Summary: One of our biggest complaints with Intel's 845E chipset has been its lack of support for DDR333 memory. With only 2.1GB/sec of peak bandwidth, DDR266 isn't as capable of keeping up with the Pentium 4's bus as DDR333 memory. Today all that has changed, as Intel's 845GE and 845PE chipsets both support DDR333 memory, as well as Intel's Hyper-Threading technology. See how they perform in our performance preview!
Now that Intel’s legal obligations to Rambus have expired, Intel has been hard at work at bringing DDR memory support to the Pentium 4 platform. Things kicked off with the 845D chipset at the beginning of this year. You may not realize this, but 845D was actually launched unofficially in 2001 when the 845 chipset originally debuted. You see, 845 and 845D share the same memory controller, all Intel did was disable the DDR functionality that was already present in the chipset. Motherboard manufacturers were displaying their DDR 845 motherboards as early as at Computex last June, and at Comdex in November 2001. So once Intel was able to release its DDR variant of 845, motherboard manufacturers had no problems getting their respective products to market.
When Intel unveiled its 533MHz Pentium 4 bus, they also released a companion DDR chipset that supported the new bus speed, 845E. Besides offering official support for the 533MHz Pentium 4 processors, 845E didn’t bring much additionally to the table. Sure, we got USB 2.0 support via the ICH4 South Bridge chip, but PC2100 (DDR266) was the fastest memory type supported.
The bandwidth limitations of DDR266
With the 533MHz Pentium 4 bus offering the processor up to 4.2GB/sec of bandwidth, the 2.1GB/sec limitation of DDR266 was leaving the Pentium 4 starving for more bandwidth. We saw this in our SiS 648 preview, where its DDR333 (and unofficially DDR400) memory was much more capable of satisfying the Pentium 4’s bandwidth needs. In our testing it performed roughly eight percent faster than 845E in most applications.
As we mentioned earlier, the primary addition Intel has brought to the 845GE/PE/GV chipset is DDR333 support. Now that Intel’s validation unit has approved DDR333 memory for use with 845’s memory controller, end users of the 845PE chipset can now officially take advantage of the added bandwidth it provides. Intel’s 845G chipset also provided DDR333 functionality, many third-party motherboards based on this chipset have offered this setting for months. However, in the eyes of Intel this has been considered overclocking and was not supported.
Besides DDR333 memory support, not much has changed with 845GE/PE’s memory controller. You’ve still got support for up to 2GB of DDR SDRAM, and just like 845D/E/G the controller only supports two banks of DDR memory. This means that the chipset can only support up to two DIMM sockets when double-sided DIMMs are used. Many motherboard manufacturers offer three DIMM sockets on their DDR Pentium 4 motherboards based on Intel chipsets. But you’ll have to keep in mind that if you wish to use all three DIMM sockets, DIMM sockets two and three will have to be populated with single-sided memory modules. It’s pretty tough finding single-sided memory modules these days, so we’re not really sure if it’s necessary for motherboard manufacturers to continue to ship their 845 DDR products with more than two DIMM sockets. To avoid confusion, all of Intel’s own DDR motherboards have only offered two DIMMs up to this point.
AGP 8X, Hyper-Threading, and ICH4
AGP 8X is not supported by any of the Intel chipsets that have been announced today. This probably comes as a disappointment to many of you; especially since AGP 8X cards from ATI, NVIDIA, and SiS can be purchased on the market today. We’ll have to wait just a little bit longer for AGP 8X support, which will be available in upcoming Intel’s dual-channel DDR chipset, codenamed Granite Bay.
D845PEBT2: Changing the way we think of Intel motherboards
Normally we don’t have much to say regarding Intel’s in-house motherboards as they are usually light on features that would appeal to hardware enthusiasts and gamers. Features that we take granted on most motherboards such as IDE RAID and bus speed adjustments in 1MHz increments (for overclocking) typically won’t be found on an Intel motherboard.
Intel must have gotten the hint from these customers that a more feature-filled product was needed for 845PE, as their 845PE solution, the D845PEBT2, is one of the most feature-packed motherboards we’ve seen coming directly from Intel.
The first aspect that immediately grabs your attention is its sleek black printed-circuit board (PCB). The black PCB is very deep tone of black, and gives the motherboard a very sharp, powerful look. Not only does the D845PEBT2 look pretty, it’s also got a nice list of features to match.
For starters, the D845PEBT2 supports Serial ATA technology today. This functionality is provided by the Silicon Image SATALink Sil 3112 PCI-to-Serial ATA controller, which is integrated on the motherboard. The Sil 3112 features a 32-bit 33/66MHz PCI bus and two Serial ATA ports, providing support for a single Serial ATA hard drive or a dual drive RAID configuration supporting RAID Levels 0 (striping) or 1 (mirroring).
In addition to Serial ATA support, Agere’s FW323-05 chip is built-in for FireWire support, two ports are provided on the D845PEBT2.
The final notable feature found on the D845PEBT2 is six-channel audio, which is provided by Analog Devices SoundMAX AD1980 CODEC. Analog Devices is our favorite manufacturer of the CODECs found on today’s motherboards as there SoundMAX solutions offer sound quality rivaling Creative Labs and support EAX, A3D, DirectSound 3D, and Sensaura’s 3D positional audio. On top of this, Analog Devices has their own SPX (Sound Production eXtensions) technology which will be supported by Verant’s upcoming massively multiplayer game, Planetside. We were given a demonstration of this technology in Planetside at IDF last year and left the meeting very impressed. We have no doubt that gamers won’t be disappointed by SoundMAX’s audio quality.
Just recently they’ve added their Cadenza technology, which provides support for reliable headset-free voice recognition technology and other speech applications. The D845PEBT2 also ships with a $5 off coupon on the Andrea SUPERBEAM array microphone (bringing the price to $19.95), which comes with a copy of ViaVoice Pro, Enigma, and Net2Phone.
And for the tweakers out there, the D845PEBT2 BIOS does allow you to adjust the memory timings. While the memory adjustments in its BIOS aren’t quite as robust as you’d find on a third-party motherboard, the fact that they’re there is a welcome change.
SIDEBAR: The D845PEBT2 is the first Intel motherboard to support Serial ATA.
The second Intel motherboard – 845GE
The second Intel motherboard we’re evaluating today is the D845GEBV2; it is based on Intel’s 845GE chipset. The GE chipset differs from 845PE in that it features an integrated graphics core. Intel refers to the graphics within 845G/GE as “extreme graphics”, but unfortunately this is not the case, at least if you’re into gaming. We’re essentially looking at an NVIDIA TNT2 Ultra level of performance here, although it does have a few interesting features that take it one level above that.
The 845GE motherboard itself is definitely what we’re used to seeing from Intel. There are no external Serial ATA or Firewire controllers present on D845GEBV2, nor is there a black PCB. Fortunately, we still get SoundMAX’s excellent 5.1 channel audio, as well as the ability to adjust memory timings within BIOS. Unlike the D845PBT2, the D845GEBV2 sports six PCI slots, obviously with less features built on to the motherboard the addition of the sixth PCI slot becomes more important. Curiously the D845DEBV2 dons a CD-input and an auxiliary input, while the auxiliary input was left off of the D845PEBT2. Considering that the D845PEBT2 is geared more towards the enthusiast crowd, you’d assume it would be the other way around, as enthusiasts are more likely to need both inputs (one for the CD/DVD-ROM drive and another for the CD-RW).
3DMark 2001 Second Edition - DirectX 8
We’ll begin testing performance with 3DMark 2001SE, and as you can see 845GE/PE offer similar levels of performance as SiS’ 648 chipset. We’re looking at a gap of less than 1%, regardless of screen resolution.
3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
Quake III - High Quality
In Quake 3 at 800x600, the three DDR333 chipsets continue to perform extremely close to one another, just 1.3 frames per second separates them! At the intermediate resolutions the gap is able to open up a little bit, but we’re still talking less than a 2% difference in performance.
Jedi Knight II
The 845PE edges out SiS 648 ever so slightly in Jedi Knight II, but once again the margin is so slim that you’d be hard-pressed to see a difference between either platform.
Unreal Tournament 2003
We’ve never seen two different chipsets perform as close to one another as SiS 648 and 845PE are performing in this article. We’re going to give the edge to 845PE though simply because the 648 MAX is the fastest SiS 648 motherboard we’ve tested, while the Intel 845GE/PE motherboards aren’t quite as fast as third-party solutions.
Unreal Tournament 2003
The botmatches are quite a bit more CPU-bound than the flyby tests, once again the margin between SiS 648 and 845PE is too close to call. 845PE officially comes out on top, but it isn’t by much.
Comanche 4 demo
Business Winstone 2001
It came as quite a surprise to us to see 845E offering more performance than SiS 648, although to be honest the margin between all four platforms is practically indistinguishable. Business Winstone 2001 is an older benchmark that isn’t able to push the platforms quite as much as today’s desktop applications, which is why it was recently updated.
Content Creation Winstone 2002
The DDR333 chipsets are able to distinguish themselves a bit more in Content Creation Winstone 2002, which is much more capable of straining the memory subsystem of the Pentium 4 platform.
Make no mistake about it, when Intel puts its mind to doing something on the chipset front; it definitely does it right when it comes to performance and reliability. Our previous DDR performance champion, SiS’s 648 chipset, is slightly eclipsed by Intel’s 845PE and 845GE chipsets, and both now offer DDR333 memory support.
We can also say that Intel has one-upped SiS in the compatibility department. While 845PE and 845GE support Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology, SiS 648 does not. We’ve also experienced quite a few stability issues with the SiS 648 chipset and ATI’s RADEON 9700 PRO video card, whether we’re running in AGP 4X or AGP 8X mode. 845PE on the other hand ran flawlessly.
Despite this, Intel’s new chipsets aren’t the perfect offerings we’re sure so many of you where hoping for. We’re still waiting on AGP 8X, as well as native Serial ATA support. SiS 648 supports AGP 8X and Firewire today, giving it an advantage over 845PE. To address Hyper-Threading and DDR400 memory support, SiS is working on a follow-up to SiS 648 (SiS 648DX) that will be available later this year although to be honest, we don’t see this as the step our readers should be looking forward to.
Rather than waiting for SiS 648DX, we’re eagerly awaiting dual-channel DDR chipsets on the horizon from Intel, SiS, and VIA that should see the light of day before the end of this year. These offerings will offer more memory bandwidth to the processor than even DDR400 memory, which means we’ll see more performance coming to the Pentium 4 platform in only a couple of months. Knowing this, it’s a bit hard to get excited about 845PE or SiS 648DX, what’s the point of either of these chipsets with dual-channel DDR right on the horizon? If these chipsets would have been made available earlier this summer (say, when their predecessors originally launched) we would have been all over them. But now we can only recommend 845PE to the consumer who must go out and purchase a new system today.
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