Intel i815 / i815E Motherboard Roundup - August 2000by Mike Andrawes on August 3, 2000 5:25 AM EST
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In the past few years, motherboards have increased in quality, reliability and performance but the main things you look for in a motherboard haven’t really changed. You look for stability, expansion and features. Cost is often a concern, but for the most part, motherboards based on similar components and features go for similar prices. i815E boards will cost a bit more than standard i815 boards, but the difference is certainly not huge, which is exactly why some motherboard manufacturers are skipping the standard i815 in their lineups. By the end of the year, Intel claims that the ICH2 will completely replace the original ICH in the market.
First and foremost, you'll need to decide on the form factor you want for your motherboard. Fortunately, this is a simple decision. If you've got an ATX case, there's no reason to hinder yourself with a microATX board, so go with a standard ATX board. MicroATX case owners only have one option - a microATX board. Of the 10 boards we looked at for this roundup, none should pose space problems in terms of depth.
Normally one of the most important decisions in picking a motherboard is the CPU interface it will use. If you're looking at i815 boards, you're obviously planning on using an Intel CPU. In the past, that meant choosing a Slot-1 or Socket-370 board/CPU combo(or using a Slocket with a Slot-1 board and Socket-370 CPU). However, Intel is attempting to move their entire CPU line to the Socket-370 interface and that's exactly what you'll find on every i815 board out there. While the 1 GHz and 1.13 GHz CPU's are only available in Slot-1 format at the moment, we expect Intel will offer FC-PGA models of these CPU's once they enter the retail market.
Memory expansion on the i815 is a bit tricky in some situations. Intel's specs call for a maximum of 2 PC133 DIMM's or 3 PC100 DIMM's. Some motherboard manufacturers have been able to push this to 3 PC133 DIMM's without a problem, although others have a number of stability issues with such a configuration. In fact, many of the boards we tested for this roundup had stability issues with even one PC133 DIMM if it was operating in CAS 2 mode. Our guess is that it is a result of the immaturity of the i815 motherboard designs some manufacturers had no trouble with such a setup. We were able to run 3 DIMM's at CAS 2 / PC133 without a problem on the ASUS CUSL2, but this was the only board that could handle this.
Remember that 3 DIMM's in Intel's spec really means 6 rows of memory, so that's up to 3 double sided DIMM's. Well two manufacturers, MSI and Gigabyte have decided to include 4 DIMM slots on their boards. This allows you a little bit more memory expansion flexibility by allowing you to use 2 double sided DIMM's and 2 single sided DIMM's since that's still 6 rows of memory. The 512MB memory limitation of the i815 is still there however. Attempting to use 4 double side DIMM's results in a memory error beep code and no POST.
Whether you get an i815 or i815E, both ICH1 and ICH2 support up to 6 bus-mastering PCI slots, and that's the most you'll see on any i815 boards for one simple reason - there's physically no more room for more expansion slots on an ATX board. Fortunately, we're seeing a trend toward shared CNR/PCI slots so that we don't give up PCB space that could be used for more PCI slots. Nine out of ten boards in this roundup used a shared CNR slot.