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AOpen AX4SPE Max i865PE Motherboard Review

AOpen AX4SPE Max i865PE Motherboard Review - PCSTATS
Abstract: The release of the Intel i865 'Springdale' chipset comes today, and Intel has released no fewer than three flavours (i865P/G/PE) to choose from.
 82% Rating:   
Filed under: Motherboards Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: Aopen May 21 2003   Colin Sun  
Home > Reviews > Motherboards > Aopen AX4SPE Max

Meet the i865PE and CSA, ICH5R

While the AOpen AX4SPE Max is the only i865PE motherboard we have tested to date, we were a bit surprised to read in Intel's documentation, and in the user manual that the board will not support 'Williamette' or Celeron processors Socket 478 processors. This may be more of a limitation of the i865PE chipset though rather then a problem with the motherboard however.

The Broadcom BCM5702CKFB controller is a fully integrated 32-bit 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet Media Access Control and Physical Layer Transceiver solution.

The BCM5702 combines PCI bus interfaces, on-chip buffer memory, and integrated physical layer transceiver (PHY) in a single device. Based on a low-voltage 0.13um CMOS process , the single BGA chipset is reportedly fine for use in zero-airflow environments.

The BCM5702 supports with full/half-duplex capability at all speeds, and includes an on-chip power circuit controller, WOL, and CPU task off load capability. Windows 98/NT/2000/XP and Linux 2.2/2.4 are the supported OS's.

The i865PE Springdale Chipset:

The i865PE is Intel's new mainstream chipset, and it offers support for 400 MHz, 533 MHz and 800 MHz FSB Northwood Pentium 4's. The little flip chip also brings a whole slew of new features to the mainstream Pentium 4 users, most notably of which are 8X AGP, Dual Channel DDR and CSA (more on CSA below).

By now, most of you should be familiar with 8x AGP, and know that it provides the videocard with up to 2.1 GB/s worth of bandwidth which doubles the amount of data that can be sent back and forth. While real world performance has not received any significant gains due to 8x AGP, it has potential, and may be important in the future when games rely more heavily on the AGP bus.

Looking back for a moment it is clear that the fatal flaw of the i845 DDR chipsets were that they could never provide enough memory bandwidth to keep the Pentium 4 happily fed. This was because they only possed a single DDR memory channel.

Even the latest i845PE introduced could only provide a 400 MHz FSB based Pentium 4 processors 2.1 GB/s of bandwidth and, 533 MHz FSB based P4's 2.7GB/s of bandwidth. A far cry from the 3.2 GB/s bandwidth required for the 400 MHz processors and 4.2 GB/s for the 533 MHz FSB chips.

With the i865PE, there are now two memory channels working in parallel to double the bandwidth available to the processor. For instance, a 533 MHz FSB based Pentium 4 needs 4.2 GB/s of bandwidth to be "happy." If we were to run two PC2100 DIMM's in parallel they offer exactly 4.2 GB/s (memory channel 1 2.1 GB/s + memory channel 2 2.1 GB/s) of bandwidth when running at 133 MHz FSB. An 800 MHz FSB based Pentium 4 requires 6.4 GB/s so running dual channel DDR 400 memory will provide that required 6.4 GB/s.

Everyone who read that without eyes glossing over stand up, raise your arms and yell out "The Pentium 4 is no longer bandwidth starved, the i865PE has saved the day!" There, now you are officially a techno-geek! :-)

Enter CSA, yay more acronyms...

Gigabit Ethernet is nothing new to the world of computers and while some of the motherboards we have tested at PCstats.com in the past had this option, one of the potential problems that may arise is when a Gigabit connection is running at full speed (full duplex, 2Gb/s or 250MB/s). At those speeds it has the potential to saturate the PCI bus and leave little or nothing for the other devices. What a perfect place to introduce the new CSA bus!

CSA stands for Communications Streaming Architecture and what it does is give the Gigabit Ethernet controller a direct 16 bit link to the MCH (Memory Controller Hub). The maximum bandwidth available on the CSA is 266 MB/s, just a tad more then the maximum 250 MB/s (Full Duplex) can produce.

Intel being Intel, the company naturally has a patent over CSA technology and may license this out. It's up to chip manufacturers to see if they want to pay the extra fee for a CSA NIC. The AOpen AX4SPE MAX uses a Broadcom 10/100/1000 NIC which does not run through CSA, rather it goes through the PCI bus.

ICH5/R Southbridge:

One of the most significant features Intel have implemented on the new ICH5 southbridge is native Serial ATA support.

Now that two Serial ATA headers are integrated into the ICH5 southbridge yet another bottleneck is removed. The theoretical maximum bandwidth of Serial ATA currently is 150MB/s, and as you can see this is more than the 133MB/s the PCI bus offers (yes I know that current drives will not reach that speed).

If one were to run Gigabit LAN, Serial ATA HDD's and say... some other high bandwidth devices like an external IEEE 1394 HDD, the PCI bus could be saturated very quickly.

The ICH5 supports two Serial ATA channels as well as two parallel IDE channels for a total of six possible drives (one drive per SATA channel). The ICH5 also increases the number of USB2.0 ports from four to eight.

As you probably noticed, we said the AOpen AX4SPE Max uses the ICH5R southbridge, and the 'R' stands for RAID. Initially, the ICH5R only supported RAID 0 (stripping), but Intel is working on including RAID 1 as well and all that is required is for the end user to flash their motherboard with a newer BIOS.

Normally if you want to make any changes to a RAID setup, it requires you to format and reinstall your software. Intel has made life a bit easier for the end user so that if you get a second HDD of the same size and would like to take advantage of the RAID 0 setup, simply use the Intel Application Accelerator software to set RAID 0 on both your drives! Please keep in mind, this is for Serial ATA only. Up next, PCstats.com takes a look inside the AX4SPE Max BIOS...

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Contents of Article: Aopen AX4SPE Max
 Pg 1.  AOpen AX4SPE Max i865PE Motherboard Review
 Pg 2.  — Meet the i865PE and CSA, ICH5R
 Pg 3.  Overclocking and the BIOS
 Pg 4.  System Spec's and benchmarks
 Pg 5.  Winbench 99 and SiSoft Sandra 2003
 Pg 6.  Benchmarks: PCMark2002, 3DMark2001SE
 Pg 7.  Benchmarks: Quake III Arena, UT2003
 Pg 8.  A worthy mainstream motherboard

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