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It has been a long wait since ATI announced its IGP9100 chipset for the Pentium 4 processor, but finally retail products have arrived, but not from the big boys and instead from a graphics card manufacturer. Sapphire is one of the biggest ATi graphics card partners and the Axion RS300-AA38FL is not its first motherboard. Sapphire had a fling with earlier ATi chipsets for the AMD Socket-A platform, but that chipset never really amounted to much.
The IGP9100 is a completely different kettle of fish as its integrated graphics core is based on a Radeon 9200. This will give you a more than reasonable performance level for an integrated graphics solution, especially if you’re not a heavy gamer. The integrated graphics chipset also features built in support for TV-out.
One feature that will be added to the IGP9100 through a BIOS update is an option to use the integrated graphics together with an AGP graphics card, essentially allowing you to use three displays with the same PC. You would have to add a Radeon based AGP card for this to work however as it will not work without having ATi’s Catalyst drivers installed. The somewhat cheesy marketing name for this feature is TriView, but to be honest I think very few people will take advantage of it. That said, it is something for nothing, which is never a bad thing.
Being a modern chipset, the IGP9100 features dual channel DDR memory support which has become the norm on Pentium 4 motherboards. There is support for PC2100, PC2700 and PC3200 memory (266, 333, 400MHz) and the IGP9100 supports 400, 533 and 800MHz bus speeds. Depending on the board design the IGP9100 will also support the upcoming Prescott core Pentium 4 processors.
The Sapphire Axion RS300-AA38FL board features the IXP150 southbridge, which is the most basic offering from ATi that lacks any integrated features apart from USB 2.0 and 5.1-channel audio. ATi does however provide additional southbridges with integrated LAN, but this is a manufacturing option. As this is a full ATX size motherboard Sapphire has fitted four memory slots allowing up to a total of 4GB of memory to be installed.
Add-on chipsets consist of a Silicon Image S-ATA RAID controller with support for two S-ATA hard drives. There is also a 10/100Mbit Ethernet controller from Realtek and a VIA FireWire controller. The AC97 Audio codec chip is also from Realtek and supports 5.1-channel audio, but Sapphire has sadly not added support for S/PDIF output, even though there are connectors on the board to cater for this function.
The I/O panel consists of two PS/2 connectors, four USB 2.0 ports, a single serial and parallel port, a D-SUB connector for the integrated graphics, an Ethernet port and three audio connectors that can be adjusted in the drivers to support 5.1-channel output.
The combination of colours used on the Axion RS300-AA38FL is a bit of a mixed bag. I do like the dark PCB, but purple, neon green and peach don’t do it for me in terms of the slots and CPU cooler retention bracket. A more colour coordinated board would have looked a lot better, especially if you have a case with a window. One other thing I would like to mention is the size of the mounting holes, as these are quite small compared to other motherboards. This could make installation difficult in cases that don’t use screws all around.