Earlier this year saw Intel launch a revised version of its well received i815e chipset in the shape of the i815EP. What the i815EP offered was a lower cost version of the i815e but without the integrated i752 graphics controller in response to requests from both consumers and OEMs who wished to see a chipset that just offered core functionality for Intel Pentium III and Celeron processors. The lower cost of the i815EP also offered Intel an opportunity to make inroads into the large market share built in the Socket 370 motherboard market by the VIA Apollo Pro133A.
As Intel is still the dominant force in the PC market (despite the recent gains by AMD) it was inevitable that most motherboard manufacturers would offer boards based upon the i815EP as there would be a ready market for their products. AOpen have long built a range of highly successful motherboards based upon Intel chipsets. Recent years saw a number of well received boards from AOpen based upon the highly popular i440BX chipset and more recently the i815e in the form of the AX3S Pro. In this mould Aopen set out to create the AX3SP Pro, which as its name alludes is a very close relative of the AX3S Pro.
Despite Intel rapidly pushing forward its new Pentium 4 architecture and the rise of AMD there is still a market for the venerable Pentium III and Celeron based PC especially amongst corporate PC buyers who are still wary of both AMD and Rambus RDRAM with the Pentium 4.
Despite the declining importance of Socket 370, we still felt it was worth looking at what Aopen has to offer users by the way of its i815EP solution. Thus in early May 2001 the AX3SP Pro arrived for test.
As regular readers may be aware, this review isnít the first outing for the AX3SP Pro at Processor Emporium as it allowed the Intel i815EP chipset a very late entry into our PC-133 Chipset comparison which was published in mid-May. As readers of that review will be aware, the i815EP did very well in that comparison indicating just how well the AX3SP Pro has performed throughout our test.
To see quite how well the AX3SP Pro did, read on.
The i815EP was based upon the i810 family of chipsets, it follows a different architecture to earlier Intel chipsets such as the i440BX and the other VIA chipsets featured in this article. Instead of the familiar North and South Bridge controller design, the i815EP uses Intelís Accelerated Hub Architecture design which allows for the removal of the PCI bus as the main connection for the chipset. With the i815EP devices such as the IDE controller can gain a direct connection to the chipset without having to pass through the PCI bus.
Despite this new chipset design, the layout of i815EP based motherboards follows the same two chip principles as designs which use the older North and South Bridge architecture. The principle chip at the core of the i815EP is the i815 GMCH (Graphics, Memory Controller Hub) which looks after the CPU, main memory and the AGP 4X port.
The second chip used by the i815EP is the ICH2 (Integrated Controller Hub 2) which looks after the PCI bus, E-IDE controller (in this case U/DMA 100 compatible) BIOS and Audio & Modem codecs.
Like the Apollo Pro133A and i815e, the i815EP features support for PC-133 SDRAM as well as older PC-66 and PC-100 SDRAM. There is no support for
VC-SDRAM as there is with VIA based chipsets. The biggest drawback as concerns memory support with the i815EP is the fact that it is limited to a maximum
of only 512 MB main memory whereas the Apollo Pro133A can carry a maximum of 2 GB. Intel found that it had to limit the amount of memory which could be
addressed by the i815e in order to accommodate the integrated i752 graphics controller, and has not seen fit to increase this despite the lack of an integrated
i752 on the i815EP, which leads the author to think that it may only be disabled on the chipset and not in fact removed (this is similar to the math co-processor
on the i486 SX).