DFI LANPARTY PRO875B Mainboard on i875P Chipset Review

DFI Company has been very aggressive promoting its mainboards lately. Therefore we decided to review one of their recent solutions - the new LANPARTY mainboard on i875P chipset for Pentium 4 processors. Compared with the predecessor, this mainboard boasts the new CMOS Reloaded technology. Let’s find out what it is capable of.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
12/21/2003 | 04:08 PM

Mainboard manufacturers spent the entire year 2003 groping for a niche where they could rake in more profit. Some of them embraced the concept of the small form-factor PC, others added graphics cards to their product lists or switched to a more aggressive marketing stance. DFI belongs to the latter group; the company decided to boost its sales by rolling out the LANPARTY mainboard family that is sharply outlined as family of products for extreme gamers. The financial results of this approach are yet to be summed up, but the LANPARTY series has surely brought some publicity to the company itself.

 

Besides their rich functionality and high performance, LANPARTY mainboards are distinguishable for their stylish appearance (you can proudly showcase them in a windowed system case) and original accessories. Is it enough to win the customer’s heart? Let’s find it out. Today, we would like to offer you a review of one more mainboard from DFI, the freshly-announced LANPARTY PRO875B.

Specification


DFI LANPARTY PRO875B

CPU

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

Chipset

Intel 875P

FSB frequency, MHz

100-400MHz (with 1MHz increment)

Overclocking-friendly functions

Adjustable Vcore, Vmem and Vagp
Independently adjustable AGP/PCI frequency

Memory

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

AGP

AGP 8x

Expansion slots (PCI/ACR/CNR)

5/0/0

USB 2.0 ports

8 (4 – on the back panel)

IEEE1394 ports

None

ATA-100/133

2 ATA/100 channels (via ICH5R)

2 additional ATA/133 channels
(via HighPoint 372N controller with RAID support)

Serial ATA-150

2 Serial ATA-150 channels (via ICH5R with RAID support)

IDE RAID support

RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 1.5 via HighPoint 372N
RAID 0, 1 via ICH5R

Integrated sound

Six-channel AC97 codec - CMI9739A

Integrated LAN

Intel 82547 CSA Gigabit LAN

Additional features

Diagnostic D-LED system

BIOS

Award BIOS v6.00PG

Form-factor

ATX, 305x250mm

DFI LANPARTY PRO875B is in fact nothing more but a slightly improved LANPARTY PRO875, released a little earlier. The new version differs from the old one mainly in the exclusive CMOS Reloaded technology. Besides that, the LANPARTY PRO875B features redesigned CPU and memory power circuits as well as a renewed audio tract.

This should be said first: LANPARTY mainboard family includes not cheap products. Due to their advanced capabilities, rich accessories and overall “pomp”, the price of the LANPARTY PRO875B nearly hits the $200 mark.

So what does the user get for this money, besides the mainboard itself? Well, in fact the bundle is not that small at all:

This list doesn’t include a USB bracket for the back panel, to my regret. As a result, two of the eight USB ports available in the LANPARTY PRO875B remain unattached to the respective connectors if the system case itself has no USB ports.

The “LANPARTY” brand suggests you use this mainboard at those LAN parties, which are get-togethers of dedicated gamers. That’s why the accessories include a handy bag for you to carry your PC. The mainboard itself, as well as the aerodynamic cables, are neon-colored and shine in ultraviolet light. This looks really cool.

Closer Look

DFI LANPARTY PRO875B is intended to satisfy the needs of the most demanding user, where hardcore gamers surely belong. This fact explains the high price of the product and the abundance of interfaces and protocols supported by it. The i875P chipset used for this board contributes a lot to this. For today, it is truly the most functional and high-performing chipset. Spicing it up with a pinch of additional onboard controllers, DFI concocted a well-balanced and high-quality product.

Of course, DFI LANPARTY PRO875B supports every modern Socket478 processor, the 800MHz FSB and Hyper-Threading technology, but that’s really not a problem today. What’s more important is whether this mainboard will be capable of working with the upcoming processors on the 90nm Prescott core. So far, the official list of processors approved for the use with the mainboard is capped from above by the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.2GHz. As for the Prescott support, DFI never mentions it.

As you know, a mainboard that is claimed to support Prescott processors should feature an improved CPU voltage regulator circuit with increased output wattage, compatible with the Prescott FMB 1.5, and some indirect evidence suggests that DFI LANPARTY PRO875B will handle the Prescott just all right. First, the three-phase CPU voltage regulator installed on the mainboard differs from the one on the previous revision (without the “B”). Second, the declared support of the Pentium 4 EX already requires the mainboard to output high wattage to the CPU, and LANPARTY PRO875B seems to have no problems with that. So, I have some hopes about this mainboard with respect to the upcoming Prescott.

DFI LANPARTY PRO875B, as well as any other i875P or even i865PE-based mainboard, supports up to 4GB of dual-channel DDR SDRAM. With a FSB frequency of 133MHz, it supports DDR266 and DDR333. DDR400 can be used with 200MHz FSB. There are four DIMM slots, two for each memory channel. The dual-channel mode can be enabled when you flick the modules in pairs into the slots of the same color. i875P is the most expensive chipset from Intel for desktop PCs; as a result the mainboard supports ECC. LANPARTY PRO875B also features Performance Acceleration Technology (PAT), which is automatically enabled when you clock the FSB at 800MHz and use DDR400 SDRAM. Well, as you surely know some i865PE-based mainboards offer PAT, too, although Intel didn’t originally intend it to be there.

The network controller installed on the mainboard complies with the Gigabit Ethernet standard, and that’s nice. It’s even nicer that DFI didn’t play a miser and used an Intel PRO/1000CT Gigabit LAN chip (Intel 82547). It means the network controller is attached directly to the North Bridge across the dedicated CSA bus (2Mbit/s bandwidth), rather than to the South Bridge across the relatively slow PCI. So, the Gigabit network solution we have in this mainboard should work faster than those that use the PCI, while the PCI bus itself is free to serve other devices.

I was a little bit surprised to see a six-channel AC’97 CMI9739A codec from C-media on the DFI mainboard. I can’t deny that this codec is a really good solution, as it supports SPDIF, comes with quality drivers and sounds good enough. On the other hand, it is somewhat obsolete, without support of the AC’97 specification version 2.3. I think I could have been more positive about the audio capabilities of LANPARTY PRO875B, if DFI had preferred the latest codecs from Realtek or Analog Devices which are already used on other manufacturers’ mainboards.

Using the properties of the ICH5R South Bridge, LANPARTY PRO875B offers you eight USB 2.0 ports. Four of them are located on the mainboard back panel, and four more can be output through the additional USB brackets. To my regret, there were no brackets of the kind among the mainboard accessories, but you can use the FrontX panel instead, which fits into the 5” bay of the system case and carries two High-Speed USB ports. As for the competing bus, DFI gave up the implementation of FireWire (IEEE1394) in this mainboard. I think that’s not quite reasonable as most competing products targeted at the same customer and price categories generally come equipped with IEEE1394 ports.

Instead, DFI decided to make up for the lack of FireWire by providing an all-out support of the ATA interface and RAID arrays. LANPARTY PRO875B allows building RAID arrays from Serial ATA-150 as well as ATA/133 drives. That’s how it works: the ICH5R South Bridge is responsible for two ATA/100 and two Serial ATA-150 channels you see on the mainboard. It is the same ICH5R that supports SerialATA RAID arrays of levels 0 and 1. To implement the ATA/133 RAID the mainboard designers had to call for an external HighPoint 372N controller. This chip brought two ATA/133 channels with RAID support to LANPARTY PRO875B. This controller is unique as it supports the so-called RAID level 1.5, besides the ordinary RAID 0, 1 and 0+1. RAID 1.5 is in fact a slightly modified RAID 1. With RAID 1, we “mirror” the information, that is, it is all stored on one drive, while the other one stores the copy. Mirroring ensures highest data security (if one drive fails, you can extract your valuable data from the other drive). With RAID 1.5, the data is split into two halves and each half is stored on each of the two drives, while the mirrored halves are stored on the opposite drives. Alternating write requests to the two drives, we reach overall higher write performance maintaining the same level of security (read requests alternation is also here, but it is used in ordinary RAID 1, too). According to independent tests, RAID 1.5 is generally faster than RAID 1, although not too much. Anyway, RAID 1.5 seems a better option than RAID 1 as it requires the same number of HDDs, but is a little faster. On the other hand, there is one disadvantage though: this technology is only supported by the HighPoint 372N controller and this chip is rarely used by other mainboard manufacturers. So, if you replace the mainboard, you will hardly be able to read the information from your RAID 1.5 array.

Among the accompanying accessories of the DFI LANPARTY PRO875B there is a FrontX panel to be installed into a 5” bay of your system case. The FrontX carries microphone and headphones jacks and two USB ports; they are not fixed but inserted along the rails, and you can mix and match them to your taste. Besides that, you can make the FrontX carry four diagnostic LEDs that form the D-LED system. The system is similar to what we know from MSI mainboards: the combinations of the LEDs during the POST procedure tell you about any problems occurring on the computer startup stage.

PCB Design

The exterior of the LANPARTY PRO875B is its point of pride. Installed into a system case with a window and neon highlighting, the mainboard is a sight. Moreover, its slots and ATA and FDD cables shine in ultraviolet light. So there’s one more reason for you to get a LANPARTY PRO875B – just to make your friends burst with envy.

Besides the stylish appearance, LANPARTY PRO875B has some other design peculiarities. The EZ Touch feature is one of them. It consists of two buttons, Power and Reset, soldered up right to the PCB. This may come in handy if you decide to tweak your system (when overclocking or experimenting with the memory timings), while the mainboard has not yet been installed into the system case.

The back panel of the mainboard has an RJ-45 (network) connector, four USB 2.0 ports, PS/2 connectors for the keyboard and mouse, one serial and one parallel port, and sound-related connectors (five mini-jacks, coaxial SPDIF input and output).

There is the usual set of onboard slots: four DDR DIMM, five PCI and one AGP 8x. With a moderate number of slots, the PCB design is quite acceptable. The installed graphics card doesn’t block the DIMM latches, and both ATX power connectors find themselves in front of the processor socket, which is a very nice location for them.

Anyway, the PCB design of our today’s hero is not absolutely impeccable. The IDE connectors belonging to the HighPoint 372N controller, the SerialATA connectors and the FDD plug are located in front of the PCI slots and this may cause some difficulty in placing the cables inside the case in an optimal way. The onboard USB connectors are not exactly in their best places (they sit in front of the last PCI slots), considering that DFI suggests you should output them onto the front panel of the system case.

The CPU voltage regulator has no cooling elements, but a passive heatsink is mounted on the chipset North Bridge. We have already got used to the manufacturers installing heatsinks on the voltage regulator elements and active coolers onto the North Bridge, but the “light” cooling solution of the DFI LANPARTY PRO875B proved more than enough for nominal work modes as well as for overclocking tests.

BIOS and Overclocking

DFI intends its LANPARTY series for gamers who very often are interested in overclocking, too, so the reviewed mainboard must have good overclocking options. By the way, it is the legendary Oskar Wu, a former ABIT employee, who develops mainboard designs for DFI now.

All frequency and voltage related options reside in the Genie BIOS Settings page of the BIOS Setup program (that comes from Award). The settings include:

Although the overclocking options available in the DFI LANPARTY PRO875B don’t aspire for an entry in the Guinness record book, you have everything necessary to give your CPU a speed boost. You can tweak all the basic parameters. The ranges of the voltages are wider in the DFI LANPARTY PRO875B than in ordinary mainboards and even allow extreme overclocking experiments.

The practical tests of the DFI LANPARTY PRO875B overclockability consisted of my attempts to speed up an Intel Pentium 4 2.4C processor (rated for work with 200MHz FSB). I have to admit that the mainboard confirmed its positioning as a good overclocking solution, as I managed to raise the FSB frequency by a half – to 300MHz – without even raising the CPU Vcore. I just pushed up the FSB frequency, having set the memory frequency devisor to 3:2 and fixed the AGP/PCI frequencies at 66/33MHz. Thus, the DFI LANPARTY PRO875B is surely an excellent platform for CPU overclocking as it has no problems whatever at high FSB clock-rates. The processor with a regular frequency of 2.4GHz worked at 3.6GHz, and again, I can’t say anything negative about the stability of the overclocked system throughout our tests.

The second part of my overclocking session carried out for DFI LANPARTY PRO875B was dedicated to its work with the memory subsystem. I took the same processor and PC4000 DDR SDRAM from OCZ. I steadily increased the FSB frequency synchronously with the memory frequency using the standard timings of this memory (3-3-3-8) and having set Vmem to 2.8V. I went as far as 261MHz FSB, when the system started losing its stability. Recalling my previous experience with this memory, I should say that this is the maximum frequency this memory can work at. So, DFI LANPARTY PRO875B proved perfectly stable at memory bus overclocking, too. Summing up, my practical tests proved that this mainboard has an excellent overclocking potential.

Besides the Genie BIOS Settings page of the BIOS Setup, the Advanced Features Setup page is interesting, too. It stores the options for controlling the memory timings. You can change DRAM CAS# Latency (possible values – 2, 2.5, 3), DRAM Precharge Delay (5, 6, 7 and 8), DRAM RAS# to CAS# Delay and DRAM RAS# Precharge (2, 3 or 4). Overall, we have a standard set of options. Regrettably, such parameters as Refresh Cycle Time, Read Delay (tRD), Read Delay Adjust (tRDA) and Command Per Clock (CPC) that do affect the system performance cannot be changed in any way.

This page also features the exclusive setting from DFI, System Bandwidth, which can take the following values: HPS3, MPS1, MPS2, LPS1, LPS2, LPS3 and Disabled. This mysteriously-looking option actually allows you choosing one of the available presets to configure the memory subsystem at a stroke. HPS3 is the most aggressive preset, while LPS3 is the slightest one. If you disable this option, you will be free to change each memory parameter at your own wish.

I would definitely like to mention the available hardware monitoring feature. The hardware monitoring capabilities of the DFI LANPARTY PRO875B allow keeping track of the CPU and system temperatures, rotation speeds of three fans, and all the voltages (eight in total).

CMOS Reloaded

The manufacturer has every right to be proud of the exclusive CMOS Reloaded technology, so I guess it requires a separate section in our review. The technology is new; it first appeared in the latest generation of the LANPARTY mainboards. Let's find out what the advantages of this technology are.

To cut the long story short, the technology allows the user to save several configurations of the BIOS Setup settings (including the processor and memory related ones) and switch between them real fast and easy. It works like this: you navigate through the BIOS Setup menus to a page called CMOS Reloaded where you can save the current BIOS Setup settings in one of the four available profiles, assign names to these profiles or restore the settings from a saved profile. The profiles are saved in the flash memory, so you won’t lose them after clearing up the CMOS memory.

If CMOS Reloaded offered nothing above this, it won’t be anything new. Other manufacturers, like AOpen, have been enabling the BIOS Setup of their mainboards with an option of saving user-defined settings. DFI made a step farther, though, and came up with tools for flexible control over the saved settings so that you didn’t have to enter the BIOS Setup to change the current profile.

You can select a profile when starting up your PC. Just press and hold a numeric key (1, 2, 3 or 4) to load the corresponding settings profile. Of course, it would be even better if we were able to switch between the configurations from Windows, but this is not yet possible and will hardly appear in the near future as different configurations may have the controllers integrated onboard enabled or disabled.

Besides that, DFI added a couple of handy startup options. First, you can press and hold down the INS key on the system startup to reset the CPU and memory settings to the default ones until the next system reload. This feature helps greatly when you are overclocking your processor: if the system doesn’t start up after the next parameters adjustment, you can load it up without clearing all the BIOS settings. Second, LANPARTY PRO875B can clear the contents of the CMOS memory without the Clear CMOS jumper. Just press and hold the Pause key on the startup, and you will get your CMOS cleared.

Performance

When checking out the performance of the DFI LANPARTY PRO875B mainboard, I set its results against those of the ASUS P4C800 and ABIT IC7-MAX3. These two mainboards also feature the i875P chipset and have proven to be among the fastest platforms for modern Pentium 4 processors in our earlier tests. So we will see if DFI made its mainboard an efficient solution from the performance point of view, and if it provides the same speed as the popular solutions from ASUS and ABIT.

The testbed was configured as follows:

I ran all the tests in Microsoft Windows XP SP1; the BIOSes of the mainboards were set to maximum performance.

The following table lists the results shown by the mainboards in different applications:

 

ABIT IC7-MAX3

ASUS P4C800

DFI LANPARTY PRO875B

Business Winstone 2002

35.7

35.1

35.4

Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2003

51.9

51.7

51.6

3DMark2001 SE, Default

17665

17671

17487

3DMark03, Default

6066

6065

6050

3DMark03, CPU Score

757

757

748

PCMark2002, Memory score

10333

10308

10070

Unreal Tournament 2003, dm-antalus, 1024x768x32

66.26

66.23

65.82

Quake3, four, 1024x768x32

464.6

464.5

456.2

Serious Sam 2, The Grand Cathedral, 1024x768x32

138.9

137.9

135.9

SiSoft Sandra 2002, RAM Buffered Bandwidth

5047

5051

4958

As you see, DFI LANPARTY PRO875B turns to be somewhat slower than the fastest i875P-based mainboards.

Conclusion

LANPARTY PRO875B from DFI is a well-made i875-based mainboard for your Socket478 processor. It is distinguishing features make it stand out among other solutions in several ways. First of all, it looks extraordinary, with its neon-colored slots. Secondly, the accessories include various stickers, cables, shields and other cute goodies. Thirdly, DFI LANPARTY PRO875B is just a high-quality product, very stable and boasting excellent overclocking opportunities.

Highs:

Lows: