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Abit's BG7E motherboard

Gimme graphics

Price (street)US$113

FOR AN ENTHUSIAST'S primary desktop system, integrated motherboard graphics just don't get the job done. Games are too slow, multimonitor options are too limited or nonexistent, and video signal quality at high resolutions like 1600x1200 usually isn't there. Of course, not everyone is a serious gamer, not everyone has two monitors sitting on their desktop, and many don't have even a single screen capable of displaying a flicker-free 1600x1200 desktop. For many home and business PCs, the latest integrated graphics options offer more than enough pixel-pushing power for everyday tasks.

Enter Abit's BG7E, a Socket 478 motherboard based on Intel's latest integrated graphics chipset, the 845GE. The BG7E isn't a peripheral-packed, high-end board like Abit's IT7 MAX2 Version 2.0, but with integrated video, audio, and networking, one could put together a complete system without discrete PCI or AGP cards.

Can the BG7E's integrated graphics and overall performance and features fulfill the needs of home and business users? Can it keep up with high-end, enthusiast-oriented motherboards when used with a real graphics card? Read on to find out.

The specs
Before we get into the details, let's take a quick look at the BG7E's spec sheet.

CPU supportSocket 478-based Intel Pentium 4 processors
Form factorATX
ChipsetIntel 845GE
North bridgeIntel 82845GE
South bridgeIntel 82801DB
InterconnectIntel Hub Architecture  (266MB/s)
PCI slots5 32-bit/33MHz
AGP slots1, 2X/4X AGP (1.5V only)
AMR/CNR slotsnone
Memory3 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 2GB of DDR333/266/200 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
2 channels ATA/100
Serial ATANone
Legacy ports1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse, Serial and Parallel ports
USB2 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
4 additional USB 2.0/1.1 ports via PCI expansion header
Audio6-channel audio via ICH4 and Realtek ALC650 codec
analog front, rear and center channel outputs, analog line and mic inputs, digital S/PDIF output
VideoIntegrated Intel Extreme Graphics, 1 VGA port
EthernetRealtek RTL8100B 10/100 Ethernet
BIOSAbit SoftMenu
Bus speeds100-250MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus dividers1/3, 1/4 PCI dividers
(can lock down PCI bus to 33, 40, or 44MHz)
VoltagesCPU:  core+5%, 10%, 15%
DRAM:  2.5-2.8V in 0.1V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

The BG7E includes the 845GE's Extreme Graphics engine, but it's missing integrated Serial ATA, Firewire, and IDE RAID. For a board like the BG7E, Serial ATA support is asking a little much, especially considering that only a handful of retailers have a limited number of Segate's Serial ATA drives available for sale at the moment. However, the addition of IDE RAID could make the BG7E more attractive for low-end servers, and Firewire support might entice mainstream consumers looking for a home PC.