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"Workhorse" motherboards based on 945GC by Gigabyte and Foxconn

Author: Aleksandr Mitrofanov
Date: 10/06/2008

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.

Conroe-L

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.

Specifications

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL


Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL
CPU - Intel Pentium 4 (Prescott (2M)/Gallatin/CedarMill) with the bus speeds 1066/800/533 MHz
- Dual-core Intel Pentium D / EE (Smithfield/Presler) with the bus speeds 800/1066 MHz
- Intel Celeron with the bus speeds 533/800 MHz
- Support for Intel Core 2 Duo (+ Yorkfield, Wolfdale)
- Socket LGA775
- Support for HyperThreading processors
- Intel Celeron 215 (1.33 GHz; 10x133; Conroe-L)
Chipset - North bridge Intel 945GC (GMCH)
- South bridge Intel ICH7
- Interbridge communication: DMI
System memory - Two 240-pin slots for DDR2 SDRAM DIMM
- Maximum memory capacity 4 GB
- Supported memory DDR2 533/667/800
- Dual-channel memory access
- One 240-pin slot for DDR2 SDRAM DIMM
- Maximum memory capacity 2 GB
- Supported memory DDR2 533/667/800
Graphics - Integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics core
- One PCI Express x16 slot
- Integrated graphic core Intel GMA 950
Expansion options - One 32-bit PCI Bus Master slot
- One PCI Express x1 slot
- Six USB 2.0 ports (2 integrated + 4 additional)
- Integrated High Definition Audio 5.1
- 10/100 Mbit LAN controller
- One 32-bit PCI Bus Master slot
- Eight USB 2.0 ports (4 integrated + 4 additional)
- Integrated High Definition Audio 5.1
- 10/100 Mbit LAN controller
Overclocking options - FSB adjustable within 200(333) to 600 MHz
- Adjustable voltage on the CPU, memory
- FSB adjustable within 100 to 700 MHz in 1 MHz increments; multiplier adjustable
- Adjustable voltages on the memory, FSB
Disk subsystem - 1 link for UltraDMA100/66/33 Bus Master IDE (ICH7; with support for up to 2 ATAPI devices)
- Support for SerialATA II (2 links - ICH7)
- Support for LS-120 / ZIP / ATAPI CD-ROM
BIOS - 8 Mbit Flash ROM
- Award BIOS Phoenix with support for Enhanced ACPI, DMI, Green, PnP Features and Trend Chip Away Virus
- 4 Mbit Flash ROM
- Award BIOS with support for Enhanced ACPI, DMI, Green, PnP Features and Trend Chip Away Virus
Misc - One serial port, ports for PS/2 mouse and keyboard
- STR (Suspend to RAM);
- One (two?) serial and one parallel ports, ports for PS/2 mouse and keyboard
- STR (Suspend to RAM)
Power management - Wake-up on modem, mouse, keyboard, LAN, timer, and USB
- Main 24-pin ATX power connector
- Additional 4-pin power connector
- Wake-up on modem, mouse, keyboard, LAN, timer, and USB
- Main 20-pin ATX power connector
- Additional 4-pin power connector
Monitoring - Monitoring the temperature of the CPU, system, voltages, rotational speeds of the two fans
- Smart Fan
- Monitoring the CPU temperature, voltages, rotational speeds of the two fans
- Smart Fan;
Dimensions - Micro-ATX form factor, 245x183 mm (9.63" x 7.2") - Micro-ITX form factor, 170x170 mm (6.68" x 6.68")

Retail boxes

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:


Foxconn 45CMV

Package bundle

  • motherboard;
  • User's Manual in English + brief usage guide;
  • Software & drivers CD;
  • one ATA-133 cable;
  • 1x SerialATA cable + a power supply adapter (1 connector);
  • a cap for the rear panel of the housing.


Foxconn 45CMV


Foxconn 45CMV

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.

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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).

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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.


Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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.


Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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.

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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).

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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.

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

The same controller is used to implement the LAN support. That is the Realtek RTL8101E chip:

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

The board's rear panel is of the following configuration:

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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.

BIOS

The BIOS of Foxconn 45CMV and Gigabyte 945GCMCL is based on the Award BIOS version.

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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):


Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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):

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Now look at the system monitoring section.

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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:

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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:

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

In conclusion, we note that the Foxconn board allows the user to control all the technologies implemented in Intel's latest processors:

Foxconn 45CMV

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.

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Now on to the overclocking features.

Foxconn 45CMV
Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Board Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL
Multiplier adjustment - +
FSB adjustment within 200/333 to 600 MHz (1 MHz) within 100 to 700 MHz (1 MHz)
Vcore adjustment + 0.2V (0.0125V) -
Vmem adjustment + 0.3V (0.1V) + 0.4V (0.1V)
Vdd adjustment - -
Adjustment of Vpcix - -
Vtt adjustment - + 0.3V (0.1V)
PCI-E adjustment within 100 MHz to 255 MHz (1 MHz) within 90 MHz to 150 MHz (1 MHz)

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.

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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:

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

We reverted the multiplier of Celeron 215 to the rated value, and the CPU was running at 1.6 GHz.

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

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:

Foxconn 45CMV

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.

Performance tests

While determining the starting FSB speed, it turned out that the boards set it at a high enough precision.

Foxconn 45CMV

Gigabyte 945GCMCL

In our test setup, we used the following hardware:


Test setup
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo E6550 LGA775 (2.33 GHz; Conroe)
Intel Celeron 215 (1.33 GHz; Conroe-L)
Cooler Gigabyte 3D Cooler GP Edition
Video card Integrated graphic core Intel GMA 950
Sound card -
HDD Samsung HD160JJ
Memory 2x 1024 MB Corsair DDR2 TWIN2X2048-8500C5
Housing Inwin506 with the PSU PowerMan 300W
FSP 550 W
OS Windows XP SP1

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+).

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Now - on to gaming tests (the result in fps; the higher the result, the lower the resolution).

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Another test - WinRar (Kb/s.; the more, the better)

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Final Words

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.

Foxconn 45CMV Gigabyte 945GCMCL

Conclusion

Foxconn 45CMV
Gigabyte 945GCMCL
Pros:
  • high stability and good performance level;
  • PCI Express x16 slot;
  • support for one P-ATA link (ICH7R);
  • compact size.
Cons:
  • flaws in the software;
  • merely six USB 2.0 posts.

The board's specific features:

  • overclocking tools available;
  • no support for FDD.
Pros:
  • high stability;
  • Integrated CPU Intel Celeron (Conroe-L);
  • support for one P-ATA link (ICH7R);
  • super-compact size.
Cons:
  • not found.
The board's specific features:
  • overclocking tools available;
  • no support for FDD.
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