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AOpen AX4GN 845G: We look at AOpen's i845G motherboard, and determine if its performance and features (and price) make it a worthwhile decision in light of the more recent i845GE.
 
 
Date: January 4, 2003
Manufacturer:
Written By:
 

is no stranger to the motherboards. I think it's safe to say that a lot of people have heard of them, though a lot of you may not know that they were originally called Acer, and developed AOpen to penetrate the motherboard market. They have been designing a number of PC peripherals, including PCs for quite some time. Though not a household name for enthusiasts, AOpen makes quality motherboards. They may not be the fastest, or most overclockable, but they generally run stable, and run fast to satisfy most consumers.

Today, we'll be looking at their motherboard. This is an i845G chipset, and not the newer 845GE. We'll soon see it performs well, when compared to the PE/GE, but being something a little older makes this an interesting budget board for consumers. It supports the 533FSB, USB 2.0, 10/100 LAN, and integrated sound and video.

Specifications

Form Factor: ATX
Memory Slots: DIMM x 3
Chipsets: Intel 845G chipset
CPU Bus Clock : 533
LAN on board/ USB 2.0/ 5.1 channel

Support 533Mhz FSB for Intel Pentium 4 socket 478 CPU
CPU Jumper-less Design
1MHz Stepping CPU Overclocking
Watch Dog Timer
CPU Over Current Protection (OCP)
Hardware Monitoring
Chassis Intrusion Detector
Resetable Fuse for Keyboard and USB
AC Power-On Auto Recovery
Battery-less & Long-life Design
EzWinFlash BIOS
Vivid BIOS Technology
Support DMI (Desktop Management Interface)

Wake on Keyboard/ Mouse
Wake on LAN
Wake on Modem
Wake on RTC Timer
BIOS Virus Protection
EzRestore/ProMagic HDD Crash Protection
Suspend to Disk (ACPI S4)
Suspend to RAM (ACPI S3)
AOpen Black Pearl PCB
Support ADD (AGP Digital Display) card
Full Colored Easy Installation Guide
AOpen Bonus Pack CD
Norton Anti-Virus CD included

The i845G

Released the same time as the i845E, the chipset introduced official support for the 533FSB. I won't go into too much detail here, but you can read more about the i845PE in our MSI Max2 review, as both chipsets are essentially the same, except for a couple differences.

The i845G has integrated graphics, dubbed . The description is as follows:

Intel® 845GE, 845GV, 845G and 845GL chipsets feature integrated Intel® Extreme Graphics, a revolutionary graphics core that delivers intense, realistic 3D graphics with sharp images, fast rendering, smooth motion, and incredible detail. This unique architecture enables balanced memory usage between graphics and the system for optimal performance. Extreme graphics architecture was uniquely designed to complement the capabilities of the Intel® Pentium® 4 processor, and also supports the Intel® Celeron® processor.

So much for fantasy... As for the reality, you can expect decent 2D capabilities, and adequate 3D speeds for really old game titles. As a gamer, I certainly would not suggest using the onboard graphics if serious gaming is your thing.

Another feature of the i845E is unofficial support for both DDR333 and Hyper-Threading. Specifically with the AOpen AX4GN model, Hyper-Threading is supported with the B1 stepping and up. Unfortunently, this board we have is an older stepping, so no Hyper-Threading here. DDR333 is supported in the BIOS however, as you'll see on the next page.

MSI is known for their red PCBs, and AOpen is known for their black ones. Although the colour of the PCB doesn't do anything for its performance, those of you tired of the standard green will be pleased.


Click To Enlarge

The AX4GN is a socket 478 motherboard, ad naturally comes shipped with the standard P4 heatsink retention kit. I did find the capacitors a little close, but they didn't interfere with heatsink installation. Another nice feature is the metal plate beneath the socket on the underside of the motherboard. I've commented about motherboards bending in previous reviews when installing a heatsink, so this helps serve as a bit of protection.


Click To Enlarge

The impressive looking silver heatsink cools the 845G. The 845 doesn't get terribly warm, so passive cooling is all you need. In case you're thinking about overclocking the integrated video, you should consider active cooling, but given the power (or lack thereof) of the built-in video, I wouldn't bother. The ICH4 supports things such as USB2.0, ATA100, LAN and sound.


Click To Enlarge

Speaking of sound, the DSP duties are provided by the Realtek AC97 CODEC. It isn't anything to get terribly excited about, but it does the job well. Audiophiles will of course select an addon sound card. There is no RAID controller built in, but you have support for 4 IDE devices regardless. Note that the power connection is next to the IDE, rather than the socket. This will keep that pesky power cable out of the heatsink's way.


Click To Enlarge

There are 6 PCI slots, one CNR, and an AGP slot. There is also a retention clip on the AGP slot. This is designed to stabalize the video card if you tend to move your PC around alot. I did find the clip trickier to work with than other motherboards we've tested.

There are 3 DIMM slots supporting DDR266. As we've mentioned earlier, there is unofficial support for DDR333. Each slot can handle up to 1GB of ram each, though I wouldn't try that unless you have ECC ram.

The back panel is standard fare, though only one COM port is provided. I really doubt this will matter for most of you, but if you're dying to connect that second external 56k modem, you'll have to settle for one. A 10/100 NIC is provided, and it works quite well. For business users, this board should appeal to you as sound, video, and LAN is provided.

The BIOS


Click To Enlarge

The Pheonix AwardBIOS allows for a fair amount of tweaking, which is a departure from the Pheonix BIOS of the OEM fame. As you can see above, there are a number of DDR settings, including DDR333. Although you can adjust memory timings, and CAS latency, there doesn't seem to be any options to adjust the clock speed of the ram in 1MHz (or +33MHz). You're locked down with only 3 ram options, which are DDR200, DDR266, and DDR333.


Click To Enlarge

Onboard peripherals can be enabled or disabled as needed, and your CPU options are not too bad. You can adjust things in 1MHz increments, up to a maximum of 248. Don't get too excited though, as it's unlikely you'll ever manage a FSB that high.

 

Overclocking

Overclocking went alright, though it was difficult overclocking our Pentium 4 2.4 "B" at anything past 150. Normally, 153FSB isn't a problem, but the system kept locking up. I even set the DDR speeds to PC2100 (we were using PC2700), but that did not help. At 151FSB, the system functioned fine, except it would spit out errors in Prime95. Knocking it down to 150FSB resolved those issues though.

Test Setup

Intel Pentium 4 "B" 2.4GHz @ 533FSB
AOpen AX4GN 845G
2 x 256MB Crucial PC2700 DDR
80GB Maxtor ATA100 RAID
PNY Verto Ti4600

Tests wil be conducted against the MSI 845E Max2-BLR, since it's the same generation of i845E/G, as well as the MSI i845PE Max2-FIR, which is based on Intel's latest DDR chipset. That test will determine if the i845G's unofficial DDR333 support can keep up with the i845PE/GE's official DDR333 support.

We will be certain to perform tests where the video card should not be a limiting factor. What that means is for the gaming benchmarks, tests will be run at 640x480, stressing the CPU and motherboard subsystem.

SiSoftware Sandra

Although a synthetic benchmark, it's a popular one, freely available if you wish to make comparison benchmarks. We will be testing the CPU, MMX and memory speeds of all the platforms.

CPU Arithmetic Benchmark

The scores are close between the three, though the DDR333 on both the i845PE and i845G do pull it away from the i845E. Between the two DDR333 boards, there is very little difference between them.

CPU Multimedia Benchmark

Similar results with the MMX benchmark also, as none of the 3 boards really stand out. Remember that we allowed the ram to run its rated speed of 333MHz for the CPU tests with the i845PE and i845G. The AOpen falls squarely in the middle of the i845E and i845PE in terms of performance, but you'll have to keep in mind that the gap between the lows and highs isn't significant.

CPU Memory Benchmark

Things do get a little more interesting here. At DDR266, all three boards perform very closely with one another. At DDR333, the i845PE and i845G pull away in the 2000+ range. Between those two, performance is very close.

PC Mark 2002

Much like the earlier benchmarks, at DDR266, all three boards perform within a couple percentage points. The i845PE and i845G pull away, barely, at DDR333, but they do pull away nevertheless.

3D Mark 2001 SE

3D Mark is one of those benchmark apps that will eat up as much processing power as it can. Benchmarks were run at default 1024x768, as I felt 640x480 is getting to be fairly pointless. The AOpen trails the i845PE by a little under 25 3D Marks, but holds close to an 80 3D Marks over the i845E.

Quake 3 Arena

It's getting old, I know, but Quake 3 is still a decent benchmark for almost anything. For motherboards and CPUs, we run at the lowest settings and fire away. I would think that anything over 200+ fps is good enough, but all three are in the 300fps range.

Jedi Knight 2

Jedi Knight is still a Quake 3 engine game, but heavily modified, and much more CPU dependant than Q3A. The AOpen scores in the middle of the pack, and essentially matches the i845PE.

Final Words

In a nutshell, the AOpen AX4GN holds its own against the newer i845PE. The unofficial support for DDR333 proves to be quite useful when compared against DDR266 motherboards. The black PCB is a nice touch, as well as the P4 support plate beneath the board.

The integrated peripherals were servicable. The 10/100 NIC is a standard, and CPU usage was acceptable, averaging about 15% in a 150MB file download. This is about 5% less than a Realtek NIC I have kicking around. The sound isn't great, but it isn't bad either. I don't see the need with replacing it with an addon sound card, unless you already have one of those lying around. I did not include any benchmarks of the integrated video, but for the sake of testing, it managed a whopping 26fps (I am being sarcastic). Other than video performance, the only thing lacking was an addition of a RAID controller.

The motherboard proved to be very stable in testing, though there were a few hiccups when overclocking. Again, the 2.4GHz P4 we've used managed 153 stable overclocks before, and even posts at 160 occasionally, but on the AX4GN, 150 is about as high as we got. There was also a problem with IRQ sharing, as for some odd reason, we had a lot of problems getting a Radeon 8500, Sound Blaster Audigy, an Adaptec Firewire/USB card, and an Echo Gina 24 PCI sound card to work simultaniously. We did get this combo to work on an older P3 motherboard, as well as an Athlon MSI KT3 Ultra motherboard, so this struck me as a bit odd. I should add that we disabled several integrated devices, swapped cards around, but no dice. In our case, it was the Echo Gina 24 causing issues, as removal of that card got everything working.

In terms of performance, it did very well. The question is, should you spring for a newer PE/GE board? My answer would be yes, as newer boards may contain newer features, such as Giga-LAN, RAID, etc... On the otherhand, if you're looking for a nice board, without too many extras, and something cheap, the AX4GN is worth a look.

Pros: Fairly speedy, unofficial DDR333 support, USB2.0, LAN, Sound and sells for under 90$.

Cons: Not a great overclocker, some stability issues, not that compelling with the 845GE on the market.

Bottom Line: i845GE performance, without the pricetag of the i845GE. You're not really missing anything, other than official DDR333 support, and if you're looking to setup a cheap box, the AX4GN could get you started.

Agree? Disagree? Discuss it in our forums

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