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abit & Foxconn (Intel G31)

Author: Aleksandr Mitrofanov
Date: 20/10/2008

The chipset Intel G31 is aimed at moderately priced office computers. Motherboards built on its base normally offer the MicroATX form factor and basic expansion options. The integrated graphic core Intel GMA 3100 is designed solely to handle office applications as well as simple 3D programs. We also note that entry motherboards do not offer overclockinig tools, while the few exceptions out of this rule are not successful among the PC enthusiasts.

In this review, we are examining two motherboards based on the Intel G31 chipset. One of these is made by Foxconn which has strong enough positions in the entry sector. The other motherboard is developed by abit whose products have almost vanished from retail stores. However sad that may seem, abit I-G31 is most likely to be the last motherboard of the formerly eminent company.

Specifications


abit I-G31 Foxconn G31MG-S
CPU - Intel Pentium 4 (Prescott (2M)/Gallatin/CedarMill) with the bus speeds 1066/800 MHz
- Dual-core Intel Pentium D / EE (Smithfield/Presler) with the bus speeds 1066/800 MHz
- Intel Celeron-D (Conroe-L/Prescott) with the bus speed 800 MHz
- Support for Intel Core 2 Duo (Kentsfield (4 cores), Conroe/Allendale (2 cores)) with the bus speeds 1066/800 MHz
- Support for Intel Yorkfield, Wolfdale with the bus speeds 1333/1066/800 MHz
- Socket LGA775
- Support for HyperThreading
Chipset - North bridge Intel G31 (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 667/800
- Dual-channel memory access
Graphics - One PCI Express x16 slot;
- Integrated graphic core Intel GMA 3100
Expansion options - Two 32-bit PCI Bus Master slots
- One PCI Express x1 slot
- Eight USB 2.0 ports (4 integrated + 4 additional)
- Integrated High Definition Audio 5.1
- Gigabit Ethernet LAN controller
- Two 32-bit PCI Bus Master slots
- One PCI Express x1 slot
- Eight USB 2.0 ports (4 integrated + 4 additional)
- Integrated High Definition Audio 7.1
- Gigabit Ethernet LAN controller
Overclocking options - - FSB adjustable within (200) 333 to 600 MHz in 1 MHz increments
- Adjustable voltages on the CPU, memory
Disk subsystem - 1 link for UltraDMA133/100/66/33 Bus Master IDE ( ICH7; with support for up to 2 ATAPI devices)
- Support for SerialATA II (4 links - ICH7)
- Support for LS-120 / ZIP / ATAPI CD-ROM
BIOS - 4 Mbit Flash ROM
- Award BIOS Phoenix with support for Enhanced ACPI, DMI, Green, PnP Features and Trend Chip Away Virus
Misc - One port for FDD, ports for PS/2 mouse and keyboard
- STR (Suspend to RAM)
- SPDIF Out

- One port for FDD, one serial, one parallel port, ports for PS/2 mouse and keyboard
- STR (Suspend to RAM)
- SPDIF Out

Power management - Wake-up on modem, mouse, keyboard, LAN, timer, and USB
- Main 24-pin ATX power connector
- Additional 4-pin power connector
Monitoring - Monitoring the temperatures of the CPU, system, PWM, voltage levels, rotational speeds of the three
- FanEQ
- Monitoring the temperature of the CPU, system, voltages, rotational speeds of the two fans
- Smart Fan
Dimensions - ATX form factor, 244x210 mm (9.62" x 8.27") - ATX form factor, 240x208 mm (9.6" x 8.2")

Retail boxes

Package design for the Foxconn's board:


Foxconn G31MG-S in a package box

We received the Foxconn's product in a make fully ready for batch production, but the abit's board arrived at our test lab in the test make - only the board in the package, so we can't rate its package bundle yet.

Foxconn G31MG-S, package bundle

  • motherboard;
  • User's Manual in English + brief usage guide;
  • Software & drivers CD;
  • ATA133 and FDD cables;
  • 2x SerialATA cables + two power supply adapters (2 connectors);
  • a cap for the rear panel of the housing.

The package bundle of Foxconn G31MG-S can't be referred to as rich, however for its price $45 it includes all the required items.


Foxconn G31MG-S, package bundle

Layout and Features

The development of the entry product confines the engineers within quite rigid limits, so motherboards of this type are of the same specifications as the competing products. That is well seen from the tested motherboards as well: both the development teams were given an assignment "to create a motherboard based on G31 and priced below $50". The result is that the boards are almost identical:


abit I-G31, board


Foxconn G31MG-S, board

To cool the "north bridge", there are massive radiators on the boards:


abit I-G31, radiator of the north bridge

Foxconn G31MG-S, radiator of the north bridge

They are also needed because there is the graphic core GMA 3100 integrated into the "north bridge, which increases the overall level of heat emission. It should be noted that the Foxconn's model has a radiator on the "south bridge" as well, while in the abit's model this component is missing.

The motherboards each have two 240-pin DIMM slots for DDR2 memory modules, with the overall supported memory capacity being 4 GB.


abit I-G31, DIMM slots

Foxconn G31MG-S, DIMM slots

On each of the boards, there is one PCI Express x16, one PCI Express x1, and two PCI slots.


abit I-G31, expansion slots

Foxconn G31MG-S, expansion slots

Let's now examine the expansion options. Both the boards have four SerialATA II links, but there is no option for building RAID arrays. The thing is, the boards use one of the cheapest versions of the south bridge ICH7.


abit I-G31, corner of the board

Foxconn G31MG-S, corner of the board

We also note that the "south bridge" provides operation of one ParallelATA link. Then, both the motherboards support eight USB 2.0 ports each. The configuration of the ports is identical for both the motherboards: 4 on the rear panel and 4 additional ones. Now a few words on the High Definition Audio subsystem. The abit's board uses Realtek ALC662 (5.1), on the Foxconn's - ALC888 (7.1) codec. Both the boards offer high-speed network interfaces - on the abit's board, there is the Realtek RTL8111C controller, and on the Foxconn's - RTL8111B.


abit I-G31, rear panel

Foxconn G31MG-S, rear panel

Foxconn G31MG-S is equipped with one COM and one LPT ports, while abit I-G31 does not support these interfaces.

BIOS

The BIOS of the boards is based on the Award BIOS Phoenix version.


abit I-G31 BIOS

Foxconn G31MG-S BIOS

The major memory settings for the Foxconn's board are gathered in the overclocking section ("Fox Central Control Unit"), and those for the abit's - in the "Advanced Chipset Features" section:


abit I-G31, major latency timings

Foxconn G31MG-S, major latency timings

The next important parameter that affects the performance is setting the memory operating frequency.


abit I-G31, selection of the memory frequency

Foxconn G31MG-S, selection of the memory frequency

Now look at the system monitoring sections.


abit I-G31, system monitoring

Foxconn G31MG-S, system monitoring

Both the motherboards display the current temperatures for the CPU and the system (the abit's model also detects the PWM temperature), as well as operating voltages. The boards determine the rotational speeds of the fans (abit's - three, Foxconn's - two) and offer the feature for adjusting the rotational speeds of the CPU fan depending on the CPU temperature. On the Foxconn's board, this technology is traditionally called Smart Fan, and on the abit's - FanEQ:


abit I-G31 SmartFAN

Foxconn G31MG-S  SmartFAN

The boards grant the use access to all Intel's latest technologies.


abit I-G31, CPU settings

Foxconn G31MG-S, CPU settings

On the Foxconn's board, the power-saving settings are gathered in a separate section ("Green System Mode")


Foxconn G31MG-S, CPU settings 1

The boards also allow adjusting the memory capacity allocated for the needs of the integrated graphic core.


abit I-G31, graphic memory capacity
Foxconn G31MG-S, graphic memory capacity

Overclocking and stability

Before we move on to overclocking, let's look at the power converters. The PWM of abit I-G31 uses a 3-phase scheme, in which there are two 820 mkF, four 680 mkF, and four 1000 mkF capacitors. The PWM of the Foxconn's board also uses a 3-phase power scheme, in which there are six 820 mkF and three 330 mkF capacitors.


abit I-G31, power converter

Foxconn G31MG-S, power converter

On the Foxconn's board, all the overclocking tools are gathered in the "Fox Central Control Unit" section:


Foxconn G31MG-S, overclocking tools
Foxconn G31MG-S, Vcore adjustment

There are not so many features but they are scattered among the numerous subsections.


Foxconn G31MG-S, setting the FSB

As regards the abit's board, there aren't any overclocking tools in its BIOS at all.

Motherboard abit I-G31 Foxconn G31MG-S
Multiplier adjustment - -
FSB adjustment - within (200)333 MHz to 600 MHz (1 MHz)
Vcore adjustment - within -0.5 to +0.25V (0.0125V)
Vmem adjustment - within 0 to +0.3V (0.1V)
PCI-E adjustment - within 100 MHz to 255 MHz (1 MHz)

However, the overclocking tools in the Foxconn's board have a poor practical effect. In particular, the maximum stable FSB speed = 350 MHz.


Foxconn G31MG-S, overclocking

Performance tests

While determining the starting FSB speed, it turned out that both the boards set it within admissible ranges.


abit I-G31, nominal frequency

Foxconn G31MG-S, nominal frequency

In our test setup, we used the following hardware:


Test setup
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo E6550 LGA775 (2.33 GHz; Conroe)
Cooler Gigabyte 3D Cooler GP Edition
Video card Integrated graphic core Intel GMA 3100
Sound card -
HDD Samsung HD160JJ
Memory 2x1024 MB A-Data DDR2-800 AD8200X001GU
Power supply unit FSP 550W
OS MS Vista

Apart from the mentioned two motherboards, we used abit I-N73HD (NVIDIA GeForce 7100) in our tests.


Performance test, Everest

Performance test, Everest


Performance test in 3DMark

CPU performance test in 3DMark

Now on to the gaming benchmarks.


Performance test in Quake 4

Performance test in Serious Sam 2

Performance test in World in Conflict

Tests of application software.


Performance test in 3D Max

Performance test in CineBench

Performance test in POV

Video encoding (DivX, Xvid) was measured in seconds, i.e. the less the better.

Performance test in DivX

Performance test in Xvid

Data compression (WinRAR) was measured in K/sec, i.e. the less, the better.

Performance test in WinRAR

Final Words

Both the products have almost identical specifications, an approximately equal price and it is most likely that the package bundle for abit I-G31 will be similar to that for Foxconn G31MG-S. However, the Foxconn's board is a little bit more advantageous. That is seen from the 8-channel audio subsystem (versus 6-channel in the abit's) and support for COM and LPT interfaces (not supported by the abit's model). However, 8-channel sound is useless for the office computer, while the serial and parallel ports will do for plugging in "outdated" peripherals.

We also note that for the cheap home computer a motherboard based on the Intel G31 chipset is not suitable at all because of the slow and weakly functional graphic core. Therefore, we would recommend the thrifty user to draw attention to the AMD platform for which there is a vast choice of cheap motherboards built on AMD/NVIDIA chipsets with the powerful integrated graphics. Use of systems based on the Intel G31 chipset is more aimed at corporate users.

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