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We’re going to try a little experiment here. I’m going to tell you what I find to be the bare essentials about the LSN and Gigabyte 8IXRP board, you tell me if it’s enough or not.

The Cooler

I used an AVC Sunflower. Joe reviewed it here. Is it Delta 38 noisy? No. Is it whisper quiet? No. I’d call it about the same as a Glaciator. It whines a bit.

Putting a heatsink on a PIV is much different than with other CPUs. Essentially, the cooler sits in a cage. The mobo has plastic extensions making up the bottom part of the cage, the cooler comes with a separated top part of the cage. You basically hook the two parts of the cage together, and then switch two levers to lock the heatsink into place and put sufficient downward pressure onto the heatsink to ensure good contact.

While it’s easier to put the contraption together than take it off (this could be improved with some sort of release catch on the hooks); on the whole, it’s better than fumbling around with clips, especially those that are near-hernia-inducing.

There’s also much less fear of crushing your CPU in the process. Deservedly or not, the PIV heat spreader at least makes you believe you’d have to try very hard to crush the Intel inside. The system is designed to put a lot of pressure onto the heatsink, and does it for you by using levers rather than leaving you to guess.

Intel obviously tried to design this to be idiot-proof. However, idiots are so ingenious. 🙂 Heatsink placement is a little quirky. The first time I put it on, I got very high temperature readings. I dismantled, smooshed the grease around a tiny bit on the heatsink’s copper base, put it back on, and got much better temps. Damned if I know why, not like there’s ways to misplace the heatsink. If you get high temps or erratic behavior, that’s probably one of the first areas you should check.

Performance? OK enough (see below).

The CPU

It’s a 1.8A GHz boxed Northwood. Name, rank and serial number:

SL62P Malay
L146M762-1287

A week 46 Malay, in other words.

It may be physically more sturdy than an Athlon core, but the insides are more sensitive. It really doesn’t like 55-60C temperatures, at least mine doesn’t.

I can get it to 2.4G stably, but it takes 1.725V to do so. 1.675V, and it won’t boot into Windows. 1.700V, and it flunks Prime95 after about an hour.

I’m not thrilled about needing this much voltage just to get to 2.4. It’s acceptable, and I’ll push it more later, but I don’t think this has much more left in it.

Temperatures are pretty decent; 42C at 2.4GHz running Prime95 for several hours (25C mobo temp).

Performance? Ehhh. It’s roughly the same as an XP2000+, better where the PIV is better, worse where the PIV is worse. It’s not bad at all, but it’s not a major or even significant advance over XP systems.

The Motherboard

It’s the Gigabyte 8IRXP. That’s a board based on the Intel 845D chipset. (We plan to look at a SiS board fairly shortly.)

If you plan on getting a PIV system, you need a power supply that has one of those little two-by-two prong 12V connectors for this to work.

The Gigabyte allows for voltages up to 1.85V. That feature works, though the voltage the Gigabyte monitoring says is being provided and what a program like Sandra says about it can be two quite different things. In fact, monitoring this board is quite an adventure.

The 8IRXP has six PCI slots. It has a Promise ATA133 RAID (and only RAID, no additional IDE slots if you’d rather that) controller. Not the most flexible RAID controller I’ve ever seen (it just gives you either 8KB or 64KB stripes), but at least the RAID array I had set up with a Fasttrak66 works fine with it.

It has three DIMM slots, but for most people, the third is useless. The 845 chipset only allows up to four sides of RAM. You may have noticed 4/3 doesn’t come out evenly. The first DIMM slot can accomodate two sides, and the next two slots share two more. If you use 256Mb sticks of DDR, that’s dual-sided RAM, so two sticks of that, and there’s your four sides (and put them in slots 1 and 2, or 1 and 3, not 2 and 3).

It comes with a built-in Intel chip for LAN, and that’s handy. It comes with AC97 backed up by a Creative DSP for basic sound, nothing fancy.

It also has USB 2.0 headers and a dual BIOS system for the unlucky or dopey.

The BIOS is a bit on the sparse side when it comes to tweaks. While you can adjust PCI divisors, the descriptions are rather cryptic. To get a /3 divisor, “CPU Host Clock Control” must be disabled. To get a /4 divisor, you have to enable it, then choose “PLL/16”. A /5 divisor would be PLL/20.

On the other hand, it is nice enough to tell you just what you’re going to end up with as a result of such fiddling, and it does give you the ability to change CPU (up to 1.85V), DIMM (up to 2.8V) and AGP (up to 1.8V) voltages, and they actually work.

If you plan on running in the neighborhood of 133Mhz, make sure you set the “Host/DRAM Clock Ratio” to 2.0; otherwise your RAM will try to run 33% faster than the FSB, and it probably won’t like that at all.

Tin Soldiers

If you play around with your CPU a lot and/or are clumsy, you really ought to take a look at some pictures of these mobos. At least for the 845 boards, most of them have a platoon of capacitors standing at attention right by the CPU cage. Right by where you have to put on, and more importantly, take off the top part of that cage. There’s little room for error, and if your style is more sledgehammer than chisel, you might find yourself with a displaced capacitor one day.

Most of the cables you have to plug in are on the right hand side of the board as mounted in a tower. The ATX power supply is to the top right; the floppy and regular IDE connectors are about in the right middle, and the RAID connectors are towards the right bottom. Good design to prevent cable sprawl, but you might find it a bit cramped, especially with the power, reset, etc. jumper located inbetween the RAID and IDE connections.

Sleeping Beauty

Memory performance is a little slow with the Gigabyte, about 5% less than the Sandra reference figures for the Intel 845.

The real current problem with the board is its failure to soft boot with at least some video cards. A few others have mentioned this problem, and I sure have it with a Radeon 8500.

Failure to soft boot is not an uncommon problem with mobos these days. However, the Gigabyte has an interesting quirk in that it soft boots fine when you’re running at 100MHz. It’s only when you’re running at 125Mhz or more that it goes to sleep and stays that way until you power off and on.

No doubt this is fixable through a future BIOS, but it is a bit annoying.

Another annoyance (though this may be well not be Gigabyte’s fault) is the inability of popular monitoring programs to do just that.

For instance, depending on the sensor chosen, MBM tells me my CPU is running at either 25C or around 110C. The 25C reading is eternal, what’s a little disconcerting is that the 110C is not. 🙂

Sandra repeats the eternal 25C reading except when MBM is reading 108C or so. Then it succumbs to peer pressure, and reports 108C mobo temperature, too. What is actually the CPU temperature is reported under the Power/Aux temperature.

Gigabyte does provide a small little program which provides temps and voltages, but Sandra often disagree with Gigabyte as to what the voltage really is, always understating it, and sometimes by as much as .1V.

Conclusions

Ehhhh. It’s certainly not bad; it’s certainly not great. It’s OK.

I’m certainly going to continue working with this system, and work on comparisons between it and the Athlon/Via KT266A combo that haven’t already been done by seventeen other places already.

I don’t see much difference between the two, though, and not only just in performance. The XP is a pretty hot chip, but the Northwood isn’t exactly cold even now (and Thoroughbreds will be relatively cooler, and Northwoods will get relatively hotter as they ramp). Cooling it well isn’t a silent experience. I haven’t tried the Intel HSF yet, but I’m not so sure it’s quite enough to do 2.4 with less-than-pick-of-the-litter CPUs like the one I have.

The 845 board is stable, but so is the KT266A in basic operations. You need to load a few drivers for either of them; there’s not much difference there.

It really feels like being in a Chinese restaurant and picking from Column A or B. Yes, there are differences, but they’re less than they used to be, and it’s now the similarities that are more striking than the differences.

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