ASUS P4P800S Mainboard on i848P Chipset and ASUS WiFi-b Kit Review

Two things reviewed in a single article! First, we take a close look at i848P chipset, and second, we were really curious to play with the WiFi solution from ASUS, the WiFi-b card to be used with ASUS latest mainboards.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
10/27/2003 | 06:49 PM

Soon after the launch of Pentium 4 CPU models supporting 800MHz FSB and Hyper-Threading technology, the market experienced a shortage of value chipsets that would support such CPUs. The available chipsets from Intel had a dual-channel memory controller; such solutions are not supposed to be cheap. Meanwhile, junior Pentium 4 models with the 800MHz FSB and 2.4GHz clock frequency cost quite reasonable money – only $178. So, it is quite possible to build a budget computer system around such a CPU.

 

Of course, the alternative Socket 478 chipset makers, VIA and SiS, were quick to offer their own single-channel chipsets for the new processors. They were the VIA PT880 and SiS648FX. Many users, however, prefer Intel’s chipsets (quite reasonably, I would say) and pay little attention to what VIA or SiS do.

At last, Intel also entered this market sector. After launching the budget i865P chipset with a dual-channel memory subsystem, but without support of 800MHz-FSB CPUs, the company rolled out the i848P chipset, which, on the contrary, works with those processors, but has only one memory channel.

Today we will discuss one of the first mainboards based on the i848P. It is ASUS P4P800S. But before we start I suggest that we investigate the features of the i848P. Although its name suggests a closer relation to the i845PE rather than to the i875/i865PE family, it’s not all that simple. The new i848P has nothing to do with the i845. In fact, the new chipset is a cut-down version of the i865PE, with one memory channel disabled:

Moreover, the i848P is fully pin-compatible with the entire i865 family and its formal characteristics don’t differ from those of the i865PE. The only difference is that i848P supports one memory channel, twice as small memory capacity and twice as few memory modules. In other words, the i848P seems to be manufactured from the same dies as the i865 chipset family. It comes from rejects, which have one defective memory channel. In fact, I can only applaud to Intel’s unified product line. The company has now three chipset families (i875, i865 and i848) that are in fact one and the same thing! They are all produced on the same production lines. Thus, all features of i875/i865 are also available in the i848P, which makes it an up-to-date product.

Mainboard makers, of course, couldn’t get along without the i848P, as mainboards on Intel’s single-channel chipsets still enjoy stable demand. Up till now, we have been offered products on the out-dated i845PE chipset, which allowed overclocking the system bus to the notorious 800MHz mark if designed right. Now, such mainboards will be replaced by i848P-based ones. This new wave of mainboards is represented in our today’s review by a product from ASUS. Note that the P4P800S mainboard doesn’t belong to the budget X-series, but anyway is priced quite moderately, especially for this much-respected brand.

Specifications

ASUS P4P800S

CPU

Intel Pentium 4/Celeron
(800/533/400MHz FSB, Hyper-Threading, Socket 478)

Chipset

Intel 848P

FSB frequencies

100-400MHz (with 1MHz increment)

Overclocking friendly functions

Adjustable Vcore, Vmem and Vagp
Independently adjustable PCI frequency

Memory

2 DDR DIMM slots for single-channel DDR400/DDR333/DDR266 SDRAM

AGP slot

AGP 8x

Expansion slots (PCI/ACR/CNR)

5/0/0

USB 2.0 ports

8 (4 – on the rear panel)

IEEE1394 ports

None

ATA-100/133

2 ATA-100 channels

Serial ATA-150

2 Serial ATA-150 channels (in ICH5, without RAID support)

Integrated IDE RAID controller

None

Integrated sound

Six-channel AC97 codec: Analog Devices AD1888

Integrated LAN

Realtek RTL8100C 10/100Mbps LAN

Additional features

ASUS WiFi slot

BIOS

AMI BIOS 2.51a

Form-factor

ATX, 305x205 mm

Note that ASUS offers one more i848P-based mainboard, P4P800S-E, besides the P4P800S. Notwithstanding the similar-sounding names, the two products differ dramatically and use different PCBs. The P4P800S-E is an advanced and more expensive solution with Serial ATA RAID, IEEE 1394 and Gigabit Ethernet support. Considering the P4P800S-E is made on a different PCB, it has nothing in common with the mainboard we review today. As for the price, you can find ASUS P4P800S in shops for about $90-100.

The accessories coming with the ASUS P4P800S include:

Although the accessories set doesn’t look too gorgeous, it is richer than one coming with the P4P800, for example. There’s everything necessary, including the Serial ATA HDD power cable and USB 2.0 bracket.

Closer Look

The ASUS P4P800S is positioned by the manufacturer as a budget solution for relatively modern processors; the number of onboard connectors is minimal. Thus, the mainboard’s features are mainly those of the i848P chipset. I would say that the ASUS P4P800S represents an example of minimalism art in comparison with the currently available mainboards with numerous onboard chips and “house” technologies. I don’t want this to sound deprecating, though. Because many users need just a simple, low-cost and reliable mainboard. That’s it.

The ASUS P4P800S doesn’t disappoint us as far as supported CPUs are concerned. It works with any Socket 478 processor from the Celeron and Pentium 4 families, with 400, 533 and 800MHz FSB, with or without Hyper-Threading technology. And that’s not all. Responding to Intel’s recent confessions about the heat dissipation of the upcoming Prescott processor and about the requirement for mainboards to comply with the new Prescott FMB 1.5 specification to support the new CPU, ASUS specifically declares the fact that the P4P800S is designed to be compatible with the future processors on the 90nm core. ASUS says they used a special three-phase CPU power supply circuit for that. Let’s see how new this solution actually is:

Left – the power supply circuit on ASUS P4P800S;
Right – the power supply circuit on a relatively old, i865PE-based, ASUS P4P800

Frankly speaking, I see no significant differences between the power circuits of the new ASUS P4P800S and the old ASUS P4P800. This may only mean that the owners of ASUS mainboards on i875/i865 chipsets don’t have to worry about problems with Prescott support.

As for the supported memory types, things are much easier here. The memory controller of the i848P is one “half” of the i865 memory controller. So, I guess it’s clear why the P4P800S has only two memory slots, which is really few according to the today’s standards. The i848 chipset simply cannot uphold more DIMM slots, irrespective of the mainboard it is used on. The available slots, though, can accommodate DDR266/DDR333/DDR400 SDRAM. The chipset and, accordingly, the mainboard, don’t support ECC. It should also be mentioned that DDR333 memory works in fact at 320MHz rather than 333MHz when the FSB frequency equals 200MHz. This is done to achieve better synchronization. Overall, it’s all just like with mainboards on the more advanced i865PE chipset, save for the second memory channel support.

I guess PAT technology or what remains of it here is also interesting to you. The i848P is based on i865PE, and as you remember, the mainboard makers already know how to enable PAT there. This way, i848P also conceals this technology deep inside itself. That is, when the 800MHz FSB and DDR400 memory are used, the performance of the i848P and mainboards based on it may be boosted up. It’s now only up to the manufacturers whether to use this opportunity or not. ASUS decoded to implement this and we will describe a bit later how you can turn on PAT in an ASUS P4P800S mainboard. By the way, thanks to the implementation of this technology, the mainboard works noticeably faster than i845PE-based mainboards with the bus overclocked to 800MHz.

The mainboard supports the AGP 8x interface: you can see the corresponding slot on the PCB picture. There are also five PCI slots and the exclusive WiFi slot, shared with the last PCI. The WiFi is supposed to accommodate Wi-Fi cards from ASUS. We will discuss the Wi-Fi capabilities of the ASUS P4P800S a bit later today.

The ICH5 chip without RAID support serves as a South Bridge in the reviewed mainboard. The rest of the mainboard’s features are mostly determined by the characteristics of this chip. For example, the maximum number of drives you can connect to ASUS P4P800S at a time is six. Four of them may be connected to the two ATA-100 channels, and the other two are plugged into standard Serial ATA-150 connectors, supported by the South Bridge of the i848P chipset.

Also the ICH5 South Bridge of ASUS P4P800S supports eight USB 2.0 ports. Four of them are located at the mainboard connector panel and the remaining ones are implemented via onboard connectors. ASUS includes a two-port USB bracket with every mainboard package, so you will be able to use six up USB 2.0 ports right away. This seems to be enough, considering that many modern system cases have a couple of USB 2.0 connectors on their fa?ade, too.

The mainboard can also make the operating system believe that USB media, like flash-drives, card-readers, ZIP-drives, external HDDs and the like, are a floppy-drive. This means you can access those devices from DOS or other operating systems that don’t support them directly. Besides, it is possible to boot up an OS from any USB media.

The integrated audio in the ASUS P4P800S is provided by a six-channel AC’97 AD1888 codec from Analog Devices. It supports SPDIF output through the coaxial connector at the mainboard’s back panel. The Analog Devices website doesn’t contain any technical info about this codec, so I can’t say anything definite about its characteristics. Subjectively, the quality of the sound is good enough.

The networking capabilities of the ASUS P4P800S are implemented via the Realtek 8100C PCI chip. Actually, the mainboard doesn’t use the special CSA bus, which Intel intended for networking in the i848P chipset. Controllers that use this bus are too expensive to be installed onto budget products. Thus, the ASUS P4P800S doesn’t support Gigabit Ethernet, but provides only 10/100Mbit data transfer-rates across the network.

Summing it up, I would say that the ASUS P4P800S doesn’t boast an incredible number of various options. It didn’t take me long to describe them all, as you see. However, this is not an indication of how good or bad the mainboard is.

PCB Design

Even the PCB design of ASUS P4P800S indicates that this is a budget solution. First of all, its size is small – this reduces the manufacturing cost. Trying to make the PCB as small as possible, ASUS engineers went for a few questionable solutions, which somewhat spoil the impression of the product.

For example, both ATX power connectors are located at the back edge, behind the chipset. So, the cables tailing from the PSU stretch over the CPU cooler. They hinder proper cooling and may even get caught by the fan blades. The Parallel ATA connectors are not exactly where they are supposed to be, too. Well, the first IDE connector is in its right place – in front of the DIMM slots. As for the second connector, it is shifted to the South Bridge chip and is not that conveniently placed: in front of the PCI slots. I only hope that the second Parallel ATA connector won’t be occupied too often, since Serial ATA drives are gaining their ground right now. The USB and Serial ATA connectors are also laid out in front ofd the PCI slots, thus making expansion cards installation a little bit difficult sometimes.

The ASUS P4P800S has only five PCI slots, and the AGP one is not too close to the DIMM slots. Thus, the installed graphics card won’t interfere with installation or removal of memory modules.

Note also that ASUS has begun to color-code the connector for the buttons and LEDs of the system case. It makes the assembly of the P4P800S system easier.

A passive heatsink is mounted on the North Bridge. There is nothing bad about it, since passive cooling is quite enough even for the i865PE chipset, and the i848P is a simplified version of it, so there should be no problem also.

Winding up this section of the review, I would like to point to the fact that the P4P800S has only one COM port. Its place in the back panel is occupied by the SPDIF output, while the PCB itself carries no connector to enable this missing COM.

ASUS WiFi

The wireless capabilities of the reviewed mainboard definitely deserve our closest attention. Well, it is actually not that much about the feature implementation, but mostly about the potential behind it. ASUS has been equipping its mainboards with a special-purpose WiFi slot for a while already:

The list of mainboards with a slot like that includes the following families: P4C800, P4P800, P4P8X, P4P800S, P4S800, P4V800, A7V600, K8V plus a number of upcoming products. These mainboards allow installing an exclusive WiFi add-on card from ASUS, thus adding the option of establishing wireless connections via the IEEE 802.11b protocol. Of course, you can easily buy an ordinary PCI Wi-Fi card and use it in all those mainboards, but it wouldn’t be wise from the economical point of view. The Wi-Fi cards from ASUS with their unique interface cost about half of their PCI analogs from other makers. Thus, the WiFi slot of ASUS mainboards allows you to set up a wireless network supporting one of the most widely spread 802.11b protocols, after a simple and low-cost small upgrade.

Let’s now find out what cards ASUS recommends for use in the WiFi slot. The ASUS WiFi-b kit was the first to start selling.

The kit includes the add-on card, an antenna and software required for work in wireless 802.11b networks.

The specifications of ASUS’ WiFi card list the following:

Before proceeding to setting up the ASUS WiFi-b card and making it work, let’s first recall the basic facts about wireless 802.11b-compliant networks. It is 802.11b that has become the first widely-accepted standard for establishing wireless networks. The previous version of this specification, 802.11a, which operates in the 5GHz frequency range, didn’t pass certification in a number of European states. There is also a newer standard, 802.11g, which is currently being developed. It has a higher data-transfer rate – up to 54Mbit/s. Some manufacturers have already started offering devices compliant with this “semi-official” standard.

Wireless 802.11b networks may function in two quite different modes. The first of them is called Ad Hoc. It is used when the network includes two or more computers equipped with Wi-Fi network cards like the ASUS WiFi-b. In this case, the cards are connected according to the “point-to-point” principle (P2P). To create such a network you don’t need anything other than the Wi-Fi cards. The drawback is that all cards in the network share the bandwidth among themselves. Thus, this operational mode is not recommended for networks including too many computers.

The second operational mode of a wireless network is Infrastructure. In this case, the computers in the network communicate with each other via a hub called access point.

The access point may also serve other purposes like an ordinary wired hub and/or router. For example, we used a wireless router, WL-500g from ASUS, in our tests.

This device supports both: the 802.11b protocol and the draft version of 802.11g. It also has a number of auxiliary functions, besides the integrated access point. It features a four-port multiplexer, WAN-port for Internet access, integrated ftp-server, print-server and DHCP server. Other interesting options include a WLAN firewall and web-cam connection. For more details about the device, follow this link to the ASUS website.

Let’s now see how you set up and configure a wireless network using the ASUS WiFi-b card. The setup process is mostly carried out in the ASUS WLAN Control Center utility. First of all, you have to specify the parameters of the wireless connection: the operational mode of the network and its name (SSID), the channel and the data-transfer rate.

If necessary, you enable data encryption to prevent any unauthorized eavesdropping.

The ASUS WiFi-b may be transformed into a programmable access point:

If you are trying to connect to an existing WLAN, you just have to scan the frequency range and choose the desired network:

The info panel of ASUS WLAN Control Center offers you detailed information on the card’s operational mode, network settings and connection quality:

As you see, there is nothing difficult at all. Having set up the parameters of the wireless connection, you can configure the network itself. This process is exactly the same as with any wired local network.

The setup is over. Now you can use your newly-created WLAN. We have carried out a brief test of a wireless network working in the Ad Hoc mode. It consisted of two computers with two identical ASUS WiFi-b cards.

First, we ran the tests when the computers were placed at a distance of 5m from each other in one room.

In this case, the connection quality is close to the ideal, with the data-transfer rate being over 700KB/s. Of course, a wired network provides much faster transfer rates, but the bandwidth you have with 802.11b cards is quite enough for surfing the Internet or playing a network game.

In our second test, we moved one of the computers into a next-door room. The beeline distance between the antennas of the network cards was 15m. Moreover, they were separated by one plasterboard and two concrete walls.

The signal power grew considerably worse. However, our network maintained acceptable data throughput even under such unfavorable circumstances.

And the last note. The WiFi slot available in all new mainboards from ASUS will be compatible with the upcoming network cards from ASUS. Particularly with 802.11g ones.

BIOS and Overclocking

The BIOS of the ASUS P4P800S mainboard, as well as of every recent product from ASUS, is based on AMI microcode. Moreover, thanks to the software compatibility of the i848P and i865PE chipset, ASUS didn’t develop a brand new BIOS from scratch. The BIOS of the ASUS P4P800S is mainly based on the BIOS of the well-known product, ASUS P4P800. Accordingly, they have nearly identical BIOS Setup settings.

For example, the BIOS Setup of the ASUS P4P800S features AI Overclocking technology, which allows speeding up the system by 30% (depending on the processor and memory modules) without any specific effort. The BIOS Setup contains options like Overclock 5%...Overclock 30%, which simply increase the FSB frequency to this value. However, I would advise you to leave this option alone. You’d better set the AI Overclock option to “Manual” to get access to all overclocking parameters. They include:

The Advanced Chipset Settings page of the BIOS Setup contains the memory timings.

Here, you can adjust DRAM CAS# Latency (available values – 2, 2.5 and 3), DRAM Precharge Delay (5, 6, 7 and 8), DRAM RAS# to CAS# Delay and DRAM RAS# Precharge (2, 3 and 4).

Since the BIOS Setup in the ASUS P4P800S contains the same options as the BIOS of the ASUS P4P800 mainboard, there are options for enabling HyperPath technology (PAT). Namely, Performance Mode and Memory Acceleration Mode. If you set them into “Turbo” and “Enabled” respectively, you will gain about 5% in performance.

The BIOS features the undoubtedly useful CPU Parameter Recall technology, which allows resetting the FSB and memory timings in case of over-overclocking. To do this, you press the INS key on your keyboard when starting the system up. The BIOS Setup opens up then and you can correct all wrongly set parameters.

The BIOS Setup of the ASUS P4P800S mainboard inherited an annoying trait of the P4P800 BIOS with respect to memory timings. If the FSB frequency is 200MHz and you enable Performance Mode and Memory Acceleration Mode, the mainboard sets DRAM CAS# Latency into 2, independent of what you have chosen in the Setup. So, if you don’t happen to have overclocker’s memory modules with low latency, you’d better set the FSB frequency to 201MHz. In this case, all BIOS Setup settings work correctly.

The Hardware Monitoring page tells a lot of useful information about the system: CPU and system temperatures, rotation speeds of the fans, Vcore and PSU voltages (on main lines). Regrettably, Q-Fan technology is disabled in the BIOS Setup of the ASUS P4P800S mainboard.

In order to evaluate the overclockability of the ASUS P4P800S mainboard, I took an engineering sample of the Pentium 4 3.2GHz processor with an unlocked multiplier. To check the mainboard’s operability at high FSB clock-rates, I was smoothly reducing the CPU multiplier to 12x, while increasing the FSB frequency to 300MHz. It really worked:

This result is a solid proof of the ASUS P4P800S having a good overclocking potential. This mainboard can speed up the processor no worse than more expensive i875/i865-based products do. Thus, the ASUS P4P800S plus a Pentium 4 2.4C GHz processor may make an excellent inexpensive platform for further overclocking.

Testbed and Methods

Our today’s review is dedicated to checking out the performance level of an i848P-based mainboard, ASUS P4P800S. It’s interesting to know how this solution compares to dual-channel i875P- and i865PE-based mainboards. Moreover, we will compare the i848P to the previous single-channel Socket 478 chipset from Intel, i845PE.

The testbed was configured as follows:

The testbed ran in Windows XP SP1. The BIOSes of the mainboards were set to maximum performance.

Performance

As we have not yet benchmarked any i848P-based mainboard, we will start this review with the tests of the chipset memory subsystem in synthetic tests. The Cachemem test comes first:

 

ASUS P4PE
Intel 845PE

ASUS P4P800S
Intel 848P

ABIT IC7-MAX3
Intel 875P

ASUS P4P800
Intel 865PE

Memory read speed, MB/s

2739.6

2746.9

3679.3

3707.4

Memory write speed, MB/s

1034.9

1269.2

1592.4

1601.6

Memory copy speed, MB/s

1561.4

1737

2921.8

2939.4

Latency

249

252

242

242

The results might have been predicted. The memory bandwidth of single-channel chipsets is lower than that of the dual-channel ones. As for the latency, it is similar in all the chipsets. Note also that the i848P was a little faster than the single-channel i845PE, which was tested with the FSB overclocked to 200MHz. I have already mentioned the reason for this superiority; it is HyperPath technology inherited by the ASUS P4P800S from the top-end models.

Now, let’s view the results of other synthetic benchmarks:

It’s again quite logical. The i848P is slightly ahead of the i845PE and is completely defeated by the chipsets with the dual-channel memory controller. However, these are only synthetic tests. We are more interested in the performance in real applications.

Things take a rather surprising turn, aren’t they? Still, that’s the fact: the good old single-channel i845PE chipset is best of all in Business Winstone 2002. The reason lies on the surface, though. This chipset provides the highest disk subsystem performance, which in its turn greatly contributes to the overall result in Business Winstone 2002. The old South Bridge (ICH4) of the i845PE is supported by an advanced caching driver, Intel Application Accelerator. Thanks to this driver, the i845PE has higher results in office applications.

Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2003 brings no surprises. The results are exactly what they should be.

When encoding a video stream into the MPEG-4 format, the i848P-based ASUS P4P800S mainboard is only 1%behind the i875P- and i865PE-based mainboards.

Data compression is very much dependent on the memory subsystem bandwidth. Note also that the i848P is archiving information much better than the i845PE.

Now come the gaming benchmarks:

The results we see are quite logical and don’t differ from what we have seen above.

The i848P is 9% slower than the dual-channel chipsets in Quake 3 and 4% slower in Unreal Tournament 2003 and Serious Sam: The Second Encounter. You should note however that I ran the tests in low resolution modes to make sure that the CPU-memory bus is loaded really heavily. In real conditions, it is the graphics subsystem that bears the main workload in 3D games, and the results shown by different mainboards won’t differ greatly. 

We have no surprising results in the professional OpenGL 3D-modeling suite aka CINEMA 4D. The new i848P chipset is definitely better than its single-channel predecessor.

Conclusion

Our testing has proved that the new single-channel i848P chipset is a good and inexpensive alternative to the i865/i875 chipset families as a platform for new Pentium 4 processors that supports 800MHz FSB and Hyper-Threading technology. Mainboards featuring the i848P are selling at a lower price than mainboards on dual-channel chipsets, but their performance level is quite comparable. The reviewed representative of the budget mainboard class, ASUS P4P800S, costs below $100, has every necessary function, supports upcoming Prescott processors, offers excellent CPU overclocking options and, to cap this all, is simple and reliable. It should also be mentioned that an inexpensive upgrade may bring you wireless networking support (802.11b), since this mainboard features ASUS’ exclusive WiFi slot. Overall, the ASUS P4P800S appears a very good solution from the price/performance point of view.

Highs:

Lows: