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"Workhorse" motherboards based on 945GC by Gigabyte and FoxconnAuthor: Aleksandr Mitrofanov
Some time ago, Intel came up against some shortage of value integrated chipsets. There were rumors that the company might give up this direction completely. Perhaps, the rumors did have some grounds, since part of Intel's integrated motherboards was manufactured based on chipsets by SiS. Later, Intel found the corporate market quite an important direction and renewed its product line of value chipsets. In particular, there was released the 945GC chipset which is a modification of 945G. This collection of chips (normally, 945GC is equipped with the south bridge ICH7(R)) does not cost much and offers quite a substantial capability. The thing is, the official specifications of 945GC point to support for CPUs of the bus speeds being 533 MHz or 800 MHz. And some manufacturers even started making motherboards based on 945GC, which run trouble-free at FSB = 1066 MHz and even 1333 MHz. A typical example is Foxconn 45CMV which stands out for its rather compact dimensions (Micro ATX) and basic expansion options.
In this review, we are testing this motherboard versus Gigabyte 945GCMCL which is also based on Intel 945GC but offers much smaller dimensions (the Micro-ITX form factor). It is just the super small dimensions (170x170 mm) which is the major advantage of the motherboard and will most likely appeal to operators assembling compact-sized systems of low power consumption. Another advantage of this motherboard is the integrated CPU Intel Celeron 215 based on the mobile Conroe-L core.
This CPU runs at the clock speed 1.33 GHz (533 MHz QPB) and offers 512 K of L2 cache size. In view of the high integration of Gigabyte 945GCMCL, all you need for a system assembly is just to fit in a memory module.
Since Gigabyte 945GCMCL is an engineering sample, the design of the package has not yet been developed, and the package bundle not yet drawn up. Foxconn 45CMV, on the contrary, is being shipped to the retail, and its package box looks like this:
On the whole, we had nothing to claim about the package bundle: the remaining value products offer a similar kit of items.
Layout and Features
Foxconn 45CMV offers quite a small size attained due to the reduction in the number of expansion slots and DIMM slots (down to two). The developers of Gigabyte 945GCMCL have cut down almost anything, so we've got a product of super small dimensions. In fact, the size of each side of the motherboard is little bit more than the length of a memory module.
Near the CPU socket of the Foxconn board, there is a 4-pin connector to plug in a CPU cooler. Along with it, there is one connector (SYS_FAN, near the north bridge), also 4-pin. As regards the Gigabyte's board, it also has two connectors for fans. Both are 3-pin, with one of the already enabled for the CPU cooler (recall that the board has a soldered-in CPU Celeron 215).
Both the boards offer the integrated Intel GMA 950 core. However, the Foxconn board allows using an external video card which is installed into the PCI Express x16 slot.
On the 45CMV, there is also 1 PCI and one PCI Express x1 slots. Gigabyte 945GCMCL uses only one PCI slot.
To cool the north bridge, both the motherboards use only aluminum radiators without fans. Note that the CPU, the north and south bridges on the Gigabyte board are positioned on the same line. Therefore, they could have been covered with a single large radiator having a larger fan.
As we already stated, the Foxconn motherboard has merely two 240-pin DIMM slots for DDR2 memory modules, with the overall supported memory capacity being 4 GB. The Gigabyte's board offers less memory capacity (merely 2 GB) since there is only one slot for the memory module on.
Both the boards use the south bridge ICH7R. This chip supports four SerialATA II links, but the developers have implemented merely two. Also, ICH7 offers support for ParallelATA (one link).
As regards support for USB 2.0, the Gigabyte's board offers eight matching ports (four on the rear panel + four with brackets). On the other hand, engineers at Foxconn for some reasons have cut down the number of ports to six (two on the panel + four with brackets). Since we can't see any good reason for such a minimalization, we treat that as a shortcoming of the product.
The two boards implement the 6-channel High Definition Audio subsystem, with the ALC662 used as the codec.
The same controller is used to implement the LAN support. That is the Realtek RTL8101E chip:
The board's rear panel is of the following configuration:
For some reasons, engineers at Foxconn have given up support for the LPT port. On the contrary, at Gigabyte they have implemented this port as well as brought the second COM port over to the PCB.
Now on to the BIOS settings.
The BIOS of Foxconn 45CMV and Gigabyte 945GCMCL is based on the Award BIOS version.
The Gigabyte's board offers support for a standard pack of memory frequency multipliers. The pack of multipliers on the Foxconn board is the same, but the resultant frequencies look somehow out of the ordinary (perhaps because of the FSB = 1333 MHz which is not "standard" for i945GC):
The kit of available memory latency timings (the similar section in the BIOS section of the Gigabyte's board is displayed upon pressing the Ctrl+F1 key combination):
Now look at the system monitoring section.
Both the boards display the current temperatures for the CPU, rotational speeds of the two fans, as well as the voltage levels. Besides, the Foxconn board also indicated the system temperature.
The boards offer support for the Smart Fan feature that allows for a dynamic adjustment of the CPU cooler's rotational speeds depending on the CPU temperature. The user of the Foxconn board can control the settings of this feature, whereas in Gigabyte 945GCMCL they are default:
Both the boards offer features for adjusting the memory capacity allocated for the needs of the integrated video core. The thing is that on the Foxconn board this feature is operative, whereas on the Gigabyte's board it doesn't, and that is why:
In conclusion, we note that the Foxconn board allows the user to control all the technologies implemented in Intel's latest processors:
Overclocking and stability
As regards the memory modules, Foxconn 45CMV implements a 2-channel scheme, with four 1000 mkF and seven 680 mkF capacitors installed. Gigabyte 945GCMCL uses a single-channel scheme in which there are two 820 mkF and one 470 mkF capacitors.
Now on to the overclocking features.
Note that the Foxconn board offers quite a lot of overclocking tools, but unfortunately they are scatted over several sections (frequency and voltage settings). Besides, the 45CMV board overstates the PCI Express frequency (115 MHz instead of 100 MHz), which may be the trade-off for using the unofficial 1333 MHz bus.
Now let's look at the practical results of overclocking. The maximum stable FSB speed in the Foxconn board is 333 MHz; that for the Gigabyte's board is 160 MHz:
We reverted the multiplier of Celeron 215 to the rated value, and the CPU was running at 1.6 GHz.
As you can see, we were unable to overclock the Foxconn board: even with a slight raise of FSB, the board wouldn't start up. However, if we fit a CPU of lower rated FSB, its overclocking is possible:
Note that the result for the Gigabyte's board is lower, and the rated frequency is lower as well. So, at overclocking the boards come perform almost on par.
While determining the starting FSB speed, it turned out that the boards set it at a high enough precision.
In our test setup, we used the following hardware:
Note that we used the previous pack of tests under Windows XP. The thing is, the speed of the integrated Intel GMA 950 graphic core at modern 3D games (e.g. Crysis) is perhaps one of the biggest mysteries of the Universe: none of the reviewers was simply unable to wait until the tests are complete.
First, let's look at the results of synthetic tests (Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H is based on AMD 780G, and the system on its base uses a CPU Athlon 64 3500+).
Now - on to gaming tests (the result in fps; the higher the result, the lower the resolution).
Another test - WinRar (Kb/s.; the more, the better)
Unfortunately, for now (May 2008) the retail prices of both the boards are still unknown. But it doesn;t look like the price for Foxconn 45CMV will be above the prices offered by competitors. By the way, there are a lot of competitors: prices for motherboards based on Intel 945GC start with $38 and go up to as high as $75. The number of models is rather high - they range from the most basic up to the most advanced (e.g. the MicroATX board abit LG-95C with two PCI-E x16 slots). Foxconn 45CMV runs stable and leaves the impression of a regular "workhorse". There is one thing to complain about. It is the proprietary utilities on the CD which wouldn't start on this motherboard. Most likely, the release of new versions of these software utilities will fix the issue. But the number of USB 2.0 ports can't be increased with a new firmware: if the buyer needs more than six ports, you would have to buy a USB hub.
As regards the Gigabyte 945GCMCL, it is important to note that it is a niche product. In other words, among the major advantages of the boards are small dimensions, low price, as well as the low heat emission level. That is a good framework for small-sized systems in which the size matters more than the expansion options. We note it separately that the board is shipped with a CPU soldered-in, which may be good on the one hand because you don't have to look for a mobile CPU around the retail shops. On the other hand, this solution restricts the capabilities for raising the system performance.
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