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Intel 845PE & VIA P4X400 Based Mainboards Roundup

January 30, 2003



No sooner did the last bursts of the i845E based boards thunder than we got 15 models on the improved version of this chipset - i845PE. All the manufacturers welcomed the new-comer because mainboards on the Intel's chipsets take a huge share on the market. The i845PE is currently the best product from this computer giant considering the price/performance ratio for the mass market. Sure, there are more efficient solutions from Intel (i850E, E7205) and they even justify the high cost of the systems based on them, but their price is too high to consider them mass solutions. In contrast to such boards which are apparently developed for the workstation market, the i845PE offers only really needed (contributing to efficiency or universality) and cheap technologies: 533 MHz processor bus, Hyper-Threading, DDR333 memory, USB 2.0. 

Mainboards based on the VIA P4X400 chipset are, on the contrary, not that popular. Because of the conflict between VIA and Intel, connected with the right to sell the chipsets for the nonlicensed (according to Intel) Pentium 4 bus, all leading manufacturers refused to make boards on the chipsets of the Taiwanese company, and sales of the hastily created department VIA VPSD are rather scarce since the trade mark is not widely known. At the same time, the traditional trump of noname solutions, price, doesn't play into the hands of VIA as SiS offers cheaper solutions on the Pentium 4; even the boards from brand-name companies based on, for example, such a functional chipset as SiS648 are no dearer than some P4X400 based models. 

Although the VIA's boards on the new stepping of the chipset are at last able to work with DDR400, this sole fact is not enough to change the market's preferences. Taking into account the performance of such solution and general problems with the DDR400 on mainboards, the P4X400 CE chipset hardly looks profitable, it just proves that VIA still has some potential (compare with the newly announced Nehemiah core of VIA C3 processors). I hope VIA's day will also come with the dual-channel chipsets for Pentium 4 which are now produced by all three main market players. 

Test conditions

Testbed: 

Software: 

  • OS and drivers: 
    • Windows XP Professional SP1 
    • DirectX 8.1 
    • Intel chipset software installation utility 4.00.1012 
    • Intel Application Accelerator 2.3 
    • NVIDIA Detonator XP 40.72 (VSync=Off) 

  • Test applications: 
    • VirtualDub 1.4.10 + DivX codec 5.02 Pro 
    • WinAce 2.11 
    • 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 

Both P4X400 boards worked without any problems with DDR400 but the scores are given below for DDR333 (a bit later I will explain why) and only for the Soltek 85ERV2 we added the results obtained with DDR400. The brief comparison characteristics of all the tested boards are given in the table below:
 

Board ABIT IT7-MAX2 2.0 Acorp 4845PE Albatron PX845PEV Pro Albatron PX845PE Pro II ASUS P4PE Chaintech 9EJL2 Chaintech 9EJS1 EPoX 4PEA+
Links ABIT IT7-MAX2 2.0 Acorp 4845PE Albatron PX845PEV Pro Albatron PX845PE Pro II ASUS P4PE Chaintech 9EJL2 Chaintech 9EJS1 EPoX 4PEA+
Chipset Intel i845PE (RG82845PE + FW82801DB)
Processor support Socket 478, Intel Pentium 4, Intel Celeron
Memory slots 3 DDR 2 DDR 3 DDR 3 DDR 3 DDR 2 DDR 2 DDR 3 DDR
Expansion slots AGP/ 4 PCI AGP/ 5 PCI AGP/ 5 PCI AGP/ 6 PCI AGP/ 6 PCI AGP/ 6 PCI/ CNR AGP/ 6 PCI/ CNR AGP/ 5 PCI
I/O ports 1 FDD, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2
USB 6 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors with 2 USB 2.0 each 2 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors for 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors for 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors for 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 1 connector for 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors for 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors for 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 1 connector for 2 USB 2.0
FireWire 2 + 1 connectors on 1 port - - - 2 connectors on 1 port - 3 connectors on 1 port -
Integrated IDE controller ATA100
External IDE controller HighPoint HPT374 + Marvell 88i8030-NNC - - Promise PDC20376 Promise PDC20376 - Promise PDC20276 HighPoint HPT372 + Silicon Image Sil3112ACT144
Sound AC'97 codec, Avance Logic ALC650 AC'97 codec, Avance Logic ALC650 AC'97 codec, Avance Logic ALC650 AC'97 codec, Avance Logic ALC650 AC'97 codec, Analog Devices AD1980 PCI Audio, C-Media CMI8738/PCI-6ch-LX PCI Audio, C-Media CMI8738/PCI-6ch-MX AC'97 codec, Avance Logic ALC650
Integrated network controller Realtek RTL8100B Realtek RTL8100BL 3Com 910-A01 10BaseT/100BaseTX Broadcom BCM5702CKFB (Gigabit Ethernet) Realtek RTL8100B Realtek RTL8100B Realtek RTL8100B
Card Reader support - SMC - - - SMC SMC -
I/O controller Winbond W83627HF-AW ITE IT8712F-A Winbond W83627HF-AW Winbond W83627HF-AW ITE IT8708F-A ITE IT8712F-A ITE IT8712F-A Winbond W83627HF-AW
BIOS 4 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG 2 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG 3 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00 3 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00 4 Mbit Award BIOS v. 6.0 4 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG
Form-factor, dimensions ATX, 30.5x24.5 cm ATX, 30.5x19 cm ATX, 30.5x20 cm ATX, 30.5x24.5 cm ATX, 30.5x23 cm ATX, 30.5x23 cm ATX, 30.5x23 cm ATX, 30.5x24.5 cm
Set of accessories excellent n/a ordinary ordinary good good excellent good
Adjustment and overclocking settings average average average average average average rich rich
Board Gigabyte 8PE667 Ultra Gigabyte 8PE667 Ultra 2 Intel D845PEBT2 Intel D845PESV Iwill P4HT-S MSI 845PE Max2-FIR Soltek 85DR3 Soltek 85ERV2 VIA P4PB Ultra
Links Gigabyte 8PE667 Ultra Gigabyte 8PE667 Ultra 2 Intel D845PEBT2 Intel D845PESV Iwill P4HT-S MSI 845PE Max2-FIR Soltek 85DR3 Soltek 85ERV2 VIA P4PB Ultra
Chipset Intel i845PE (RG82845PE + FW82801DB) VIA P4X400 (P4X400CE+VT8235)
Processor support Socket 478, Intel Pentium 4, Intel Celeron
Memory slots 3 DDR 3 DDR 2 DDR 2 DDR 2 DDR 3 DDR 2 DDR 3 DDR 3 DDR
Expansion slots AGP/ 6 PCI/ CNR AGP/ 6 PCI/ CNR AGP/ 5 PCI AGP/ 6 PCI AGP/ 5 PCI AGP/ 6 PCI/ CNR AGP/ 6 PCI AGP/ 6 PCI AGP/ 6 PCI/ CNR
I/O ports 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 1 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 1 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 1 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2
USB 2 USB 2.0 + 4 connectors for 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors for 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 1 connector for 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 1 connector for 2 USB 2.0 3 USB 2.0 + 1 internal port + 1 connector for 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 1 connector for 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors for 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors for 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 4 connectors for 2 USB 2.0
FireWire - - - - - 3 connectors on 1 port - - -
Integrated IDE controller ATA100 ATA133
External IDE controller Promise PDC20276 Promise PDC20276 + Silicon Image Sil3112ACT144 Silicon Image Sil3112ACT144 - Promise PDC20275 + Silicon Image Sil3112ACT144 Promise PDC20276 - - Promise PDC20276
Sound AC'97 codec, Avance Logic ALC650 AC'97 codec, Avance Logic ALC650 AC'97 codec, Analog Devices AD1980 AC'97 codec, Analog Devices AD1981B AC'97 codec, Avance Logic ALC650 PCI Audio, C-Media CMI8738/PCI-6ch-MX AC'97 codec, Avance Logic ALC650 AC'97 codec, Avance Logic ALC650 PCI Audio, C-Media CMI8738/PCI-6ch-MX
Integrated network controller Intel i82562EZ Intel RC82540EM (Gigabit Ethernet) 10BaseT/100BaseTX 10BaseT/100BaseTX Realtek RTL8100B Intel RC82540EM (Gigabit Ethernet) - - 10BaseT/100BaseTX
Card Reader support SMC, MS/SD SMC - - SMC, MS/SD - - SMC SMC, MS/SD
I/O controller ITE IT8712F-A ITE IT8712F-A SMSC LPC47M172-NR SMSC LPC47M172-NR Winbond W83637HF-AW Winbond W83627HF-AW ITE IT8712F-A ITE IT8705F-A Winbond W83697HF
BIOS 4 Mbit Award BIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit Award BIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit Intel BIOS v6.00 4 Mbit Intel BIOS v6.00 2 Mbit Phoenix Award Workstation BIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit AMI BIOS v3.31a 2 Mbit AMI BIOS v3.31a 2 Mbit AMI BIOS v3.31a 4 Mbit Phoenix Award Workstation BIOS v6.00PG
Form-factor, dimensions ATX, 30.5x24.5 cm ATX, 30.5x24.5 cm ATX, 30.5x22 cm ATX, 30.5x21 cm ATX, 30.5x21 cm ATX, 30.5x24.5 cm ATX, 30.5x23 cm ATX, 30.5x22 cm ATX, 30.5x24.5 cm
Set of accessories good excellent good ordinary ordinary good ordinary ordinary good
Adjustment and overclocking settings average average average average average average average rich average

 

Test results

Since we have so many participants today we decided to sort them according to the scores (higher is better) rather than alphabetically (as we did it before to simplify searching information about a certain board) . Will you please tell us if you find such arrangement inconvenient. 

The MPEG4 encoding is a good test because the results are not just practically important but also depend on the whole processor-memory path. Well, the VIA's boards keep behind and even the DDR400 is of no help. In principle, the greater memory access latency in the PC3200 mode explains that fact but the SiS648 based boards with the same memory modules did have a performance gain thanks to DDR400. In general, the new revision of the chipset P4X400 didn't let it speed up, and earlier it was slower than the i845PE as well. 

The results of the boards are spread within +5% from the leader - ASUS P4PE. The Gigabyte, Chaintech "Zenith", Albatron PX845PE Pro II look excellent as well, - note that boards filled up with a great deal of various functions can also be fast. At the end we have Soltek DR3, Iwill, ABIT, and Intel D845PEBT2 as well as both boards on the VIA's chipset. 

The WinAce archiving depends mostly on the memory speed, that is why no wonder that both P4X400 based boards are far behind their competitors. The DDR400 is of no use, I can say that it's even a bit harmful. As a result, the VIA's models fall behind the leading ASUS P4PE by 11-13% while the worst board on the i845PE (Soltek DR3) loses to it only by 5%. Very good scores are demonstrated by both Chaintech models and Gigabyte, as well as by Intel D845PEBT2 (quite unexpectedly) and Albatron PX845PE Pro II; the mainboards from MSI, ABIT and Iwill take the back seats. As you can see, the scores of the boards in these two tests are close, in both categories we have the same names ahead. 

Two tests of operation with memory are enough to grade the boards because no more parameters of the system performance depend on a board itself. Nevertheless, we provide you with scores of all the participants in the games so that you can estimate them yourself in this aspect which is so important for a considerable number of users. 

In games the difference between the chipsets is insignificant, and in high resolutions when the graphics capabilities of the gaming engines are used to their full capacity it comes to naught; it depends only on a video card used. As a result, in the comparatively low resolution of 800x600 with optimization of the graphics for speed the P4X400 boards lag behind sometimes by 8%, but in 1024x768 at the middle graphics level the gap hardly reaches 5%, and the scores of the i845PE boards differ within 3%. Nevertheless, the ASUS P4PE, both Gigabyte and Albatron perform better than the others, while Soltek DR3, MSI 845PE Max2-FIR, and Acorp 4845PE go into the last positions. 

Conclusion

When estimating the performance take a look first at the difference between the chipsets. Almost in all modes of all test applications any i845PE board outdoes any VIA P4X400 one. Taking into account the DDR400, which is useless for P4X400, and the fact that the other key parameters of the chipsets are equal, I still can't find any reasons to recommend the mainboards on the VIA's chipset. However, their price is rather low, and in this respect the VIA P4PB Ultra with its good accessory pack can be a nice choice. 

If performance is a key factor for you, you should go with one of the numerous boards on the i845PE chipset. Such models as ASUS P4PE, Gigabyte 8PE667 Ultra, Gigabyte 8PE667 Ultra 2 and Albatron PX845PE Pro II often take the top positions in the tests, while Soltek DR3, MSI 845PE Max2-FIR, ABIT IT7-MAX2 2.0 and Iwill P4HT-S turn out to be losers quite often. 

However, I think that a 3-5% speed gap shouldn't the argument for most. You'd better pay attention to their functions (in the table above), accessory packs (ABIT IT7-MAX2 2.0, Gigabyte 8PE667 Ultra 2 and Chaintech 9EJS1 (Zenith) have the best ones) or settings for precise overclocking and tweaking using which you can easily add 5% to the performance (EPoX 4PEA+, Chaintech 9EJS1 (Zenith) and Soltek ERV2 are the best in the respect). Finally, compare the prices, though needs and possibilities differ hugely here. 
 
 
  


Dmitry Mayorov (destrax@ixbt.com
Serguei Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com

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