Intel's i845 DDR Chipset Debuts
MSI's 845 Ultra-ARU & DFI's NB70-SC
DDR Solutions Based On Intel's New Value Platform

By, Dave Altavilla
December 17 2001

 
DFI NB70-SC
The DFI NB70-SC is a step in the right direction for the historically conservative motherboard manufacturer.  In the past DFI's products have always been a little light on the features and devoid of many tweaking options that HotHardware readers have grown a custom to.

   

Those of you that are observant will notice a hint of something new from DFI, in the middle position shot taken here.  There is a Realtek PLL on this board, the likes of which we have seen on Abit products and others with BIOS CPU setup options.  Indeed this board has the ability to adjust CPU frequency in the BIOS in 1MHz. increments.  More on this later, in our setup and installation section.

MSI 845 Ultra-ARU
The board that really stands out from the crowd here, at least in terms of features, is the MSI 845 Ultra-ARU.  This board has just about all the latest toys imaginable.

   

 

First and foremost, this board comes equipped on board with the all new Promise Fastrak ATA133 RAID controller.  In addition to the 2 channels of standard ATA100 support from the i845, you'll get another two channels that support the new ATA133 standard being driven by Maxtor as well as RAID 0 and RAID 1 mode support.  Additionally, with the help of an on board USB 2.0 compliant controller, from NEC, you'll get the latest in bandwidth and performance that USB has to offer as well.  Finally, MSI doesn't didn't just settle for an on board AC'97 CODEC to provide audio functions, they incorporated a CMI8738 audio to provide up to 6 channels of HRTF supported 3D surround sound.  You have to hand it to MSI, with this board, they pulled out all the stops.

Setup and BIOS Features
Once again MSI shows us how its done

Setup with all of the i845DDR based boards in this test, was a walk in the park.  All boards were stable and had no issues with resource allocations or driver setup.  However, we should point out one small issue we did run into with the MSI 845Ultra. 

For the i845D, there are certain limitations with respect to loading and memory bank timing with double sided DDR DIMMs, just as we have seen in recent tests of nVidia's nForce based product.  Specifically, users can only install 2 double sided DDR DIMMs into any of the three sockets on the 845 Ultra board.  If you loaded all three slots on this board up with double sided modules, it wouldn't boot.  You can install 2 double sided modules and one single sided stick, without issue however.  This is really a limitation of the i845 chipset and not an issue with this particular MSI board.  Regardless, since there are three DIMM sockets on MSI's 845 Ultra (the DFI and Intel boards only have two), it is possible to overload the slots with double sided 256MB modules and that would render the board non-funtional.

How about a look into the BIOS sections for the DFI and MSI boards?

DFI NB70-SC

CPU Clock Adjustment

DRAM Timing

Integrated Peripherals

MSI 845 Ultra-ARU

CPU and Voltage Adjustments

DRAM Timing

Integrated Peripherals and ATA133 RAID

DFI's implementation of this Award BIOS, is fairly robust with the ability to change CPU FSB speed up to 132MHz. Frankly however, the DFI BIOS doesn't compare to what MSI gives you in there offering.  Not only do you get the ability to adjust CPU FSB speeds up to 200MHz. (not that you could ever utilize that frequency), you also get the ability to adjust your CPU, DRAM and AGP voltages.

MSI's CPU voltage adjustment tops out at 1.85V but we would have preferred settings higher than even 2V here.  Many times, a stable high end overclock for the P4 requires that much voltage.  Finally, there are a bevy of settings available to you for tweaking DDR DRAM performance that could provide the user a little more bandwidth, stability or both.

Let's boot up...


Overclocking and SiSoftware's Sandra