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Abit's BD7-RAID: 845 chipset revisited

Intel's 845 chipset revisited
— 12:00 AM on January 3, 2002

Manufacturer Abit
Model BD7-RAID
Price US$162
Availability Now

WE RECENTLY REVIEWED the various chipsets available for Pentium 4 motherboards, and we came to the conclusion that Intel's 845 chipset with DDR memory didn't quite keep up with the competition. The Intel D845GB motherboard we used for testing was quite a bit slower than boards based on VIA's P4X266A chipset and SiS's 645. Abit's impressive new 845-based mobo, however, offers us a different look at Intel's latest chipset, and it might just change some minds. The BD7-RAID is also an impressive motherboard in its own right. Read on to see why that is.

The board
Abit has packed the BD7-RAID with most of the goodies we've come to expect from enthusiasts' mobos. First and foremost, of course, is its support for DDR SDRAM for the Pentium 4. That dynamic duo gets a little help from Highpoint's new ATA/133 RAID controller. In the BD7, the Highpoint chip can support RAID levels 0, 1, and the sweet spot, 0+1. Throw in six PCI slots and on-board sound, and you've got a deluxe-style mobo. Here are the full specs:

CPU support Socket 478-based Pentium 4 processors
Form factor ATX
Chipset Intel 845 (82845 MCH, 82801BA ICH2)
Interconnect Intel Hub Architecture (266MB/s)
PCI slots 6 (1 shared)
AGP slots 1, 2X/4X AGP w/sidebanding and fast writes
AMR/CNR slots 1 CNR (shared)
Memory 2 184-pin DIMM sockets for up to 2GB of PC1600/PC2100 DDR SDRAM
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/100
2 channels ATA/133 — RAID 0, 1, and 0+1 capable
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse,
2 serial, 1 parallel, 3 USB,
1 additional USB port via expansion header,
1 line out, 1 line in, 1 mic in for AC'97 audio,
1 game port via expansion header (connector included)
BIOS Award PnP with SoftMenu III
Bus speeds 100MHz-250MHz in 1MHz increments
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

Naturally, the BD7-RAID packs Abit's SoftMenu III, a BIOS-based set of overclocking options that offers fine-grain programmable front-side bus (FSB) speeds, voltages, and more. The most surprising of these options is the FSB to PCI ratio settings. You can specify a 3:1 or 4:1 FSB-PCI ratio, or you can simply nail down the PCI clock to one of several speeds (33, 37.5, or 44MHz), independent of the FSB speed. (Damage searches through manual to confirm that this is for real.) Yep, it's for real: no matter what the FSB speed, the PCI bus speed will stay locked where you set it.

If that isn't enough to set your tweaker's heart aflutter, you might be moved by Abit's inclusion of power and reset switches right on the motherboard. I was able to do some of my testing on the bench by simply plugging the BD7-RAID into a loose power supply and hitting the power button on the mobo. Not only that, but the BD7 series also includes a two-digit diagnostic LED readout. At one point while I was building the test rig, the system wouldn't boot. I was able to look up the hex code displayed on the LEDs and determine that—hey, stupid!—the DIMM wasn't seated well. Both the power/reset buttons and the diagnostic LEDs are startlingly useful, especially when you're fiddling with a board and asking it to do unnatural things with its bus speed or the like.

The diagnostic LED readout and power/reset switches on the BD7 are surprisingly useful

The BD7's port cluster includes a unique triple-barrel USB connector

All in all, the BD7-RAID is one heckuva package. Its few feature shortcomings—no on-board Ethernet port, questionable on-board audio—are easily forgiven thanks to its healthy complement of six PCI slots. And heck, there's a version of the board, called the BD7L-RAID, that includes an Ethernet port.

I do have one complaint, however. The board comes with only two DIMM slots, which is weak sauce in these days of crazy-low DRAM prices. The BD7-RAID will support up to 2GB of RAM, which is the 845 chipset's limit, but you'll need two 1GB DIMMs in order to do it. Another slot would add more flexibility. I'd probably be filing adoption papers for the BD7-RAID if it included three DIMM slots, though, so maybe that's for the best.