Being one of the largest motherboard manufacturers in the world Gigabyte has a wealth of resources behind it and all the stops have been pulled out to produce the 8PENXP motherboard. If you thought the EPoX 4PDA2+ was well featured, then take a look at 8PENXP and you might change your mind.
The first indication that the 8PENXP is targeted at the high-end market is the AGP Pro slot that allows for workstation level graphics cards to be fitted. The second thing that you also might notice is the six memory slots, which is an unusual addition, although youâ€™re still limited to 4GB of memory.
Itâ€™s a bit odd when you consider all these high-end features, that Gigabyte has fitted the standard ICH5 without S-ATA Raid support. It does however still give you two native S-ATA ports and there is an additional Silicon Image S-ATA RAID controller on the board with support for two drives. There is also an ITE GigaRaid controller on the board that adds IDE RAID support. This means that there is support for a total of 12 drives as with the EPoX 4PDA2+.
There is of course Firewire, although Gigabyte has only supplied two ports on a bracket, even though the board supports three ports. This might come in handy if your case supports front mounted Firewire bay, but otherwise you end up loosing one port. An Intel CSA enabled Gigabit Ethernet controller has also been fitted to add high-performance networking.
Sound comes courtesy of a Realtek ALC655 audio codec that supports 5.1-channel sound and comes with a rear bracket for the extra channels as well as optical and electrical S/PDIF outputs. As with all high-end Gigabyte boards this one comes with DualBios which features two physical BIOS chips on the motherboard. This can be very useful in case of a bad BIOS upgrade or if you get a virus that damages the BIOS, as the secondary BIOS will take over and allow you to re-flash the primary one.
The features donâ€™t stop there however as Gigabyte has included a couple of innovative features of its own in the box. The first one is the DPS2 (Dual Power System 2) which is pretty much a power regulator on a card. The advantage of this is twofold, the first being that it should allow for cleaner power and the second being that if the power regulation on the motherboard should fail you have a backup unit that can take over. In reality weâ€™re a bit sceptical about the forer, as it is very hard to prove that this is the case.
The second feature is a rear bracket with throughput for S-ATA. This might sound a bit odd, but there are actually external S-ATA drive cases. As S-ATA is much faster than USB 2.0 or Firewire, this might be an alternative for those that need fast external storage drives. The bracket supports two external S-ATA devices and even features a standard Molex connector for power.
Other bits in the box consist of a two port USB 2.0 bracket, although this leaves another set of internal connectors unused. There is also a set of three IDE cables and five S-ATA cables as well as one S-ATA power adapter, which is a bit on the stingy side when the amount of drive cables.
The documentation is, as expected first rate and Gigabyte has supplied a quick setup sheet as well as a comprehensive manual with all the technical info and BIOS settings. Again, this might be a bit too technical for some, but the quick setup sheet does make it a lot easier. A copy of Norton Internet Security 2003 is also supplied that consists of Norton Antivirus, Personal Firewall, Privacy control, Spam alert and Parental control.
Sadly the performance isnâ€™t as great as the specification, but nonetheless the 8PENXP sits in the middle of the field. We would have expected more from a motherboard which is clearly targeted towards the high-end performance market.
Given the price point of Â£150 this is one of the more expensive boards on test and even though you get a box full of accessories the performance might be an issue for some potential buyers. The 8PENXP is a solid motherboard with a lot of things going for it, but the price is quite high and the performance isnâ€™t first rate.
If youâ€™re a power user and will take advantage of the features on offer then the 8PENXP is a good buy, but take a second look at the EPoX 4PDA2+ which is more than Â£50 cheaper and offers similar features.
If cost wasnâ€™t an issue, we wouldnâ€™t hesitate giving Gigabyte an award, but at Â£150 itâ€™s way too expensive. It does however have some novel features, but performance wasnâ€™t as good as we expected and there are several boards with similar features and lower price on offer.