Summary: Brandon takes a look at this new ASUS motherboard with the Radeon 9100 IGP. With a lengthy feature-set such as dual Serial ATA support, FireWire, Gigabit LAN, and 6-channel audio via the on-board AC97 CODEC, this board is built to impress. Does it overclock well? Will this board continue to carry ASUS's name in high standards? Read on to find out!
For years the term ďintegrated graphicsĒ has sent a cold shiver down the spine of many hardware enthusiasts, many of whom have been forced to rely on an integrated graphics solution at one point or another in their lifetime. In the past, integrated solutions have relied on anemic graphics cores with extremely limited, if any, 3D graphics capability. Lets just say that these integrated products from Intel, VIA, ALi, and SiS were hardly capable of providing an immersive gaming experience in contemporary gaming titles, much less a fluid, playable frame rate.
All that changed with the debut of NVIDIAís nForce chipset. NVIDIAís nForce IGP was the first integrated graphics solution to boast hardware transformation and lighting support, a key component of DirectX 7 and OpenGL titles such as Quake 3.Sure, its integrated GeForce2 MX graphics engine was a step behind the latest and greatest discrete PC graphics card on the desktop, but it was light years ahead of any other integrated graphics solution on the market. And of course, it also didnít hurt that nForce also incorporated a high-end 5.1 audio solution that provided on-the-fly Dolby Digital encoding among its list of features.
Due to licensing restrictions, nForce was limited to just the AMD market. While NVIDIA was able to piggyback on Microsoftís license agreement with Intel to provide the chipset for the Xbox, this did not carry over to the PC market, nor did NVIDIA want to pay for a Pentium 4 license to build chipsets for the P4 platform. ATI however (along with SiS) did have a Pentium 4 license, leading many to speculate that their Pentium 4 chipset was right around the corner.
Around the middle of 2002, ATI officially unveiled its RADEON IGP line. In a somewhat surprising development ATI announced IGP products for both Intel and AMD platforms. ATIís IGP was based on its original RADEON graphics core making it a worthy competitor to Intelís integrated solutions and would be taking on NVIDIAís nForce head-on.
As the months passed on, ATIís RADEON IGP was hard to find. Ultimately, the RADEON IGP never found its way to the desktop on the Pentium 4 platform, although ATI picked up several design wins on the mobile front and FIC maintained a few lines of IGP-based motherboards for the AMD market. ATI didnít make a huge splash on the market, but they did acquire one valuable resource thatís often overlooked: experience.
Now ATI is back with their newer, RADEON 9100 IGP first announced last summer. Unlike the original RADEON IGP, ATIís 9100 IGP is based on their newer, RADEON 9000 graphics core, making it the first integrated graphics solution on the market to support 1.x pixel and vertex shaders first introduced with DirectX 8. This puts ATI one generation ahead of everyone else, including NVIDIA and Intel. Not only does ATIís latest chipset add new features, theyíve also won over a larger variety of board partners. ASUS is one of the first motherboard manufacturers with a fully fledged ATX solution, the P4R800-V Deluxe. ASUS has a reputation for building some of the best motherboards in the business, so our expectations are high for the P4R800-V Deluxe.
SIDEBAR: Brandon and Jakub are heading over to San Francisco to cover NVIDIAís Editor Day event.
RADEON 9100 IGP
ATIís RADEON 9100 IGP supports the latest Prescott and Northwood Pentium 4 processors. The chipset supports front side bus speeds of 400/533/800MHz with a dual-channel memory architecture supporting the latest memory types. Single-channel operation is also supported, but for optimal performance you really should outfit both memory channels with memory, especially if youíre relying on the integrated graphics. Like Intel and SiSí dual-channel Pentium 4 chipsets, the RADEON 9100 IGP supports up to 4GB of system memory (1GB per DIMM).
Integrated into the North Bridge of the chipset is the 9100 IGP (integrated graphics processor). The RADEON 9100 IGP is based on a cut-down variant of the RADEON 9000. Whereas the RADEON 9000 features a four pixel pipeline architecture, with one texture unit per pixel pipeline, the RADEON 9100 IGP halves the number of pixel pipelines to two, with one texture unit per pipe (2x1). This is necessary to keep the complexity of the chip down, and also reduces cost. To help offset this, ATI has increased the core clock frequency to 300MHz, which is 25MHz above RADEON 9000 PRO, and also higher than NVIDIAís IGP found in nForce2.
In another cost-cutting move, ATI has removed the hardware vertex shader unit from RADEON 9100 IGP. This functionality is instead performed by the CPU, so ATI can still claim DX8.1 compliance.
RADEON 9100 IGPís memory interface is 128-bits wide, with a maximum capability of 128MB, which is shared with the system memory.
Like RADEON 9000, the RADEON 9100 IGP sports dual 400MHz DACs, so potentially the RADEON 9100 IGP could be used to drive dual displays (although this capability isnít provided by the ASUS board). The chip also provides TV-out support, allowing you to output directly to your TV.
One area that did concern us was visual quality. Motherboard manufacturers have been known to skimp on this area in the past with their integrated solutions, but weíre glad to report that the display quality of the 2D portion of the 9100 IGP was quite good on the P4R800-V Deluxe, and actually looked better than a RADEON 9000 PRO card we received from Powercolor. The chip supports a maximum resolution of 2048x1536. All thatís really missing is DVI capability; the 9100 IGP needs an external DVI transmitter to provide this.
One additional feature the RADEON 9100 IGP supports is SURROUNDVIEW. Once a discrete ATI graphics card is installed, the 9100 IGP can be used to drive up to three separate displays, the first in a system chipset. SURROUNDVIEW is supported by the entire RADEON 9x00 family (excluding the RADEON 9700 and RADEON 9100), and works with Built By ATI as well as Powered by ATI graphics cards from manufacturers such as Sapphire, ABIT, and ASUS. All you will need is the latest BIOS for your motherboard (ASUSí SURROUNDVIEW BIOS is currently in beta) as well as ATIís CATALYST 4.3 display driver.
ATI IXP South Bridge
While ATIís North Bridge is extremely feature complete, providing support for all of the latest technologies, ATIís South Bridge used on the RADEON 9100 IGP isnít quite as adept. For starters, ASUS uses the IXP 150 on their P4R800-V Deluxe, which isnít ATIís latest and greatest. The IXP doesnít provide native Serial ATA, relying on dual ATA-100 controllers instead, nor does it provide the RAID functionality found in newer chipsets. Fortunately the IXP does provide USB 2.0, up to six ports are supported, two short of Intelís 865/875 series, but many motherboard manufacturers only provide six ports with their Intel-based motherboards anyway.
Serial ATA and FireWire
In order to provide Serial ATA functionality, SiSí SiS180 Serial ATA controller is provided. SiS180 supports a maximum of two Serial ATA hard drives as well as RAID Levels 0, 1, 0+1, and JBOD. FireWire capability is supplied by VIAís VT6307 FireWire controller. The VT6307 is capable of driving up to two IEE-1394 ports, but ASUS only provides one with the P4R800-V Deluxe. Both chips are popular external solutions, ASUS uses both on quite a few of its motherboards.
Audio and networking
One feature thatís becoming increasingly popular is Gigabit LAN. Intel provides this capability natively on its 875P and 865 motherboards with CSA, while NVIDIA has recently introduced it with their nForce3 250Gb. While the ATI IXP doesnít provide Gigabit LAN functionality, ASUS has decided to integrate a Gigabit LAN controller from Marvell, the 88E8001.
One of our favorite features ASUS has incorporated into most of its motherboards is Q-Fan. With Q-Fan, the P4R800-V Deluxe will dynamically adjust the speed of the CPU fan based on your systemís current load and temperature. This ensures that noise is kept to a minimum, which is especially important for those of you with noisier fans or anyone planning on building a quiet PC.
Since the ATI IXP South Bridge provides limited functionality, ASUS has had to incorporate many external controllers to keep the P4R800-V Deluxe competitive with competing Pentium 4 motherboards based on core-logic from Intel and SiS. Despite this, the P4R800-V Deluxe boardís layout doesnít seem too crowded. In fact ASUS is able to squeeze everything on the PCB without compromising too much on their board.
The distance between the AGP slot and DIMM sockets is fairly slim, so you will have to install your system memory before installing the graphics card. ASUSí P4S800D-E Deluxe and P4C800 Deluxe donít have this shortcoming. In ASUSí defense however, you will notice the extra space the P4R800-V Deluxe provides between the first PCI slot and the AGP slot. Thereís plenty of room to install a GeForce FX 5950 Ultra card without occupying the adjacent PCI slot. This is the first ASUS motherboard we can recall with this feature.
To keep the RADEON 9100 IGP North Bridge cool, ASUS relies solely on passive cooling. A large aluminum heatsink sits atop the North Bridge, which we found does an adequate job of keeping the chip cool, even with the integrated graphics up and running. This is fairly impressive considering the 300MHz clock frequency of the graphics core, although do keep in mind that itís 2x1 architecture sports a reduced transistor count. The North Bridge is located a little close to the CPU socket, but not quite enough to interfere with processor installation.
ASUS has thoughtfully placed the ATX power connector on the right edge of the motherboard, where it is out of the way of the CPU interface. This helps to ensure optimal airflow. The ATX12V connector is placed beneath the CPU socket, to the left of the North Bridge, but fortunately the cable is thin enough where this shouldnít be too much of an issue.
For expansion, the P4R800-V Deluxe ships with six USB ports, four can be found on the back panel of the motherboard while two more are provided by an external header which is included with the board. For connecting your P4R800-V Deluxe to a TV, ASUS also provides S-Video and composite connections on the back panel of the board. ASUS provides three fan headers on the P4R800-V Deluxe, two near the Socket 478 interface and another just behind the floppy connector and the IDE connector for the SiS180 chip. Both of these connectors are located parallel to the edge of the board to save space.
To ease installation hassles, ASUS color codes the DIMM sockets and the connectors for case connections such as your power LED and system speaker. Of course, ASUS also continues to provide a power LED and its POST Reporter, which can warn you of errors during bootup. An audible voice will literally tell you where the problem lies, which can even be customized with your own voice warnings if you desire.
SIDEBAR: ATI is the first integrated solution to offer DDR400 and 800MHz FSB besides Intel.
We honestly havenít been the biggest fans of the BIOS interface ASUS has implemented on its newer motherboards. In our opinion the interface ASUS utilizes is less efficient than the traditional Award interface used on most other motherboards. Navigation takes just a bit longer with the ASUS interface, especially if you arenít familiar with the menus ASUS has provided, although fortunately, ASUS has cut down on the number of submenus placed underneath the main menus. This means that getting to common BIOS settings is a little bit easier than previous AMIBIOS boards we reviewed three of four years ago.
ASUS provides all the settings youíll need to fine tune the P4R800-V Deluxe. This includes settings for adjusting memory timings, health monitoring, boot sequence, and of course, manipulating the onboard graphics. ASUS also provides settings for overclocking the P4R800-V board, but clearly this is one area that is not the RADEON 9100 IGPís strong suit, more on this later.
Bus speed adjustments from 100MHz-266MHz are available in 1MHz increments. Simply type in the clock speed you want and the front side bus will operate at that speed once youíve rebooted. The 266MHz max setting pales in comparison to Pentium 4 motherboards based on SiS and Intel chipsets, which often provide settings above 300MHz, ASUSí own P4C800 Deluxe tops out at 400MHz for instance. As a result, many enthusiasts are purchasing 2.4C and 2.6C Northwood processors and running their bus at 250MHz or more, but our P4R800-V Deluxe board wouldnít boot into Windows XP at any speed above 210MHz. Therefore, weíre not surprised to see ASUS keep the clocks down, as speeds of 250MHz or more just arenít possible with this board. Potential P4R800-V Deluxe users will have to keep this factor in mind when shopping for a new processor to pair the motherboard with.
Like the bus speeds, voltage options are also limited on the P4R800-V Deluxe. ASUS provides voltage settings of 1.525V, 1.55V, 1.6V, and 1.625V. This falls well short of the 1.9V ASUS offers on their SiS655TX based motherboard, the P4S800D-E Deluxe, but again, the RADEON 9100 IGP chipset just isnít suited for overclocking, so by limiting the voltage options available, end users are less likely to damage their processor in an attempt to hit a certain clock speed the chipset isnít capable of achieving anyway.
Besides the processor voltage, you can also adjust voltages for the North Bridge (1.5V and 1.6V), DDR RAM (2.5V, 2.6V, 2.7V, and 2.8V) and finally, AGP voltage (1.5V, 1.6V). But again, you probably wonít be spending most of your time adjusting voltages and bus speeds, but tuning other parameters such as memory timings, onboard devices, and hardware monitoring.
SIDEBAR: ASUS proudly boasts that the P4R800-V Deluxe is the first integrated solution to support Gigabit Ethernet.
Call of Duty (demo0032 custom demo)
Call of Duty: OpenGL
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB: OpenGL
Quake III - OpenGL
Unreal Tournament 2004
Splinter Cell Ė Direct3D
Tomb Raider Ė Direct3D
Lock On: Modern Air Combat
SiSoft Sandra 2004
Unreal Tournament 2004
Integrated graphics performance: ATIís RADEON 9100 IGP graphics core is the first integrated solution to offer built-in shader support. This is important for DX8 titles which currently dominate the market. Not only does this make the P4R800-V Deluxe more future-proof than any other integrated solution on the market, the 9100 IGPís 300MHz core provides enough performance to leave Intelís 865G ďExtremeĒ Graphics in the dust. We noticed a 3X performance improvement over Intelís integrated solution in some cases.
Overclocking: ATIís RADEON 9100 IGP doesnít appear to be as robust an overclocker as chipsets from Intel and SiS. This is something weíve consistently seen and obviously ASUS must agree as well, as theyíve intentionally limited the overclocking options on the P4R800-V Deluxe, but not on other Pentium 4 motherboards in their lineup. Part of this can be traced back to the chipsetís integrated graphics core, which adds to the complexity of the North Bridge, but some have also speculated that it can be traced back to the chipsetís origins, 200MHz bus support was only added at the last minute. Remember that Intel decided to leapfrog past 166MHz and jump straight to 200MHz, a move that surprised everyone a year ago, including Intelís closest partners.