First Look: ABIT BD7II RAID

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P4, many features, watch RAM loading – Joe

SUMMARY: Good feature list, stable up to “reasonable” FSB speeds, high quality RAM needed for highest FSBs.

I was at a local computer show and decided to pick up Abit’s BD7II-RAID to test out. I was particularly interested in stability at high FSBs, as this board advertises FSBs from 100 to 250 MHz. With P4 1.6As running at high FSBs, interest in stable P4 boards at 166 MHz+ is increasing.

First, a quick look at some of the more interesting features:

  • Intel 845E chipset
  • 3 DIMM slots, 2GB Max (DIMM 2 & 3 sharing – 4 banks total)
  • Multiple PCI settings
  • HighPoint HPT372 RAID (mirror and stripe)
  • On board sound
  • On board Realtek RTL8100B LAN
  • Thermal header (no thermistor cable supplied)
  • SMBUS header
  • Inflatable Soccer Ball

(Rather than clutter up this review with cut-and-paste filler, go HERE for the full feature list.)

CPU voltages can be increased by 5%, 10% and 15%, and DRAM voltage from 2.5, 2.6 and 2.7 volts; FSB are set in one MHz increments.

PCI speeds can be set across all FSBs at fixed speeds of 33, 37 and 44 MHz, CPU /3 and /4. This is a very nice feature for running at odd FSBs.

The RAID/LAN combo seems to be catching on – we’re seeing more boards with these ports built in. I like to read the manual first (this is a good one, especially the section on RAID) and found this on page 26:

“Setting the working frequency higher than the PCI chipset or processor specs may cause abnormal memory module functioning…”

Now maybe it’s because memory speeds are of interest to me, but I did find this particular CYA interesting, and possibly a harbinger of things to come?

The DRAM settings are a bit different. To set the ratio between CPU and DRAM speeds, there are two settings:

  • DRAM Ratio H/W Strap
  • DRAM Ratio (CPU:DRAM)

If the H/W Strap is set to LOW, the DRAM ratios are 1:1 and 3:4;
If the H/W Strap is set to HIGH, the DRAM ratios are 1:1 and 4:3.

The LOW setting is supposed to be for 100 MHz CPUs, and the HIGH for 133 MHz CPUs. So by setting LOW, you can run the CPU at 100 FSB and DRAM at 133, and for HIGH, CPU at 133 and DRAM at 100.

You can also set it to LOW and run the CPU at 133 MHz – this gives a DRAM setting of 178 MHz; at 125, you get 166 MHz DRAM; not quite sure why the odd numbers, but that’s what it does.

Lots of options, but the real question is what’s feasible?

To answer that question, I used the UXD RAM Stress Test Pro with Crucial DDR333. The UXD is a PCI card that boots up after BIOS, so there is no OS to interfere with RAM tests.

The 845E chipset spec indicates support for 4 memory banks – that is, two double sided RAM sticks. The second and third memory slot are shared, which means both slots support a total of two banks. Max is 2 GB for all three slots.

I tested with one stick of single sided 128 MB, three sticks of 128, two sticks of double sided 256 and two sticks of 256 plus one of 128. I ran tests until I found the highest stable FSBs with various RAM combinations. I used an unlocked P4 1700 (Intel engineering sample) which allows me to run high FSBs at low multipliers and found the following:

Eight Multiplier, Crucial DDR333, Mem Timing 2 6 3 3

FSB/AGP/PCI

One 128 MB DDR333

Three 128 MB DDR333

133/66/33

PASS

PASS

155/76/38

FAIL

FAIL

154/76/38

PASS

FAIL

150/75/37

PASS

FAIL

145/72/36

PASS

PASS

Eight Multiplier, Crucial DDR333, Mem Timing 2.5 7 3 3

FSB/AGP/PCI

One 128 MB DDR333

Three 128 MB DDR333

175/66/33

PASS

FAIL

170/66/33

PASS

FAIL

165/66/33

PASS

FAIL

160/66/33

PASS

FAIL

155/66/33

PASS

FAIL

150/66/33

PASS

PASS

DRAM voltage 2.6 to 2.7v; 5/3/2002 BIOS.

Looks like the more RAM you use, the lower your best stable speed. I also ran a series with two 256 MB and one 128 MB stick at 150 (2 6 3 3) and it passed, even though this is not a supported mode. Further, two sticks of double sided 256 MB Crucial passed at 153 MHz (2 6 3 3), confirming the findings above.

CONCLUSIONS

Stable speeds at high FSBs may require the use of one RAM stick; you may get substantially lower stable speeds with fully populated DIMMs. The board does have a good feature set, and running at odd FSBs with PCI speeds in spec is very desirable.

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