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Intel 925XE Motherboards Roundup

April 26, 2005



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.

Performance tests

Testbed configuration:

Software:

  • OS and drivers:
    • Windows XP Professional SP2
    • DirectX 9.0c
    • Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility 6.2.1.1001
    • ATI Catalyst 5.2

  • Test applications:
    • 7-Zip 4.10b
    • DivX Pro 5.2.1 MPEG4 codec
    • XviD 1.0.2 MPEG4 codec
    • Adobe Photoshop 8.0
    • FarCry (v1.1.3.1337)
    • Unreal Tournament 2004 (v3339)

Short comparative characteristics of all motherboards under review are provided in a summary table below:

Motherboard ABIT Fatal1ty AA8XE ASUS P5AD2-E Premium Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 Gigabyte 8AENXP-D MSI 925XE Neo Platinum
Chipset
Intel 925XE/ICH6R
CPU support
Socket 775, Intel Pentium 4/Pentium 4 EE/Celeron D
Memory slots
4 DDR2
4 DDR2
4 DDR2
6 DDR2
4 DDR2
Expansion slots
PCIEx16, 2 PCIEx1, 2 PCI
PCIEx16, 2 PCIEx1, 3 PCI
PCIEx16, 3 PCIEx1, 3 PCI
PCIEx16, 3 PCIEx1, 2 PCI
PCIEx16, 2 PCIEx1, 3 PCI
I/O ports
1 FDD, 1 COM (on a bracket), 2 PS/2
1 FDD, 1 LPT, 1 COM (on a bracket), 2 PS/2
1 FDD, 1 LPT, 1 COM, 2 PS/2
1 FDD, 1 LPT, 1 COM, 2 PS/2
1 FDD, 1 LPT, 1 COM, 2 PS/2
USB
4 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors, 2 USB 2.0 each
4 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors, 2 USB 2.0 each
4 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors, 2 USB 2.0 each
4 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors for 2 USB 2.0 each, + 2 connectors for 3 USB 2.0 supporting the hub function (Cypress CY7C65640)
4 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors, 2 USB 2.0 each
FireWire
1 port + 2 connectors for 2 ports on a bracket (TI TSB43AB23)
1 FireWire + 2 connectors for 2 GigaWire ports on a bracket (TI TSB82AA2 + TSB81BA3)
1 mini-GigaWire (4 pins) + 2 connectors for 2 ports (mini-FireWire + FireWire) on a bracket (TI TSB82AA2 + TSB81BA3)
2 connectors for 3 GigaWire ports, 2 on a bracket (TI TSB82AA2 + TSB81BA3)
1 + 2 connectors for 2 ports on a bracket (VIA VT6306)
Integrated into the chipset ATA controller
2 ATA100 + 4 SATA RAID (0, 1, Matrix RAID)
External ATA controller
Silicon Image SiI3114CT176 (4 SATA RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5) + ITE IT8212F (4 ATA133 RAID 0, 1, 0+1)
Silicon Image SiI3114CT176 (4 SATA RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5) + ITE IT8212F (4 ATA133 RAID 0, 1, 0+1)
Silicon Image SiI3114CT176 (4 SATA RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5)
VIA VT6410 (4 ATA133 RAID 0, 1, 0+1)
Audio
HDA codec Realtek ALC880, Toslink S/PDIF-In/Out on a bracket
C-Media CMI9880 HDA-codec, Coaxial and Toslink S/PDIF-Out, S/PDIF-In connector
HDA codec Avance Logic ALC880, Coaxial S/PDIF-Out, Toslink S/PDIF-Out on a bracket
HDA Avance Logic ALC880 codec, Coaxial S/PDIF-In/Out
HDA codec C-Media CMI9880L, Coaxial and Toslink S/PDIF-Out
Network controller
Intel 82541PI (PCI Gigabit Ethernet) + Intel 82562EZ (Fast Ethernet)
2xMarvell 88E8053-NNC (PCIEx1 Gigabit Ethernet) + Marvell 88W8310-BAN (WiFi-b/g)
Broadcom BCM5789KFB (PCIEx1 Gigabit Ethernet) + Broadcom BCM5788KFB (PCI Gigabit Ethernet)
Broadcom BCM5751KFB (PCIEx1 Gigabit Ethernet) + Marvell 88E8001-LKJ (PCI Gigabit Ethernet)
Broadcom BCM5751KFB (PCIEx1 Gigabit Ethernet) + Intel 82562EZ (Fast Ethernet)
I/O controller
Winbond W83627H-AW
Winbond W83627EHF-A
ITE IT8712F
ITE IT8712F-A
Winbond W83627THF
BIOS
Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG
AMI BIOS v2.51
Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG
Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG
Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG
Form factor, dimensions
ATX, 30.5x24.5 cm

Test results

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:

Motherboard ABIT Fatal1ty AA8XE ASUS P5AD2-E Premium Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 Gigabyte 8AENXP-D MSI 925XE Neo Platinum
Audio codec
Realtek ALC880, HDA (7.1)
C-Media CMI9880, HDA (7.1)
Realtek ALC880, HDA (7.1)
Realtek ALC880, HDA (7.1)
C-Media CMI9880L, HDA (7.1)
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
+0.14, -0.27 (Good)
+0.20, -0.67 (Good)
+0.16, -0.51 (Good)
+0.14, -0.21 (Very good)
+0.20, -0.66 (Good)
Noise level, dB (A):
-81.6 (Good)
-85.9 (Good)
-79.2 (Average)
-90.8 (Very good)
-84.7 (Good)
Dynamic range, dB (A):
79.8 (Average)
86.0 (Good)
78.9 (Average)
90.7 (Very good)
87.9 (Good)
THD, %:
0.0048 (Very good)
0.040 (Good)
0.011 (Good)
0.0026 (Excellent)
0.033 (Good)
Intermodulation distortion, %:
0.026 (Good)
0.053 (Good)
0.048 (Good)
0.055 (Good)
0.046 (Good)
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-80.1 (Very good)
-83.9 (Very good)
-81.3 (Very good)
-90.0 (Excellent)
-79.9 (Very good)
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.122 (Average)
0.197 (Average)
0.122 (Average)
 
 
General performance
Good
Good
Good
Very good
Good

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.

Conclusions

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 (peek@ixbt.com)
April 26, 2005.

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