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Albatron PX915P-2V — a Motherboard on Intel 915P Chipset

March 23, 2006



  • Intel 915P chipset (i915P northbridge and ICH6 southbridge)

We come across motherboards with two PCIEx16 graphics slots more and more often of late. At first, these were models supporting SLI from NVIDIA, then there appeared a counterpart from ATI - CrossFire. Among other things, these two technologies shared one common peculiarity: as a rule, they were implemented on top motherboards, rarely on Middle-End models, thus they were available only to those users who could afford these expensive solutions. But we have recently published a review of an EPoX motherboard with sterling SLI support, but designed for the budget AMD socket (Socket 754). Today we are going to review a peculiar product from Albatron, which can boast of neither a latest chipset nor additional functionality or good bundle. It makes Albatron PX915P-2V much cheaper than top models. A single advantage of this motherboard lies in SLI support. Thus, in our opinion, this product has a limited target audience. But it will do for a system with two inexpensive video cards. After all, without SLI support it's a regular budget motherboard. In this case, the second PCIEx16 slot comes free of charge.




Minimum functionality of this model has a positive effect not only on its price, but also on its PCB layout. The master graphics slot is rather far from the northbridge heatsink and the second PCIEx16 slot (not to hamper installation of video cards with a bulky cooling system from any side of a card). It will not interfere with memory handling either. Albatron PX915P-2V has an interesting set of expansion slots: in order to organize SLI on the i915 chipset (as in case of i925/945/955), the second graphics interface recruits all four PCI Express lanes of the southbridge; so this motherboard lacks PCIEx1/x4 expansion slots and peripheral controllers, connected to this bus (but you can install a PCI-E expansion card into the second PCIEx16 slot). At least according to our analysis, this organization has no effect on ATI CrossFire performance. What is worse - the motherboard has only two PCI slots and one of them may be blocked by a cooling system of the second video card (however, Low-End SLI-ready cards usually have rather narrow coolers). On-board power is indicated by a LED. You are not recommended to install or remove any system components, when this LED is on. Access to the only jumper you need in work is not hampered even when the motherboard is installed in a PC case. Brief description of its functionality is published on the PCB (the other two jumpers are placed inconveniently, but you will use them only once, when you assemble your system).

The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates 2 field-effect transistors per channel, six 2200 uF capacitors, three 1500 uF and two 1000 uF ones. The board is also equipped with a memory voltage regulator (seven 1000 uF capacitors reinforced with L elements.) Critical circuits mostly use electrolytic capacitors from respected United Chemi-Con (KZG series) and from an unknown manufacturer. As there are not so many i915-based motherboards with SLI support, design of this motherboard is absolutely different from the other Albatron models (however, the company hasn't offered many new models of late). Nevertheless, the company manufactures another model (PX915-DV) with similar layout (also supporting SLI) based on the i915PL chipset - that's why it has only two DIMM slots and is narrower. But these models have been designed individually, so they have no empty seats. Motherboard dimensions — 295x245 mm (narrow ATX, nine-screw mount, all motherboard edges are firmly fixed). Albatron engineers managed to distinguish this ordinary budget model by adding a cap to the processor socket lever. It's hard to imagine a user who might have problems with locking the socket, as it requires only minimal effort. But now it's much more difficult to raise the lever, you cannot do without nails. What a useful innovation.

System monitoring (Winbond W83627THF, according to BIOS Setup):

  • Processor and battery voltage, +3.3 V, +5 V, ±12 V, and +5 V Standby
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • Smart Fan for automatic control of CPU fan speed depending on processor temperature: you can specify desirable temperature (when this threshold is exceeded, the fan speeds up stepwise, even to maximum rotational speed if necessary) and an admissible deviation (when no action is taken; it serves to avoid a cycle of constant speed change).

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket 775, there was no official information about supported processors at the time this article was being written, but we can assume that it will support Celeron D (up to 350/351) and Pentium 4 (up to 570 and 660), like most other Albatron models (on i915P))
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 4 GB DDR2-400/533 without ECC; Supports dual channel mode, the total memory capacity in both channels must be the same — for example, 256/256 or 256+256/512)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 (the second one always operates in x4 mode, it's intended for a slave video accelerator in SLI mode or any PCI-E expansion card)
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can connect a regular 20-pin connector, but in this case it's not recommended to use powerful up-to-date componentry like top PCIE video cards without on-board power connectors) and 4-pin ATX12V for a processor
  • 1 x FDD
  • IDE (Parallel ATA) for two ATA33/66/100 devices — chipset-based
  • 4 x chipset-based SATA (Serial ATA) for four SATA150 devices
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 4 additional USB (2.0) ports
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • S/PDIF-In/Out to input/output digital audio (a rear panel bracket with connectors is not included into the bundle)
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • Connector for Game/MIDI port on a bracket
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • Connector for a special ABS card (Albatron BIOS Security), which contains a backup BIOS chip to restore damaged BIOS in the main chip (ABS card is not included into the bundle)
  • 3 x fan headers (all of them offer rpm control, processor fan header also provides automatic speed control).

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)





Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x LPT, 1 x COM
  • 2 x USB
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Fast Ethernet)
  • 3 x Analog Audio (Line-in, Line-out, Mic-in).

Package Contents




  • Package: box of standard dimensions
  • Documentation: a very brief manual (it touches upon assemblage rather than motherboard installation proper)
  • Cables: 2 x SATA, 1 x ATA66, and 1 x FDD
  • Rear I/O shield
  • 3(!) irrationally filled CDs (probably in order to unify a set of CDs): one of them contains several [full] user's manuals to the latest motherboards from this company in PDF format, the second contains drivers for this chipset series, and the third can boast of Acrobat Reader, PC-cillin antivirus, and three more proprietary programs. The first one, Dr.Speed, is a standard utility for overclocking and system monitoring under Windows; the second, DriveClone, is a functionally unassuming utility, which allows to create images of HDD partitions and restore/clone them; and finally the third one, RestoreIT, is an alternative to System Restore in the latest Windows versions, it works in real time and thus it can immediately roll back any HDD operations.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on AC’97 codec Realtek (Avance Logic) ALC655 supporting 5.1-channel audio, front line-ins/outs and S/PDIF-In/Out
  • Network, based on the Realtek RTL8100C chip, supporting 10/100 Mbit/s (Fast Ethernet).

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16bit, 44 kHz using the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.5 test application and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
+0,21, -0,39
Good
Noise level, dB (A):
-63,5
Bad
Dynamic range, dB (A):
63.6
Bad
THD, %:
0.033
Good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
0.160
Average
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-64,1
Average
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.264
Average

General performance: Average (details). Such modest results probably have to do with poor location of the ALC655 chip on the PCB (in the very corner, quite far from analog audio outputs), as installing the latest drivers from the codec web site and from Albatron web site changed nothing.

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
Two jumpers to select USB and PS/2 voltages +5 V or +5 V Standby
In AwardBIOS v6.00PG from Phoenix Allows to disable specific CPU functions + Hyper-Threading, Internal Thermal Control
Memory timings + By SPD, CAS Latency Time, DRAM RAS# to CAS# Delay, DRAM RAS# Precharge, Precharge Delay (tRAS)
Memory frequency selection + Auto, 400, 533 MHz
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCIE: Auto (increase proportionally to the FSB frequency) or set it to 100 MHz
PCI: Auto (increase proportionally to the FSB frequency), 33.0, 37.7, 44.0 MHz
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + from nominal to 333 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier -  
CPU core voltage control + Default, +0.05, +0.10, +0.15 V
Memory voltage control + Default, +0.05, +0.10, +0.15 V
Chipset voltage control + Default, +0.05, +0.10, +0.15 V

We used BIOS v1.02, the latest available BIOS version at the time of our tests. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Pentium 4 660 (3.6 GHz)
  • Memory: 2 x 512 MB Corsair CM2X512-5400C4 (we used this memory with 3-3-3-8 timings in DDR2-533 mode)
  • Video card: ATI Radeon X800 XT, 256 MB DDR
  • HDD: Samsung SP1213C (SATA), 7200 rpm
  • AC power adapter: FSP Blue Storm 500
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

As motherboards on i915 chipsets are on the decrease in our testlab, it's hard to choose representatives of this chipset, tested by the same test procedure. That's why we decided to compare the results of Albatron PX915P-2V performance tests with the results demonstrated by the PCChips motherboard on Intel 915GV. The table below clearly demonstrates that the latter motherboard is a tad slower than the PX915P-2V in all tests. But the difference is small, so these two models are approximately on a par in performance. It means that Albatron PX915P-2V is also quite a slow model, outperformed by the best representatives of the chipset by up to 10%.

Test Albatron PX915-2V PCChips M985G
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 7:22 7:25
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 5:11 5:15
MPEG4 (DivX) encoding, min:sec 4:02 4:03
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480), fps 66.0 65.2
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Medium@800x600), fps 62.1 58.5

Conclusions

Albatron PX915P-2V is a budget model with a corresponding bundle and a number of annoying drawbacks (analog audio quality, performance). This motherboard has only one interesting feature - SLI support (it's based on the i915P chipset, which does not support this technology officially). Perhaps, some users will appreciate budget SLI. However in our opinion, this motherboard will be much more popular on the market of cheap office computers, where the second PCIEx16 slot will be either ignored or used for peripheral expansion cards. Most importantly, according to some forecasts, this model will have a very attractive price, though we had no exact information at the time this article was published.

This model on the manufacturer's web site (Russian mirror)

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer





Vladimir Senchihin (sench@ixbt.com)
March 23, 2006



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