Pentium 4 Budget Chipset Shootout - Single Channel DDR Roundup

While AMD and Intel have been fighting for years for dominance, most of us have already made the decision as to which line of processor to support. For those who have gone the Intel route but don't have the number of dollars necessary for top of the line performance, there is hope. Today we take a look at four budget chipsets that prove once and for all that you don't have to be made of money to enjoy high performance on your Intel rig!
| May 29, 2004 at 11:00 pm CDT
Manufacturer: none

P4 Budget Chipset - Introduction

IntroductionBack in March, 2004, we decided to pit the elite of the Intel Pentium 4 chipsets against each other; this being chipsets supporting 800MHz FSB, Dual Channel DDR memory support, Serial ATA as well as Gigabit Ethernet to see who would be king. Without so much as a glance, the i875P won out, due in large part to Intel's greater experience with DDR SDRAM for the Pentium 4 platform.While everyone wants to get the ultra powerful processors, the most memory and greatest graphics cards, for some of us on the budget, it simply isn't feasible to have all this great technology. This doesn't mean, however, that we are without options for a great performing system.While Dual Channel DDR does deliver the ultimate in Pentium 4 pleasure, single channel solutions have come a long way since its humble beginnings with the i845D chipset from Intel. Now we have Ali, SiS and VIA all producing single channel DDR chipsets for the Pentium 4 for the ultra budget market. Though lacking Dual Channel Memory, these chipsets are all 800MHz FSB ready, support DDR-400 and also come ready for the Prescott series processors.Today we have the Intel, VIA, SiS and Ali chipsets on the test bed to determine, who is able to deliver the ultimate in single channel DDR, and where you should look if you are considering your purchase.

P4 Budget Chipset - The Chipsets - Intel i848P

Intel i848P
The Intel i848P chipset is a direct descendant of the i845PE series chipsets designed by Intel. The evolution of this product has moved to the similar designs of the i865PE chipset, but with only one memory channel.The i848P consists of two major components; the i82848P MCH and either an i82801EB (ICH5) or i82801ER (ICH5R) ICH. These two components work together through the Intel Hub Architecture 2.0 supporting a maximum of 266MB/s data transfer. The i82848P MCH comes equipped with 800MHz FSB support with the latest In-order Queue Depth setting of 12, which boosted the i845 series chipsets above the original 8 of the i850 series chipsets. The memory controller has evolved from the i845 series to include DDR-266/333/400 memory modules. Though the support has increased, the 4-bank limitations that Intel placed on the i84x series is present on the 848P. What does this mean?As some people will remember the i845 and beyond only had support for two DIMM slots. Though three were sometimes present, you'd need to use special configurations to run the three DIMMs at once. The i848P has a maximum memory support of 2GB using 2x1GB DIMM modules.One main feature that has been taken from the dual channel brothers is its support for the CSA or Communications Streaming Architecture bus. This bus was first introduced on the i875P to facilitate lag and bottleneck free Gigabit Ethernet. With this you can have the Intel PRO100CT series CSA Network controller on your i848P board with the full benefits i865 and i875P chipsets gain from the dedicated bus.Though somewhat lacking is memory support, one main feature that keeps the i848P from slacking off is its compatibility with the ICH5 series Southbridge. While you won't find many i848P boards using the ICH5-R Southbridge due to its higher cost, it is fully compatible with it. This gives the i848P series boards eight USB 2.0, two Serial ATA port, two IDE ports, AC'97 2.2 audio as well as six PCI masters for all the latest add-ons you can think of.

P4 Budget Chipset - The Chipsets - VIA PT800

The VIA PT800 chipset was released before the PT880 as you can guess by the name. In fact, the PT800 was VIA's first truly "legal" Pentium 4 chipset not under embargo by Intel. While VIA has had its P4X series chipsets, these have been under fire in the courts, and not many motherboard companies dared to take on Intel with the VIA offerings. Now that all has been settled, VIA chipsets for the Pentium 4 processors are set to hit the market and the PT800 looks to have what the budget users need.The PT800 set is comprised of the PT800 Northbridge and either VIA's VT8235 or the VT8237 Southbridge. VIA uses its proprietary V-Link connection running at 533MB/s to interlink the North and Southbridge, being one of the fastest and most bandwidth available links on the market.The PT800 is the first chipset from VIA to officially support the three main features Intel Pentium 4 chipsets require today: 800MHz FSB, DDR-400 and Hyper-Threading. While VIA claims support for DDR-400 on the older P4X400, we were never able to get it to work with any of our modules. This chipset, we are happy to say, worked with every module we tested without any compatibility issues. This also marks the first chipset from VIA to support Hyper-Threading Technology. While there is still debate whether or not Hyper-Threading is of benefit, if the feature is there it is nice to see it supported. AGP8x also makes its way into the PT800 as revision 3.0 specifications are indeed needed for today's high level graphics cards.The memory controller on the PT800 is actually a borrowed design from the KT600. What do we mean? Faststream64. Faststream64 is VIA's new memory controller enhancement designed to reduce memory latency times in order to boost the KT600's performance to that of the nForce2, while it wasn't able to live up to these claims, it certainly does make a huge difference to memory performance for the KT600. Can it do it for the PT800?The Southbridge of choice for the PT800 is, of course, the VT8237. This Southbridge debuted with the KT600 chipset to be the first to bring native Serial ATA support to the AMD Athlon XP platform. With eight USB 2.0 ports, 10/100 Ethernet as well as Serial ATA RAID support at the same price as the older VT8235, it is definitely the way to go.

P4 Budget Chipset - The Chipsets - SiS 648FX

SiS 648FX
The SiS 648FX was the first chipset to come out supporting DDR-400 and 800MHz FSB that was independent; that is, not made by Intel. The 648FX is a direct descendant of the original 645 chipset, the first DDR supporting chipset commercially available. This chipset predated the i845D series, however, never got the full attention it deserved. Today SiS has put all on the line to take on the budget users.The 648FX chipset is comprised of the 648FX HMAC and the SiS 963 or 964 MuTILO Southbridge. These two are interconnected by a 16-bit bus operating at a peak bandwidth of 1GB/s, the fastest of all the busses available. Designed to take full advantage of single channel DDR, the 648FX takes a page from the 655FX's book with its new bus optimizations called Hyperstreaming.The Hyperstreaming engine: Its design is simply a packet sending technology. Instead of sending one large chunk of data at a time, it allows concurrent smaller transfers to take place allowing the reduction of latencies between memory, AGP, PCI and CPU buses. While this may not seem like a huge advantage, when you are limiting the memory bandwidth you will need all the optimizations you can get.The DDR memory controller is a direct descendant of the original 648 in that it supports DDR-266, 333 and 400 technologies. This allows for a maximum of 3.2GB/s of memory bandwidth transfer. Hyper-Threading is also supported on this chipset. Hyper-Threading has been implemented on SiS chipsets since revision 2 of the 645 series when Intel first announced HT.The Southbridge mostly widely used is the 963(UL) due to the higher costs involved with the 964 series. The 963(UL) brings ATA-133 IDE, six USB 2.0 ports, 10/100 Ethernet, AC'97 2.2 audio as well as Firewire support.

P4 Budget Chipset - The Chipsets - Ali M1683

Ali M1683
We first saw the Ali M1683 at Computex 2003. At that time, no fully working samples were available, however, Ali was kind enough to take our details for full reference samples. In 2004 we received our first Ali reference sample of the M1683, and when we saw the implementations they had made, we were somewhat impressed.The M1683 comes in two parts, as you would expect; the M1683 Northbridge and either the M1563 Southbridge. This Southbridge has been featured on another board from Ali; the ALI K8 chipset. How can this be when AMD64 uses HyperTransport? The M1683 and M1563 chips use a 800MB/s 8-bit HyperTransport link. This makes the Ali offering the second fastest data transfer rate between the bridges.The M1683 supports the latest Pentium 4 processors including the new Prescott and soon to support LGA775 when it arrives with an 800MHz. According to Ali, it will also support 1000MHz FSB for the next generation Intel Pentium 4 bus along with AGP revision 3.0 specs for 4x and 8x transfer rates.The memory controller is straight out of its previous generation Pentium 4 chipsets with a simple update to support DDR-400 maximum. Like the VIA and SiS chipsets, the memory controller on the Ali chipset isn't limited to two DIMM slots, a maximum of three can be supported for up to 4GB maximum DDR SDRAM.The M1563 Southbridge has made its debut alongside its AMD K8 offering. The Southbridge is the first to support HyperTransport and won't be the last according to Ali, however, while having the latest in bus architecture, it lacks some of the additional features that make the VIA and Intel offerings so viable. First off this is a first generation Southbridge without any Serial ATA installed. This means that you won't want to be using Serial ATA hard disks on this chipset unless you get a board with an external SATA chip. The chip does contain a AC'97 Audio controller for 5.1 audio, built in Flash memory readers for Memory Stick and Secure Digital, the most common flash memory standards for today, as well as a 10/100 Ethernet controller and a six Master PCI bus.

P4 Budget Chipset - The Reference Boards

The Boards We ChoseUnlike our Dual Channel Roundup where we were able to use just one company's boards to eliminate the possibility of manufacturer tweaking on each different platform, we had to make the best of what is available on the market. It is hard, if not impossible, to get all the same manufacturer to have every single channel DDR solution, simply because of budget issues.i848P Test Board
For Intel i848P test results we have used the Albatron PX865PE Lite. While it has a 865 in its name, it is a i848P chipset, not sure why its named the way it is.VIA PT800 Test Board
For the VIA PT800 we used the MSI PT8 Neo.SiS 648FX Test Board
For the SiS 648FX we used Gigabyte's 8S648FX.Ali M1683 Test Board
For the Ali M1683 we used the ALI AP833 Reference board.

P4 Budget Chipset - Benchmarks - Test System Setup and SiSoft

Test System SetupProcessor: Intel Pentium 4 3.2EE GHz (800MHz FSB) (Supplied by Spectrum Communications)Memory: 2x 256MB DDR-533 OCZ (Supplied by OCZ)Hard Disk: Western Digital 120GB 7200RPM PATA (Supplied by Plus Corporation)Graphics Card: ATi Radeon 9800XT (Supplied by Gigabyte)Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Professional With Service Pack 1Drivers: Catalyst 4.4SiSoft Sandra 2004SiSoft Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) 2004 is a synthetic windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
Here we can see that the optimizations VIA has made to its Faststream64 memory controller have overtaken the rest of the pack.

P4 Budget Chipset - Benchmarks - PCMark04

PCMark04PCMark04 is a new multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark04 consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs.
Again, VIA takes the lead due to an improved single channel optimized DDR memory controller.

P4 Budget Chipset - Benchmarks - 3DMark03

3DMark033DMark03 is the latest installment in the popular 3DMark series. By combining DirectX 9 support with completely new graphics (including the GeForce FX and ATi Radeon 9800), it continues to provide benchmark results that empower you to make informed hardware assessments.Please Note: Due to recent events with the 3DMark03 series, we are adding results purely for those who are still in favor of 3DMark03. These results should not be taken too seriously and are only added for interest sakes.
Here the difference isn't as high but it still puts VIA a winner.

P4 Budget Chipset - Benchmarks - Media Encoding

Media EncodingMainconcept 1.4.2Mainconcept is a DV conversion utility to convert DV files into MPEG Layer 2 (DVD) quality video files. We use a 1.2GB test file and convert it into a MPEG-2 video at 720x576 and 25fps with stereo sound, and calculate the time each system takes to encode the file. The less the time, the better.
Here we see VIA lose some ground to the Intel i848P. While we aren't able to determine why it lost the ground, it was no fluke as four test runs revealed the same trend.XMPEGXMPEG is a high quality converter based on lossless MPEG/AC3 decoders. It decodes MPEG1 (Audio & Video) and MPEG2 streams and offers you the possibility to re-encode them in the format you want. It exports video and audio frames through an Adobe Premiere interface. To keep the maximum quality of your film, it integrates HQ Bicubic (0, 0.75) and Bessel (for audio) filters. The plugins furnished in this package allow you to create your own DivX, DVD, or SVCD files with the maximum output quality.For this we used the same file for Mainconcept, however, this time we used XMPEG to convert the file into a MPEG-4 or DIVX video.
Here, though, a different story unfolds. VIA takes out the XMPEG tests with flying colors.Lame MP3Lame MP3 is an audio encoding utility that can turn your large wav files into simple MPEG-3 (MP3) files. For this we used a 200MB wav file and converted it to MP3 at 128-bit and 44kHz.
In the final encoding test we see VIA equal out with the Intel i848P; still well ahead of the Ali and SiS chipsets.

P4 Budget Chipset - Benchmarks - Aquamark3

Aquamark3Aquamark3 is the latest installment of the Aquamark benchmark suite. This new benchmark is much more powerful and demands much more from both the system and the graphics card. If there is any weakness in the system or 3D components, Aquamark3 will find them.
Here we see Intel and VIA just about tie it up.

P4 Budget Chipset - Benchmarks - Halo PC

Halo PC - Combat EvolvedHalo PC is new to us at TweakTown. Though we have used it in a couple of benchmarks in the past, it has now found a permanent place in our Benchmark Suite. This is simply due to its support for the latest DirectX 9 API's to put some more stress on the system to determine the best of the best.
Halo PC shows that memory plays a big part to win outright, VIA has done its homework for its memory optimizations.

P4 Budget Chipset - Benchmarks - Jedi Knight II

Jedi Knight IIJedi Knight II, Jedi Outcast is an OpenGL game that many have been waiting for. It has much improved graphics over its predecessor. It fully supports advanced shaders, as well as very high texture resolutions and effects. There is one demo included in the multi-player section that is good for benchmarking use.
Jedi Knight, being an older game, relies now more on CPU power than the memory bandwidth. Since CPU's have gotten faster and faster since the JKII introduction it's a good indicator for CPU failings.

P4 Budget Chipset - Benchmarks - Unreal Tournament 2003

Unreal Tournament 2003Unreal Tournament 2003 continues the success that Unreal Tournament generated as an online game and benchmark. UT2003 pulls all of its weight on to the 3D and memory subsystems, pushing graphics reality to the maximum is its game, and you need some serious power to gain playable scores with this game.
Here we see VIA and Intel more than a match on the older DX8.1 platform.

P4 Budget Chipset - Conclusion

ConclusionWell, we have tested out the Dual Channel chipsets and now taken a look at the single channel and what can we say? Well for one, Dual Channel, while giving the extra bandwidth to the CPU, helps get those extra PCMarks and FPS in the games. In actual point of fact, single channel DDR for the Pentium 4 is still a viable alternative for the masses who can't afford matched paired DIMMs, or afford the higher priced Dual Channel DDR.Single channel has shown that it has evolved from its beginnings on the i845 platform to take up a position in the value to budget market, and with some very impressive scores.Ali, while adding HyperTransport bus to the Pentium 4 processor, really didn't put anything new on the table. Though it is future ready for LGA775 and 1000+FSB, it simply doesn't have enough power in today's market to really be put to any great use. The Southbridge, while fast in its I/O link, lacks high quality AC'97, the additional USB 2.0 ports and also lacks Serial ATA support, which isn't a must have now, but by the time 1000+FSB hits, it will be. The main advantage of this chipset today is its compatibility with the MCP-S from nVidia, which does support Serial ATA and Gigabit Ethernet. This combination would make this chipset more attractive.SiS has in the past, and still does today, produce good quality low cost alternatives, but at this point that's all the 648FX is; an alternative. Sure it does top over the Ali, but its current pairing with the 963UL Southbridge does limit some of the features you can get with this chipset, which includes Serial ATA. Though slower than Intel and VIA, it does earn a place if you are the SiS fan.Intel's i848P is simply evolution on the i845 platform. Only the addition of the CSA bus gives it the impression it's from the i865 and i875 family, however, without any PAT or enhanced memory features, this chipset falls behind to 2nd place. One thing in Intel's favor is the inclusion of Serial ATA on the ICH5 series chipsets, which the i848P is mostly paired with.The VIA PT800 is simply a work of art from VIA. Designed to be the ultimate in single channel DDR chipsets, it has taken out the top form today in 99% of our tests. Supporting Serial ATA and RAID as standard as well as support for future memory standards along with Hyper Threading, Prescott ready and not to mention VIA's first P4 chipset since the P4X series went under, the PT800 has been given our seal of approval and our Best Performance Award!

Last updated: Apr 7, 2020 at 12:26 pm CDT

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