Benchmark Test: Motherboards

While motherboard processing power has doubled from 1GHz Pentium III to 2GHZ Pentium 4 over the last year, performance levels have increased slowly because clock speed isn’t a measure of performance.

Current benchmarking software often won’t measure much difference between PIII and P4 systems. To many, the insignificant difference doesn’t justify the additional price of Pentium 4 systems.

As Intel officials explain often and to all within hearing distance, applications capable of exploiting Pentium 4 architecture and accompanying RDRAM bandwidth will soon be released. Those who buy now will be rewarded with performance dividends as software applications catch up within two years.

In this comparison of motherboards, we have examined socket 478 Pentium 4 (400MHz FSB) models with Intel 850 chipset, requiring RDRAM. Included are motherboards from manufacturers that combine older Socket 423 Pentium 4 with RDRAM.

In a lower-end sales and marketing strategy aimed at those oblivious to performance issues, some manufacturers offset the Socket 478 P4 price by mixing it with an Intel 845 chipset, enabling the use of inexpensive SDRAM.

However, for serious users and IT professionals a Socket 478 Pentium 4 CPU mated to have PC800 RDRAM is the desired performance combination.

Thanks to the Pentium 4 and Windows XP, motherboard, makers continue to report strong sales into the fourth quarter of 2001 and are even positive in their outlook toward the first quarter of 2002.

Although the first quarter is usually the slow season in the motherboard industry, recent orders from distributors and OEMs have been strong.

Reports say that Asustek Computer estimates it should ship about the same number of motherboards in the first quarter of 2002 as in the current quarter, making the most optimistic forecast so far among first-tier companies.

Micro-Star International (MSI) predicted the PC upswing will begin to emerge after the first quarter of next year, while Gigabyte Technology says the quarter-on-quarter sales decline should be under 20 per cent.

Analysts say that most of the motherboard companies’ revenues this year came from the more flexible clone markets, but they are expected to see significant sales growth in the OEM sector in 2002, as their clients gradually catch up with the launch speed of new products and start placing orders.


Abit is known for catering to the overclocking crowd, therefore, Abit products must be particularly reliable thermally and structurally. The TH7II-RAID BIOS includes provisions for more user-adjustable settings than most other boards.

This is a socket 423 board, with one AGP slot, and four RIMM slots for up to 2GB of both PC600 and PC800 RDRAM. Expansion is aided by five PCI slots.

Four channel bus master IDE ports support up to eight UDMA 33/66/100 devices.

Special considerations include High Point HTP370 IDE RAID Controller, a CNR slot, and built-in audio. The II designation differs from the TH7-RAID with the addition of an Intel 82562 10/100MB Physical Layer LAN Interface.

The apparent reliability of a motherboard with overclocking capabilities should assure IT professionals.

Aopen AX4T

As Aopen Socket 478 boards incorporate SDRAM, we looked at the Socket 423 model.

Featuring a 4MB flash Award BIOS, the AX4T has five PCI slots, one AGP Pro slot, and one CNR slot. Maximum RDRAM is 2GB, in pairs of 64/128/256/512MB. Onboard 10/100Mbps Ethernet. Sigmatel built-in audio with Game/Midi Port, Speaker-Out, Line-In, Microphone-In.

Two EIDE Mode 4 and Bus master channels support Ultra DMA 33/66/100 devices. Built-in connectors include IrDA, wake on LAN, four fan connectors, CD, modem, two serial, one parallel, PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, and two USB connectors. An additional two USB ports are available via an optional cable.

Asus P4T-E

This socket 478 board has four RIMM sockets for up to 2GB RAM. Five PCI slots, one CNR, one AGP 4x, and two USB ports are onboard, and a USB header makes two more possible. Two UDMA/100 channels support four devices. Optional audio is AC97 Compliant. Also optional are a game/MIDI port and CD/AUX/ modem audio input.

The board measures 30.5cm x 24.4cm. All the usual serial, parallel, mouse and keyboard inputs are on board.

In a large Web site banner Asus immodestly claims the P4T is “the best selling P4 motherboard in the world.”


A Socket 478 Pentium 4 board with built-in LAN, RAID, and audio, the NT70 has the requisite four RIMM sockets capable of holding a maximum 2GB of RDRAM. Four (two RAID) UDMA 100 EIDE devices can be connected. There are five PCI slots, one CNR slot, and one 4x AGP supporting 1.5V video adapters.

One parallel port, two serial ports, mouse, keyboard, and game ports, two USB ports and an adapter for another two, infra-red, and audio jacks are onboard.

In addition to the three fan connectors, wake on LAN, and wake on ring, an “opened chassis alarm” is present. It measures 30.5cm x 24.4cm.

Elitegroup P4ITA2

Another socket 423 board, the P4ITA2 measures 30.5cm x 24.4cm. Four 184-pin RIMM sockets allow 2GB of PC600 or PC800 RDRAM maximum. Dual PCI IDE interfaces support four IDE PIO mode 4, DMA Mode 2, Ultra DMA66/100 devices. The floppy interface includes support for 360K units (remember those?) up to 2.88MB drives, and LS120 drives.

There are five PCI expansion slots, one CNR slot, and one 4x AGP slot.

An IrDA header, extra USB header, three fan headers, LAN and Ring Wake On headers, are onboard, as are traditional power, reset, and LED headers. Dual USB, serial, parallel, keyboard, mouse, audio and game ports are built-in.

Gigabyte GA-8ITXR

The GA-8ITXR has socket 478 400MHz FSB support with four RIMM sockets for a maximum 2GB RAM. Two RAID and two bus master ATA 100/66/33 RAID IDE ports are on board. It has one floppy, one CNR, one 4x AGP slot. There are two USB 1.1 ports on board and two more available by cable.

With six PCI slots, the most of the boards we examined, there’s still room for serial, parallel, mouse, keyboard, audio and game ports.

Hardware monitoring includes power headers for three fans, speed detection header, and open case detector. There is an automatic spin down and alarm when the CPU overheats or the fan fails. This feature requires no drivers and is independent of the operating system.

Intel D850MV

Pentium 4 Socket 478, with four RIMM slots for 2GB maximum RAM. On board are one 4x AGP connector and five PCI connectors. One CNR slot is optional. Up to four ATA 33/66/100 drives can be connected, but only one floppy drive is supported.

The ADI 1885 integrated audio does not affect resource availability as PCI interrupts are shared. An Intel 82562ET Kinnereth LAN controller is imbedded.

Four USB ports are built-in, and up to seven are available.

As might be expected, Intel makes quality diagrams, comprehensive specifications, and configuration information available on its Web site. Intel motherboards are covered by a three-year warranty.

MSI MS-6545

This P4 socket 478 motherboard has four RIMM sockets to support up to 2GB RDRAM, one 4x AGP slot, four PCI expansion slots, and one CNR slot. Four Ultra DMA100 devices can be connected. Interestingly, the fourth RIMM socket is positioned 90-degrees to the other three, appearing almost as an afterthought.

Onboard peripherals include support for two floppies from 360KB to 2.88MB and LS120, serial ports, parallel port, IrDA connector, and an audio/game port. The USB controller is expandable to four ports. The onboard audio supports two-, four-, and six-channel speaker sound.

The board measures 30.4cm x 24.3cm.

QDI Platinix 4

This Socket 423 Pentium 4 board also has the fourth RAM slot arranged 90 degrees to the other three. There are four PCI slots, one CNR slot, and one 4x AGP. Two PCI Master IDE ports support up to 4 IDE devices, with support for ATA 33/66/100 devices. Floppy support for 360KB through 2.88MB, LS-120, and ZIP drives. The onboard 16-bit Stereo audio chip is upgradable to six channels with a CNR card. Additonal features include Wake on LAN, Wake on Ring, Alert on LAN, and Power-on keyboard password.

System monitoring includes CPU temperature, system temperature, CPU fan speed, chassis fan speed, and system voltages.

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