Gigabyte GA-7IX Review
Introduction
1999 was a banner year for Gigabyte. Their forward thinking component design and manufacture of a plethora of graphics cards and mainboards introduced demanding consumers to quality the way it should be done; with an edge... One of the first to market supporting AMD's Athlon processor Gigabyte's GA-7IX is soundly built around AMD's reference design for the 750 chipset. And, while it lacks the innovation that is typically built into Gigabyte's mainboards, it does nevertheless offer stable reliable performance for the new Athlon's architecture.

Packaging
The GA-7IX ships with floppy and ATA/66 IDE ribbon cables, a rather stodgy but straightforward Installation Guide and a better than average drivers CD which includes Intel's LANdesk Client Manager (LDCM) for hardware monitoring, Trend PC-Cillin 98 (OEM) anti-virus software, a suspend to disk utility, DirectX 6.1. as well as the requisite AMD gart.vxd for AGP and AMD's Bus Master IDE drivers. 

Features
The GA-7IX offers the typical expansion one would expect to find on today's latest BX boards (1 x AGP, 5 x PCI and 2 x ISA). A departure here from AMD's reference design whose 1 x AGP, 4 x PCI and 3 x ISA design is somewhat out of date. The newest BIOS provides the ability to assign IRQs to each of the PCI Bus master slots, which can come in handy for solving those pesky hardware conflicts that occasionally arise, although IRQ routing was handled perfectly in our reference system. The system board's 3 x DIMM slots support from 16MB to 768MB of PC100 and also support ECC type (72-bit) DIMM modules. The GA-7IX provides a pair of dual-channel IDE port connectors both of which support ultra ATA/66 support so you can use the latest drives that support this interface. Their are a pair of USB ports available on the back-panel I/O plate but these can be switched to the front if your case supports this feature, through the use of an 8-pin connector located near the front-panel I/O connectors. The 7IX can handle Slot A Athlon processors from 500MHz through 1GHz with one caveat; we have already seen in early BIOS versions some instability in processors at the 700MHz level that Gigabyte has purportedly corrected through a BIOS revision. Onboard I/O is fairly standard - 2 serial and 1 parallel ports, PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors, a single FDD port that can support 2 devices and an IrDA connector for Fast IrDA. 
Hardware monitoring is handled by the Winbond 83782D hardware monitoring chip. The Athlon processor does not, so far, provide any sort of on-die hardware monitoring, so Gigabyte planted a thermistor directly in front of the CPU slot on the 7IX. This should give a fairly accurate measurement but you'll want to err on the side of caution if the CPU temperature climbs too high. Three 3-pin fan connectors are available, one on each side of the CPU slot as well as one at the front of the board for a case fan. There is also chassis intrusion sensor included at the front of the board.

Setup
Closely following the ATX specification all major component connectors are logically placed to reduce cable clutter and provide sufficient workspace and air flow. The IDE and floppy connector connectors are at the front of the board, right where you'd expect them to be. The ATX power connector is somewhat centrally located between the DIMM and CPU slots which could prevent the use of oversized heatsink/fan combos and the front panel connectors may prevent the use of full length cards in four of the PCI slots, but aside from these minor flaws the board is generally well laid out. The HDD connectors are color-coded to indicate primary and secondary channels and the back panel is color-coded to fit PC'99 specs.

There are no jumpers to configure as CPU voltages and bus speeds are are handled by the BIOS. Unfortunately when I say handled I mean handled as the user has almost no access to any setting within the BIOS to increase or stabilize the system's performance. First time upgraders will love the simplicity but, as most first time upgraders, may soon resent the lack of tweak- ability built into the 7IX.
This system board, as do all Slot A mainboards, requires a power supply of good quality as I found by first trying to install it in a cheesy generic case with an equally cheesy 235W power supply. Avoid doing this at all costs as the GPFs and hardware conflicts were endless.
Also of note, the 7IX seems particularly sensitive to inferior quality PC100 DIMMs so use branded first quality memory if at all possible.

Performance

Test Configuration for GA-7IX

Mainboard Gigabyte GA-7IX
Chipset AMD 750
L2 Cache 512KB on CPU
Processor AMD Athlon 500MHz
Memory 1x64MB PC100
Corsair CM 654S64-BX2
Hard Drive WD 29100 Expert
7200 RPM Ultra ATA/66
Graphics Adapter Matrox G400 SH OEM 32MB AGP
Operating System Windows 98

Solid, stable performance has been a hallmark for every Gigabyte board we've tested and the GA-7IX just proves it.  Extremely reliable once properly outfitted the system board ran Ziff-Davis Winstone 99 in demo mode for 22hrs without any evidence of error or conflict.  Setting up to challenge the Celeron and PIII processors on a similarly equipped Iwill VD133 mainboard, the GA-7IX was a hands down winner in both Winstone 99 scores and Q2 frame rates

Conclusion
Gigabyte's GA-7IX is a workhorse of a mainboard offering good stability and quality construction.  A bit on the pricey side, as are all Slot A mainboards, the board would be a great choice for the neophyte upgrader or system builder.  It's lack of access to overclocking settings will probably raise a ruckus with the overclocking community but if you're looking for a build it forget it system that has some teeth and upgradability, I don't see any reason to shy away from the GA-7IX.  In fact, I am so impressed with its solid performance that it has become the heart of my personal workstation.

To find out more about the GA-7IX check out Gigabyte's web site at http://www.giga-byte.com 

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