Summary: Based on the SiS655TX chipset, the ASUS P4S800D-E Deluxe supports a wide range of features: 4-port Serial ATA, dual-channel DDR400, support for Intel's latest Prescott Pentium 4 processors, bus speeds up to 300MHz, and a wide range of voltage options for overclocking. But does ASUS' claim of "875P-like performance, half the price" really hold up? We recently took this motherboard out for a test drive to see what it was made of. See why we came away impressed in today's review!
Ever since the Pentium 4 was first conceived, Intel has maintained a multi-tiered strategy for chipsets based on the platform. Initially it was the 850 with Rambus RDRAM versus 845 and later 845E with DDR SDRAM. Then, around this time last year, Intelís platform of choice for the high-end sector was the dual-channel E7205 (Granite Bay) chipset (alongside with 850E), while Intelís 845PE/GE served the mainstream market.
When Intel unveiled its 800MHz front-side bus, Intel attempted to continue this strategy, much to the chagrin of many hardware enthusiasts. 875P (Canterwood) was intended to be the platform of choice for the performance crowd, while 865PE/GE (Springdale) serviced the mainstream segment. Both chipsets featured dual-channel memory architectures, supported Intelís 800MHz bus, Serial ATA, and many other cutting edge technologies, with the key differences being performance and price. Many Canterwood motherboards hovered in the $180 and up range, while Springdale boards could be found for $120-$150. Canterwoodís performance edge came from Intelís Performance Acceleration Technology, commonly referred to as PAT.
PAT accelerated the memory timings within the North Bridge of the chipset, ultimately enhancing performance. Canterwood had it, but Springdale didnít. Or so we were told by Intel.
It turns out that both chipsets were the same, only Canterwood had been verified by Intel to work with PAT while Springdale hadnít. However, a handful of enterprising motherboard manufacturers (including ASUS) discovered that many Springdale boards were quite stable with the faster timings, and enabled the functionality on their boards only under a different name to avoid sanctioning by Intel. As a result, many gamers and enthusiasts flocked to the Springdale platform.
Since then things have been rather tame, many motherboard manufacturers have released their second generation of 865 and 875 products, but nothingís really shook up the industry.
Until now that is, as SiS has prepped a dual-channel, Prescott Pentium 4 processor supporting equivalent to Intelís 865 and 875 chipsets thatís been designed to offer similar levels of performance, well-rounded features, and most importantly for those of you on a budget, a more conservative price. The name of this chipset? SiS 655 TX!
SiS655TX North Bridge
From a features perspective, SiSí 655TX chipset lays claim to all of the key highlights of Intelís chipsets. It supports the latest 800MHz front-side bus processors (including Intelís Extreme Edition CPUs), and can be outfitted with DDR400 memory in a dual-channel memory configuration, capable of feeding the Pentium 4 processor with up to 6.4GB/sec of peak memory bandwidth. (Single-channel operation is also supported if youíd like to save money now, and upgrade to dual channel later).
SiS was the first chipset manufacturer to bring AGP 8X to the Pentium 4 platform, so itís no surprise to see that the SiS655TX natively supports this interface. Up to 4GB of memory is supported by the North Bridge, with up to 1GB per DIMM.
SIDEBAR: ASUS P4S800D-E Deluxe page
Paired to the SiS655TX North Bridge is SiSí 964 South Bridge. The chips are connected by SiSí proprietary MuTIOL interconnect technology. This is the same interconnect SiS has used on previous AMD and Intel chipsets. MuTIOL is 16 bits wide and operates at 533MHz.
MuTIOL consists of two independent pathways, which are used to link the chips together. One pathway can be sending data from the SiS655TX North Bridge to the SiS964 South Bridge, while the other pathway is sending data in the opposite direction. The end result is up to 1GB/sec of peak bandwidth between the two chips.
The rest of SiS964ís feature set is pretty complete. It has an integrated USB 2.0/1.1 controller that supports up to eight USB ports, matching the specs of Intelís 875P/865PE chipsets. The P4S800D-E Deluxe provides connections for up to six devices (four on the boardís back plate and two more via an external header). SiS964 is also SiSí first chipset to offer native Serial ATA support and, also like Intel, adds RAID support to its list of features. RAID levels 0, 1, and JBOD (just a bunch of disks) are supported. Of course, if you donít have a Serial ATA hard drive, donít worry. SiS964 also provides dual IDE controllers supporting ATA133/ATA100, which is of course backward-compatible with older IDE devices such as ATA66 and ATA33.
The only feature SiS964 lacks which Intel has in its ICH5 South Bridge is Gigabit Ethernet networking support (with Intelís CSA architecture). SiS964ís network controller is limited to 10/100Mb Ethernet.
Keep in mind that this probably wonít be a significant oversight for most of you, as Gigabit networking equipment isnít exactly mainstream just yet. After all, how many of you have Gigabit switches lying around in your home?
ASUS does get around this though by integrating a Gigabit network controller from Marvell on the P4S800D-E Deluxe. To be honest, this is more of a checkbox feature the ASUS board can boast on its list of features more than anything else, as the PCI bus it utilizes is capped at 133MB/sec of peak bandwidth. This is one bottleneck Intel has gotten around by incorporating its CSA link between the Intel Gigabit network controller and the rest of the system.
In addition to the native Serial ATA support provided by the SiS964 South Bridge, ASUS goes the extra mile by integrating SiSí SiS180 Serial ATA controller, which supports two additional Serial ATA devices. By incorporating SiS180, the ASUS P4S800D-E Deluxe not only supports two additional Serial ATA drives, it also adds RAID level 0+1 (striping+mirroring) to the P4S800D-Eís list of features.
Audio and IEEE-1394
Since the SiS964 chipset doesnít offer native FireWire support, ASUS has implemented VIAís popular VT6307 controller to provide this functionality. Two ports are supported by VT6307, ASUS has integrated one port on the boardís back plate and the second port on an external header.
One of the least talked about features ASUS has been putting on its motherboards lately is wireless networking. For years ASUS has been designing boards with Wi-Fi slots, at first under the name BlueMagic. This was the navy blue slot located just beneath the last PCI slot on their motherboards that ASUS had intended to be paired with their own Wi-Fi card.
ASUS uses Analog Devices AD1888 CODEC to handle audio duties. If youíve read a few of our motherboard reviews, you probably know that weíve been praising Analog Devices SoundMAX CODECs for two years now, due to their performance, audio quality, and support for audio extensions such as Sensauraís 3D positional audio, EAX, A3D, and SoundMAXís own sound product extensions (SPX) for 3D gaming audio applications. But weíre not quite as well versed on this particular CODEC.
ASUS Q-Fan is another ASUS unique technology that weíve appreciated ever since its inception. Q-Fan dynamically adjusts the speed of your systems fans depending on settings that you can define. This is great for those of you who donít want your fan running at full speed all the time, especially if you find yourself doing mundane tasks such as checking mail and writing documents.
Another interesting feature you may like is ASUS Instant Music. It allows you to play audio CDs on your computer without having to boot into Windows.
ASUSí engineering team has always come up with some of the best motherboard layouts weíve seen. Many of the snafus youíd find on other motherboards such as power connectors placed in locations that restrict airflow or DIMM sockets that are located too close to the motherboardís AGP slot arenít found on motherboards from ASUS. Theyíve also had no qualms about taking a reference design from a motherboard manufacturer and completely redoing it, as we saw with some of their Rambus-based Pentium 4 motherboards.
For the P4S800D-E Deluxe however, ASUS plays it fairly conservative. Since this board isnít intended for the high-end market, ASUS elected to omit the AGP Pro slot seen on the P4C800 series, as well as their popular A7N8X line. Youíll also see that the North Bridge of the system chipset is passively cooled, there is no fan paired with the North Bridgeís tall aluminum heatsink. ASUS hasnít been using active cooling on any of its recent motherboards though, so this wasnít too much of a surprise to us.
To help conserve space on the board, ASUS has placed the floppy connector and the IDE connector tied to the SiS180 chip parallel to the right edge of the board. To some, this may be a positive, as it may help clear some cable clutter, while others may see it as slight installation hassle. It all really depends on your tastes and preferences. Clearly with the extra SiS Serial ATA controller (and the two extra ports that come with it), VIA FireWire controller, and hardware monitoring and BIOS chips, space was at a premium on the P4S800D-E Deluxe.
Overall thereís a lot to like about the layout of the P4S800D-E Deluxe. The ATX power connector is located perfectly, right along the edge of the motherboard, so it wonít interfere with the CPUís cooling. The ATX12V connector isnít quite as ideal, as it is below the CPU interface, but this is fortunately one compromise that we can live with. Thereís also plenty of space between the DIMM sockets and AGP slot, a power LED is placed on the lower section of the motherboard, and ASUS color codes everything, so you can instantly recognize the game port header versus USB headers, and the pins for hooking the P4S800D-E Deluxe to your case. Even the corresponding DIMM sockets are highlighted in blue.
One aspect that we were really concerned about with the P4S800D-E Deluxe was stability and compatibility. If you recall the SiS648 chipset, motherboards based on it had problems with some early ATI RADEON 9700 cards. ATI claimed to have fixed the problems with later board revisions, but we never could get the combination to work with complete stability.
First off, weíre not big fans of the AMI BIOS interface ASUS has implemented on the P4S800D-E Deluxe. To be honest, weíve never really like the interface, navigation just isnít as straightforward as the tried and true Award BIOS interface used on most motherboards, settings are buried underneath submenus of the five main menus, chipset timings for the North Bridge are even underneath a second submenu! Itís bearable once you get used to it, but if youíre accustomed to Awardís interface the adjustment can be somewhat painful at first.
Complicating the matter is that ASUSí manual doesnít include a section with BIOS instructions. You could literally be looking for a setting for quite awhile without finding it, if itís even there. ASUS could really ease the transition by providing instruction in the manual, but it currently just isnít there.
What do we have is a board that is quite the capable overclocker however. Initial reviews that went out suggested that the board lacked overclocking options, so ASUS went back and added more for retail boards like we used for this review. Bus speeds range from 200-300MHz in 1MHz increments, giving you plenty of flexibility when it comes to finding the right bus speed.
Itís the voltage adjustments that really shocked us, ASUS provides CPU voltage settings up to 1.95V in increments of 0.025V, giving you lots of wiggle room for voltage. ASUS also has settings for AGP voltage up to 1.8V and DDR voltage up to 2.85V.
The memory bus settings are pretty flexible as well. Not only do you get the 200MHz, 266MHz, and 400MHz settings for those of you with 400MHz, 533MHz, and 800MHz P4 processors, the ASUS P4S800D-E Deluxe and the SiS655TX chipset also provide memory speeds of 450MHz, 500MHz, and 533MHz! If youíre new to overclocking, you can also use the AI Overclock Tuner to automatically do the work for you, overclock settings of 5% over default, 10%, 20% and 30% are available, but experienced overclockers will of course want to set everything up manually.
Over in the chipset configuration menu you can adjust the memory timings to fit the needs of your memory modules. ASUS also has a ď655 Ultra Plus ModeĒ. We donít know exactly what this setting does, but we guess it must be something good. Unfortunately the furthest we could get with this setting enabled and our memory timings optimized was the Windows splash screen. At that point the system would consistently lock up.
We werenít quite sure how well the SiS655TX chipset would hold up to overclocking. We all know that the Intel 800MHz chipsets have proven to be reliable overclockers, but we were afraid that the SiS chipset wouldnít be as robust, especially with the passive cooling present on the ASUS motherboard.
Call of Duty (demo0032 custom demo)
Weíve rounded up ASUSí high-end 875P and 865PE offerings in order to compare against the P4S800D-E Deluxe. We tested the P4C board with Turbo mode disabled and Turbo mode enabled, while the P4P800 Deluxe is running with Turbo mode and ASUSí PAT-like Memory Acceleration Mode enabled for maximum performance. To represent a more typical 865PE motherboard, weíve also included FICís P4-865PE MAX II, which doesnít offer the performance enhancements found on the ASUS board.
Call of Duty: OpenGL
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB: OpenGL
Quake III - OpenGL
Unreal Tournament 2003
Splinter Cell Ė Direct3D
Tomb Raider Ė Direct3D
Lock On: Modern Air Combat
SiS655TX chipset: While SiSí 655TX chipset may not grab headlines like Intel 875P and 865PE, itís practically just as capable. The chipset supports Intelís latest processors, including those based on Intelís 0.09-micron Prescott core that was released earlier this week. Youíve got native Serial ATA (2 ports), USB 2.0 (8 ports max), up to 4GB of dual-channel DDR400 memory, and AGP 8X. The only feature that is really missing is native Gigabit Ethernet networking, which hasnít really taken off quite yet anyway.
Not so Deluxe bundle: Unfortunately, ASUSí bundle still lacks added extras such as round IDE and floppy cables. Sure, we understand that Serial ATA is about to overtake traditional parallel IDE devices, but there are still lots of parallel ATA hard drives out there, not to mention CD/DVD drives and burners. In addition, many of ASUSí competitors are including round IDE cables in their packaging such as ABIT, Chaintech, DFI, FIC, and MSI. This is one of those small features that helped the DFI LANPARTY NFII Ultra B beat the A7N8X-E Deluxe in our comparison of the two boards a few weeks ago.
In case you missed it, you really should check out the Ballistics Report. There weíve summed up just what makes this motherboard so special. Head on over there if you used the table of contents to skip to the last page.
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