Starting with the layout, the GA-8IRXP uses a 1/6/1 (AGP/PCI/Riser) layout which is most common to hardcore motherboard users requests. While I find it hard to believe you can fill up a board with 6 PCI slots it is nice to have know if you require more PCI slots you have them there. A CNR slot is present for OEM use; it is clear Gigabyte are still trying also for the OEM sector, doesn't hurt to try. Hard Disk and Floppy Disk connectors are well places away from the PCI slots to allow use of full size AGP and PCI slots. DIMM slots are clear of the AGP card and its unique retention mechanism so you can install and remove the DIMM modules without having to remove the AGP card.
Running the show is Intel's new Pentium 4 solution, the i845D. This new chipset is based directly on the i845 technology but with one important feature, a DDR SDRAM memory controller has been added to allow DDR-200 and DDR-266 memory standards. This goes along way towards affordable Pentium 4 designs. Like the i845, the i845D supports AGP 4x 1.5v cards only, so installing a AGP 2x card is impossible. While some cards like SiS 305 and nVidia Vanta have the AGP 4x key, they are 2x only and inserting them into this motherboard will kill the Northbridge controller due to drawing 2x the amount of electricity that the chipset can provide. The Intel ICH2 is provided to give us ATA-100 IDE, 4 USB ports, AC'97 and MC'97 standards as well as Intel PRO100VE network.
The Extras that make life sweet
First off in our features is the Promise PDC20276 RAID controller chip. This chip allows for ATA-33/66/100/133 IDE devices to be placed on the green ports and setup in either RAID 0, 1 or 0+1. This is definitely a must for hardcore users who mostly rely on RAID for getting those extra FPS out of Quake III.
Next on the list and one that I am personally happy to see is the NEC USB 2.0 controller. This chip is the next upgrade from NEC, which means it's a newer revision than versions used on the MSI K7TPRO266 URM motherboards. This new revision solves some IRQ sharing problems as well as supporting more new USB 2.0 as well as USB 1.1 devices. The two orange connectors are for the USB 2.0 controller and you get a special 4 port bracket with the board just for this purpose. This board has a total of eight USB ports.
Gigabyte, like many motherboard manufacturers, now have elected to scrap the AC'97 audio in place of hardware audio. Gigabyte has placed the Creative SB PCI 128 audio chipset for your pleasure. This chipset provides better than AC'97 audio, but is nothing to get excited over. Two speaker support rather than the 4 that is known from SB PCI128, but then again, its just for onboard use. Hardcore gamers and overclockers will most likely abandon this in favor of SB Audigy's or their own personal choice in audio.
Now this is the ultimate in safeguards for BIOS... Gigabyte has placed the Dual BIOS on this board for us all. This technology allows for a permanent read-only BIOS chip to be soldered onto the motherboard. This chip contains a release BIOS for the board on it. IF you bad-Flash your main BIOS, or if a virus does get into your BIOS, you can erase the main BIOS and use the Backup BIOS to re-Flash the main BIOS chip, making your PC 100% bootable again. While both BIOS chips are soldered on, we normally give this a mark down, but since we have two BIOS' we have no need to remove one. Very good idea Gigabyte.
Overclocking, Stability and Reliability
The GA-8IRXP is a very good attempt by Gigabyte at an overclocking board. We managed to get 143 MHz out of the system bus before we started to see instabilities. We chalked this up to not having enough voltage increases for the AGP slot as we were pushing over 70 MHz on the AGP bus at this speed.
Stability did pose a bit of a problem, though. We tried using two Kingmax PC2700 modules in the system, but it didn't like that one bit. Changing from two Kingmax modules to a single Kingmax and a single TwinMOS solved this.