The i925XE chipset looked too elite when it was released. Even now it is used in top systems. The only difference between the i925XE and the previously reviewed Intel 925 Express chipset is the support for 1066MHz FSB, but there are almost no processors with such a bus yet (unless you are OK with a thousand-dollar price). The chipset itself is not bad at all in terms of both functions and performance, but what's the point in assembling a system on it, overpaying for its "progressive nature"? Especially as Intel announced the new chipset series supporting 1066MHz FSB for the top-notch motherboards: i945/955. Nevertheless, if you have chosen i925XE, we are pleased to publish a roundup of five interesting models.
Short comparative characteristics of all motherboards under review are provided in a summary table below:
As you may already know from the description of today's contenders,
the Gigabyte motherboard turned out more fastidious in terms of memory
support, so we had to use a different couple of memory modules. We
tried to set minimum memory timings for all the contenders, resulting
in the following settings: 3-3-3-6 for ABIT, Foxconn
and MSI motherboards, 3-3-3-8 for the ASUS
model and 3-4-3-4 for Gigabyte 8AENXP-D. So, what
are our contenders capable of?
Gigabyte makes up for its fastidiousness with the
highest archiving speed. The Foxconn motherboard
unexpectedly turned out the worst. The difference between the contenders
is up to 11%.
The video encoding speed, measured according to our open method,
almost doesn't depend on memory performance as a rule, it's generally
up to a CPU. All the more incomprehensible what Gigabyte
engineers managed to optimize here and ASUS engineers
— to deoptimize to obtain the results different by 10%. (Note
that FSB frequency nearly matched the nominal value in all the models,
the largest deviation was 2.5% in ABIT Fatal1ty AA8XE.)
Image processing performance in Photoshop confirms that the fastest
motherboard amoung our contenders is Gigabyte 8AENXP-D,
the slowest boards are ASUS P5AD2-E Premium and Foxconn
925XE7AA-8EKRS2. The maximum difference between the contenders
is also stable — 9%.
The Gigabyte motherboard upholds its leadership in games as well, it lost no test. The other participants are more or less on a par. But while the motherboard from ASUS is the last in UT2004, in FarCry it's suddenly the special gaming platform from ABIT that brings up the rear (in all resolutions and in all demos). However, as we have already said, the gap between the outsiders and the main group is not large (hardly 5%), but the leader noticeably breaks away from this group — by 5—9%.
Testing the integrated audio quality
The integrated audio quality of each model was tested in 16bit, 44
kHz using the RightMark Audio
Analyzer 5.4 test application (in two cases we used Version 5.2
for technical reasons) and the Terratec
DMX 6fire sound card:
Evaluation details for each motherboard are provided in its description, you can go right to the page you need by following the link with a motherboard title in this table.
The best result among the contenders belongs to Gigabyte 8AENXP-D. As you can see, little depends on the selected audio codec in general, because the other two motherboards with Realtek ALC880 turned out the worst. However, the characteristic frequency response curves and slightly increased harmonic distortions in C-Media CMI9880 still give away this codec. And the Foxconn motherboard demonstrates how the bad PCB layout "kills" the audio quality (the audio codec chip and analog outs are too far from each other).
Remember that we compare these models directly only because they are based on the same chipset, so they will most likely be considered as competitors when you make your choice. A chipset has no effect on the audio quality (it's up to the codec, output signal level, operational amplifier at the codec output, feed-through electrolitic capacitors, successful motherboard layout…), so the cross comparison of any models based on our data will certainly be valid. However, the chipset is important as far as the audio standard support is concerned: for example, all today's motherboards have 8-channel HDA (High Definition Audio), many competing models (for example, on NVIDIA chipsets) — 8-channel AC'97 audio, and older models offer 6-channel AC'97 audio.
We have already noted the promising prospects of the chipset in the introduction, now let's sum up the motherboard comparison. Gigabyte 8AENXP-D is certainly the fastest model among those we have reviewed today. The worst models are ASUS P5AD2-E Premium and Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 (we also don't like the defeat of ABIT Fatal1ty AA8XE in one of the games — this model is intended for gamers). Note that the result differences are quite sufficient to be considered when you make your choice: if you buy a top model, let it be the fastest! It's been a long time since we hadn't marked an ASUS product as a leader, but now we even don't recommend it because of its relatively low performance. Fans of this company can only hope for the new BIOS versions.
Comparing motherboards by the integrated audio quality is a more complex task; the results are published, so it's up to you to decide. Nevertheless, we must note the significant leadership of Gigabyte 8AENXP-D in this parameter as well. This model is obviously a success, don't forget though about the potential compatibility problem with various memory modules. As always, we are going to conclude our review with a recommendation to read detailed descriptions of these models, because differences in functionality, package content, and certainly in prices may tip the scale.
Sergei Pikalov (firstname.lastname@example.org)
April 26, 2005.
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