Battle of the Boards
Pentium 4 (cont'd)
Gigabyte's $240, feature-laden, 925XE-based GA-8AENXP-D warmed our hearts as the sole board in the roundup to offer 800-Mbps FireWire 800. Other neat touches include eight SATA ports, an additional RAID controller to augment the one in the 925XE chip set, and the company's DualBIOS, which provides a backup BIOS in case you interrupt a flash or screw up the settings in the main BIOS and can't boot. Gigabyte rounds out the package with an 802.11g wireless LAN adapter card and a solid voltage regulator module for stability.
Another strength of the GA-8AENXP-D is performance. The board edged out Intel's D915PBL for first-place in the P4 gaming tests and also beat it by a point in WorldBench 5. Add good documentation, a decent range of overclocking settings, and capable Windows-based tweaking utilities, and you have a very nice Pentium 4 setup--almost nice enough to make us forget its high-end street price.
We tested Intel's $220 D925XECV2 and $145 D915PBL boards. The two differ primarily in their chip sets: The more expensive D925XECV2 uses Intel's 925XE, which supports a 1066-MHz frontside bus, while the other board's 915P chip set has a maximum bus speed of 800 MHz. But the performance difference between the two boards was tiny, making the less-expensive D915PBL a better value for most people and vaulting it onto to our chart.
The Intel boards were the prototypes for the rest of the Pentium 4 crew in terms of I/O features, implementing what the 925 and 915 chip sets provide: one ATA-100 channel, RAID 0 and 1 on the four SATA ports, eight USB ports (four external), and a gigabit ethernet port. Their layout tends toward spaciousness, with easy-to-read labels, but the area around the PCIe x16 slot can get cramped.
Surprisingly enough, Intel provides decent overclocking tweaks, though they're called "burn in" settings in both the BIOS and the company's slick Windows-based Desktop Control Center. Annoyingly, the latter doesn't ship with the boards; before you can download the software, you must answer some intrusive questions at Intel's site. Intel is also the only vendor other than Asus to bundle nonutility software with its boards; InterVideo's Home Theater Silver and WinDVD Creator Suite and NTI's CD-Maker are the featured titles.
DFI's colorful $210 LANParty 925X-T2 takes fifth place on our Pentium 4 chart, with unimpressive WorldBench 5 performance but decent results in our gaming tests. The 925X-T2 ships with a handy 5.25-inch, bay-mounted breakout box that puts a diagnostic LED up front and includes USB, FireWire, audio, and SATA ports. Our major gripe with DFI boards is their software: There are plenty of BIOS settings for overclocking, but no Windows-based utility, and the BIOS upgrade app lacks the helpful Internet connectivity found in utilities such as Asus's Live Update and Abit's FlashMenu.
A second DFI board, the $155 UT LANParty 915P-T12, just missed our chart but offered an intriguing option: support for DDR and DDR2 memory. The 915P-T12 has two DDR2 slots and two DDR slots. Though you can't use both memory types at once, you might be able to start your new system off with DDR memory recycled from your old system, and then upgrade later. Unfortunately, the 915P-T12 was the only board to lack RAID support of any kind. That's a no-no in these days of inexpensive, superintegrated motherboards.