||ASUS P4G8X Review
January 07, 2003 Chris Angelini
Summary: Based on Intel's dual-channel PC2100 DDR chipset, Granite Bay, the ASUS P4G8X offers 4.2GB/sec of bandwidth to the CPU, matching the bandwidth of the CPU's 533MHz bus. Plus ASUS throws in other goodies, bus speeds up to 400MHz (1.6GHz effective), AGP 8X, Gigabit LAN, FireWire, and a host of other features. But how does this motherboard stack up against other Pentium 4 offerings? Find out in our review!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 13 )|
Intel began supporting Rambus’ RDRAM technology with the release of its i820 chipset. Unfortunately, the Pentium III wasn’t able to utilize the memory bandwidth afforded by the new memory technology, resulting in mediocre performance gains. Further, RDRAM was significantly more expensive than SDRAM memory, and so the i815 chipset became the Pentium III favorite.
The Pentium 4 is able to take advantage of RDRAM, though, and as a result, the i850/i850E has enjoyed a long, successful life despite the negative stigma many hardware enthusiasts associate with RDRAM. However, the market has called out for DDR memory, and at long last Intel has been pressured to listen.
AMD, on the other hand, has used DDR memory since showcasing its 760 chipset. The Athon’s front side bus, operating at 133MHz DDR functioned ideally with PC2100 DDR RAM. But considering the resources dedicated to Rambus’ technology, Intel was a lot less enthusiastic about making the transition to DDR. Of course it inevitably happened with the i845 chipset, though the RDRAM-equipped i850E maintained a performance edge. Intel’s own i845PE isn’t even able to offer the 4.2GB per second of memory bandwidth that two channels of PC1066 memory provide.
The prospective i850E replacement comes in combining two, 64-bit channels of DDR memory. At 133MHz DDR, a dual channel solution is capable of the same theoretical 4.2GB per second that we’ve already seen from i850E, matching the processor’s own 533MHz bus. Intel has implemented such a design, hoping to maximize performance. Knowing full-well that the Pentium 4 shines its brightest on a platform with bandwidth to spare, we’ve been anticipating Intel’s E7205 Granite Bay chipset for some time. And not because we’re in a hurry to see the venerable i850E disappear, but because Granite Bay has the potential to be even faster, all the while offering AGP 8x compliance and Hyper Threading support.
ASUS’ incarnation of Granite Bay comes in the form of the P4G8X Deluxe – a fully featured board that sports a hefty $260 price tag. A simpler P4G8X is also available for around $230 online.
SIDEBAR: ASUS’ P4G8X Deluxe product page
| Board Analysis||Page:: ( 2 / 13 )|
ASUS P4G8X – The Board
Granite Bay is an expensive chipset, and as a result has been classified as workstation-only by Intel. It officially supports PC2100 DDR memory, so at first glance it doesn’t appear to be bleeding edge like competing chipsets that claim PC3200 support, but then again, it only needs enough bandwidth to match the processor’s throughput. Granite Bay can accommodate up to 4GB of memory, which contributes to its workstation-centric typecast. ASUS’ P4G8X consequently features four memory slots that are split into pairs. Technically, the board does support a single-channel DDR configuration, but in the interest of performance, you’d probably want to occupy both channels. Running a dual-channel configuration has a few stipulations, though.
First, both modules must be identical in type and size (though not necessarily brand). Double-sided x16 DDR DIMMs are not supported and neither is a three-DIMM configuration. The third module would simply be ignored in dual-channel mode. ASUS has done a good job at spacing the DIMM slots on the P4G8X so that they can be opened even with an AGP card installed, making memory upgrades straightforward.
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We’ve come to expect ASUS to take care in its board layout. That is to say, the 20-pin ATX power connector is strategically placed to avoid blocking airflow around the Socket 478 interface. The 4-pin EZ Plug connector, which takes the place of the 12V auxiliary power connector, is also well-placed. We had no problems using Intel’s reference heat sink and even larger designs should fit without a problem, as four 3300 microfarad capacitors are the only components near the processor interface. Power comes courtesy of a two-phase solution and Intersil’s HIP6302CB controller.
The board’s back panel sports the usual PS/2, parallel and serial connectors, in addition to four USB ports, three 1/8” audio mini-jacks and an RJ 45-connector that is powered by Broadcom’s Gigabit controller. Of course, most homes won’t be able to take advantage of the advanced Ethernet option, but again, the board lends itself to a workstation environment. The onboard audio is similarly designed. Realtek’s 18-bit ALC650 provides six-channel audio output, even if it is only from a codec rather than a hardware audio processor. Digital audio input and output is enabled through an onboard header that houses two coaxial plugs.
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Many manufacturers are still providing parallel IDE RAID through a HighPoint or Promise chip. ASUS is looking to the future, though, by using a Silicon Image Sil3112A Serial ATA RAID controller. We still haven’t seen widespread availability of the necessary S-ATA hard drives, but it is really only a matter of time. Texas Instruments provides IEEE 1394 Firewire support with the TSB43AB22 controller and the P4S8X Deluxe includes a header with two Firewire ports. Since the E7205 MCH is complimented by the ICH4, the chipset has native USB 2.0 support. As mentioned, four of the ports are available on the board’s back panel and the other two are accessible through yet another header.
Finally, ASUS’ P4G8X offers a single AGP 8x slot and five PCI 2.2 expansion slots. ASUS refers to the fifth slot as BlueMagic, named for its color. According to the P4G8X manual, the slot supports future ASUS function cards. Markings below the slot suggest a possible wireless card.
SIDEBAR: Springdale is the project name for Intel’s dual-channel DDR desktop chipset, rumored to support a Pentium 4 ‘Prescott’ processor operating on an 800MHz front side bus.
| BIOS and Overclocking||Page:: ( 3 / 13 )|
Seeing as the P4G8X isn’t being marketed as an enthusiast board, we weren’t expecting much in the way of customization within its BIOS. Nevertheless, ASUS has enabled what we’d consider to be vital BIOS functions. In the ‘Advanced’ screen, front side bus settings are available between 100MHz and an astonishing 400MHz. The PCI and AGP busses can be locked down at 33 and 66MHz respectively to avoid taxing components on an overclocked platform. A slew of voltage modifications are also selectable, including: 1.55-1.7V AGP, 2.5-2.7V DDR, and 1.55-1.975V processor voltage.
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The ‘Chip Configuration’ sub-menu allows the adjustment of more specific memory timings – standard ASUS fare. We were actually able to run our board perfectly stable with aggressive CAS 1.5 latency settings. Next, the ‘I/O Device Configuration’ page provides switches to enable or disable serial and parallel ports, as well as the onboard audio. Finally, the ‘PCI Configuration’ page can be used to turn the integrated LAN, IEEE 1394 and Serial ATA devices on or off.
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The only other interesting property sheet is the hardware monitor that monitors three temperatures, three fan speeds, and relevant voltages. It also hosts the Q-Fan feature, which adjusts fan speeds according to system loading for quieter operation.
The P4G8X offers plenty of overclocking potential, to be sure. Using incremental front side bus adjustments, we managed a 153MHz front side bus effectively running at 612MHz. The result was 3.52GHz from our 3.06GHz processor operating at 1.7V. We also ran 1.7V AGP and 2.7V DDR in order to run our memory at the same CAS 1.5 setting used for our other benchmarks.
SIDEBAR: The P4G8X Deluxe includes two Serial ATA cables, an S/PDIF header, an IEEE 1394 header, a header with a game port and two USB 2.0 ports, and a custom back plate.
| System Setup||Page:: ( 4 / 13 )|
Intel Pentium 4 3.06GHz (Hyper Threading enabled)
ASUS P4G8X Deluxe E7205 Motherboard
ASUS P4PE i845PE Motherboard
ASUS P4T533-C i850E Motherboard
512MB Corsair XMS3200 CAS2 Memory
512MB Samsung PC1066 RDRAM
ATI RADEON 9700 Pro 128MB
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA-100 Hard Drive
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1
Desktop resolution 1024x768, 32-bit color, 75Hz refresh
All power saving options were turned off, as were the Automatic Update and System Restore services. Graphics options under the ‘Performance’ tab were all disabled for maximum performance.
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
3D Mark 2001 Second Edition Build 330 – 32-bit color
Quake III: Arena version 1.17 ‘Demo001’ demo
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter – 32-bit color, Elephant Atrium demo
SiSoft Sandra 2003 Memory Bandwidth Benchmark
The P4G8X ran flawlessly with CAS 1.5 memory timings, so we used those for our benchmark results. The P4PE ran CAS 2.0 timings and the P4T533-C ran in RDRAM 4x mode. All relevant boards also ran in Turbo mode. Graphics apertures were set at 128MB.
SIDEBAR: MSI’s K7N2 nForce2 board sports a 12V auxiliary power connector, just like a Pentium 4 board.
| 3D Mark 2001 SE||Page:: ( 5 / 13 )|
3D Mark 2001 SE v.330 – DirectX 8
The P4G8X reigns in all three resolutions. At 800x600 and 1024x768, the P4T533-C takes second spot, but the P4PE claims that spot at 1280x1024. Overclocked, the “Granite Bay” board’s victory is even more pronounced, though the results don’t seem to scale with processor performance as we might expect from a platform with nearly 4.9GB per second of bandwidth.
SIDEBAR: The P4G8X is a six-layer motherboard. How do we know? ASUS has labeled each layer, right above the processor interface. On the top of the board you can see layers one, two, and three. Four, five, and six are visible on the bottom.
| 3D Mark 2001 SE – Frame Rates||Page:: ( 6 / 13 )|
3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
SIDEBAR: Granite Bay is a city near Sacramento, CA
| Serious Sam SE||Page:: ( 7 / 13 )|
Serious Sam SE (Elephant Atrium) – OpenGL
This time around the P4T533-T rules the scene, at least until 1600x1200, where performance drops off enough to let the P4PE take the lead. The P4G8X is simply the lowest performing platform in the bunch. Further, at low resolutions, overclocking buys a noticeable performance gain, but that same gain shrinks and then disappears at higher resolutions.
SIDEBAR: Granite Bay High School’s mascot is the grizzly bear.
| Quake III: Arena||Page:: ( 8 / 13 )|
Quake III v.1.17 Demo001 – OpenGL
Both DDR platforms perform nearly identically in Quake III. That is to say, at low resolutions they are both bested by the i850E platform. At 1280x1024 and above, The E7205 and i845PE boards take the lead. And again, overclocking is unable to yield a significant performance gain for the P4G8X.
SIDEBAR: An early version of the P4G8X probably featured DIP switches, as ratios and front side bus settings are screened onto the board (revision 1.02).
| Comanche 4||Page:: ( 9 / 13 )|
Comanche 4 – DirectX 8
The RDRAM-equipped P4T533-C again establishes presence with impressive Comanche 4 scores. As a flight simulator, the Comanche 4 demo has proven to be fairly dependant on processor performance so it is no surprise that the overclocked P4G8X running with a 3.5GHz Pentium 4 is able to post impressive numbers, even though it is consistently beaten in its stock configuration.
SIDEBAR: The P4G8X also has an AGP Warn light that illuminates if you insert an incompatible AGP card.
| Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo||Page:: ( 10 / 13 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby – DirectX 8
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch – DirectX 8
ASUS’ P4G8X winds up with a first place finish for the first time, edging out both the i845PE and i850E platforms. Overclocking is easiest seen in the botmatch sequence, where processor performance is more heavily emphasized, as opposed to the flyby demo.
SIDEBAR: ASUS POST Reporter gives you the status of the boot process using customized voice messages, if you wish to create them.
| SiSoft Sandra 2003 Memory Bandwidth||Page:: ( 11 / 13 )|
SiSoft Sandra 2003 Memory Bandwidth
We all know that the i850E is capable of performing very well in memory bandwidth benchmarks. Sandra 2003 shows the P4T533-C transferring more than 3.3GB per second of data. In comparison, the P4PE running with PC2700 DDR memory nearly hits the 2.8GB per second mark – odd considering that the chipset is theoretically capable of 2.7GB, and theoretical numbers rarely represent real-world performance. The P4G8X peaks at 3.4GB per second of throughput. Even better, the overclocked platform demonstrated an impressive 3.7GB per second of memory bandwidth!
SIDEBAR: GIAC uses AMD flash memory for its performance-enhancing X Chip.
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 12 / 13 )|
Completeness Let it never be said that the P4G8X Deluxe is a board that lacks features. Dual-channel DDR memory (with a 4GB ceiling), USB 2.0, IEEE 1394, Serial ATA RAID, AGP 8x, Gigabit Ethernet, and integrated audio – it’s all there. I’ll concede that you certainly pay for the robust feature set, but if you’ve got an MP3 player, digital video camera and high-speed network, you’re already on your way to utilizing a few of the board’s included features.
Performance: Expectations commonly lead to disappointment – just remember back to when you learned Santa Claus was little more than a fictitious fantasy. Considering how well the i845PE competes with Intel’s flagship i850E, we had hoped that a dual-channel solution would leave both products inhaling dust. While this isn’t the case, “Granite Bay” is still undeniably fast, and performance remains a positive characteristic of the P4G8X.
Stability: The E7205 chipset is classified by Intel as a workstation component. As such, the platform as a whole is incredibly stable, even with aggressive memory timings and an overclocked front side bus. We did experience an incompatibility with our engineering sample RADEON 9700 Pro, but our Sapphire RADEON 9700 Atlantis Pro Ultimate performed just fine.
Overclocking: The P4G8X is an impressive overclocker, even if we didn’t see phenomenal gains from our Pentium 4 running in excess of 3.5GHz. With a more flexible processor, you might even be able to wring faster front side bus settings from the board – we were admittedly limited by our 3GHz sample.
Price: Far and away, the most influential factor that will scare most enthusiasts from buying a P4G8X is its price. Though not yet widely available, we did find the Deluxe model online for around $260. The vanilla P4G8X, which doesn’t offer IEEE 1394 or Serial ATA (Gigabit LAN and audio are optional), can be had for around $230. In comparison, you can find a P4PE for right around $130!
Memory Requirements: The biggest inconvenience imposed by the P4G8X is its memory demands. It runs with a single DDR memory module, but we’d assume most folks would prefer to run both channels to maximize performance. In order to do that, you’ll need a matching pair of DDR DIMMs. Remember, they don’t need to be of the same brand.
SIDEBAR: The previously mentioned X Chip does not seem to care for 91 octane gasoline. Southern California has terrible gas.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 13 / 13 )|
Let us know!