- Review Price: £105.00
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.
In the box you’ll find an IDE cable, a floppy cable, an S-ATA cable, a two port FireWire bracket and a TV-out bracket with support for composite and S-Video output. This is a pretty basic set of accessories but it’s pretty much everything you need to get started.
The supplied manual is of an acceptable standard, but it is far from the best I have seen. That said, any competent PC builder will have no problem gleaning all the necessary information from it.
In terms of performance the onboard graphics chip copes well with older 3D applications, but anything past DirectX 8 games will really struggle. Although I didn’t run any real world benchmarks on the board, due to its lacking performance in 3DMark03, you can still tell from the 3DMark 2001 scores that it’s not a scorcher. A Radeon 9200 AGP card performed better across the board, but as with any add-in graphics card, this adds cost to the overall system price.
On the other hand in terms of Windows application performance there is little to fault the new IGP9100 chipset, but if you compare it to any of the Pentium 4 motherboards we tested a while back you’ll notice that it still struggles to keep up with the competition. However, the Sysmark 2002 scores are more than acceptable and I would expect the performance to increase with new BIOS releases as well as new drivers. The PCMark 2002 result doesn’t improve things, with the scores proving to be satisfactory but not great.
What you have to think about is what you will be using a product such as this for. And it’s worth remembering that the integrated graphics solution is still far superior to products from Intel, VIA and SiS in terms of quality and performance, it’s just a shame that the rest of the motherboard isn’t up to scratch.
Trying to sum things up with regards to the IGP9100 chipset and the Sapphire Axion RS300-AA38FL is not easy as some of the features aren’t there yet and the performance is below the level I expected. Sapphire may not have a long history in motherboard manufacture, but it has been making quality graphics boards for a very long time. It’s therefore probably safe to assume that driver and BIOS support will be well catered for.
If you’re after a low budget motherboard for a Celeron based PC that will not be used for playing any recent games, then the RS300-AA38FL is a reasonable choice. The asking price of £104.58 is not horrendous, but there are far cheaper motherboards around and you can get a quality motherboard along with a Radeon 9200 based graphics card for about £10-15 more.
The Axion RS300-AA38FL is a difficult product to evaluate. The integrated graphics are a cut about the competition, but the rest of the board doesn’t quite compare. Improved drivers and BIOS support will no doubt help, but more mainstream P4 boards will still have the edge. Ultimately though, if you’re dead set on an integrated graphics the RS300-AA38FL is worth considering.
Score in detail
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