Features of the 8IEXP - Enthusiast board
First we start with the layout of the board. Gigabyte have chosen a 1/6/1 (AGP/PCI/Riser) layout for this board, this suggest they are aiming the board more towards the enthusiasts. While Gigabyte has given a riser slot that shares with PCI slot 6, it doesn't take up any extra expansion bays, so it's easy to tolerate, though we won't be using it. Power connector locations are fair - The two pin ATX connector is located behind the FDD controller near the upper right of the board, well out of the way. The four pin P4 connector hangs down around the bottom of the P4 heatsink retention mechanism. Power supplies with short four pin P4 connectors will end up having to drape the wires over the P4 heatsink, a big no no for overclockers.
The GA-8IEXP motherboard uses the Intel I845E chipset paired with the ICH4 controller hub. This chipset gives you 533FSB, DDR-200/266 memory support, AGP4x and USB 2.0 - all from the one chip. While the Intel I845E is rumored to have 333Mhz memory support (unofficially) we haven't seen it implemented on any I845E board to date, that is, if it even exists.
Firewire, My God - It's Onboard!
Well this is certainly a change. Only two other boards I know of integrate Firewire onboard, and they are ASUS and Soyo. It's nice to see that this board is among the few to give us this high speed bus option. Using VIA's VT6306 controller, you get three Firewire ports, not too shabby. This is along with the USB 2.0, now you have everything.
Creative SoundBlaster PCI
Gigabyte have gone down the same path than many other enthusiast level motherboards have gone before in the sound department. That is to replace the AC'97 audio with hardware controller for the sound system. AC'97 audio is pretty much useless unless you are going extreme budget audio, and even then a $30 sound card is better than the AC'97 sound quality. Gigabytes have chosen the Creative SoundBlaster PCI128 chip that they have used on many of their past motherboards. While this chip is far superior to the AC'97 audio, it would have been nicer to see the C-Media CMI8738 6 channel sound chip, as it gives 5.1 speaker support for the same cost per chip as the Creative sound controller. Nonetheless, it is great to see Gigabyte use hardware sound.
Gigabyte have given us the ability to run RAID and ATA-133 IDE hard disks through the 8IEXP. The Promise PDC20276 chip is included onboard which is the same chip used on the Fastrack Lite RAID controller cards from Promise. Additionally, Gigabyte has given us the option as to run the controller as a RAID or ATA controller. In the BIOS under the Integrated Peripherals menu, you can enable and disable the controller as well. In ATA mode you can run your disk drives in ATA-133 IDE mode, and the controller will accept ATAPI devices (CD-RW, LS120, Tape Drives and so on). In RAID mode you can run up to four similar sized hard disks in ATA-133 RAID mode.
Dual BIOS - A must for Gigabyte boards these days
Since Gigabyte introduced their Dual BIOS system onto their motherboards, it's now expected of them to place this feature onto just about all of their motherboards. This comes in extremely handy if you accidentally bad flash your BIOS or get a BIOS resident virus. You can simply erase the main BIOS and boot from the backup chip and get your system into working order for a new or correct flash.
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