Those who decided to get a new mainboard this winter are facing a very difficult problem: the choice they have tomake. Some time ago everything was absolutely clear: there was one single mainstream i440BX chipset and its analoguesfrom VIA, which were cheaper but also a bit slower. And now the situation has changed far not for the better. Thischipset successfully stood the test of time and was manufactured in much greater amount than all its predecessors.However, even this indisputable hero is now forced to retire, unable to support all the today's coolest features suchas AGP 4x or 133MHz system bus. To our great disappointment we have to state that Intel failed to create in theirlaboratories something suitable to replace the good old though growing decrepit i440BX. The i810 family with anintegrated graphics core of far not the highest performance doesn't fit even for mainstream PC level. Another childfrom 800s the family, which was finally born despite all trouble - i820 costs the whole impossible lot if combined withRDRAM memory, and shows shamefully poor performance if combined with SDRAM. As for the chipsets by other manufacturers,such as VIA Apollo Pro133A, they satisfy far not all the users accustomed to look at Intel in the first place. However,there is also Slot A platform to think of here. But we really doubt if the situation with the mainboards there is clearer.There are no mainboards on the modern chipsets yet and the available products can't boast any remarkable stability and quality.
So, it turns out that we don't even have what to choose from. However, the mainboard manufacturers suffer much moreserious problems: it turned out that they have nothing to produce. Driven into a corner, they have to prolong the lifeof their old hits on i440BX artificially and to launch very inefficient solutions on i820 with SDRAM support in order toplease Intel. ASUS, No 1 mainboard manufacturer, chose the same way and announced their P3C2000 mainboard. Well, let's takea look what has come of it. Maybe, the leading Taiwanese engineers managed to save Intel's reputation and achieved acceptableperformance of their mainboard? In fact, it's pretty doubtful, but who knows...
- Supports Slot 1 Intel Pentium II/III working at 300-733MHz and up with the built-in 512KB cache;
- Supports CPUs with 100 and 133MHz FSB;
- Supports ASUS Socket 370 CPU converter for PPGA Celeron;
- Intel 820 (MCH 82820 + MTH 82805AA + ICH 82801AA + FWH 82802AB);
- System memory
- 4 DIMM slots supporting up to 1GB PC100 SDRAM;
- AGP Pro slot supporting 4x mode;
- 5 PCI and 1 ISA slots;
- 1 optional ISA slot for better compatibility;
- SmartBIOS technology
- 4Mbit Award BIOS with ACPI, DMI, Green, PnP, Trend ChipAway Virus and Symbios SCSI support;
- JumperFree technology for software jumper setting;
- Vcore, CPU frequency and booting device setting;
- I/O ports with a multi-color design made according to PC99 specification
- 2 USB-ports;
- 2 serial ports and 1 parallel port with ECP and EPP support;
- PS/2 mouse and keyboard connectors;
- 1 Game/MIDI port, line in/out/microphone out;
- Integrated UltraDMA/66 IDE controller
- 2 UltraDMA/66 channels Bus Master IDE (supporting up to 4 ATAPI-devices);
- Supports DVD-ROM, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW and LS-120;
- Special chassis intrusion circuitry
- Chassis intrusion detector support;
- Logs chassis panel open events into LDCM;
- AC'97 Audio
- AD1881 3D Enhanced CODEC (optional);
- ATX form-factor, 24.1x30.5cm.
The mainboard is supplied in a standard ASUS box, which is this time designed in purple and blue color. Insidethe box a curious user can find not just the mainboard but also a user's manual - a well balanced combination ofclear and comprehensive information, a CD, IDE and FDD cables. The software supplied on the CD-ROM, which goestogether with the board, is rather usual and includes the required drivers, Intel LDCM, ASUS PC Probe monitoringutility, a special program for BIOS upgrade download from ASUS web-site and PC-cillin 98 antivirus program.
So, all of you probably remember how popular ASUS mainboards were in 1999. The unforgettable P2B family was sorespected and beloved last year, that it undoubtedly deserves being called the sales hit. And what about P3C2000mobo? Judging by the name it looks as if ASUS wanted it to become a sales leader in 2000. Will they succeed? We'llsee. All the prerequisites are already present: P3C2000 is based on the today's most modern Intel chipset - i820,and hence it supports AGP 4x and UltraDMA/66 as well as 133MHz system bus necessary for new processors on IntelCoppermine core. ASUS P3C2000 can even provide 1.6V required for Coppermine with a corresponding to VRM 8.4 specvoltage regulator, i.e. it supports the whole variety of Intel Pentium III processors.
As for the older Intel Pentium II CPUs and Intel Celeron, there is one snag. The specification says that i820doesn't support 66MHz system bus frequency. ASUS, one of Intel's major partners, stuck to this requirement andas a result the mainboard doesn't support 66MHz FSB. In other words P3C2000 allows installing only the Pentium IIintended for 100MHz system bus. As for Celerons, you should just forget about them working on ASUS P3C2000 once andfor all. However, the board's BIOS recognizes Celeron that is why it is still possible to use this CPU with theoverclocked to 100MHz FSB.
Despite the already well-known fact that Intel will fully shift to Socket370, P3C2000 is equipped with Slot 1.In fact, it is quite understandable, because Slot 1 processors are the most widely spread ones today. And then youwill be able to install into this mainboard Socket370 CPU versions with the help of a Slot 1-to-Socket370 converter(manufactured by ASUS, of course), which support is separately mentioned in ASUS P3C2000 specs list. As we haveexpected, this board also allows using some other converters, too, for example, FC-PGA compatible ones.
And now a few words about system memory. Those four DIMM slots installed on the mainboard work with the help of ourgood old buddy Intel 82805AA Memory Translator Hub (MTH), which we have already discussed in Supermicro P3SCD Review.This means that ASUS P3C2000 like other i820 based mainboards supports only PC100 SDRAM and doesn't support a fasterPC133 SDRAM. Moreover, the chipset doesn't work directly with SDRAM because it has only one Rambus channel. So, theadditional MTH, converting data requests, delays the memory subsystem, which tells undoubtedly on the overall performance.
Although according to Intel's specification MTH supports only two DIMM slots, ASUS P3C2000 has four of them. Doesit mean that ASUS has finally invented a method of doubling MTH power? No, it doesn't. It seems that they were simplytrying to make their product more attractive compared to the competitors' ones and hence they provided their boardwith this amount of DIMM slots, which could make sense with single-sided modules. Was this a good idea for theend-product? Not really, actually. In fact, this resulted into numerous restrictions for the memory modules installedonto the board. Besides the memory combination chart of single and double sided modules provided in the user's manual,there is also the whole lot of extra requirements, such as DIMM1>=DIMM3>=DIMM2>=DIMM4 or DIMM1+DIMM3>=DIMM2+DIMM4. Inother words, if you want to avoid problems, you can use only one DIMM slot of the four available. And if you decide toinstall one more memory module, you will have to think hard of how to do it correctly. As for the third and the fourthmodules, we doubt if you will manage to install them at all.
However, it could have been just nice, if the problems caused by extra DIMM slots ended here. Since MTH supportsonly two DIMM slots officially, it has to work over and above. As a result, even the heatsink ASUS P3C2000 providedit with doesn't always guarantee stable performance. In particular, the stability is ruined if we install a graphicscard on NVIDIA GeForce 256, which is one of the most power consuming graphics accelerators. Namely, the evidence ofthe instability is the GPF, system crashing or errors in some games and applications. However, all other graphics cardswork well when installed into ASUS P3C2000, but it will hardly console you. In fact, it is possible to eliminate thisinstability when working with GeForce 256 by means of increasing MTH and MCH nominal voltage - the possibility, whichASUS engineers introduced so luckily in their product.
All the other ASUS P3C2000 slots look very usual. 5 PCI, 1 AMR and 1 ISA slot - quite an ordinary set for modernmainboards. It is a bit strange, though, that ASUS returned to 5 PCI slots while they had used 6 PCI slots in theprevious product ASUS P3B-F. However, it looks as if they simply had to do so because of the UltraDMA/66 controllerintegrated into the chipset, which replaced the 6th PCI. Besides, ASUS has also developed another mainboard modificationwith 4 PCI and 2 ISA slots for those who may need it. The corresponding is available on the same PCB.
However, ASUS P3C2000 turned out pretty large, almost a full-size ATX, because the developers had to find place for4 hubs, PCI-to-ISA bridge and 4 DIMM slots. There are not so many mainboards of this size in the market right now that'swhy P3C2000-owners may have some trouble when installing it into certain cases. And all in all, the mainboard design isquite reasonable, the power supply connector is situated in one of the most convenient places - in front of Slot 1.
ASUS P3C2000 is supplied preinstalled with a universal retention mechanism fit for SECC as well as for SECC2 and SEPP.Another pleasing trifle is a green light emitting diode in the middle of the mainboard showing if DIMMs are powered. Themanufacturer designed this LED to prevent the users from assembling and disassembling their system when the power is notswitched off.
Then ASUS P3C2000, like some other new mainboards from ASUS, has a set of dip-switches instead of traditional jumpers.These switches serve to set the system bus frequency. Although it is a pity that all other settings are made with lessconvenient jumpers. Besides, P3C2000 mainboard doesn't have a special Clear CMOS jumper. They offer two solder pointsinstead. Of course, it is not very convenient to erase Setup settings by shorting two solder points, however, the useris secured from doing it accidentally.
The system BIOS of ASUS P3C2000 is a new Award 6.0 with JumperFree technology, which allows setting the processorfrequency and multipliers without any jumpers at all. As usual, the IRQs can be assigned manually to PCI slots in BIOSSetup. In fact, there are no memory settings in BIOS, however, we can't blame ASUS for that. Intel MTH takes all timingsfrom SPD memory modules that is why DIMM modules without SPD won't work in ASUS P3C2000. Besides, BIOS can boast anotherbrand idea from ASUS: logging chassis panel open events as well as power-off events into LDCM.
Besides, we would like to draw your attention to system monitoring, especially since ASUS doesn't resort to any standardsolutions here and offers their own ASIC chip (Application Specific Integrated Circuit). The set of parameters controlled isquite standard: 6 voltages, fan rotation speed of 3 fans connected to the board and 2 temperatures. To take the CPU temperaturethey use a CPU integrated thermal diode present in all Pentium III, Deschutes Pentium II and PPGA370 Celeron, i.e. in allrelatively new CPUs. As for the mainboard temperature, it is also taken in a very standard way with a thermal sensor locatedin the lower left corner.
Trying to meet the demand of both - ordinary users and overclockers, ASUS provided its P3C2000 mainboard with thepossibility to configure the CPU with dip-switches as well as through BIOS Setup. In order to make your choice youhave to set a special jumper in a certain position. So, an overclocker can operate BIOS Setup settings, which include not only frequency and multipliers, but also the possibility to increase the processor core voltage. If an ordinary user configures his system with the jumpers, he won't have any access to the corresponding Setup settings.
In our review we will discuss the first option - processor configuring via Setup. The board supports the following system bus frequencies: 100, 103, 105, 107, 109, 112, 114, 116, 118, 120, 122, 125, 128, 130, 132, 133, 138, 142, 146, 150, 153, 156, 159, 162, 165, 168, 171, 174, 177, 180MHz. Altogether it makes 30 values. In fact, nothing special compared to ABIT BE6-II, which supports all frequency values with 1MHz step. Moreover, most of the supported frequencies can't be utilized in practice. And it is not i820 chipset, we should blame for it. If you set the frequency to 122-132MHz or over 162MHz, the board won't even boot, because its FWH clocked by PCI simply cannot work at such frequencies. Unfortunately, ASUS engineers didn't introduce the possibility to switch the PCI divider manually, which told on their offspring. If you hoped to get a new super overclocking experience, you can totally give up this idea.
As for the multipliers, there is a limited number of them, 2.0x-8.0x, in the current BIOS version.
P3C2000 also boasts the possibility to change the SDRAM frequency divider. However, this setting cannot be widelyused. Intel made its MTH allow reducing SDRAM frequency by 25% compared to FSB. But this feature can be used only incase of 100MHz processor bus. If the FSB frequency turns out 133MHz, SDRAM automatically gets 3/4 FSB, which means thatwe can only get a maximum of the notorious 100MHz, not higher.
But P3C2000 allows increasing the CPU voltage, which is an irreplaceable feature for extreme overclocking. The voltagecan get by maximum 0.4V higher than the nominal one. The voltage is set with the step equal to 0.05V.
Besides, the mainboard is also equipped with a jumper, which allows rising the memory, chipset and AGP voltageslightly: from the usual 3.5V to 3.65V. Theoretically this setting should be very helpful during system overclocking,although we haven't yet seen anybody use it in practice. Moreover, P3C2000 also permits increasing the voltage of themain hubs - MTH and MCH. In fact, this function turned out not that helpful for overclocking, but far more efficient forincreasing the stability of systems with the graphics cards on GeForce 256.
If you kept experimenting with your poor processor with a JumperFree technology and managed to get into a situation whenthe system simply can't get started, then you will have to restart. In this case all the previously made settings will beerased and P3C2000 will automatically enter Setup. In other words, ASUS deprived you of the necessity to clear CMOS,especially since this is not an easy job for this mainboard: as we have already mentioned, you need to short two solderpoints.
Well, we have finally come to the most exciting section of our review. Let's see if ASUS managed to do something tothe low performance of i820 with SDRAM, which we have discussed in our Supermicro P3SCD Review. We will compare theperformance of ASUS P3C2000 to that of two other mainboards based on i820 and equipped with SDRAM: Intel CC820 andSupermicro P3SCD. Besides, we will also add to our charts the results shown by analogous systems on i440BX, VIA ApolloPro133A and i820+RDRAM chipsets. The testing systems on i820+SDRAM were configured as follows:
- Intel Pentium III 600EB (4.5x133) CPU
- Creative 3DBlaster Annihilator graphics card
- Creative Sound Blaster Live! sound card
- IBM DJNA 372200 HDD
- 128MB PC100 SDRAM by SEC (CAS2)
i820 based system with RDRAM was assembled on AOpen AX6C-L mainboard and used 128MB PC800 RDRAM by SEC. VIA ApolloPro133A wasbased on Chaintech 6ASA4 and used PC133 SDRAM (CAS3) by Micron. i440BX based system worked in non-standard regime when the systembus was overclocked to 133MHz and used the same PC133 SDRAM. The problem with AGP port at higher frequencies was solved due to thefact that all modern graphics cards by Creative Labs (TNT2 Ultra and GeForce 256) work well at AGP 89MHz. It seems to be ableto breathe new life into old BX-systems.
As we can see, i440BX is still at the top and surpasses all the rest by over 10%. As for ASUS P3C2000, though it provedthe best among its analogues, there is a huge gap between it and VIA Apollo Pro133A, not to mention i440BX.
As we have repeated several times, i820 +SDRAM systems including ASUS P3C2000, prove dramatically slow. If we alsoadd here that P3C2000 can't boast any stability, which has always been typical of the products by this particularmanufacturer, we will get every right to state that this mainboard will never grow into a hit, like most other ASUSproducts. Moreover, we were greatly disappointed with ASUS P3C2000 and we hope that next mainboard revisions (and wehad rev. 1.02) will be deprived of the listed problems. Besides, we will also take a look at the products by othermainboard manufacturers as soon as we get the chance.
- Supports 133MHz FSB and new Coppermine processors
- Supports AGP 4x mode
- Dramatically low performance
- Poor stability (with GeForce 256)
- Exceedingly large PCB
- No support of the CPUs with 66MHz bus