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SuperMicro P4STA motherboard

March 1, 2001



Right after release of the Intel Pentium 4 and the i850 chipset no every famous mobo manufacturer announced their series of boards on this chipset at once. Misfortune with the previous platforms for RDRAM and high cost of the board itself undoubtedly restrain spreading of the new technology. Especially considering that an increased complexity of the chipset and high frequencies of the system operation make difficulties for production and independent development of motherboards.

But since we understand now that the latest processor from Intel (or rather the well balanced chipset) is quite successful, the i850 can be found in the road maps of many motherboard manufacturers. We have already considered ASUS and GigaByte products and they have made rather good impression on us.

We will hardly see some unusual solutions on the i850. Today their features are rather decent - there are only 5 PCI slots, no IDE RAID and other peculiar features of the modern boards on the i815 and the Apollo Pro 133A.

Right after the ASUS P4T and GigaByte 8TX we have tested the Intel i850 based card for the CPU Intel Pentium 4 from SuperMicro - the P4STA.

Specification

P4STA (big picture, 54K)
  • Processor
    • Intel Pentium 4 for Socket-423, 1.3-1.5 GHz and higher
    • 400 MHz FSB
  • System memory
    • two channels, the total data rate up to 3.2 GBytes/s
    • 4 RIMM slots (184 pins)
    • PC600/PC800 RDRAM support
    • up to 2 GBytes memory
    • ECC support
  • Intel 850 chipset
    • Intel 82850 Memory Controller Hub
    • Intel 82801 I/O Controller Hub 2
    • Intel 82802AB Firmware Hub
  • Expansion slots
    • 1 AGP Pro (1.5 V)/AGP 4x slot
    • 5 PCI slots
    • 1 CNR connector
  • BIOS
    • 4 MBytes Award Medallion BIOS v6.00PG
    • APM 1.2, DMI 2.3, PCI 2.2, ACPI 1.1, PnP support
    • Microsoft OnNow
    • Hardware BIOS virus protection
    • WOL/WOR support
  • PC Health Monitoring
    • 7 voltages control
    • 3 fans' speed control
    • board and CPU temperature control
  • I/O ports
    • Bus Master IDE controller, 2 channels, Ultra ATA33/66/100 protocols, up to 4 devices
    • 1 FDD port
    • two serial ports (up to 1 Mbit/s, with IrDA support)
    • one parallel port (SPP/EPP/ECP)
    • ports for PS/2 mouse and keyboard
    • two integrated USB ports
    • one additional USB port on the front panel
    • one additional USB port on the CNR connector
    • AC97 sound
  • Integrated IDE controller
    • 2 IDE channels with ATA33/66/100 support (up to 4 ATAPI-devices)
  • Form-factor, power supply
    • standard ATX 30.5 X 24.4 cm (12" X 9.6")
    • power supply - SSI 24-pin or standard ATX 20-pin + additional 12 V power via 4-pin connector

Installation and testing

The standard (for SuperMicro) big blue box contains: the SuperMicro P4STA motherboard, a set for installation of the CPU's heatsink, one UltraATA100 cable, one FDD cable, two modules - brackets for RIMM slots, the description, a CD with drivers and a cable for one additional USB port.

Since the board is of a usual ATX format, its installation didn't cause much trouble. The Socket-423 is very similar to a usual FCPGA differing only in a larger number of pins. There is a small difference in installation of the CPU's heatsink - it's mounted not on the socket but near it.

iP4 cooler rm

Unlike ASUS, SuperMicro didn't provide the board with a special device for installation in a usual ATX case. The set includes heatsink's mounts only on the motherboard or on the ATX 2.03 case. That's why with the ATX case of old specification you can use the board but you should transport it only in horizontal position. Otherwise, you can severely damage the board.

Jumpers are only for RDRAM frequency to choose (auto, 300 MHz, 400 MHz) and disabling of the integrated sound.

Besides, I should notice a large heatsink on the chipset, a possibility of installation of full sized boards in all expansion slots. The IDE/FDD and power supply connectors are located competently (except an additional 4-pin one - it's located on the edge of the board near the keyboard connector), their cables do not hamper an access to the processor and memory. In this case a good layout of the board is a sequent of original Intel's design.

The AGP Pro slot allows using all variants of AGP video adapters (except very old AGP x1/x2 ones intended for the 3.3V bus). Integrated AC'97 sound and CNR connector do not perfectly suit an image of the high efficient PC, but the manufacturer seems to use all possibilities of the chipset, especially considering that it's not very expensive. Though I think that it would be more interesting to realize the network/HomePNA controller in the 82801BA (ICH2) chip.

It's possible to control CPU and motherboard temperatures. The Winbond W83627HF-AW chip accounts for it. Besides, they provide control for three fans' rotation speeds, as well as enabling of a special overheat fan that comes into work with the temp increase. The soft support of the latter possibility is, unfortunately, absent.

p4stapower.JPG (3663 bytes)

The board is supplied with a new SSI 24-pin power supply connector. But it's back compatible with a usual ATX, that's why there mustn't be any difficulties. The additional cables are of the same 3.3, 5 and 12 V. The systems with the Pentium 4 require powerful and high quality power supply units. The SSI connector allows using either a new unit with a such connector or a usual ATX one with an additional 4-pin cable.

SuperMicro uses the Ami BIOS in the majority of their boards, but in this case they chose the AWARD, despite the fact that Ami has a version for the Intel Pentium 4 as well. The overclocking possibilities are absent except for changing of a CPU multiplier (which is usually locked).

Another interesting feature is that the BIOS has the AWDFLASH utility. Since a PC has to loaded in DOS mode for this utility to enable and there are not many such PCs left, the utility was installed right in the BIOS. When pressing a combination of keys while the PC is loading the utility gets unpacked and starts. All you need is to put a diskette with the new BIOS in the FDD.

The SuperMicro products were always reliable and high quality. The P4STA board isn't an exception and performed very well in the tests.

Performance

You will hardly find a great variety of the i850 based boards that's why the P4STA performance was compared only with the ASUS P4T board.

Test system:

  • Motherboard SuperMicro P4STA
  • Motherboard ASUS P4T
  • CPU Intel Pentium 4 1.5 GHz
  • 2 x RDRAM BUFFALO 128 MBytes PC800 ECC
  • HDD IBM DTLA 307020, 20 GBytes, 7200 rpm
  • Video card ASUS V7700 GeForce2 Pro (6.67 version driver)

Software:

  • Microsoft Windows ME
  • BapCo & Mad Onion SysMark 2000 Office Productivity v1.0 patch 4B
  • BapCo & Mad Onion SysMark 2000 Internet Content Creation v1.0 patch 4B
  • idSoftware Quake III Arena v1.17 demo001.dm3
p4stasmop.GIF (13822 bytes)
p4stasmicc.GIF (11348 bytes)
p4staq3.GIF (13033 bytes)

As you can see, the boards' speeds are very similar. It was expected due to equal chipsets and the BIOS from the same manufacturer. The both top manufacturers used all possibilities of the i850 chipset. A choice among them will be base on personal preference, an appearance and configuration.

Conclusion

On the one hand, the SuperMicro P4STA board is a usual board for the CPU Intel Pentium 4, and on the other hand high performance due to the i850 and high reliability provided by SuperMicro can be attractive in case the most modern solutions are required. That's why it has a chance to take the appropriate place in the not very rich market of the i850 based boards. I can hardly mark out some definite advantages and downsides (except the price of course) - an ordinary card (for the fastest CPU Intel, though) which is still capable of fighting against the ASUS as equals.

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