||ABIT BH7 Review
April 30, 2003 Tuan Nguyen
Summary: Looking for an 800MHz FSB capable motherboard but don't want to spend $150+ for a Canterwood or Springdale motherboard? If this sounds like you, ABIT's BH7 may be just what you're looking for. With its 4-Phase power and SoftMenu III BIOS, the BH7 is built for 200MHz+ operation from the ground up, yet it can be found for around $80 online. See how this board performs in our review!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 13 )|
Doing well and then some
Despite economic downturns and corporate problems associated with such events, ABIT is still holding up quite strong, evident from many of its most recent offerings. The BH7 is one of ABITís recent Pentium 4 motherboard solutions to roll off the assembly line. ABIT has been quite fast to the punch in releasing up to date products and the BH7 is no exception. Although itís not quite the most decked-out ABIT motherboard weíve come across, it has all the features that weíve come to love from ABIT.
The BH7 is based on popular and successful 845PE chipset. In some of our reviews in the past few months, weíve been wondering if the 845 chipset would become the next 440BX success and indeed it has. Motherboards based on this now mature chipset are being recognized for stability, speed, and versatility. Intel has introduced a few versions based on the 845 core which shows how well designed the 845 chipset actually is. The only drawback with the 845 family is that Intel kept updating the chipset on an overwhelmingly short schedule.
It seemed that before one chipset had the chance to show what it was capable of, Intel made a press release about yet another new 845 chipset. To list the extremes, thereís the 845, 845G, 845G, 845GV, 845E, and now 845PE. If this wasnít enough, there came 845-based boards from manufacturers everywhere, making the buying decision more frustrating than anything.
If you can remember back far enough, you may realize that all the things that the enthusiast community love about ABIT was started with ABITís BH6 motherboard some five years in the past and there hasnít been a board since the BH6 to carry the BH prefix. Perhaps it is with the highest honor that the BH7 is named what it is today. Breakthrough features such as software jumper, in-BIOS front-side bus configuration and the ability to sustain long up-times.
The BH7ís main attraction is its overclockability. Itís designed quite well and overall is a board without fuss and excessive features. Itís a little more simplistic than some of ABITís other boards that weíve seen but definitely stays focused on what the BH boards are known for. Some of its basic specifications are:
400 and 500MHz Front-side bus
2GB DDR333 support
RealTek ALC650 6-Channel ACí97 codec with S/PDIF optical
RealTek RTL8101L 10/100M Ethernet
Marvell 88i8030 SATA bridge
Standard affair as far as recent motherboards go, except for the Marvell 88i8030 SATA bridge, which weíll go into depth in the following pages about why itís not really Serial ATA.
SIDEBAR: ABIT BH7 Product Webpage
| Board layout||Page:: ( 2 / 13 )|
The BH7ís layout is done very well, without annoyances that exist on other boards such as DIMM slots being too close to the AGP slot, requiring the removal of the graphics card in order to install or remove a DIMM. All connectors are positioned not to interfere with anything else.
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At the front of the board, the BH7 is standard equipped with two IDE connectors, leaving out extra IDE RAID features that are common on its other boards. Looking at the layout of the BH7, thereís still a lot of room left for features such as these, and a second SATA at that. Currently, the BH7ís design only has one SATA connector, indicating that SATA is still in its trial stages. The fact is, itís still very difficult to find SATA drives readily available.
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On the back, we see the RealTek connectors that support 10/100 speeds but would have preferred an Intel or 3Com controller, as controllers from those two companies tend to use less CPU resources. You may have also noticed gigabit Ethernet appearing on certain boards. A group of companies are currently in the move to push for gigabit Ethernet as the mainstream standard and one of the things theyíre doing is making the controllers inexpensive. This makes it a no-brainer to feature gig-E onboard.
Serial ATA Ė not yet
Serial ATA, as far as it has come, just hasnít been living up to much of the hype stirred some twelve or so months ago. If it is such a boon and such a hot technology, hard drive manufacturers would do a better job of pushing drives to market because even the cable and chipset guys are doing a far better job in terms of time-to-market. A clear indication of where SATA stands today can be seen on the BH7. Currently sporting only a single connector, it shows that while SATA is a nifty feature, it isnít yet practical and isnít in high demand. Whatís also interesting is that the Marvell 88i8030 controller is simply a bridge between PATA and SATA. The underlying layer is still parallel ATA. On Marvellís website, they say:
ďBy converting Parallel ATA (PATA) to Serial ATA (SATA), the Marvellģ 88i8030 SATA bridge product allows hard disk drive, PC/server motherboard and storage subsystem manufacturers to use their current PATA electronics for fast time-to-market.Ē
Serial ATA isnít where it wants to be yet and until drives are in abundance, manufacturers like Abit wonít start stocking their boards with SATA connectors. Itís a clear indication that we still have a while to wait until really taking advantage of what SATA promises.
SIDEBAR: ABIT has 4 product lines of motherboards based on the 845GE/PE chipset. Some of those boards even have multiple variants of their own.
| Inside the BIOS||Page:: ( 3 / 13 )|
SoftMenu has always been a forte of Abit boards, and the BH7 doesnít disappoint. Everything is included to make your overclocking job hassle free. Looking for 1MHz-step FSB overclocking, PCI/AGP dividers, RAM ratio, DRAM and Vcore voltage adjustments? The BH7 has you well covered. Abitís BIOS is quite configurable and everything you need to get your handís on is organized and well placed. Strangely, we didnít find a feature that allows configuring of HyperThreading on applicable processors. Hopefully Abit can include this feature in a future BIOS.
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Within SoftMenu III, the processor can be automatically defined or manually adjusted by configuring both the FSB and CPU multiplier. It would be a little more helpful if the BIOS showed the resulting frequency as you adjust multiplier or FSB settings dynamically. Right now, youíll have to multiply things out in your head. Quick! 137x23!
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If you need a little more juice in your devices, SoftMenu III will allow you to adjust voltages for CPU Vcore, DRAM and AGP. We found it interesting that Vcore is listed in percentages rather than the actual voltage. We prefer that actual voltages are listed and more granularity is given so that we can very carefully tweak our processor without worrying about overdoing something.
Overclocking was straightforward with SoftMenu III and we were able to input our FSB and multiplier values directly. Since our CPU is unlocked, we were able to overclock our CPU to 133FSB x 24 = 3.33GHz without problems. Anything beyond 3.33GHz and the system became quite unstable. Since weíve determined pretty much how well the CPU is able to scale, itís now up to the motherboard to show how well it can push the processor, and itself. After a bit of trial and error we managed a stable FSB speed of 160MHz, giving us a final processor speed of about 3.33GHz, inline with what we obtained using multiplier overclocking. This indicated to us that perhaps the limitation lies with the processor we used and not with the BH7. If only we had a more powerful cooling solution.
On another positive note, Abit says that its 4-phase power design allows the use of the new 800MHz FSB Pentium 4 processors. This further indicates that we havenít yet touched the limits of the BH7ís FSB.
SIDEBAR: ABIT has also announced its Canterwood (875P) motherboard, the IC7 and IC7-G Max2 Advance
| System Setup||Page:: ( 4 / 13 )|
Intel Pentium 4 3.06GHz Hyper-Threading (enabled) Ė 533MHz FSB
ABIT BH7 (Intel I845PE chipset)
512MB Corsair PC3200 DDR SDRAM Ė XMS Type
ATI RADEON 9700 Pro 128MB
Catalyst 2.4 drivers
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
Toshiba 12X DVD-ROM
Windows XP Professional SP1
Desktop Resolution: 1024x768x32
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
3D Mark 2001 Second Edition Build 330 Ė 32-bit color
Quake III: Arena version 1.17 ĎDemo001í demo
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter Ė 32-bit color, Elephant Atrium demo
SIDEBAR: ABIT has also announced its line of GeForce FX 5200, 5600, and 5800 products.
| 3D Mark 2001 SE||Page:: ( 5 / 13 )|
3D Mark 2001 SE v.330 Ė DirectX 8
SIDEBAR: ABIT also recently expanded into the server/workstation market with a new line of Xeon boards.
| 3D Mark 2001 SE Ė Frame Rates||Page:: ( 6 / 13 )|
3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
SIDEBAR: The ABIT NF7-S is one of three motherboards that has been validated by NVIDIA and Dolby for its digital audio compliance.
| Serious Sam SE||Page:: ( 7 / 13 )|
Serious Sam SE (Elephant Atrium) Ė OpenGL
SIDEBAR: Intelís Springdale chipset is rumored to launch soon. It will also support 800MHz FSB CPUs.
| Quake III: Arena||Page:: ( 8 / 13 )|
Quake III v.1.17 Demo001 Ė OpenGL
SIDEBAR: Only 2 weeks away from e3!
| Comanche 4||Page:: ( 9 / 13 )|
Comanche 4 Ė DirectX 8
SIDEBAR: ABIT sold over 1 million BH6 motherboards.
| Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo||Page:: ( 10 / 13 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby Ė DirectX 8
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch Ė DirectX 8
SIDEBAR: One of the reasons the BH6 was so popular was because of the Celeron 300A processor. It overclocked like mad and was dirt cheap, making it the perfect companion for the BH6.
| SiSoft Sandra 2003 Memory Bandwidth||Page:: ( 11 / 13 )|
SiSoft Sandra 2003 Memory Bandwidth
SIDEBAR: Can you remember the days when core-logic was only updated (at most) once in a year? Now itís more like every 6 months.
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 12 / 13 )|
Overclocking: This would be the primary reason to own a BH7. Designed from the ground-up to provide maximum flexibility, the BH7 holds its own when scaling frequencies. Stability in this department is no slouch either. Indeed the BH7 brings back the memories of the BH6 440BX days and does so with much aplomb. Thanks to its mature SoftMenu III system, the BH7 easily allows you to tweak such options as voltages and timings as well as the usual such as CAS latency.
800MHz FSB: Thanks to its 4-phase power design, the BH7 supports (unofficially via overclocking) the new Intel 800MHz FSB Pentium 4ís.
10/100 Ethernet: While not the most efficient controller out there, the RealTek chip does its job and frees up an expansion slot. These days, Ethernet is without a doubt the most useful ďoptionĒ to integrate onto the motherboard. We can do without onboard sound, video and others, but onboard Ethernet is both a money saver and a big convenience.
Onboard 6-channel audio: Onboard audio is usually shunned by many, but is perfectly acceptable if you plan to attach your BH7 up to a home receiver or external DAC. In this regard, we find that the onboard RealTek solution works quite well. Of course you lose a CPU cycle or two compared to using a Live! or Audigy, but with overclocking this powerful and processors this fast these days, it doesnít really matter.
Stability: Stability is something that Abit strived for quite some time to refine and itís done quite well. Even when overclocked, the BH7 stands up very well. Reducing clutter and excessive components on the board also add to overall system stability The BH7 is one of the cleanest boards weíve seen.
Board layout: Directly relating to the above, the BH7 layout is well designed and clean. There arenít any loose capacitors jarring into other components and memory slots are placed well away from the AGP slot -- thereís a lot of empty space on this board
Price: At about $84, the BH7 hits home and stays true to the BH heritage. You just canít get any cheaper than this, with SoftMenu III, onboard 10/100 and 6-channel audio. It may have a feature or two weíd like to see, but thereís no denying that at this price, itís the board to own if youíre all about performance.
Serial ATA: Call it what you will, but right now, the SATA feature on the BH7 is really just a parallel ATA interface with a bridge that allows interface with SATA drives. At least, there could have been another connector to even things out if anything.
While this feature is a Pro, in that it provides an extra method of connectivity, itís more so a con in that itís not a true SATA interface with all the SATA bells and whistles. At the root, it still carries the disadvantages of a PATA layer. In light of this, we would have preferred the just the usual Promise ATA/133 RAID controller. That would have been a lot more useful.
The worst thing of all is that if you do decide to use the SATA connector, the secondary IDE connector will be disabled.
AGP4X: No AGP4X means no support for upcoming cards. All new graphics cards coming out from this point on will be AGP8X, and without support for it, it means the BH7 will begin to age sooner. On a positive note, you wonít have to worry too much about AGP8X as weíre still striving to take full advantage of 4X at the moment.
SIDEBAR: If you ever need more of them, ABIT offers additional SERILLEL adapters for purchase on its website.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 13 / 13 )|