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Digital-Daily : Motherboard Reviews : abit-aa8

Abit AA8 (Intel 925X Alderwood)

Author: Aleksandr Mitrofanov
Date: 17.07.2003


Abit AA8
Chipset Intel 925X Alderwood
Processor LGA775 Pentium 4 FSB 800
HyperThreading
Memory DDR2 4003
HDD 1x UltraDMA/100
4x SerialATA(RAID)
Additional 3 IEEE-1394
Audio Intel HDA
8 USB 2.0
Gigabit Ethernet
Price: ~190$ (Pricewatch.com)

When marketing people at Abit were inventing the name for the AA6 board, they even couldn't imagine what ambiguous meaning it would get in the Russian language. In the end, AA8 was dubbed "DuraMAX", or a combination of words "Durability" and "MAX". This sounds very similar to the Russian phrase "absolutely silly woman" :))). To my logical question "Will the name of the board be changed for sales on the Russian market?" I got the following answer: "No. The way it is sounds trendy" :))).

Finally, we got this Abit's flagship model built in the most efficient i925X chipset. Prior to moving on to the board's description, let's take a closer look at the chipset.

Intel 925X Alderwood Chipset

With the release of i925X and i915P chipsets, Intel has been offering users a lot of new technologies. First off, this is support for the DDR2 memory which offers higher memory bandwidth than DDR. For instance, while DDR 1 memory bandwidth in the dual-channel mode is 6.4 GB/s (at 200 MHz or DDR400), the bandwidth for DDR2 in the dual-channel mode is already 8.5 GB/s (at 133 MHz or DDR2-533). While this level of bandwidth is not yet in demand, after transition to the 266MHz bus speed (1066 MHz QPB), it will be a must. The thing is, only elite overclocker DDR 1 modules are able running at 266 MHz (DDR533), and use of DDR2 modules will become an industry standard.

However, such rise in speed has become possible due to essential rise of memory latency timings, which results in increased memory latency (or delays in access). As a result, the real performance of a DDR2-system will be at best equal to a DDR1-system. For example: standard latency timings for DDR400 are 2-3-6-3 (especially aggressive - 2-2-5-2), and for DDRII-533 they equal to 4-4-12-4.

Now a few words regarding the memory controller specifics. The memory controller in the i925X chipset allows quite flexible use of memory modules. In particular, the user gets the three modules: "Dual Channel Symmetric","Single Channel " and "Dual Channel Asymmetric". The simplest explanation to that is this: the "Dual Channel Symmetric" is the good old dual-channel mode which compared to the similar mode on i865PE\i875P has been released from a number of restrictions. For example, theoretically it is possible to get a mode when one 512 MB module is on the first channel, while on the second channel there are two 256 MB modules (hmm.. would be nice to try it in practice :). The second mode ("Single Channel") offers the simplest way to access the memory - single-channel. No comments. But the third one ("Dual Channel Asymmetric") is very interesting from theoretical point of view. It allows installation different memory capacities into different channels. As a result, the controller will try partially enable the dual-channel access. In practice, developers guarantee stable operation but warn that the performance level in this case will be closer to the single-channel access rather than the dual-channel.

Another new technology is support for new Socket LGA775 processors. However, this support is not a privilege of i925X / i915P chipsets only. Since the processor bus operation protocols hasn't changed, we can observe various hybrids sort of i865PE + LGA775, or i915P + Socket 478.

The main motive for Intel's migration to a new socket is the more uniform distribution of consumed power by various processor blocks. In combination with the new Prescott D0 stepping, not only will this allow reducing the total heat emission for Pentium 4 systems, but will increase the theoretical limit for the clock speeds. However, it should be noted that starting with 4 GHz clock speeds heat emission as high as 150W is regarded as admissible. This will entail improvements in cooling devices. In particular, Intel has revamped the design of the "Box cooler" which now has a 4-pin power connector.

What else is radically new? For example, the AGP bus has been completely abandoned in favor of the new PCI Express bus. First off, this gives a rise in bandwidth from 2.12 GB/s (AGP 8X) to 8GB/s (PCI Express x16). However, the advantages of the new bus are not only about the rough increase of the bandwidth. The data transmission mechanism has radically changed - it is now serial half-duplex. The latter term means the possibility to simultaneously transmit data both ends (AGP lacks such functionality). Besides, over the PCI Express bus it is possible to set up independent data transmission channels (up to 32).

In fact, let's not go too deep into it: it's still a long way to go until real benefits from using the PCI Express bus can be gained. The thing is that game developers have almost completely ignored the texture placement in the memory, but preferred storing them in the local memory of the video card (and used relatively small volumes for that - 64 MB, and more rarely - 128 MB).


Intel 925X Alderwood

Now let's talk about the second half of the chipset - the ICH6 south bridge linked to the north bridge with a new bus - DMI of maximum 2GB/s bandwidth. By the way, the DMI is sort of a modification to the PCI Express x4 bus.

For expansion cards, there has been released a PCI Express x1 bus version of 500 MB/s bandwidth. The developers can fit as many as 6 slots of "regular" PCI, or no more than four PCI Express x1 slots. Normally, manufacturers combine the slots following the 2+3 scheme (the way it on Abit AA8 motherboard).

Unlike the architecture of previous generation chipsets, data communication with devices on the bus runs through dedicated channels (4 500 MB/s= 2GB/s altogether). Formerly, all the devices were crowded on a single PCI bus with the bandwidth merely 133 MB/s.

Then the number of SerialATA ports has been increased from two (ICH5) to four. This is a good news; the bad news is that the number of "regular" ParallelATA channels has been cut down from two to one. Thus, Intel is trying to intensify the user migration to SerialATA devices. By the way, much more functionality has been added in the part of setting up RAID arrays. Now, the owners of systems built on boards featuring the ICH6R are able setting up RAID arrays of levels 0,1 and MatrixRAID. The latter mode is a combination of 0 and 1 modes in which each disk in the array is divided into two partitions: one for the 0 mode, the other for the 1. Therefore, we get some analog to the RAID 1.5 mode.

It should be noted that the RAID feature is regarded optional and is there on the ICH6R and ICH6RW modifications only (missing in ICH6 and ICH6W, respectively). As regards the south bridges, there is the letter W in their name, which stands for Intel Wireless Connect Technology (WiFi).

The next new technology is the new integrated 8-channel Intel High Definition Audio core which allows playing 24-bit multithreaded audio of 192 kHz sampling frequency. The core supports such modern standards like Dolby Digital 7.1, DTS ES/Discrete 6.1 etc. The audio quality should be at the level of high-end audio cards. Besides, the HDA core also supports the popular feature like automatic recognition of the type of plugged in device (speaker, headphones or microphone) and automatic re-tuning of respective parameters. If the performance losses in handling 3D audio are minimum, then a most beneficial user friendly audio solution may shape up (e.g., nForce 2 MCP-T for the SocketA platform).

Again, let's recall the major characteristics of the chipset:

  • Support for Pentium4 (QPB 800MHz) processors;
  • Support for DDR2 400/533 (two channels per two slots each; 4GB);
  • Support for the PCI Express x16 bus (one slot);
  • Support for the PCI Express x1 (four slots);
  • Support for the PCI bus (six slots);
  • Support for the SerialATA (4 channels, RAID);
  • Support for the ParallelATA (one channel);
  • Support for Gigabit LAN connection;
  • Support for the USB 2.0 serial bus (eight ports);
  • Integrated High Definition Audio core.

Content:

  • Intel 925X Alderwood Chipset
  • Abit AA8 Specifications
  • Layout
  • Expansion options
  • BIOS, monitoring
  • Overclocking and stability
  • Performance and conclusions




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