Summary: Based on the SiS 648 chipset, the ASUS P4S8X is the first Pentium 4 motherboard to hit the market with AGP 8X and Serial ATA support. In addition, the board is loaded with overclocking features. In fact, we believe it's the best SiS 648 motherboard currently available on the market. To find out why, check out our review, and be sure to answer the quiz questions for your chance to win this motherboard!
Since SiS launched its 645 chipset last year, we’ve been big fans of their DDR platforms for the Pentium 4. Not only do they support more features than other offerings on the market, they’re also incredibly inexpensive. In today’s market SiS-based Pentium 4 motherboards can easily be found for under $100. This can be good and bad. For the consumer that is looking to get the most bang from their buck, it doesn’t get much better than a motherboard based on the SiS chipset.
However, in the rush to get an inexpensive SiS-based solution on the market as quickly as possible, many motherboard manufacturers forget about producing SiS Pentium 4 motherboards for the enthusiast segment. We saw this earlier this year with the SiS 645 chipset. Soyo’s P4S DRAGON Ultra Pentium 4 motherboard was the only SiS 645 motherboard on the market with such features as 5.1 audio and an onboard IDE RAID controller.
We were afraid the situation would repeat itself again for the SiS 648 chipset when it was announced earlier this year. Fortunately for all consumers this has not happened. ASUS has stepped up to the plate and delivered a SiS 648 motherboard that is loaded with goodies.
Before we go into all the details of what makes the P4S8X so special, we’d like to provide a brief recap on the SiS 648 chipset as well as discuss what is going on with DDR 400. For those of you who don’t know, the SiS 648 chipset supports up to 3GB of memory, although in the case of DDR333 only two modules are supported. The SiS 648 chipset is the first on the market for the Pentium 4 with AGP 8X support, and also supports the latest connectivity standards, USB 2.0, Firewire, and even the fastest ATA/133 hard drives.
DDR400 memory isn’t officially supported by the chipset, but as we found with our SiS 648 reference motherboard, it definitely works. We witnessed a nice (roughly 5%) performance boost by using DDR400 memory, and while it may not sound like much it was just enough to catch up with, if not outperform a similarly equipped system with 1066MHz RDRAM.
The first feature most enthusiasts will notice is the P4S8X’s Serial ATA hard drive support. ASUS boasts that this makes the P4S8X the world’s first Pentium 4 motherboard with AGP 8X and Serial ATA technology, a claim they should be proud of. Since the SiS 648 chipset doesn’t support Serial ATA, connectivity is provided via the Promise PDC20376 chip. The PDC20376 supports the Serial ATA 1.0 specification, which means it supports hard drive speeds up to 150MB/sec.
The P4S8X supports 5.1 audio thanks to its use of the C-Media 9739A chip. It’s a tiny little chip, but its audio capabilities should be more than enough for most Windows applications. Our biggest complaint isn’t with the audio quality of the chip itself, rather the omission on ASUS’s part of the S/PDIF output. Historically ASUS motherboards have shipped with this feature, however for some reason it didn’t make its way onto the P4S8X. The pins on the motherboard for the external S/PDIF remain in place however, so perhaps end users will be able to pick the add-on at a later date.
ASUS Q-Fan/EZ Plug
ASUS has begun shipping all of its recent motherboards with its Q-Fan and EZ Plug technology. Q-Fan is designed to reduce system noise levels. It works by monitoring system load versus the CPU’s current temperature. If system load picks up and temperature increases, Q-Fan kicks up the RPMs on the CPU’s fan. Once the system load is reduced and the processor cools down, Q-Fan slows down the CPU fan, ensuring quiet yet cool operation. This also increases the efficiency of the CPU fan, theoretically extending its lifetime.
The P4S8X uses a very similar layout to its predecessor (the P4S533), which was based on the SiS 645DX chipset. This results in a very unique board design which is unlike anything we have seen in the past. For instance, the orientation of the CPU socket relative to the chipset’s North Bridge is perpendicular. ASUS used a unique chipset to processor orientation for its 850 series of motherboards as well, so it’s not surprising to see that carry over to its SiS 648 product. Typically such moves are made to reduce trace lengths.
We’re also not big fans of the locations of the power connectors. The 20-pin ATX connector is located a little to close to the CPU socket for our comfort. We would have liked to have seen it a little closer to the right edge of the motherboard. In addition, the EZ Plug connector and ATX12V connector are located below the CPU interface and are also a little snug in relation to the 478-pin CPU socket. Airflow could definitely pose a problem in cramped cases.
Those are our only real gripes with the design of the motherboard, and if you have a roomy case they shouldn’t pose a problem. For connecting your P4S8X to external devices, the motherboard provides six USB 2.0 ports (four on the motherboard, two external) and two Firewire ports (one internal, one external).
SIDEBAR: ASUS bundles the P4S8X with InterVideo’s WinDVD, WinRip, WinCoder, and WinProducer
The P4S8X BIOS is definitely geared towards hardware enthusiasts practically every setting you could want is available here. For overclocking, you’ve got bus speeds in 1MHz increments from 100MHz to 166MHz, allowing you a good amount of flexibility when it comes to finding the right clock speed for your overclocked processor. ASUS also provides a wealth of voltage settings for overclocking. The P4S8X BIOS offers voltages from 1.5V-1.825V in 0.025V increments. This gives P4S8X owners more room quite a bit of room to work with. ABIT and MSI’s offerings aren’t nearly as robust.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a setting for locking the AGP speed, this is something we’ve seen in other SiS 648 motherboards. However, AGP voltages can be adjusted, settings from 1.5V to 1.7V are available in 0.1V increments.
For tweaking memory timings, all the settings you’ll need are present, including a CAS latency 1.5 setting! DDR speeds of 200, 266, 333, and 400MHz are present on the P4S8X as well. We tried getting DDR400 modules from TwinMOS and Corsair to run with complete stability on the P4S8X, but unfortunately we were unsuccessful, regardless of the settings we used. DDR voltages up to 2.7V are available within the P4S8X BIOS.
One other memory-related setting ASUS includes in the P4S8X BIOS is the option to run the chipset in synchronous, asynchronous, or performance modes in relation to the memory bus. We definitely noticed a nice performance boost by running in the performance mode, so we recommend you use it if you can.
The P4S8X was a real champ when it came to overclocking. We were able to reach new heights in clock speeds with our 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor. With its locked 21.0 multiplier, we were able to reach a bus speed of 150MHz before stability became an issue. This results in a final clock speed of 3150MHz, the highest speed we’ve seen out of our P4 chip to date. We stopped at 1.75V, so it’s entirely possible that we could have cranked even more speed out of our chip, but we decided to play it safe since the hardware monitor’s default settings were being hit. Since the clock multiplier on our CPU was locked we were unable to confirm if the limitation to our final overclock was the CPU or the motherboard. We wouldn’t be surprised if the CPU was holding us back.
Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz
ABIT IT7-MAX2 (i845E)
MSI 648 MAX
256MB Corsair XMS DDR333 CAS2 SDRAM
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4600 reference board
Driver version Detonator 40.41
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
AFREEY 12X DVD-ROM
Windows XP Professional
Desktop Resolution: 1024x768x32
3DMark 2001 Second Edition - 32-bit color, 32-bit textures
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
Quake III - High Quality
Jedi Knight II
Content Creation Winstone 2002
Business Winstone 2001
SiS 648 chipset: The SiS 648 chipset that the P4S8X is built on is currently our favorite for the Pentium 4 platform. With 845E lacking DDR333 and AGP 8X support, it just can’t come close to matching the performance of the SiS 648 chipset. In addition, its low price results in inexpensive motherboards. It is not uncommon to find SiS-based motherboards for under $100.
Price: Of course, with all the added features ASUS provides, the P4S8X costs a little more than your typical SiS 648 motherboard. We found prices online as low as $130.50, so it’s by no means an expensive motherboard, but it still costs a little bit more that what some consumers may be willing to pay, especially when you consider that its primary feature, Serial ATA support, can’t be taken advantage of yet.
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The P4S8X isn’t quite the fastest SiS 648 motherboard on the market, it finished just a hair behind the other motherboard based on this chipset. But when it comes to feature set, there isn’t another SiS 648 motherboard on the market that even comes close to touching it. With the P4S8X, you’ve got Serial ATA support, 5.1 audio onboard, 10/100 networking, USB and Firewire ports, plus you’ve got features that are unique to ASUS motherboards such as Q-Fan. From a features perspective, there really isn’t anything that ASUS has left off of the P4S8X.
However, hardware enthusiasts will love the overclocking prowess of the P4S8X. We shattered our previous high 3,024MHz by overclocking our 2.8GHz Pentium 4 to 3,150MHz! With the conservative voltage settings found on other motherboards, we weren’t sure if the limiting factor in our previous overclocks had been the motherboard or the SiS 648 chipset itself. Based on our overclocking experience with the ASUS P4S8X, it certainly looks like those motherboards were at fault. We can honestly say without a doubt that the P4S8X is the SiS648 motherboard to get for the overclocking community.
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