EPoX, a Taiwan based company with products ranging from Bluetooth connectivity to motherboards, to small-form factor PCs, and some more in between, recently announced the 4PDA5+. Based on the Intel i865PE northbridge and an ICH4 southbridge, it seems a bit unusual. Today, we take a look at this new offering from EPoX, and help you decide whether it should make it into your next computer system.
CPU: Socket 478 Pentium 4 (Prescott and Northwood)
Chipset: Intel 865PE northbridge and ICH4 southbridge
Form Factor and Size: ATX (305mm x 245mm)
Memory: Supports up to 4GB in DDR266/333/400 speeds
BIOS: Award BIOS, ACPI 2 compliant
AGP: 4x and 8x supported
PCI slots: 5
Ethernet: Onboard gigabit ethernet
Audio: Eight channel
IDEController: Supports ATA-100
SATA Controller: Supports RAID 0, 1, 10, 5
USB ports: 6 USB 2.0 ports, 4 on rear panel, 2 available by pin header
Notice the missing IEEE 1394, or FireWire support. FireWire support is useful for anyone who uses a digital video camera, due to its high transfer rates. Owners of digital cameras will want to consider this motherboard carefully, because the only way to add FireWire support is to buy an expansion card that fits in the PCI slot. That said, the board also has four USB ports in the back, which allows people who have a USB keyboard and USB mouse, and still have room for other stationary USB devices, such as a USB printer.
Remember what I said about the motherboard being a bit unusual? That's because the ICH4 southbridge is older than the ICH5R normally found on newer motherboards. This is probably a cost-cutting measure to keep the board more affordable, since I doubt that EPoX had many ICH4s remaining after the creation of the 4PDA2+, which is based on the ICH5R.
While it seems that I am harping on the inclusion of the ICH4, don't sweat too much if you're upgrading. The i865PE supports Northwood-based Pentium 4s, Celerons with NetBurst, and Prescott-based Intel chips, while the 4PDA5+ supports CPUs with transfer rates of 400, 533, and 800 MHz. Enthusiasts will be very curious to see how well this motherboard performs. Keep in mind that the ICH4 supports everything that the ICH5R does, except built-in support for Serial ATA with or without RAID, and support for eight USB 2.0 ports. The ICH4 can only handle 6 USB ports.
Having said all of that, EPoX got around some of the limitations of the ICH4 by connecting some peripherals to it. The Marvell 88E8001 gigabit ethernet controller and the Silicon Image Sil3114 SATA RAID controller are connected to the ICH4 via the PCI bus, as well as the Winbond W83627THF legacy I/O controller to handle devices such as the parallel port, the floppy drive, and the 2 PS/2 ports used for the mouse and keyboard. In effect, the only thing that the Springdale northbridge is doing is handling the AGP 8X slot and the memory.
Built into the i865PE chipset is support for DDR400 in a dual channel configuration. In motherboards based on Intel chips, this is common, and a necessity in order to maximize memory bandwidth. You're allowed up to 4 GB of RAM, ample for most tasks and leaving lots of upgrade room.
Integrated in to the southbridge are a two-channel ATA-100 IDE controller,and the USB controller I mentioned earlier. A Realtek ALC850 powers a 7.1 audio sound system that is connected to the southbridge.
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