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Albatron PX845GE-PRO II - getting acquainted
Albatron's computer component section still hasn't reached it's first birthday, and yet they have accomplished so much. Featuring a number of ex-Gigabyte staff they have managed to build a number of bridges and managed to get their name known to the masses. Whenever we have the pleasure to speak to them over the phone or email we get a sense of determination and a willingness to work hard and produce goods that not only sound or look good but perform well too. These core values seem to be paying off. With the two VGA cards we've reviewed from Albatron, their performance has been good coupled to high levels of build quality. This time around we look at one of their latest motherboards, the PX845GE-PRO II.

Out of the three chipsets Intel launched last year that supported Hyper-Threading, the 845PE has been taking much of the limelight. It is easy to forget that the 845GE and 845GV actually exist with the media spotlight focused on the 845PE, but they do and they too have their rightful place in the market. Last year Hyper-Threading technology was met with a luke-warm response from most people, but there is no doubt that over the course of 2002 Intel took good advantage of AMD's seemingly flat-footed processor line-up.

Intel admit that they haven't been able to educate users as much as they would have liked about the advantages of Hyper-Threading technology and say that they will aim to bring greater awareness of this technology throughout this year. What was important for Intel when launching Hyper-Threaded processors is good supporting hardware, chiefly in the form of motherboards and chipsets. Intel are well known for producing reliable (if a little boring) chipsets and with the 845PE/GE/GV range they managed to get a good balance between performance and their well known reliability.

When looking at the differences between the 845PE and 845GE chipset there are actually very little difference between the two units other than the integrated graphics capability in the 845GE chipset. Integrated graphics has long been a word most people disliked with a passion, and rightly so. Many of us still have images carved into our minds of how poorly integrated graphics chipsets performed and how they would cause problems should you try and replace it with an add-in board. Integrated graphics is still very much the norm in business orientated machines where their reduced maintenance is a favourite for administrators.

Integrated graphics are mainly led by two names, ATi and Intel. NVIDIA has also produced a very capable part present in their nForce 2 motherboard, however the fact that it requires the use of AMD processors will shy big businesses away from what they feel is something new and untested. Sadly big businesses like the comfort of dealing with companies that have a, so called "proven track record" of reliability and brand image; disregarding the current status quo.


So here we have the PX845GE-PROII, one of three motherboards from Albatron that feature Intel's 845GE chipset. The PRO II has the highest specification and comes with various on board goodies, which we will look at later. Incidentally Albatron produce three models based on Intel's 845PE chipset too. This can lead to confusing times for the average Joe who has a number of models for what looks like the same product. Taking Albatron's 845GE range for example, you have the PX845GE, PX845GE-PRO and PX845GE-PRO II. The differences between the 845GE and PRO is fairly large, with the inclusion of Serial ATA and IDE RAID in the latter model. The 845GE-PRO II adds dual BIOS, on board Ethernet and Voice Genie.

With many manufacturers producing "lite" versions of their motherboards, it's good news for people who don't need such items like IDE RAID or Serial ATA, but the production of three models can be seen as a little over the top.

In this review we are looking at the top-of-the-range, 845GE-PRO II. It comes in a well presented box which has a list of the main features you will find with the motherboard listed on the back. Due to it's reflective surface it made photography a little difficult (alas we too need some photography lessons).

  

Opening it up we were presented with the following spread of goodies.


There is an optional SP-DIF connector which can be supplied, although this wasn't included in our package. The separate manual for the Promise hard disk drive controller discusses various aspects of it's operation and along with the motherboard manual provides ample documentation for most people's requirements. The manual is very well written, providing simple English explanations for installation through to problem solving. An insert gives you more information and tips on how to use the 845GE-PRO II for overclocking. We were surprised at the depth and quality of writing in this insert, giving users lots of information about overclocking but not blinding them.

The DIY installation guide is also a welcome guest in this package and provides information in a number of languages on general installation. There are some surprising omissions too. The lack of additional USB ports is one such example. On the whole however, a good spread of documentation and cables.


With so much on-board functionality usually we see board layout suffering, and whilst this isn't completely the case here there are points where things could have been done better. If you are in the habit of upgrading your hardware or generally spending a lot of time tweaking/tinkering with your hardware then motherboard layout is important to you. If, on the other hand you don't really look at your motherboard except when fitting it for the first time then layout isn't so important. Good layout can help airflow due to having connectors on which cables are placed away from certain components, like the CPU or RAM.

  

Taking a closer look at the top of the board we see the ATX power connector placed beside the IDE connectors, but sadly the 12V power connector is placed a centimetre below the heatsink bracket for the CPU. This means that the cable for that connector will almost certainly be taut right above your heatsink, and if you have a large heatsink this could cause problems should the 12V connector cable be short.

Other issues include the first two DIMM slots being very close to each other. This will almost certainly cause problems with certain types of RAM that have heatsinks or heat spreaders on them. Certainly the Coolermaster copper RAMsinks we looked at last week would be unable to fit on this motherboard. Even though the RAM slots are close to the AGP slot, we had no problems installing a Geforce 4 Titanium card. The bank of smoothing capacitors to the left of the CPU heatsink bracket are the only major bank of capacitors on this motherboard and it might cause problems should you intend to install a large heatsinks that protrudes out of the heatsink bracket.

  

At the bottom right we see most of the action. This is where the ICH 4 controller Hub, dual BIOS, Promise ATA controller, Voice Genie and a bank of 4 DIP switches are all located. Unsurprisingly it's a squash and the second serial ATA connector had to be positioned "around" the Ultra ATA RAID connector. We'll talk in more detail about the dual BIOS later, but this again takes up more space and with the small bank of DIP switches (which are used to set the language of the Voice Genie) present it's all up close 'n personal at the bottom.

On the left we have the Realtek audio controller which provides 5.1 surround sound support. At the top of the picture you can see an unusual AGP card retention system, which works well with larger cards that cover the now common latch. Since first seeing this on the 845GE-PRO II we have seen it in Asus' P4PE Black Pearl.

On the whole the layout isn't perfect but it isn't bad either. As we see more onboard features layout will suffer and the only gripe we had was the location of the 12V connector which meant that cables would be almost certainly taken directly over the CPU heatsink. Other than that we were satisfied and the inclusion of a passive cooling solution rather than an active one is good news for people who like to reduce the number of fans present in their computer.
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