Gigabyte's GA-8S648FX Motherboard
Bridging the gap with the SiS 648FX

"Burned" in by Robert Maloney
August 13th, 2003

The Gigabyte GA-8S648FX Motherboard:

    

We came away with very good first impressions, when opening the box and removing the GA-8S648FX motherboard.  First, the board is color coordinated, from the plastic used for the ports and sockets to the pins used for the front panel.  Gigabyte was one of the first manufacturers to start color coding these pins, and it helps prevent confusion when setting up the board.  The bright orange CPU bracket and lime green AGP and IDE ports stand out against the teal PCB, which Gigabyte has become accustomed to using.  Light blue is used for all three DIMM slots, as there is no need to have the two tone slots that we have gotten used to with the dual-DDR channel boards.  Each of the corners is rounded off, which is a small touch that DIY builders can really appreciate, especially after getting jabbed by a sharp corner one too many times. 

      

As for the layout of the components, we didn't have too much to mention, at least not without beginning to sound like a broken record.  For example, yet once again, the AGP slot and DIMM slots are placed too close together.  In fact, this may be the closest we have seen these two in some time.  Take a peek at the picture of the lower left of the board and you can see the DIMM retention clips almost touching the AGP slot.  Now that's close!  There was also a small capacitor to the left of the AGP pull clip and a medium one on the right.  That results in having to squeeze your thumb and finger right between the two to pull out the plug to release the AGP card.  Unless there is a strict need for these to be placed here, Gigabyte should look into better placement for these capacitors.  Other than these two issues, the IDE and ATX connections were placed in good positions, along the edge of the board and away from other components.  The floppy port was placed further down the board, just past the last PCI slot, which may cause an issue with larger cases.  It was placed perpendicular to the front of the case, however, which will prevent the cable from hindering airflow around the case.


     

One of the first things we noticed when we looked over the components was not so much what we saw on the board, but rather what was missing.  We quickly found the Realtek ALC650 Codec chip used for the on-board audio, a common chip found on many modern motherboards.  Just to the left, however, was a label where a Realtek LAN chip could or would have been.  To save on some of the costs of manufacturing, Gigabyte opted to leave on-board LAN off of the list of provided options.  There also aren't any additional IDE or SATA ports for connecting additional drives, leaving only the IDE1 and IDE2 ports for any and all drives one plans to install.  Obviously, this also rules out using RAID configurations of any kind.  One last omission, and one that we would constantly grieve over while testing, was the apparent removal of the pins needed to quickly clear the CMOS.  Again, the label is there, but, inexplicably, the pins are not.  We are at a loss as to why these would not be present, as a few pins clearly would not add or detract from the cost of making the board. 

 THE BUNDLE:

  

The bundle follows the same theory as the board.  There's just enough to get the system running with few extras.  There is a quick installation guide for a visual reference when building the system along with the user's manual, driver/utility CD, and a handy little sticker with the motherboard layout for those of us who often misplace the manual.  So far, so good.  Delving deeper into the box, we only found an IDE cable, a floppy cable, and a bracket with two additional two USB 2.0 ports bringing the total out of the box to four.  Notice we didn't mention an I/O shield.  That's because there wasn't any in the box, and no, this wasn't a mistake.  Looking over the checklist within the manual, one can readily see that this item is simply not on the "provided" list.  Another oddity, as it means that you would have to somehow have a plate that exactly matched the configuration of the external connections of the board.  Needless to say, we didn't, and left the back of the system open while testing.


The BIOS:

        
        

We booted up the system for the first time, hit the 'Delete' key, and felt right at home with the AWARD BIOS.  We quickly enabled and disabled various components and went to optimize the RAM timings, when we realized that there weren't any.  Actually, that's not the whole truth.  They were there, but Gigabyte's policy is to "hide" them, requiring the user to hit CTRL-F1 in order for the Advanced Chipset Features to appear.  We found that our GEIL DDR433 RAM was detected BY SPD as DDR400 with some relaxed timings.  We left these settings for the time being, but set the system performance to 'Enabled' from the main menu.  Unfortunately for us, this resulted in the system being unable to boot (just like the BIOS warning had said might happen, isn't that a hoot).  We rebooted the system a few times, but were unable to get back into the BIOS.  We went to clear the settings, but alas, no pins to short.  So we removed the battery, waited a few seconds and placed it back in, then fired the system up again.

Back in the BIOS, we reconfigured all of our previous settings, and left system performance to default.  This time we got past the POST and finished the initial system setup.  Everything behaving as it should, we went back into the BIOS to tweak those memory settings they way we usually do.  We manually set the RAM to DDR400 with 2-5-2-2 for the timings.  No boot.  OK, back to removing the battery, resetting the BIOS, etc.  This time we tried going halfway, maybe 2.5--5-3-3, but this was a no-go as well.  Back to the routine once again.  Needless to say, this was most frustrating, especially when we finally came to the realization that ANY change to the memory timings would cause the system not to boot.  We searched around the labs and tried throwing in one stick of 512MB Corsair PC3500 and two 256MB sticks of Kingston HyperX PC3500, and they all performed the same.  Faced with this situation, we had no other choice but to run our benchmarks with the RAM set to 3-6-3-3, and system performance left at its default setting.  Gigabyte would do well to take another look at this situation with a BIOS revision, but a lot of time could have been saved had the Clear CMOS pins been present.

Overclocking the GA-8S648FX
Umm...Houston...we appear to have a problem

We would like to tell you that we had a good experience when overclocking this board, but we can't.  To expand this further, we couldn't overclock this board at all.  While we expected that overclocking was going to be limited, due to the lack of available voltage settings, we were thoroughly perplexed to find out that changing the front side bus to anything above 204MHz, resulted in the system not even being able to boot.  Which led to us needing to clear the CMOS.  Which led to us removing the battery.  Which led to us getting frustrated.  You get the picture.  In our experience, SiS based boards just don't do well in this department, so overclockers should probably look elsewhere.

Making some comparisons