i845PE Motherboard Shootout

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i845PE Motherboard Shootout - Page 3

The I845PE Motherboard Shootout
Clash of the Titans!

By Robert Maloney
December 11,  2002

   

Last, but not least, we took a look at the Gigabyte 8PE667 Ultra.  Where the Abit BE7 could be thought of as a bit bland, the Gigabyte 8PE667 was the exact opposite.  In fact, it could be one of the most colorful boards we have seen to date.  Backed by a blue PCB, with just about every port colored in its own color scheme.

Quality and Setup of the Gigabyte 8PE667 Ultra
This board won't give you the blues

Breaking convention, the two RAID IDE ports were neon green, and the nearby USB 2.0 headers were yellow.  The PCI and CNR slots looked normal, but the AGP slot was a bright purple, with a unique kind of retention system.  Instead of a locking mechanism using a clip, there is a sliding bar that worked like a charm, locking the AGP card firmly into the slot.  The three DIMM slots were colored in a light blue, and the two standard ATA ports were also colored, the primary IDE channel in red and the secondary channel in white.  In fact, in a great move towards making setting up a system even easier, the front panel header was also color coded.  This made it much easier to determine which pins the cables were to be connected to.

                      

As with the Abit BE7, on board audio is supplied by a Realtek ALC650 CODEC chip, offering 6 channel audio with S/PDIF output options.  Included in the box was a bracket with the additional jacks needed to hook up the extra speakers.  To make another comparison, the RAID functions are provided by the same Promise 20276 RAID controller that we found on the MSI board, which supports up to four ATA100/133 drives in RAID 0/1/0+1 configurations.  Combined with the standard ATA100 IDE ports, the board can support up to eight separate drives.  LAN duties are handled by an Intel Pro 100 VE controller supporting 10/100 Mbps Ethernet connections.

              

The I/O connections consisted of two PS/2 ports for the mouse and keyboard, two USB 2.0 ports and a LAN jack, two serial and one parallel ports, a game port and three audio connections.  Behind these connectors was the power array, with the 12V ATX power connection nestled in with the capacitors and MOSFETs.  This placement was not preferred as it meant running the cable from the power supply unit directly over the top of the CPU and heatsink.  The other 20-pin ATX connection was in a much better position, up in the corner by the floppy connector, away from the other components.  Again, the position of capacitors, and in this case, the heatsink on the Northbridge prevented us from installing larger heatsinks.  The cooler on the Northbridge was a custom model made for Gigabyte that we feel and added to the overall look of the board.

One other note of interest was the inclusion of a separate NEC USB 2.0 chip.  The i845PE chipset already supports up to 6 USB 2.0 ports, utilizing the two ports on the board, and the four found on the extra bracket.  The NEC chip added an additional four ports bringing the total to 10 ports, enough for connecting to a whole slew of devices.  This would, of course, require the purchase of an additional bracket.  We would have preferred to see FireWire connections, however, instead of the extra USB ports.

THE BUNDLE:

         

The bundle was very complete, with all sorts of manuals and brackets.  There was a standard user's manual as well as a manual devoted to the RAID setup.  A large, full color map made identifying components a snap.  We also found a cool decal which can be attached to the inside of the case for easy reference.  This means no fumbling around for the manual months later when upgrading.  This is something we really would like to see included in the future by other manufacturers.  Mentioned earlier, there were two brackets.  One supplied four extra USB 2.0 ports while the other was used for extra speaker connections, as well as digital output.  Rounding out the bundle were IDE and floppy cables, with the 80-pin IDE cable colored yellow (I would have said to match the yellow RAID ports, but they were green on this board), a drivers CD, and a case badge were also included..

THE BIOS AND OVERCLOCKING:

The BIOS came from AWARD, and at first it seemed that we were missing any kind of AGP or RAM settings that would be used to improve performance.  Noticeably absent from the Main menu was the Advanced Features section.  We went into the Advanced BIOS and Integrated Peripherals sections of the BIOS and found a slew of options for enabling or disabling practically every I/O device on the board.  Going down the list, we finally reached an item simply titled, "Top Performance".  The manual's explanation for this entry was, "if you wish to maximize the performance of your system, set this to Enabled."  Well, we of course set this to Enabled since we wouldn't want anything but top performance, right?  We ran our benchmarks with this kind of setup, believing that these were all of the tweaks we could use.  Truth was, the original set of scores fell short of our expectations. 

         

         

In the course of writing up this review, however, we found something a little strange.  Almost hidden in the manual, and not mentioned anywhere else that we could find, was a command to enable the Advanced Features in the BIOS.  After getting into the BIOS, the user must then hit CTRL-F1 to allow the modification of the DRAM timings and AGP settings.  It was unclear to us why these options would need to be hidden from the user, or not have this command listed on the main menu itself.  Needless to say, it was back to the testing grounds with the "improved" system.  All of the scores in the following tests are shown with this new setup.  Overclocking with the 8PE667 went very well.  This board, like the others offers the ability to lock the AGP/PCI speed.  It also gives users the ability to alter the VCore, AGP and DDR voltages.  When all was said and done, we were able to hit a stable top FSB speed of 168MHz, which equates to 2856MHz.

Benchmarking the systems

Tags:  Motherboard, shoot, board, SHO, Tout, tou, AR

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