Intel’s i845 Chipset – A Second Look

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Giving the i845 a closer look

Whenever I get a new product, I like to continue working with it. I feel you just can’t give a fair evaluation or have a good understanding of the product without doing this. I understand some review sites give anywhere from a few hours to a few days worth of testing time, but I prefer to sort of live with the product for awhile and test under different operating systems while using different components, such as sound cards, modems and NIC’s. During that time I will also play with the system a bit by running a few different programs and games, just trying to get to know the system, along with any strong points, weak points or quirks it may have. So I’m going to give a follow-up to the previous article I wrote on the new Intel 845 SDRAM Pentium 4 based Soyo P4ISR and the Pentium 4 CPU.

After setting up and testing under Windows 98 SE, I decided to take a look at using Windows ME. I’m not a big fan of ME for my own use, but do use it in two of our home systems, and even installed ME in my wife’s work system. ME leaves out a lot of the options for setting up and running a basic system or hides it from the user, which for the power user can be a negative thing. However, for the average user it does have features that make it easier to use and maintain along with some additional multimedia features. Since it is in wide usage it only makes sense to check it out.

So, I setup a system from scratch, loaded Windows ME and went on my way to testing. It was pretty much that simple. Other than loading ME, I had to install the Intel .inf update, not difficult at all as it is pretty much automatic. I did try both with and without the Intel “performance” driver for the IDE ports, but since I found no performance difference (just like under Win 98 SE), I used the IDE driver built into the Intel .inf update. This time I used a Creative SoundBlaster Live PCI sound card for better performance, features and quality, but since I’m not a real audiophile, I didn’t see much difference in my use over the standard AC97 sound. I also installed a PCI v.90 56K modem along with the D-Link NIC I had used before, and kept the GeForce II AGP video card. I used the same WD 200BB ATA/100 7200 RPM HD, but replaced the CDROM with a 10x DVD ATA/33 drive (had to test DVD playback). I did not use or test with the Promise ports in either RAID or ATA/100 mode in this series of tests other than to check IDE performance using the Promise port as an ATA/100 port. Like Win98SE, DMA does not appear to be enabled for the Promise ports when used only as an ATA/100 port, though it is when set for RAID operation. Pretty much what you would consider a standard average system setup.

One thing that is important when setting up a P4 system is that DirectX 8a does need to be installed. It also helps the performance slightly if the DX80DBA file found on the SYSmark 2001 disk (required for it to run) was installed. I found that out when trying to use SYSmark 2001 in the Win 98 SE test. Why it helps I’m not sure, as Microsoft states it’s for video capture, but it did help some of the scores, particularly the Winbench graphics test…very strange. I also updated to the latest nVidia driver – 12.41 – for this test, just to see if it made any real difference with the P4.

I also set up a Soyo TISU FC-PGA Socket 370 i815EP-B mainboard with a Tualatin core Pentium 3. Installation of Windows ME was no different between the two, as you use the same .inf update for both. As I stated before, I feel the market for the slower speed P4’s and i845 SDRAM chipset is the same as the current i815EP chipsets and P3 CPU’s so that’s where the comparisons will be focused.

Now that I’ve had more experience working with the P4ISR, I think it’s time to point out a few items that buyers might find interesting:

  • The i845 supports up to 3GB of memory, the i815 supports only 512MB
  • The i845 can use up to three 1GB PC133 SDRAM DIMM’s, the i815 only two 256MB or three single sided (smaller) DIMM’s
  • The i845 supports ECC memory, the i815 does not
  • The i815 supports both 3.3v & 1.5v AGP cards, the i845 supports 1.5v only
  • The i845 has enhanced Smartcard features. Soyo will include with the P4ISR (possibly as an option) a panel that slides into a drive bay with 2 USB ports along with a Smartcard reader port. The reader includes a security utility that won’t allow the system to be accessed unless a card programmed with their “Mighty Bolt” utility is inserted, and can even be set to power up when the card is inserted
  • The i845 requires a new ATX 12v Power supply, and in the case of the Soyo P4ISR both the 4 pin 12v connector and the 6 pin Aux. Connector with 3.3v and 5v are used. The i815 uses a standard ATX P/S and just the 20 pin connector
  • The i845 uses the new mFC-PGA socket. Not only is it tiny, but it also uses a cooler retention device that mounts to the Mainboard. The i815 use the older and larger FC-PGA socket along with a cooler that attaches to tabs on the side of the socket

I also had a chance to try a different CPU cooler on the P4, a Vantec GSN –7015. The Vantec cooler does keep the CPU just slightly cooler, but also makes a bit more noise. I’d say that the Vantec unit is easier to install then the one that comes with a boxed Intel CPU. The Intel unit requires you to engage 4 plastic tabs on the cooler to the 4 “arms” sticking up from the Mainboard and then use the two levers to lock the cooler in place. The Vantec cooler uses a combination setup that allows you to engage the tabs and then lock the cooler in place in just one step (per side), which is a nicer setup.

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