options. There also aren't any
additional IDE or SATA ports for connecting additional
drives, leaving only the IDE1 and IDE2 ports for any and
all drives one plans to install. Obviously, this
also rules out using RAID configurations of any kind.
One last omission, and one that we would constantly grieve
over while testing, was the apparent removal of the pins
needed to quickly clear the CMOS. Again, the label
is there, but, inexplicably, the pins are not. We
are at a loss as to why these would not be present, as a
few pins clearly would not add or detract from the cost of
making the board.
follows the same theory as the board. There's just
enough to get the system running with few extras.
There is a quick installation guide for a visual reference
when building the system along with the user's manual,
driver/utility CD, and a handy little sticker with the
motherboard layout for those of us who often misplace the
manual. So far, so good. Delving deeper into
the box, we only found an IDE cable, a floppy cable, and a
bracket with two additional two USB 2.0 ports bringing the
total out of the box to four. Notice we didn't
mention an I/O shield. That's because there wasn't
any in the box, and no, this wasn't a mistake.
Looking over the checklist within the manual, one can
readily see that this item is simply not on the "provided"
list. Another oddity, as it means that you would
have to somehow have a plate that exactly matched the
configuration of the external connections of the board.
Needless to say, we didn't, and left the back of the
system open while testing.
We booted up
the system for the first time, hit the 'Delete' key, and
felt right at home with the AWARD BIOS. We quickly
enabled and disabled various components and went to
optimize the RAM timings, when we realized that there
weren't any. Actually, that's not the whole truth.
They were there, but Gigabyte's policy is to "hide" them,
requiring the user to hit CTRL-F1 in order for the
Advanced Chipset Features to appear. We found that
our GEIL DDR433 RAM was detected BY SPD as DDR400 with
some relaxed timings. We left these settings for the
time being, but set the system performance to 'Enabled'
from the main menu. Unfortunately for us, this
resulted in the system being unable to boot (just like the
BIOS warning had said might happen, isn't that a hoot).
We rebooted the system a few times, but were unable to get
back into the BIOS. We went to clear the settings,
but alas, no pins to short. So we removed the
battery, waited a few seconds and placed it back in, then
fired the system up again.
Back in the
BIOS, we reconfigured all of our previous settings, and
left system performance to default. This time we got
past the POST and finished the initial system setup.
Everything behaving as it should, we went back into the
BIOS to tweak those memory settings they way we usually
do. We manually set the RAM to DDR400 with 2-5-2-2
for the timings. No boot. OK, back to removing
the battery, resetting the BIOS, etc. This time we
tried going halfway, maybe 2.5--5-3-3, but this was a
no-go as well. Back to the routine once again.
Needless to say, this was most frustrating, especially
when we finally came to the realization that ANY change to
the memory timings would cause the system not to boot.
We searched around the labs and tried throwing in one
stick of 512MB Corsair PC3500 and two 256MB sticks of
Kingston HyperX PC3500, and they all performed the same.
Faced with this situation, we had no other choice but to
run our benchmarks with the RAM set to 3-6-3-3, and system
performance left at its default setting. Gigabyte
would do well to take another look at this situation with
a BIOS revision, but a lot of time could have been saved
had the Clear CMOS pins been present.
Umm...Houston...we appear to have a problem
We would like
to tell you that we had a good experience when
overclocking this board, but we can't. To expand
this further, we couldn't overclock this board at all.
While we expected that overclocking was going to be
limited, due to the lack of available voltage settings, we
were thoroughly perplexed to find out that changing the
front side bus to anything above 204MHz, resulted in the
system not even being able to boot. Which led to us
needing to clear the CMOS. Which led to us removing
the battery. Which led to us getting frustrated.
You get the picture. In our experience, SiS based
boards just don't do well in this department, so
overclockers should probably look elsewhere.