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ASRock P45XE

Roundup: Six Core 2 Motherboards Under $100
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For around $95, ASRock’s P45XE is the only sub-$100 motherboard we could find with "proper" support for AMD CrossFire technology. The critical difference is that while cheaper "quasi-CrossFire" motherboards endow the second slot with x4 pathways using bandwidth-restricted PCI Express (PCIe) 1.1 technology, the P45XE is able to provide either x16 mode to a single card or x8 mode to dual cards, using bandwidth-doubling PCIe 2.0 technology. The performance difference is huge, while the competition’s use of v1.1 x4 slots has dire consequences. From the CrossFire perspective, ASRock has already taken a clear leadership position before our testing even begins.

But ASRock’s CrossFire advantage doesn’t stop at the P45XE’s ability to "do it right," as the motherboard is also capable of "doing it easily." While several higher-cost products require manual selection for single or dual graphics cards via paddle cards or jumper blocks, the P45XE provides the convenience of electronic mode-switching.

Intelligent layout decisions include proper support for up to seven expansion cards, as even the uppermost PCIe x1 slot has enough clearance for cards up to 6.625" long. Competitors typically limit their products to six slots, or restrict the top slot to super-short cards with an over-sized northbridge sink.

The P45XE even locates its front-panel audio header half-way up its rear edge for easier cable routing to top-panel jacks, and that leaves us with very few things to complain about. It would be a disservice for us not to point out the few inconveniences or otherwise deceptive features. First of all, Windows XP users who would like to add AHCI drivers during installation might be a little disappointed to find the floppy header located below the lowest PCI slot. Second, while the eight-pin ATX12V/EPS12V-compliant power connector might be sensibly located from a circuit-designer’s point of view, wrapping its cable around the CPU cooler is something most builders prefer not to be forced to do. Finally, the P45XE is only slightly narrower than a full-ATX design, and since it doesn’t quite extend to a third column of standoffs, the unsupported end will flex significantly when memory is installed.

We did, of course, use the word deceptive, and that comes from the ASRock-standard of providing eSATA ports by using pass-through connectors. To enable these, builders are expected to run two cables from the orange SATA connectors at the bottom edge of the P45XE to the top rear corner. Not only does this prevent systems with windowed cases from appearing as professionally-assembled, but it also requires running those cables over or around every expansion card. Furthermore, this design reduces signal strength by putting two extra connections on every pathway.

But using the Intel ICH10 southbridge for eSATA gave ASRock an idea that has escaped most or all of its competitors: the P45XE supports the Safely Remove Hardware option for all AHCI drives. This includes internal drives, which means users of hot-swap SATA hard drives can plug and unplug drives at will without going through the hassle of disabling drive cache and using Remove Hardware from the device manager. This is the first Intel chipset motherboard that this author has seen that supports the Safely Remove Hardware icon, which until now had been limited to Nvidia chipsets. Furthermore, the feature is enabled through BIOS and doesn’t even require a special driver. Bravo!

ASRock P45XE (Revision 1.07)

Northbridge

Intel P45 Express

Southbridge

Intel ICH10

Voltage Regulator

Four Phases

BIOS

1.40 (11/10/2008)

333.3MHz (FSB1333)

333.5 MHz (+0.13%)

Clock Generator

ICS 9LPRS918JKLF

Connectors and Interfaces

Onboard

2x PCIe 2.0 x16 (Modes: One x16 or Two x8)

3x PCIe x1

2x PCI

2x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)

1x USB 2.0 / WiFi Card Header (2-ports)

1x SerialPort header

1x Floppy

1x Ultra ATA (2 drives)

6x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s

2x SATA to eSATA Pass-Through Connectors

1x Front Panel Audio

1x CD-Audio In

1x S/P-DIF Out

1x Fan 4 pins (CPU)

1x Fan 3 pins (Chassis)

IO panel

2x PS2 (keyboard + mouse)

2x Digital Audio Out (S/P-DIF optical + coaxial)

2x External SATA Pass-Through Connectors

1x RJ-45 Network

6x USB 2.0

6x Analog Audio (7.1 Channel + Mic-In + Line-In)

Mass Storage Controllers

Intel ICH10

6x SATA 3.0Gb/s

VIA VT6415 PCI-E

1x Ultra ATA-133 (2-drives)

Network

Realtek RTL8111C PCI-E

Gigabit LAN Controller

Audio

Realtek ALC888 HDA

7.1 + 2 channel Multi-Streaming Output


Rear-panel port selection will trick many buyers into thinking the P45XE is a more expensive product, but while the previously-mentioned built-in SATA to eSATA adapter is almost deceptive, the dual-format digital audio outputs function without requiring installation tricks.

A good reason for thinking of the P45XE as a lower-cost mainstream-performance board would be its legitimate CrossFire support, but other things, such as a USB header between slots three and four that supports a WiFi card hint at an actual performance-mainstream variation.

With a rated signal-to-noise ratio of 97:1 decibels, Relatek’s ALC888 codec is more than sufficient as a low-cost onboard audio solution.

A Realtek RTL8111C Gigabit Network controller requires little system overhead, while its PCIe interface provides more than twice the needed bandwidth.

Who needs Ultra ATA any more? With SATA optical drives priced well below $20, few new systems will require the VIA VT6415 controller. ASRock likely retains it for the upgrade market.

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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    Anonymous , December 24, 2008 12:11 PM
    I run the I.T. department for a couple small businesses, and the sub $100 motherboard is almost essential in today's economy. Sure I could use a $120-$150 motherboard, DDR3, 10000 RPM hard drive, and all kinds of other things, but I would end up with a system that is only marginal faster in business applications for 3+ times the price. Take one of the G3x or G4x motherboards, 2GB DDR2, Intel E7x00 CPU and 80GB+ HDD and you have a system that will meet the needs of a good majority of businesses and home users. I am personally a gamer and can see the value in the higher end components; but there are a lot of other market segments out there where this makes financial sense.
Other Comments
  • -5 Hide
    V3NOM , December 24, 2008 9:10 AM
    interesting, although pretty much anyone building a P775 system these days would spend a bit more than $100... and somethings really weird with this commenting thing cos i can't read what i'm typing... it just ... doesnt fill the box? just when i type something it instantly goes to the left instead of filling the box... but anyway, interesting if a bit useless article.
  • 5 Hide
    cangelini , December 24, 2008 9:42 AM
    FWIW, the issue with text disappearing from the commenting box as you're typing is something I've reported and m waiting for a fix still. Thanks for confirming that it's still an issue.
  • -9 Hide
    rjcorrin , December 24, 2008 11:16 AM
    Yes - everyone has money shooting out of their pantless ass to buy more expensive motherboards. I use a gigabyte Ep35 DS3L and am very happy with it. What is a >$100 board going to give me? Is it just that you want to waste money? I'm guessing you are one of those people who carry a balance on your credit card and lease a Lexus - you debt-carrying phag.
  • 5 Hide
    jsc , December 24, 2008 11:38 AM
    "What is a >$100 board going to give me?

    I have a DS3P becuae i need the exrta SATA ports.
  • 13 Hide
    Anonymous , December 24, 2008 12:11 PM
    I run the I.T. department for a couple small businesses, and the sub $100 motherboard is almost essential in today's economy. Sure I could use a $120-$150 motherboard, DDR3, 10000 RPM hard drive, and all kinds of other things, but I would end up with a system that is only marginal faster in business applications for 3+ times the price. Take one of the G3x or G4x motherboards, 2GB DDR2, Intel E7x00 CPU and 80GB+ HDD and you have a system that will meet the needs of a good majority of businesses and home users. I am personally a gamer and can see the value in the higher end components; but there are a lot of other market segments out there where this makes financial sense.
  • 4 Hide
    gaiden2k7 , December 24, 2008 1:06 PM
    I got a Gigabyte UD3P for $99 during black friday... would that top this list? :) 
  • -8 Hide
    Noya , December 24, 2008 1:27 PM
    I got a Gigabyte UD3P for $84.50 during Black Friday, pwned you ninja gaiden fag.
  • -8 Hide
    malveaux , December 24, 2008 1:28 PM
    Wait, no AMD stuff?

    :( 
  • 6 Hide
    gwolfman , December 24, 2008 1:46 PM
    lol @ rjcorrin's 1st comment.

    In reply: Maybe he already had HDDs laying around of smaller size and thought it best to save money by spending a few more dollars on more SATA ports than hundreds on new 3 x 1TB HDDs. You're reasoning is asinine and self contradicting.
  • 2 Hide
    Tindytim , December 24, 2008 1:47 PM
    rjcorrinDid you happen to notice that the comment box detects your errors and underlines them in red?

    Did you happen to notice you're using Firefox? It, not this comment box, does that.

    rjcorrin"I have a DS3P becuae i need the exrta SATA ports."The DS3L has 4 Sata ports which could easily handle 3 terabytes and a DVD drive. You could have saved money by editing down your porn collection and deleting your stolen .iso's of the entire "Friday the 13th" collection.

    And what about Raid? And all the PC's I've had in this Millennium have had 2 Removable Disk drives.

    Not to mention I have multiple OSes installed, and an extra drive I use for storage (I reformat often). So I have plenty of drives.
  • 1 Hide
    gwolfman , December 24, 2008 2:11 PM
    Ummm, maybe I missed it but I didn't see anywhere that said what video/graphics card was used in these test. Anyone!?! I'm curious because of the power consumption numbers. Thanks.
  • 3 Hide
    cambion , December 24, 2008 2:14 PM
    Attention to detail alert... The MSI Neo3-f has eight SATA ports not, as the article claims, six.
  • -1 Hide
    rjcorrin , December 24, 2008 2:20 PM
    cambionAttention to detail alert... The MSI Neo3-f has eight SATA ports not, as the article claims, six.


    This is the exact number of ports on the DS3P. So, again, what does a >$100 board going to give me?
  • -3 Hide
    tmc , December 24, 2008 2:24 PM
    Though this does give you an what our Taiwan & Chinese friends have in the goodie bin at the local computer store.. you will still want to wait to bu
  • 1 Hide
    tmc , December 24, 2008 2:26 PM
    tmcThough this does give you an what our Taiwan & Chinese friends have in the goodie bin at the local computer store.. you will still want to wait to bu

    Ugh, got cut off..
    Wait to build your system until Q1, Q2 processor price cuts of 2009.. especially if you have your heart set on $ inTEL $ 775 vs amd.
  • -9 Hide
    rjcorrin , December 24, 2008 2:29 PM
    TindytimDid you happen to notice you're using Firefox? It, not this comment box, does that.And what about Raid? And all the PC's I've had in this Millennium have had 2 Removable Disk drives.Not to mention I have multiple OSes installed, and an extra drive I use for storage (I reformat often). So I have plenty of drives.


    /Sarcasm
    Maybe I should load up a few more OSes, Opera, IE (6 & 7) and Chrome to fully analyze the capabilities of this text box. I should probably hook up a raid array (mode 0+1 anyone?) to maximize my system performance and maintain the integrity of my porn collection prior to starting my full analysis of this text box.
    /sarcasm
    Do you get any real work done on that computer of yours? Seems like you're spending all your time loading operating systems, plugging in drives, reformatting, and flipping between your extensive collection of linux derivatives. Get a life dude!! You are a hacker-poser!

    And...
    Merry Christmas to EVERYONE!! (even the Jews)
  • 6 Hide
    orangedrink , December 24, 2008 2:29 PM
    Merry Christmas
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