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abit & Foxconn (Intel G31)Author: Aleksandr Mitrofanov
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.
Package design for the Foxconn's board:
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
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.
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:
To cool the "north bridge", there are massive radiators on the boards:
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.
On each of the boards, there is one PCI Express x16, one PCI Express x1, and two PCI 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.
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.
Foxconn G31MG-S is equipped with one COM and one LPT ports, while abit I-G31 does not support these interfaces.
The BIOS of the boards is based on the Award BIOS Phoenix version.
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:
The next important parameter that affects the performance is setting the memory operating frequency.
Now look at the system monitoring sections.
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:
The boards grant the use access to all Intel's latest technologies.
On the Foxconn's board, the power-saving settings are gathered in a separate section ("Green System Mode")
The boards also allow adjusting the memory capacity allocated for the needs of the integrated graphic core.
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.
On the Foxconn's board, all the overclocking tools are gathered in the "Fox Central Control Unit" section:
There are not so many features but they are scattered among the numerous subsections.
As regards the abit's board, there aren't any overclocking tools in its BIOS at all.
However, the overclocking tools in the Foxconn's board have a poor practical effect. In particular, the maximum stable FSB speed = 350 MHz.
While determining the starting FSB speed, it turned out that both the boards set it within admissible ranges.
In our test setup, we used the following hardware:
Apart from the mentioned two motherboards, we used abit I-N73HD (NVIDIA GeForce 7100) in our tests.
Now on to the gaming benchmarks.
Tests of application software.
Video encoding (DivX, Xvid) was measured in seconds, i.e. the less the better.
Data compression (WinRAR) was measured in K/sec, i.e. the less, the better.
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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