Everyone praises the ABITs, the AOpens of the industry when it comes to the tweaker looking to overclock; and then the Tyans and Supermicros of the industry walk away with the fame when discussing high-end workstation/server motherboards, but one of the most commonly overlooked motherboard manufacturers by most hardware enthusiasts happens to be those made in the plants of Intel. Ironically enough, Intel happens to be the most popular motherboard manufacturer when it comes down to sales, Intel averages over twice in amount of sales as the next leading motherboard manufacturer, meaning of course, that Intel is number one in that field as well.

AnandTech took a look at Intel's only BX based motherboard a while back, the SE440BX, however in a world dominated by overclocking, the motherboard did not emerge with a favorable review. The only strength of the SE440BX seemed to be its design and construction, which lead it to be one of the most reliable motherboards AnandTech has ever tortured in the labs. How many gamers do you think bought the SE440BX for their systems? Most likely very few. Last year was the year of the overclocked Celeron, and the only motherboard available that provides absolutely no potential for overclocking happened to be the SE440BX.

With the overclockable Celeron 300A slowly disappearing from the gaming scene and the introduction of faster parts (both Pentium III and Celeron), the choice for a motherboard is now much greater than the once simple path of the ABIT BH6. At the same time, the trend towards highly integrated motherboard solutions is building, with Intel behind the wheel of this bandwagon now. Intel's latest release illustrates this trend, however how well suited is the SR440BX for your needs?

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Motherboard Specifications

CPU Interface Slot-1
Chipset Intel 440BX
L2 Cache N/A (on-chip)
Form Factor microATX
Bus Speeds 66 / 100
Clock Multipliers 1.5x - 6.5x
Voltages Supported 2.8v / 2.0v (Auto-Detect)
Memory Slots 2 168pin DIMM Slots
Expansion Slots 0 AGP Slot
4 PCI Slots (4 Full Length)
1 ISA Slots (1 Shared / 1 Full Length)

The Good

The SR440BX is built upon a microATX form factor PCB, and happens to be a Slot-1 solution in spite of the trend towards Socket-370 followed by most motherboard manufacturers. The board features a 4/1/0 expansion slot (PCI/ISA/AGP) configuration that is elegantly laid out in such a manner that all slots are capable of accepting full length cards. The lack of an AGP slot is made up for by the fact that the AGP bus is occupied by an on-board nVidia Riva TNT AGP graphics adapter. While most motherboard manufacturers turn to cheaper solutions from ATI for integrated graphics, Intel clearly went with the best in mind, as the incredibly popular TNT made its way onto the SR440BX.

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

The on-board TNT features a 16MB 100MHz SDRAM memory configuration and operates at a 90MHz core clock frequency. It looks like Intel had a little more than the business user in mind when they put this motherboard together. Since the TNT is on-board the SR440BX, Intel has control over the types of filters placed between the RAMDAC and the VGA out port on the rear of the motherboard. Because of their design, the 2D image quality of the integrated TNT is considerably better than most TNT card solutions out there, however the design still isn't as crisp and clear as that of the standalone Matrox G200. Regardless, don't expect the 2D image quality of the TNT to be poor on the SR440BX, but don't expect it to knock your socks off either.

On the topic of memory, the SR440BX is outfitted with a meager 2 SDRAM DIMM slots, however for a motherboard of this size, that can be expected. The ATX power supply connector is carefully placed alongside of the second DIMM slot and is out of the way of any components on the motherboard. The DIMM slots are placed almost flush with the 443BX North Bridge controller chip, therefore decreasing the trace length between the chipset and the DIMM slots, and therefore decreasing the possibility of reliability problems caused by memory issues. Unfortunately, the rest of the fate of your system falls into the hands of the memory manufacturers and how well they design their modules.

Continuing along the path of integration, the SR440BX boasts one of the highest quality integrated sound controllers featured on a motherboard, the Creative Labs PCI SoundBlaster 64 (ES1373). The on-board PCI audio controller is increasingly common among highly integrated motherboards, with more and more manufacturers even taking advantage of the ES1373 controller chip. Needless to say, the sound quality on the SR440BX is great enough for anyone not interested in a fully 3D audio experience. For those of you that are, the on-board sound can be disabled within the BIOS setup.

Intel provides the standard User's Manual and driver's CD-ROM with the SR440BX. The manual covers everything you need to know about the motherboard, in a multitude of languages as well. The included CD-ROM provides you with all of the drivers you'll need for the SR440BX, as well as a copy of the user documentation for the motherboard. The SR440BX is a completely jumperless motherboard, the only configuration option on the motherboard itself is whether or not you want to allow access to the BIOS, a feature which must be disabled if you want your system to boot properly (the SR440BX is basically a configure once type of motherboard, no tweaking here).

Stability seems to the the top priority of Intel with their motherboards, they aren't overly concerned with the performance or the features of their boards since they already have a guaranteed following from the larger OEMs (Dell, Gateway, etc...), but if their boards should start to fail, they will have to take the beating quite a few users would give them. Most motherboards you see in those Gateway, Dell and Micron PCs are manufactured by Intel, and as you can probably guess, that ends up being more motherboards than even ABIT/AOpen can account for selling...combined. So it makes sense for Intel to want to concentrate on the stability/quality of their products, rather than how high you can overclock them. The result? The SR440BX is a motherboard truly deserving of a commendation on the part of its rock solid stability, even putting the AOpen AX6BC to shame in terms of overall quality, reliability and stability.

The performance of the SR440BX, due to its integrated TNT accelerator, happens to be greater than that of most competing motherboards under Winstone 99. At the same time, the OpenGL support the integrated TNT brings to the table and incredible performance, make the SR440BX an almost ideal choice for users looking for a highly integrated system.

The Bad
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