Credits (parts provided by):
Motherboard and CPU: COOLTOYZ
AGP Videocard: jampax
First and foremost, I'd like to thank COOLTOYZ for providing me with his expensive "toyz" to play with: DFI motherboard and Dothan CPU, and jampax for lending me his great eVGA FX5950Ultra 256MB videocard. Recently, reviews of Intel's Pentium M with Dothan core on the desktop have stirred up the interest of many enthusiasts. Where it used to be the major strength of laptop, the small, silent, low-heat, low-power but solid computing is now a reality on "regular" desktop platform. Among the motherboard manufacturers that took advantage of Intel's Pentium M acceptance at the desktop is DFI. Currently, DFI have two motherboard flavors, with their 855GME-MGF being released first and garner many recognitions, and their second one which we have in our test bed is the DFI 852GME-MGF.
Note: You can click all pictures of the motherboard
and CPU for larger image.
This motherboard's main marketing point against its older brother 855GME is the official support for 133Mhz FSB with it i852 MCH. Though the i852GME chipset is primarily targeted for Mobile Pentium 4, DFI's engineering prowess have led them to enable the chipset for use with Intel's Pentium M 7xx line of processors, enabling the full 133Mhz FSB. The motherboard also sports impressive features which are often offered on high end motherboards with its 6300ESB IOCH, a rather powerful chipset for such a small package. The 6300ESB might not offer feature-rich connectors, but this Southbridge makes up for its PCI-X support, USB 2.0, SATA RAID and IDE channels. This baby comes with VIA's Firewire, Realtek 6channel audio with S/PDIF and 1Gbps NIC. And oh, the Northbridge supports up to DDR333 with ECC support. Now, this is one motherboard suitable for some heavy duty super mini file server system.
- Intel® Pentium® M / Celeron® M processor - 400/533MHz system bus - Supports 64-bit host data bus and 32-bit addressing
- Processor socket: mPGA479M
- Intel® 852GME chipset - Intel® 852GME Graphics Memory Controller Hub (GMCH) - Intel® 6300ESB I/O Controller Hub
- Two 184-pin DDR SDRAM DIMM sockets
- 2.5V unbuffered PC1600 (DDR200), PC2100 (DDR266) or PC2700 (DDR333) DDR
SDRAM DIMM with ECC support
- Award BIOS
- 4Mbit flash memory
- Supports ACPI specification and OS Directed Power Management
- Supports ACPI STR (Suspend to RAM) function
- Wake-On-Events include: - Wake-On-PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse - Wake-On-USB Keyboard
- Wake-On-LAN - Wake-On-Ring - RTC timer to power-on the system
- AC power failure recovery
- Monitors CPU/system temperature and overheat alarm
- Monitors 5VSB(V)/VBAT(V)/1.5V/3.3V/5V/12V/CPU(V) voltages and failure alarm
- Monitors CPU/chassis/2nd fan speed and failure alarm
- Read back capability that displays temperature, voltage and fan speed
- Up to 64MB of dynamic video memory allocation
- Display core frequency at 250MHz (default)
- Render core frequency at 250MHz (default)
- Intel® Dual-Frequency Graphics Technology
- Supports 2D graphics engine
- Supports 3D graphics engine
- Supports Graphics Power Management
- Realtek ALC655 6-channel audio
- S/PDIF-out interface
- RTL8110S Gigabit ethernet controller
- Supports 10Mbps, 100Mbps and 1Gbps data transmission
- Supports up to UltraDMA 100Mbps hard drives
Serial ATA with RAID
- Supports two SATA (Serial ATA) interfaces which are compliant with SATA 1.0 specification (1.5Gbps interface)
- Supports RAID 0 and RAID 1
- VIA VT6307
- Supports two 100/200/400 Mb/sec ports
- Supports 1.5V AGP 4x data transfers and 2x/4x fast write protocol (3.3V AGP card is not supported)
- AGP 2.0 compliant
Rear Panel I/O Ports
- 1 mini-DIN-6 PS/2 mouse port
- 1 mini-DIN-6 PS/2 keyboard port
- 1 DB-25 parallel port
- 1 DB-9 serial port
- 1 DB-15 VGA port
- 1 IEEE 1394 port
- 1 RJ45 LAN port
- 4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
- Mic-in, line-in and line-out
- 1 connector for an external serial port
- 1 connector for 1 external IEEE 1394 port
- 1 front audio connector for line-out and mic-in jacks
- 1 CD-in internal audio connector
- 1 S/PDIF-out connector
- 1 connector for IrDA interface
- 2 Serial ATA connectors
- 2 40-pin IDE connectors
- 1 floppy connector
- 1 ATX power supply connector
- 1 front panel connector
- 3 fan connectors
- PCI 2.2, Intel AGP 2.0, PCI-X 2.2 and AC ’97 compliant
- 1 AGP 4x slot
- 1 PCI-X slot
- 2 PCI slots
- 4 layers, microATX form factor
- 24.4cm (9.61") x 23cm (9.06")
The DFI 852GME-MGF comes in a rather familiar way of packaging. With the box
adorned with 0's and 1's in limy green color, it is reminiscent of Matrix. The
packaging easily shows the features of the motherboard without having to flip it
backwards. You'll never miss the features of its touted strength of 533Mhz FSB (133Mhz QPB), as well as supported RAM, USB, AGP, Firewire, SATA, 6channel audio and PCI-X which are printed on the front left side of the box.
Opening the box reveals a bland set of goodies. It is rather surprising to see such limited loot inside the packaging when thinking of the price, and then comparing it with their LanParty series on the desktop scene. This motherboard contains only the bare necessities, which is really rather disappointing when you realize how much this motherboard costs. Below, you can see that DFI bundle this motherboard with the backplate, floppy and IDE cables, a SATA connector/adapter, the obligatory CD, floppy disk driver, manual, and (thank goodness) a customized CPU heatsink and fan for the processor since regular cooler won't fit on this board.
Regarding the bundled cooler, I found out that it is missing a screw. The three(3) screws are securely fastened to the backing plate and I believe it's a factory miss since it's a bit tough to wedge out the screw from the heatsink, it isn't loose, and the heatsink is inside its own carton box. Oh well, I guess we'll just have to find out if it has any impact on cooling our little Dothan =).
At such a small form factor, let's visit how DFI cram the features and components of this mainboard. This motherboard, aesthetically speaking, is simply attractive. The black color commands superiority and stability to the users. It would be great to display this on a window-based mini ATX chassis with some lighting effects.
The CPU socket is in the familiar beige color, and looks very familiar like a socket 478 ZIF model. However, this CPU socket uses socket 479, a screw-type-slide to lock-in the processor. There are four mounting holes around this socket which is where you can mount an exact fit stock HSF for the processor. There are some tall capacitors which may provide some concern to those who would like to use other than the stock cooler. The fan connector is the traditional three-pin one, located very near the CPU socket. Keep this in mind when looking for non-standard CPU cooler.
As you can see here, this is where the WinBond hardware monitor is located. It is interesting to note that where this area of the motherboard shows the common 4pin Pentium 4 connector, this connector is not present in this motherboard. The low-power nature of the Pentium M just don't need that much power.
This motherboard is equipped with single channel MCH, and supports upto 2Gb maximum RAM. The two RAM slots just below the CPU is very easy to "use", not very stiff and yet, not too loose for comfort. Along the sides of the RAM slots are the IDE and FDD headers. Far to the bottom corner portion is another fan header. User of "older" generation 20pin PSU will not be dissatisfied with motherboard as this one still uses the 20pin standard. This ATX connector is conveniently located at the edge of the motherboard, and not in the middle as can be seen being done by other manufacturers on some desktop machines. There is also a red LED in here that lights up when the PC is powered on.
The Northbridge is passively cooled by an aluminum heatsink. This heatsink is clamped by the usual two wire clips, much to the dislike of some users who prefers mounting holes for some kind of customize cooling solution. Nevertheless, this heatsink proves just more than enough as this never gets warmer than 38c at full load.
Moving on to the peripheral card connectors, we can see the AGP 4x slot here, the single PCI-X, and two PCI card slots. Note that using monster AGP cards will occupy the adjacent PCI slot rendering it unusable. This is not a fault though, as the sheer small size of the motherboard is the limiting factor. Another noticeable thing to consider is that any monster sized videocard will provide some challenge when adding or removing RAM. But with such just two RAM slots, just fill both up before adding any video card and problem solved :). This area of the motherboard also shows the CD analog header, the Realtec and VIA chip, and clock generator. Another red LED is installed in here that lights up when the motherboard detects the presence of power even when the PC is still turned off. This is a very nice indicator to notify users assembling their rig to completely remove all power from the motherboard so as to prevent any accidental short circuit.
Next is the Southbridge area. I love the black passive cooler on the Southbridge, it's comfortably taller than some passive coolers I've seen before placed on Southbridge. This is the area where the SATA RAID headers are connected, and that all too important CMOS clear jumper. Notice that this jumper is just besides the Southbridge, I strongly suggest to overclock this motherboard outside of the chassis if you have a microATX chassis. Off to the far lower left is the front panel connector, and another fan header for your convenience.
The rear connectors of this motherboard shows just enough IOs. The VGA port is in here so you can instantly connect your monitor without adding additional video card. You'll also find some of the legacy connectors such as the parallel printer and serial port. There are four(4) USB and one(1) firewire connector available for use. The NIC and audio connectors are also in their familiar location.
I'll not bore you with too many BIOS bla, suffice it to say that the BIOS offers options for Overclockers for tweaking the following:
* RAM Timing (CAS-Active to Precharge-RAS to CAS-RAS Precharge)
* FSB in 1Mhz increment
* RAM dividers (Auto, 1:1 DDR200, 4:3 DDR266, 5:3 DDR333, 1:1 (Low GFX), 4:3 (Low GFX))
* PCI/AGP lock
* Clock Multiplier and Core Voltage (FID/VID) (1.308 max)
DFI's BIOS also offers stability testing options (MEMTest and CPUTest) right from the BIOS without booting off any software or operating system. Pretty nifty and useful for quick test.
Ahh, now we enter the fun part, at least for me :)....but before the figures, let me just layout the test bed.
* Intel Pentium M 730 (1.6Ghz/2M/533Mhz SL86G) with stock cooler
* DFI 852GME-GMF (latest BIOS as of Dec. 2004)
* eVGA GeForce FX5950 Ultra (500/650)
* Geil Ultra Platinum PC4000 2x256Mb CL2-2-2-5@DDR266
* 1x80Gb Seagate Barracuda IDE
* 1x Optical Drive Samsung DVD Combo
* Enermax EG465VE ATX v1.3
* Thermaltake LANFire Midtower Chassis
Sandra's score is pretty interesting :), with the old chipset showing its age already by giving out a "normal" bandwidth score for a single-channel DDR266 system.
Unlike Sandra, PCMark, on the other hand, has a pretty good outcome:
SuperPi 1M is also very impressive considering this baby runs at a mere 1.6Ghz, single channel memory, and 533Mhz FSB.
Everest RAM Read/Write
Like the Sandra results, values here are nothing to write home about. This is mainly due to single channel nature of the memory controller and low RAM frequency.
Note: Aquamark03 and 3DMark benches are run on their stock "configuration" and settings.
It is nice to see that this little CPU and motherboard combo can score that high.
3DMark01SE is a good benchmark to test not only the GPU but also the CPU. With a stock GeForce FX5950, this 1.6Ghz Pentium M on a 533Mhz motherboard produce a decent score.
Unlike it's older brother 3DMark01SE, it's performance measurement is moving more on the GPU than CPU. The results is not too high, but not too low either.
3DMark05 is the latest incarnation of FutureMark's famous 3DMark benchmarks. This software is the most reliant on GPU compared to older 3DMark benchmarks.
As some may argue that 3DMark isn't reflective of real-world gaming experience, I decided to add more graphics gaming benchmarks: GunMetal and Doom3.
The score shown here is the average of two(2) runs of benchmark options 1 and 2, with the following settings: 1024x768, 32bit, 2xAA, High, On
This benchmark is run on High Quality, 1024x768, 32bit, Full Screen. Breaking 50FPS on Doom3 is really an impressive feat here.
Running the Pentium M on the DFI board is really fun on stock settings, with tweaking here and there. However, I decided to play with it even more and see how this combo performs, and check the motherboard and CPU limitation.
I will not delve into analyzing the benchmark results here, but suffice it to say that a 2Ghz Pentium M/533Mhz/2Mb is a force to be reckoned with. It can match more expensive and more full-featured CPU available today. The CPU's multiplier is reduced to 11x, while the FSB is set to 202, giving a very good 804FSB and 2.222Ghz CPU frequency, and DDR404@CL2-3-3-7.
Everest RAM Read/Write
I used Prime95 to push the CPU on it's full load for 4hours, during the hottest time of the day between 11am and 3pm. Idle reading is taken 30mins after the machine is booted up. Ambient chassis temperature reading shows 33c. Motherboard Monitor is used to record temperature readings.
On idle, the CPU is reporting 26c!!! While full load just reached 42c!!! Noise is not a problem with this baby!
I won't be able to share my "conclusion" on this baby since I haven't really fully utilized this combo in a span of two weeks. However, I'd like to share, beyond numbers and graphs, my personal experience.
The DFI 852GME and Pentium M is a very powerful combination. This combo will make a very good HTPC, gaming PC, or even a file server for it's PCI-X support and Gigabit LAN uplink. The motherboard is very stable, and the whole system is very quiet I can't hear it running every time I power it on. The chassis and PSU fan are noisier than the CPU and the system never get that hot. The motherboard offers good features and ample connectivity, has integrated graphics which is useful even for light gaming, and ample storage options.
Overclocking the motherboard was fun as well. As you can see from the benchmarks, I have been able to reach 202FSB. Thru testing and burn-in, I found that this is the motherboard's highest stable FSB. While I can take screenshot at 208FSB, it's not that stable to even do anything than run CPU-Z and take screenshots. I believe that with just a minor chipset tweak, this mobo can do beyond 202FSB. Would have been nice to voltmod the chipset too :).
The CPU's highest stable frequency is 2.304Ghz, on a stock multiplier of 12 and 192FSB. It's 704Mhz above stock or 44% overclock without even tweaking any voltage settings. I have been tempted to voltmod the CPU to push it even higher, but I figure that the motherboard's 202FSB ceiling (even with lowest clock multiplier of 6) will be the limiting factor, and I can only reach 2.4Ghz, besides, this combo isn't mine so I'd rather not fiddle it to the point of breaking it :).
However, even with lots of pros, I still encountered some problem with the board.
First, the motherboard didn't detect the CPU's FSB settings automatically. It still use 100FSB and thus, produce really slow and sluggish performance. I have to set the settings manually on the BIOS.
Second, some RAM dividers are flaky. I can sometimes make it work, use the PC and then after shutting down and rebooting, it'll hang. It turned out that it's picky on RAM timing and type of RAM. I tried async options, trying to push beyond DDR400 for the RAM, but everytime, I am stalled at around 150FSB 3:4 (DDR400 for the RAM).
Third, it has a lot of shortcoming for serious overclocking options. The lack of vCore options above the CPU's stock vCore, lack of vDimm options, lack of Northbridge voltage settings severely limit this motherboard to low-voltage system or to those parts that can overclock well on their stock voltage settings. Fourth, this motherboard hates CL2.5. For some reason, I can't tweak it to boot at CL2.5, not that CL2 isn't better than CL2.5, but for better compatibility with DDR that aren't rated CL2.
I also used it as a gaming rig for about three(3) to four(4) days, and I found out that this combo has that smooth gaming experience. Choppy gameplay on Doom3 did occur when there are a lot of actions and "physics calculation" is tracking all those explosions, particle movement, etc. It doesn't appear too often though, and it can be very well attributed to my 512Mb RAM.
Audio quality, subjectively speaking from my point of view, is enjoyable. I played MP3, Audio CD, and Windows Media Audio and I have no complaints. I never experienced stalling when watching video on this combo using VCD, WMV, DVD and
DivX enconding, even when using the integrated graphics.
I'd like to share my thanks to the people who made this review possible:
* Cooltoyz, who provided the Pentium M 730/1.6Ghz/533Mhz/2Mb CPU and DFI
* Jampax, who lend me his eVGA FX5950Ultra AGP Video Card
Without these guys, my last two weeks would have been revolving around watching episodes of Lost on my laptop =). Without them, I would have not made the following (Pentium M firstname.lastname@example.orgGhz@804FSB) achievements:
* World Record Highest FSB on an unmodded motherboard of same chipset and CPU, running on air
for hitting 202FSB full stable (all these benchmarks), 205 SPi 1M stable (http://valid.x86-secret.com/show_oc.php?id=11917)
and 208FSB screenshot stable (http://valid.x86-secret.com/show_oc.php?id=11909).
* Reach Top 5, ranked #4 at PCMark2004 at Pentium M category:
* Reach Top 15, ranked #11 at 3DMark2001 at CPU clocked between 2.000Ghz to
2.400Ghz and same video card:
* Reach Top 5, ranked #1 at 3DMark2003 at CPU clocked between 2.000Ghz to
2.400Ghz, same video card and WHQL driver (too bad, I forgot to use a FutureMark
* Reach Top 5, ranked #1 at 3DMark2005 at CPU clocked between 2.000Ghz to
2.400Ghz, same video card and FutureMark approved and WHQL drivers:
* Reach Top 10, ranked #6 at Aquamark03 at CPU clocked between 2.000Ghz to
2.400Ghz, same video card (has the highest CPU score on the Top 10):
Enjoy some of my vain attempt to bring you good quality pictures :)
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