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Latest Intel Pentium 4 chipsets from all makers

October 8, 2002



Today Intel announced its new i845PE and i845GE chipsets, supporting DDR333, and we decided to date the comparison of all current Pentium 4 chipsets to this announcement. Actually already in May, after the release of new Pentium 4 533 MHz FSB processors we reviewed all existing chipsets, supporting that FSB. This review can be considered an update, especially as i845PE and i845GE are not a subject for a separate review.

i845PE and i845GE

i845PE

Already in May it was clear that i845E and i845G won't officially support DDR333, as this standard was adopted too late these products were developed without it in mind. In May it was also clear that updated chipset version would be released in fall, supporting DDR333 under any conditions. i845G + PC2700 testing proved the significant boost, provided by this memory, and possible appeal of such a combination for users not willing to use RDRAM for some reason (though our tests have repeatedly proved that i850E provides the best performance today). At that our researches proved great instability of i845G-based boards operating with DDR333 (due to this even today we are forced to use the same Chaintech 9BIF0, as in May), so today's chipset couple is attractive at least by simultaneous performance and stability.





i845GEThe second important advantage of i845PE/GE is their prospect. As you know, already in November Intel is to announce the first Hyper-Threading-enabled Pentium 4. According to preliminary data, i850E and i845E chipsets are potentially capable of supporting this technology, and i845G/GL is not (Hyper-Threading will be featured only in Pentium 4 with 533MHz FSB, so there's no sense to speak of older chipsets). Though it seems impossible to use already released i850E and i845E with such processors, as the new models (3.06 GHz would be the lowest in the line) require some technological changes for the support. At the same time i845PE/GE boards should be initially designed for these features.





Finally, speaking of announced chipsets, we should state that i845PE, like its i845E predecessor, is a discrete chipset, and i845GE - integrated, featuring the same graphics, as used in i845G. Well, actually there's a slight difference between these integrated products: i845GE has higher graphics core clock (266MHz against 200MHz of i845G). A minor increase it is (speaking of absolute performance expected), and graphics memory, being an allocated buffer, has the same clock as well. Nevertheless, it's still interesting to look at the performance increase.

SiS648

This chipset, despite its marking resembles older variants, is a significantly improved SiS model for Pentium 4. It's one of the first (it's hard to be more precise, as Taiwanese announcements do not always indicates the readiness and release) AGP 8x chipsets and the first that we saw actually supporting DDR400. Naturally, the latest requires its conditions, but at last our samples worked with DDR400 modules (you should get the complete list of certified modules from manufacturer website before the purchase, though SiS has its own certification program), caused a noticeable performance boost, and that's a very important indication of actual required clock support. For the sake of accuracy, note that chipset specs doesn't feature DDR400 support, but this is caused by absence of a standard (to mention compatibility with).





Chipset Northbridge doesn't offer any more new technologies, Pentium 4 with 533MHz FSB is implied. As for the support of future Hyper-Threading-enabled Pentium 4, it's not that clear, but it seems SiS will release an updated Northbridge revision for such CPUs. Another thing that's worth a word is SiS648 MuTIOL 1G protocol for data transfers to and from SiS963 Southbridge, featuring 1 GB/s throughput. The double increase is the result of using QDR instead of DDR. Can't say that previous 533 MB/s were not enough, but this innovation is not to spoil the product for sure, and the ability of SiS to technologically "train" in advance is surely a plus.






SiS963 Southbridge, supporting various interfaces is not revolutionary, but still provides all features of a modern chipset, including FireWire(IEEE 1394a), almost absent in competing solutions, up to 3 ports using PHY external controllers, but without Serial ATA. Other Southbridge features include: two ATA66/100/133 IDE controllers; USB 2.0 (1 EHCI), up to 6 ports; Fast Ethernet MAC supporting 10Base-T/100Base-TX; 6 PCI 2.2 slots; AC'97 2.2 controller supporting 6-channel codecs.









VIA P4X400

The marking indicates that VIA planned to implement DDR400 support. However, this was unsuccessful, as our samples refused to work with DDR400, and later the company itself admitted there were problems. So, it's turns out to be just a copy of already reviewed P4X333. VIA plans to take a rather usual step: to release P4X400A, actually supporting PC3200. And now we have to wait and test P4X400 boards for the sport of it. To test with DDR333.

Performance examination

Testbed:

  • CPU: Intel Pentium 4 2.53 GHz, Socket 478
  • Motherboards:
  • Memory:
    • 512MB PC2700(DDR333) DDR SDRAM DIMM Samsung, CL 2 (used with Intel chipset)
    • 2x256MB PC3200(DDR400) DDR SDRAM DIMM Winbond, CL 2.5 (also used as DDR333 CL2 on SiS648 and VIA P4X400)
  • Graphics: Palit Daytona GeForce4 Ti4600
  • HDD: IBM IC35L040AVER07-0, 7200 rpm

Software:

  • OS and drivers:
    • Windows XP Professional SP1
    • DirectX 8.1b
    • Intel chipset software installation utility 4.04.1007
    • Intel Application Accelerator 2.2.2
    • Intel Extreme Graphics Driver 11.3
    • SiS IDE 1.01.13
    • SiS AGP 1.10n
    • VIA 4-in-1 4.40P3
    • NVIDIA Detonator XP 29.42 (VSync=Off)
  • Test apps:
    • Cachemem 2.4MMX
    • Wstream
    • RazorLame 1.1.5.1342 + Lame codec 3.92
    • Discreet 3ds max 4.26
    • VirtualDub 1.4.10 + DivX codec 5.02 Pro
    • WinAce 2.2
    • BAPCo & MadOnion SYSmark 2002
    • MadOnion 3DMark 2001 SE build 330
    • Gray Matter Studios & Nerve Software Return to Castle Wolfenstein v1.1
    • Croteam/GodGames Serious Sam: The Second Encounter v1.07

Brief comparatives of boards tested:

Board Chaintech 9BIF0 ASUS P4GE-V ASUS P4PE SiS SS78B Soltek 85ERV
Links Chaintech 9BIF0 ASUS P4GE-V ASUS P4PE SiS SS78B Soltek 85ERV
Chipset Intel i845G (RG82845G + FW82801DB) Intel i845GE (RG82845GE + FW82801DB) Intel i845PE (RG82845PE + FW82801DB) SiS648 (SiS648 + SiS 963) VIA P4X400 (VIA P4X400 + VIA VT8235)
Processor Socket 478, Intel Pentium 4 (FSB 400/533 MHz), Intel Celeron
Memory 2 DDR 3 DDR 3 DDR 3 DDR
Expansion slots AGP/ 3 PCI/ CNR AGP/ 6 PCI AGP/ 6 PCI AGP/ 6 PCI
I/O ports 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2, 2 IEEE1394 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2, 2 IEEE1394 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2
USB 2 USB 2.0 + 1 socket of 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 2 socket of 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 2 socket of 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 2 socket of 2 USB 2.0
Integrated IDE controller ATA100 ATA133
External IDE controller Promise PDC20376 Promise PDC20376
Audio AC'97, Avance Logic ALC201A AC'97, Analog Devices AD1980 AC'97, Analog Devices AD1980 AC'97, Avance Logic ALC650
Integrated network controller Realtek RTL8100B Broadcom BCM5702CKFB Broadcom BCM5702CKFB
I/O controller ITE IT8712F-A ITE IT8708F-A ITE IT8708F-A ITE IT8705F
BIOS 2 Mbit Award BIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit Award BIOS v6.0 4 Mbit Award BIOS v6.0 2 Mbit AMI BIOS v3.31a
Form-factor, dimensions mATX, 24,5x23 cm ATX, 30,5x23 cm ATX, 30,5x23 cm ATX, 30,5x22 cm

Initially we planned a larger testing, but it turned out that the difference between i845G/GE(PE), SiS645DX/648, and VIA P4X333/400 using the same memory type is very small and gets within natural variation limits. So, we decided to remove unnecessary information and compare the fastest Pentium 4 chipsets bundled with the fastest memory they support. Though in most cases such solutions show less absolute performance than i850E+RDRAM (especially PC1066/4200 RDRAM), they can be used foe some reasons, not directly related to performance.

Test results

Let's traditionally begin with low-level memory tests.





Some i845PE writing speed falloff is a feature of a specific board, not affecting, according to Wstream results, the general performance. All, except VIA chipset, have similar marks, and naturally DDR400 SiS648 is the first.



You can see that computing tests are almost not affected by chipset performance, as only CPU clock and cache are important (permanent in our testing).

MPEG4 encoding is the first real-world problem, enabling the competitors to show themselves. Three Intel and SiS chipsets are very close, P4X lags by about 5%, and SiS648 with faster memory gets 4% advantage.

4MB WinAce archiving is traditionally nice test of memory operations performance, and strangely SiS648 lags by about 8%, and VIA chipset more usually lags by another 5%. Intel memory controller is pretty good. Note that, using DDR400, SiS chipset expectedly easily wins over i845 couple by more than 7%.

Synthetic SYSmark clearly shows the minority of chipset technical designs difference in the office app fields - just faster (by theoretical 20%) memory helps SiS648 to outrun 4%.

Hi-res 3Dmark results depends on graphics cards most, but VIA chipset was a bit (by 3%) behind. It's also interesting to compare integrated graphics of Intel chipsets (not with GeForce4 Ti4600, but between two of them) - as you can see, there's almost no difference.

In Return To Castle Wolfenstein, based on Quake3 and thus more sensible to memory subsystem, graphics card performance is not the only limiting factor already at 800x600 and higher. In such conditions, SiS648 + DDR400 is faster by about 5%, and DDR333 keeps up (but lags a bit) with others. i845Gx integrated graphics looks rather good even on the top NVIDIA product background, and again there's no effect of i845GE higher chip clock. However already at 1024x768 with higher settings everything starts to resemble 3Dmark, and VIA chipset loses.

Finally, in Serious Sam 2, that requires more 3D-performance, the difference is minor already at 800x600 (P4X400 still lags, perhaps, it has lower AGP clock), and i845Gx graphics shows its little use for current 3D games.

The situation with Intel integrated graphics and its similarity forced us to conduct an additional test that proved the equality. Though everything turned out to be simpler, as Intel graphics drivers 11.3, available at the moment of testing, couldn't recognize new chipset (naming it "i845G/GL Video Accelerator" in Windows) and correctly work with it at higher clock. So the test of higher graphics core clock is the subject of the future.

Conclusions

Actually we couldn't take any interesting conclusions out of the closer look at mentioned chipsets. All of them (except VIA product) continue their lines, and new features is either currently useless (i.e. AGP 8x), or just (though it's good) makes the ready solution cheaper, as any peripheral controllers are widely available, so nothing prevents from implementing them onboard.

The only usable innovations, currently supported by only SiS648, is DDR400(PC3200) memory, that is not (and will not be) standardized but actually exists and boosts the performance. So, if you wish to build a max-performance Pentium 4 system without RDRAM, pay attention to this bundle. Even in case of unavailability or higher price of DDR400, using SiS648 with DDR333 let it be the first in almost all tests.

It seems that the only serious minus of SiS chipset is its supposed incompatibility with future Hyper-Threading-enabled Pentium 4. Of course, you can wait for a newer revision or even an updated chipset, but you can also purchase Hyper-Threading-ready i845GE and i845PE boards (depending on your needs). These chipsets were the best with actually popular PC2700 and, moreover, their only minus is traditionally high price.

Pity, but we can't say anything good about VIA P4X400. Mentioned problems should have made the company produce better chipsets or not to do anything. And now we have a partially inoperable product, that always lags a bit, has cloudy prospects and doesn't have any unique interesting features. We can recommend such boards only to fans of VIA or to those willing to save money (but why purchase new Pentium 4 then?).

Sergey Pikalov(peek@ixbt.com)
Dmitry Mayoriv (destrax@ixbt.com)

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