Summary: Based on Intel’s 875P “Canterwood” chipset, the ASUS P4C800 Deluxe supports Intel’s latest 800MHz FSB processors, dual-channel DDR400 memory, Serial ATA hard drives and of course AGP 8X. ASUS spices the package up even further with bus speeds up to 400MHz in 1MHz increments, 3Com Gigabit LAN, and an additional Promise IDE controller for support of up to 10 hard drives! See how this motherboard stacks up against other 875P motherboards as well as Granite Bay in this review!
Intel’s 875P (Canterwood) chipset was built to address the most growing need of the Pentium 4: bandwidth. You see, as the Pentium 4’s clock speed rises, the discrepancy between the Pentium 4 processor and the rest of the components within the PC grows larger. And with its 20-stage pipeline, Intel has designed the P4 to scale to unprecedented clock speeds, reportedly as high as 10GHz.
For optimum performance, the key to the P4 is to keep the processor fed with data. To accomplish this, Intel has equipped the Pentium 4 with a 512KB, 256-bit interface to its L2 cache, and unlike the Pentium III and Athlon XP, the P4 can transfer data to its cache each clock cycle, in comparison, the Athlon XP can only transfer data on its eighth clock cycle. As a result, the P4’s cache scales dramatically as its clock speed increases, while the original 1.5GHz Pentium 4 offered up to 48GB/sec peak L2 cache bandwidth, today’s 3GHz processor doubles that at 96GB/sec.
To keep the processor from idling due to lack of bandwidth, Intel has persistently updated the Pentium 4’s system and memory buses. Last year we saw the introduction of the 533MHz system bus in the 850E and 845E chipsets, while Intel addressed the memory bus requirements for DDR platforms with the 845PE and E7205 chipsets. Each of these releases was critical to ensure the Pentium 4 platform remained balanced, as Intel subsequently released 2.8GHz and 3.06GHz Pentium 4 processors. But as good as they were, Intel decided to crank the platform’s performance even higher, and as you saw in our 875P preview, the Pentium 4 ate the additional bandwidth up with abandon, establishing new levels of performance and solidly placing the Pentium 4 at the head of the class in terms of performance.
Canterwood boards galore!
Now that the numbers are out on 875P and it’s a proven performer, motherboard manufacturers are busy promoting their 875P-based motherboards, and they’re not stepping halfway, these boards are loaded with all kinds of the latest technologies: ATA/133 and Serial ATA drive support, USB and FireWire ports galore, Gigabit LAN, some are even offering external Promise Serial ATA controllers for even more Serial ATA goodness with RAID supported as well.
It should come as no surprise that ASUS is one of these manufacturers. Since its inception ASUS has been known for building high quality motherboards that offer both speed and stability. ASUS has recently expanded its line to include a “Deluxe” series of motherboards for each product family. These Deluxe boards build on the original line by including all kinds of additional features. For instance, ASUS’ nForce2-based A7N8X Deluxe was the first nForce2 board to offer DualNet networking with Dolby Digital audio built-in.
In a similar fashion, the ASUS P4C800 Deluxe is built to take the basic 875P feature set and expand on it. ASUS has added Analog Devices SoundMAX digital audio system, 3Com Gigabit LAN, Promise Serial ATA with RAID, and a few features unique to just the P4C800 Deluxe such as ASUS’ CrashFree BIOS 2 and Q-Fan, which dynamically adjusts the speed of fans in your system based on temperature. ASUS even adds the capability to listen to music without having to boot into the operating system!
SIDEBAR: ASUS P4C800 Deluxe Product Webpage
At the heart of the P4C800 Deluxe is the Intel 875P chipset. 875P supports the latest 800MHz processors, and is backward-compatible with 400MHz and 533MHz FSB processors. In the same fashion, 875P is also compatible with DDR400, DDR333, and DDR266 memory types, and supports asynchronous memory bus and system bus operation. This means that you can run your 800MHz bus processor with DDR333 memory that you may already have, although it will cost you some performance.
Like Intel’s E7205 chipset, 875P employs a dual-channel memory architecture, meaning that peak memory bandwidth is doubled when both memory channels (controllers) are populated with system memory. For increased compatibility, you can install a single memory module, but since you’re only utilizing one channel you will be operating in single-channel mode and thus getting reduced performance. To operate in dual-channel mode, memory must be installed in pairs, so if you install three memory modules, you’ll be operating in single-channel mode.
Serial ATA RAID
Although the P4C800 Deluxe natively supports Serial ATA hard drive technology via the Intel ICH5 chip, ASUS goes one step further by utilizing the Promise PDC20378 controller to support additional ATA/133 or Serial ATA hard drives with RAID support. ASUS’ decision to implement the PDC20378 is an interesting one in that Intel offers native RAID support with its ICH5R chip, hence the R in the name. For intense situations where the disk is being used heavily, native support would appear to be the better solution on paper, as the PCI bus that the Promise controller must utilize is limited to just 133MB/sec, in contrast Serial ATA tops out at 150MB/sec. (But keep in mind that even the fastest hard disks won’t come anywhere close to their theoretical peaks.)
ASUS likely has heaps of PDC20378 controllers in its inventory and thus probably didn’t want to be tied to Intel if supply of ICH5R chips dry up, a problem which occurred with Intel in the Pentium III days. Also, the Promise controller supports RAID Level 1, a feature the ICH5R doesn’t offer.
In another bit of a surprise, ASUS has elected to go with 3Com’s 3C940 controller rather than Intel’s built-in networking with CSA architecture. With CSA, a dedicated pipe between the Ethernet controller and North Bridge is available, this link offers up to 2Gbps of bandwidth. The 3Com controller utilized by the P4C800 Deluxe must instead use the PCI bus, just like the external Promise controller. Again, those of you in a traditional desktop environment will likely never hit the theoretical maximums, but we can see the benefits of CSA in an office or networking environment. At the very least CSA removes some of the burden off the PCI bus, but with external PCI-based chips for storage, FireWire, and networking, it can certainly be argued that the P4C800 Deluxe is straining the PCI bus to its limits unnecessarily.
As we mentioned previously, ASUS has implemented Analog Devices AD1985 SoundMAX controller for audio duties. We’re huge fans of the SoundMAX audio controllers, as they deliver superior audio quality than other integrated solutions, and offer good performance to boot. SoundMAX also supports Sensaura’s 3D positional audio, EAX, A3D, and SoundMAX’s own sound product extensions (SPX) for 3D gaming audio applications, making the need for an external sound card obsolete.
The P4C800 Deluxe is another brilliantly executed board design from ASUS that improves upon the reference design. Like many other 875P motherboards, ASUS has rotated the North Bridge of the 875P chipset 45 degrees in relation to the processor interface. This shortens the trace lengths between both components, improving signal quality.
One downside of this however, is that the North Bridge heatsink is located very close to the CPU interface. So close in fact that it’s physically much more difficult to remove the processor heatsink without the North Bridge’s heatsink getting in the way. Apparently, that’s the price of progress.
Other than that gripe, there isn’t anything else to complain about with the P4C800 Deluxe. Some may wish for active cooling on the North Bridge as it can get pretty warm under extended load, but others will probably appreciate the lower noise level. In addition, the power connectors are located to the right of the CPU interface, so airflow around the processor should be okay. ASUS even placed the DIMM sockets high in relation to the AGP socket, so you can install either device without affecting the other.
As you can see in the pictures, the P4C800 Deluxe has two pairs of Serial ATA ports. The upper pair of ports is tied to the ICH5 South Bridge, while the Promise external controller powers the lower ports.
Located just below the fifth PCI slot is the ASUS WIFI wireless connector.
SIDEBAR: The ASUS P4PE also utilized SoundMAX audio.
The P4C800 Deluxe BIOS departs from tradition by going with the AMI BIOS setup. This took us a few minutes to get used to, but after a few passes through the BIOS setup pages we’re now fairly confident with this new interface.
The majority of the settings you’ll need can be found in the “advanced” menu, where submenus for adjusting bus speeds, memory timings, onboard devices, and more can all be configured. Starting from the top is the JumperFree configuration submenu, this is where you can adjust the system, memory, and AGP frequencies, as well as voltages for the processor, memory, and AGP slot. ASUS also includes an AI Overclock tuner setting, which basically will automatically overclock your system by 5, 10, 20, or 30%, this is a good setting for inexperienced users who are unfamiliar with parameters such as the system and memory bus, but will be avoided by the experienced overclocker.
Bus speeds are available in 1MHz increments all the way up to 400MHz, more than enough for even the most extreme overclocks, while the memory bus can operate independently of the system bus at 266, 333, or 400MHz if you’re operating on an 800MHz system bus, while at 533MHz FSB you’re limited to settings of 266 and 333MHz. For maximum performance, keep in mind that it’s always best to run the memory bus and system bus in sync with each other. Overclockers will also be happy to hear that the AGP and PCI frequencies can be locked independently of the system bus, which is a great feature to have if your video card can’t handle an extreme system bus speed.
Unfortunately, the P4C800 Deluxe falls short in the CPU voltage department. In the current P4C800 Deluxe BIOS (1003), the board is limited to just 1.7V maximum for the CPU (in 0.025V incremements). This is a very conservative setting, especially coming from ASUS, we’ve found that we’ve needed 1.8V and in a few cases, 1.85V to extract the most out of our processor when overclocking. Hopefully ASUS will address this issue with a BIOS update that supports additional voltages. AGP voltages up to 1.8V are also provided, as are DDR voltages up to 2.85V, so end users should be okay with the settings available for those parameters.
Editor's Note: It has come to our attention that ASUS has released a new BIOS for the P4C800 Deluxe (V1006) that supports voltages up to 1.95V. If this feature is important to you, we highly suggest you update to this BIOS revision.
One little gem at the bottom of the JumperFree submenu is the “performance mode” setting. This is a late addition to the P4C800 BIOS that didn’t even make it in the board’s manual. It provides a nice performance boost once enabled, we took performance results with both settings so you can see the performance improvement for yourself.
We were able to successfully overclock our P4C800 Deluxe system as high as 238MHz before system stability became compromised. We have a strong suspicion that the culprit was the 1.7V limitation of the P4C800 Deluxe’s BIOS, as we could run 3D applications such as Quake 3 and 3DMark at up to 240MHz, but they’d ultimately lock up at one point or another. Unfortunately we’re currently limited to 400MHz memory so we had to run the memory bus lower than the system bus, and thus the overclocked system performed only marginally better than the system at stock clock speeds with both buses synched at 400MHz. We’ll have to get our hands on some PC3500 memory so we can really see what this system is truly capable of.
The 3DMark scores are close between the 875P motherboards, but of course, keep in mind that this really isn’t the best benchmark for testing motherboards. A slim 2% margin separates the stock P4C800 Deluxe from the E7205-based P4G8X Deluxe.
3DMark03 – Wings of Fury
3DMark03 – Battle of Proxycon
3DMark03 – Troll’s Lair
3DMark03 – Mother Nature
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
The ASUS P4C800 Deluxe is able to outperform both of the other 875P platforms in Serious Sam, although keep in mind that we’re only looking at a 2% margin in stock configuration at 800x600. The Turbo mode nets the P4C800 Deluxe an additional 4% in performance.
Quake III - High Quality
Once again we see the P4C800 Deluxe come out on top, at 800x600 the LANPARTY PRO875 and P4C800 Deluxe are separated by three percentage points. Once again the Turbo mode nets the P4C800 Deluxe boosted performance, in this case 3%.
Comanche 4 demo
Even though Comanche 4 is more CPU-limited than the previous tests, we still see that P4C800 Deluxe is able to outshine the boards from MSI and DFI. You’d honestly be hard-pressed to feel the difference between any of these 875P platforms however.
Unreal Tournament 2003 - flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 - botmatch
If you’ve seen the previous test results, there should be no surprise here, the P4C800 Deluxe continues to outperform the other 875P motherboards we tested, although the gap separating these boards is less than 2% at 800x600. Enabling the Turbo mode nets an additional 2% in performance.
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
SiSoft Sandra 2003 Memory Bandwidth
Price: With online prices starting just under $190, the P4C800 Deluxe is certainly a bit on the expensive side. If you find the price a little too high to swallow, ASUS will be releasing a non-Deluxe model that omits the external RAID and FireWire controllers, but those boards haven’t hit retail yet.
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