Summary: IWill is a manufacturer that's coming out of the shadows - we've been hearing about more and more lately, and their latest effort, the XP333-R with support for DDR333 and ATA133 has been getting some positive buzz. Today, we give it the full treatment in the FS test labs.
I need bandwidth!
XP seems to be the suffix to use these days and that’s no surprise, considering that manufacturers want to associate their products with Microsoft’s Windows XP. Whatever the “XP” means to you, for manufacturers it means showing that they can keep up with the latest and greatest. Over the past year, Iwill has shown that it can do just that and more. Not only has it made a huge name for itself in the enthusiast community, Iwill also keeps tabs on the professional IT market, with boards that support the likes of dual Xeon processors and more.
I hate fractions!
If you were a fan of the recent Iwill KK266 boards, you’ll immediately remember how strong it was on overclocking. Iwill hasn’t stopped since the success of its KK266 and in fact, has gone forward to produce some of the most overclockable boards in the industry. Iwill’s latest board, the XP333-R which we’re taking a look at today, is probably going to be one of the most, if not the most, overclockable boards ever.
Overclocking today is easily done and usually accomplished by adjusting the frequency of the FSB or Front Side Bus on the motherboard. However the FSB frequency directly governs both the PCI and AGP frequencies, and as a result both bus ports will operate out of spec if the FSB is set too high. So if Intel and AMD are planning to continually increase FSB speeds, how would they ensure that PCI and AGP cards will operate in at the proper frequencies? The secret lies in frequency dividers. For example, to keep the PCI bus running at its specified 33MHz speed, a processor using a 100MHz FSB has a 1/3 FSB divider. In the same manner, a 133MHz FSB system has a 1/4 FSB divider to keep PCI speeds clocked to specifications. The AGP port is also kept stable using the same method. To keep the AGP port operating at say 66MHz, a 100MHz FSB system would employ a 2/3 AGP divider.
SIDEBAR: Iwill was a one of those “me-too” kind of board companies until its KK266 board broke loose and made a huge ruckus in the overclocking community.
An interesting thing to note is the Iwill-branded south bridge. Iwill however, is not stepping into the chipset business anytime soon and the south bridge is just an Ali M1535D+ chip.
Iwill “make things better”
As if overclocking were a fashion, Iwill has crammed its XP333 chock full of overclocking features. Included are options that allow you to change anything from FSB, to CPU core voltage, to CPU clock ratio. However, the most appealing feature was Iwill’s PCI clock divider options. Available to you are five options that give you flexibility for overclocking. No longer are you held back by FSB speeds and you don’t have to worry about toasting any of your add-in cards.
Every motherboard has dividers that keep the PCI bus and AGP port from going out of range and change depending on which FSB frequency your processor uses. The problem comes when you start taking the FSB to higher non-standard frequencies. Standard frequencies are those defined by Intel and AMD and usually increment in multiples of approximately 33MHz. A motherboard that has its FSB overclocked to 120MHz and using a 1/3 PCI divider will have its PCI bus operating at 40MHz – a full 21% increase in PCI frequency and usually a cause for concern. Many PCI cards cannot operate much higher than their intended speed and many of these cards can only accept a small margin of error.
It’s a good thing that Iwill has included plentiful dividers because you’re given the option to take the board’s FSB speed from 100MHz to 233MHz – that’s an effective 466MHz DDR FSB! Under our tests, we used a 1.1GHz Athlon MP and achieved 1328MHz using 166MHz FSB with an 8.0X multiplier.
SIDEBAR: Tuan uses an Apple *gasps* notebook – the Titanium G4.
Delivering a product is one thing, but making sure that your customer gets setup without trouble and taking care of their worries is another. Opening the box reveals an incredibly detailed quick setup guide that manages to pack a lot of information into the page, without slowing you down or overwhelming you. Full color pictures are included for those unfamiliar with setting things up and user-friendly diagrams illustrate exactly which jumpers can be found where and what they do. All other forms of literature, including the manual, are well written and easy to understand.
Iwill’s XP333 comes in two flavors, one with ATA133 RAID and the one without. The XP333-R comes with a HighPoint ATA133 RAID controller that supports levels 0, 1 and 0+1. We really aren’t fans of HighPoint’s controllers and would have preferred a Promise controller instead but apparently HighPoint was the first to support ATA133 RAID. You can tell that the HPT372 controller isn’t very well designed because of the sheer number of pin counts that it has compared to Promise’s controllers which have about 1/4 the lines and are still faster.
Onboard sound is handled by a C-Media 6 channel audio DSP. It supports the most popular sound field APIs including 3D HRTF functions and EAX reverbs. Iwill has also included an expansion back plate that has jacks for rear, center and low frequency effects (LFE) speakers. Examining the audio back plate reveals that more connectors like digital optical and coaxial in/outs could have included, but for one reason or another were left out.
Showing that it’s determined to make the XP333 an overclocker’s dream, Iwill chose ALi’s chipset to give support to PC2700 or DDR333 RAM. But besides high-speed memory, there are two jumpers on the XP333 that allow you to set memory voltage. We used Corsair’s PC2700 XMS DDR modules for our tests and they are able to reach extremely high speeds without the aid of power increases but for those with frisky RAM, the option to set memory input power may come in handy.
Despite all its goodness, the XP333 does have some small cause for concern. A lot of the ability to toggle features on/off on the XP333 should have been placed inside the BIOS setup. Things like on-board sound should be placed inside the BIOS as well as the HighPoint controller and the memory voltage settings. While it’s not a serious thing, eliminating as many jumpers as possible can save a significant amount of time when you’re changing and tweaking your system.
SIDEBAR: You can check out Corsair’s XMS memory at Corsair.com
Iwill XP333-R (ALi MAGiK 1 M1647C)
ABIT KR7A-RAID (VIA KT266A)
SiS 645 reference board (SiS 645)
Intel D845BG (i845D)
VIA 4in1 version 4.37
256MB Corsair PC2100 DDR SDRAM
256MB Corsair PC2700 DDR SDRAM – XMS Type
NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti 500 reference board
Driver version Detonator 23.11
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
Toshiba 12X DVD-ROM
Windows XP Professional
Desktop Resolution: 1024x768x32
3DMark2000 ver 1.1 – 16-bit, 16-bit textures
3DMark 2000 – DirectX 7.0
3DMark 2001 – DirectX 8.0
While the ALi chipset does support DDR333 memory, its internal architecture limits its performance below that of VIA’s KT266A. This is primarily due to the use of V-Link in VIA’s current line of chipsets and we’ll be seeing faster technologies from VIA in upcoming chipsets. If ALi wants to remain close or become better than VIA in terms of performance, it may want to start looking into other methods of transporting information between south bridge and northbridge and northbridge and memory – HyperTransport?
3DMark 2001 – Car Chase
3DMark 2001 – Dragothic
3DMark 2001 – Lobby
3DMark 2001 – Nature
Performance between the MAGiK 1 and KT266A remains very close to each other but there’s no denying that KT266 is better. Because we’re testing chipset speed, remaining at low to average resolutions in games will allow you to see differences. High resolutions are too graphics card dependant and thus puts a cap on overall performance.
Serious Sam – OpenGL
Our first real game test shows how DDR333 can really benefit a system. One of the slowest subsystem components in a computer is memory and the more bandwidth we have, more data can move faster to where it’s needed. Here we see that there’s obviously room to grow in the ALi chipset and by the way things look, Iwill’s XP333 could even support faster DDR memory. If this is indeed the case, then we’ll be able to witness even more real-world game performance from this board.
Quake III Retail – High Quality
Quake 3 doesn’t benefit from memory bandwidth like Serious Sam does and so we see the ALi chipset slightly lag behind the KT266 chipset. It appears as though id Software engines are becoming more and more reliant on video card power rather than system power. In John Carmack’s latest .plan update, he talks about how the new Doom engine will be graphics heavy and with NVIDIA and ATI adding more rendering features onto the their GPUs, most of the gruesome rendering math work will be GPU dependant, freeing up the host processor.
Return To Castle Wolfenstein MP Test
Whenever data needs to be moved fast, count on high bandwidth memory to get the job done. We’re seeing DDR333 getting put to use in productivity applications whereas games are more focused on raw CPU and graphics power. With a bit more tweaking either on ALi’s or Iwill’s side of things, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to push the XP333’s performance above that of KT266A. All the options are already in place, someone just needs to take initiative and optimize the options in such a manner that will enable users to leverage DDR333’s advantage over DDR266.