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ASUS P4SDX Deluxe 11th April 2003

Before we get started we need to explain the format of our reviews over the past six months. Readers will have noted that an entire review is laid out on one long page instead of 15-20 short pages. While it takes longer for a single page of this length to load we have designed the layout so that text appears first and graphics last so you can start reading before completion of loading. We decided not to split over 15-20 pages as many people find it annoying to have interruptions once they start getting into a review. It also means you can use the search option in the menu bar to go straight to parts that are of interest. We'd like our readers to let us know which method they prefer by providing feedback in our Forums. In any case, by the time you finish reading this paragraph the page should have mostly loaded.

 

Introduction

The SiS 655 chipset was launched a few weeks ago to provide a consumer dual channel P4 solution to take advantage of the high end positioning of Intel's Granite Bay chipset. For various reasons we need not go into, the first revision of the 655 chipset did not support Hyper-Threading. This was a serious omission given the push Intel is giving this technology and upcoming CPUs with Hyper-Threading support across the board (not just the 3.06GHz and above). The latest revision (655B) fully supports Hyper-Threading and this is the version used in the ASUS P4SDX Deluxe which we are reviewing here.

 

Here's what you get which is quite a lot but that's not unusual for ASUS who are renowned for providing as standard in their boxes many things that other manufacturers expect their customers to buy as extras. Incidentally, ASUS must use some advanced packing algorithm as once we'd taken out the contents of the box, try as we might we couldn't get them back in the box - there was that much inside!

The following are the manufacturer's specifications:

 
CPU Socket 478 for Intel Pentium 4/Celeron
Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology ready
Chipset SiS 655 & SiS 963L
FSB 533/400 MHz
Memory Support Dual-Channel DDR333
4 x 184-pin DIMM Sockets support max. 4GB PC2700 / PC2100/ PC1600 non-ECC
DDR SDRAM memory
IDE 2 x UltraDMA 133 /100
Audio ADI AD 1980 SoundMAX 6-channel CODEC
S/PDIF out interface
LAN Integrated 10/100 Mbps LAN controller+Realtek PHY
USB2.0 Integrated 6 USB2.0 ports
Special Features ASUS MyLogo
ASUS EZ Flash
Support S/PDIF out interface
ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
ASUS CrashFree-BIOS2
ASUS Instant Music
Internal I/O Connectors Front Panel Audio connector
1xUSB2.0 connector support additional 2 USB 2.0 ports
20-pin ATX power connector
4-pin ATX 12V power connector
CPU /chassis Fan connectors
SPDIF_OUT connector
GAME/MIDI connector
Overclock Feature ASUS JumperFree
CPU,Memory voltage adjustable
"SFS(Stepless Frequency Selection) from 100 MHz up to 200MHz at 1MHz increment "
Adjustable FSB/DDR ratio
Back Panel I/O 1xPS/2 keyboard
1xPS/2 mouse
1xSerial
4xUSB
1xParallel
1xRJ45
1x SPDIF Output
1x Audio I/O
BIOS Feature 2Mb Flash EEPROM
Award BIOS with enhanced ACPI,DMI,PnP,Green,TCAV
ASUS EZ Flash, ASUS Mylogo, ASUS C.P.R, SM BIOS 2.3
Industry Standard PCI 2.2, USB2.0
Manageability WOL, WOR
Support CD drivers
ASUS PC Probe
Trend Micro PC-cillin 2002 anti-virus software
Accessories User's manual
UltraDMA cable
FDD cable
I/O shield
From Factor ATX
12"*9.6" (30.5cm*24.5cm)

 

This seems fairly comprehensive so lets take a look at the board itself:

The DIMM slots are well positioned and both channels clearly marked. Details in the instruction manual clearly show how to position memory and under what circumstances the board can operate in dual channel mode. Our benchmarks showed single channel mode to be worse under every test so we will omit those results and concentrate on dual channel performance although it's useful to know that those with only a single DIMM can use the board and upgrade to dual channel performance at a later date.

The ATX power connector is well positioned along the top edge and will not obstruct the air flow of the CPU. As well as the obligatory 12V 4-pin connector a standard molex PSU connector is provided for those with older ATX power supplies (and if anyone is wondering using both these connectors wont increase overclocking ability one bit).

While its not apparent from the perspective of the above photo, the fins on the Northbridge heat sink are quite tall. We prefer passive heat sinks because those little 40mm fans used spin at high speed and can create a whine that can be more annoying than the noise of the CPU fan.

 

We find the usual connectors here but of particular note are the digital audio S/PDIF and the onboard gigabit LAN connector. The deluxe package also includes a front panel with audio/firewire connectors.

 

Here we can see the onboard RAID and floppy connectors. Only a single channel is offered by this Promise controller if an IDE drive is used. This means that to get a RAID0 array you will need to pair an IDE drive with an S-ATA drive or use two S-ATA drives which is a good thing if you have an IDE drive and want to upgrade to raid in the future (when S-ATA drives are more common). Not so good if you already have a RAID but then you will probably have a controller card which you can transfer and the onboard RAID can be disabled in the BIOS settings. There is always the option of using the connector as an extra IDE channel even if an add-in RAID card is being used.

The CPU examined

Here we see details of the P4 3.06GHz with 533MHz FSB. Intel are soon to launch a P4 3GHz with 800MHz FSB and when this happens we will revisit this board to find out how much of a difference it makes.

 

Test Setup

Here's a summary of the system and the reference systems we compared it to:

The above descriptions are accurate with the following exceptions:

  • The CPU used in the ASUS Nforce2 board is an Athlon XP3000+.

  • The MP1800+ CPUs were replaced with the MP2600+ CPUs.

  • A Creative Ti4400 was used in all of the machines.

  • 512MB RAM was used in all the machines.

The memory used was DDR333 for the DDR machines and PC1066 for the i850 system. DDR400 was not used as it gave worse results due to memory timing issues.

In all of the following benchmarks the ASUS P4SDX Deluxe is shown as SiS655 simply because the full title is too long for a graph label.

We noticed that with our OEM 300W ATX power supply that soft reset didn't seem to work and we had to hold down the reset button for about 2 seconds to get a reboot. At first we thought this was due to the board being an engineering sample but found the problem disappeared when using our Chieftec 360W PSU and our Enermax 431W PSU. The moral of this is to beware of using cheap power supplies.

 

Sisoft Sandra

Let's start with the synthetic benchmarks.

 

The P4SDX performs as well as the other P4 systems in this benchmark which is largely determined by the FSB. For this reason the Dual Athlon MP2600+ CPUs shoot ahead of the competition in this test usually dominated by the very wide FSB of the Pentium4 CPUs.

 

The P4 systems are on a par again.

 

Here the P4SDX is slightly ahead of the i850 board but the double width AMD 760MPX CPU bus really shines in this test and easily bests all rivals.

 

Same situation here. The P4SDX with DDR333 memory is clearly better than the i850 with PC1066 memory.

 

PC Mark 2002

This is a series of tests and is more comprehensive than any of the Sandra benchmarks.

 

The P4SDX is clearly in the lead here. Of particular note is the hard drive score. The P4SDX is using the same drive as the Dual MP2600+ system but scores twice as much. This is a testament to the quality of the SiS mini IDE driver.

 

3D Mark 2001

 

The P4SDX is significantly ahead of P4 based rivals and catches up with the Athlon XP3000+ (Barton) CPU. Such a score is truly remarkable on a humble Ti4400.

 

Unreal Tournament 2003

Now for some real world benchmarks starting with UT2003 Flyby.

 

The P4SDX is in the lead at 1024x768 and above which are the resolutions that really matter to gamers.

 

The same results are repeated here with an even bigger lead at the highest resolutions. Until Doom 3 is released we just don't have any games that can really stress today's systems.

 

Divx Encoding

Let's turn to an area where we know that fast CPUs will make a difference - Audio and Video encoding. This is becoming more and more popular and is very computationally intensive with long processing times (relatively speaking that is, this field is not for those that complain about how long their Outlook Express takes to load).

For consistency we will use Jet Li's The One as our test matter. It is not interlaced and contains a mixture of action types and is not too long. There will be three tests all using Divx 5.02. Audio will be encoded separately. I will try and keep my commentary to a minimum as all configuration information is shown in the images below.

 

Xmpeg 4.5

Firstly we will start with the industry standard Xmpeg with its settings at those recommended by the Divx community and as used by other sites such as Toms Hardware. Here are the CODEC settings:

and here are the Xmpeg settings:

and here are the results

 

This test shows the SSE2 optimization of Xmpeg and is by no means a real world indication. Among the Divx community Xmpeg is being used less and less in favour of VirtualDub.

 

AviSynth and VirtualDub

No serious Divx encoder uses Xmpeg alone and it's just used by the media for benchmarking purposes so let's get serious. We ripped our source material to hard disk and created a DVD2AVI project file using forced film (it was 99% film). Loading this into Gordian Knot we first saved an .avs file with no changes at all (720x480) and no filters of any sort. This was loaded into VirtualDub with the following CODEC parameters :

After encoding we got these results:

 

The P4SDX gives a higher average frame rate than the i850 system or indeed any of the other systems.

 

This is all good stuff but how about a real-world test? To simulate a realistic test we added a neutral bicubic resize filter in the .avs file  and used the following CODEC parameters (including two popular Pro settings) which are designed to total 700MB (when the audio is muxed in):

Which resulted in the following.

 

The addition of computationally heavy filters put less emphasis on the memory bandwidth and more on raw CPU speed, changing the situation dramatically. The Dual MP2600+ is well in the lead due to the extra processing required for the filters and Pro settings. The P4SDX is now well ahead of the other P4 based systems.

 

Audio Encoding

What about audio? We took the AC3 track from the above sample material and used HeadAC3he to convert it into Vorbis format so our final muxed file could have Ogg containment. There isn't space here to go into the advantages of Ogg Vorbis over MP3 and AVI so let's just say that Vorbis sounds about the same as MP3 for half the file size or twice as good for the same file size (that is subjective though).

These are the settings we used:

Since it is more meaningful to show throughput than time taken (which depends on the length of the source) we display the results thus:

 

The P4SDX is well ahead of every other system and seems to be the ideal choice for media encoding.

 

Conclusion

When the 655 chipset was first launched as a consumer alternative to Intel's Granite Bay chipset the lack of Hyper-Threading support made us think a valuable opportunity was lost. After it became clear that Intel was planning for Hyper-Threading across the board SiS quickly launched a revised 655 chipset supporting it. ASUS have brought the P4SDX with the revised SiS 655 chipset to market very quickly. There is no doubt from our testing that this is the best P4 board we have encountered. Whether the requirement is for a gaming rig or a workstation for home or office use the P4SDX shines equally. 

The addition of gigabit LAN may not seem worthwhile yet as hubs/switches that support this are expensive but it is a sound future investment as gigabit becomes mainstream in the next year or two. Just remember to connect all 8 wires when you cable your network for 100Mbps and it should work at gigabit speeds when the time comes.

The BIOS supports the full range of over clocking options while allowing for fixed AGP/PCI dividers although we didn't test out this aspect.

Overall we think this is the best P4 motherboard so far.

 

We would like to thank ASUS UK for the review sample P4SDX Deluxe motherboard.

 

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