Gigabyte GA-5AX Review

Boy, did they get it right this time...

Introduction
When the fine folks at IDT sent the review kit for their WinChip 2, they packaged it along with a whitebox Gigabyte GA-5AX. This fourth incarnation of the ALI Aladdin V chipset based system board has undergone an almost amazing transformation, growing from an unremarkable but serviceable, high quality mainboard, into a tweakers dream board. Let's take a look...

Packaging
As I stated this is a whitebox OEM version of the system board and so, there isn't a lot that came along with it. IDE and floppy cables, a floppy drivers disk containing relatively outdated versions of ALI's AGP and IDE Bus Master drivers all fairly standard until you pick up one of the finest most detailed manuals available. Thoroughly illustrated, the manual walks you carefully step by step through a setup procedure that without such excellent documentation might have been somewhat daunting.

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Features
Gigabyte wisely re-fashioned their super super7 system board into an ultra modern, ultra flexible system foundation. Dumping off one of the three soon to be outdated ISA slots and adding a fifth PCI slot was just the beginning. Offering a considerably wider selection of CPU core voltages the GA-5AX now supports settings from 1.3 to 3.5v in 0.1 increments. While the early version offered only 60/66/75/83 and 100MHz external CPU frequencies, the rev.4 board now allows for the setting of 66/75/83/95/100/105/110/115/120/125/130/135 and 140MHz and although with our present technology the chances of getting a system to operate at an external CPU freq. of anything higher than 120MHz are doubtful, it is nonetheless nice to know that the capability is there. Clock multipliers remain at there previous 1.5 -5.5, which is a range that continues to offer upgrade possibilities. Three DIMM slots offer support for up to 768MB of EDO, PC100 or standard SDRAM and the pipeline burst 512KB L2 cache allows for up to 256MB of cacheable memory area. The GA-5AX also supports ECC type (72bits) DIMM modules. There are a full compliment of back panel I/O connectors which include -2 x COM, 1 x LPT, PS/2 Keyboard, PS/2 Mouse and 2 x USB ports on board. Power management within BIOS setup for the GA-5AX offers Power-on by K/B, LAN, RTC, Modem & Switch, and "Stop CPU Fan when entering suspend mode" function. And, one of the coolest functions I've come across - the CPU temperature monitor has the ability to actually slow the CPU down if it reaches a preset heat level. Much cooler than those annoying alarms. There is also a Wake on LAN header and the system board has Poly fuse for keyboard overcurrent protection.

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Setup
Roomy and well-designed, the GA-5AX offers full length expansion card support on the first 4 of it's 5 PCI slots. There are a few electrolytic capacitor cans snuggling up to the CPU socket that may impede the use of some oversized cooling units, but all in all, everything is where it should be. CPU core voltage and clock multiplier settings are determined by a series of 8 dipswitches mounted directly above the floppy connector and external CPU frequency is set by means of 4 centrally located jumpers. The manual covers the default settings for most of the recently available CPUs but also offers a setting by setting chart in a few places that can help you to configure your system pretty much any way you'd like. The CPU frequency setting chart also offers a breakdown of AGP bus speeds that result from the different settings and by dividing them in half, you can determine your PCI bus frequency. With all these variables, it is a good idea to double-check your configuration before attaching the rest of your connectors and powering up.

Performance
The performance level of the GA-5AX meets or beats the performance of any of the Aladdin V based Super7 system boards that are currently available at default CPU settings. Somewhat limited by a smaller L2 cache than many of those employed on boards built around VIA's MVP3 core logic.

Testing Configuration for Gigabyte GA-5AX
Mainboard Gigabyte GA-5AX
L2 Cache 512K P.B. SRAM
Processor(s) AMD K6-2 350/400MHz, K6-III 400MHz
Cyrix MII 333
IDT WinChip 2 PR300
Rise mP6 PR266
Intel Pentium 233MMX
Memory 128MB (2x64MB) PC100
Corsair CM 654S64-BX2
Hard Drive WD Caviar AC36400
6.4G Ultra ATA/33
Graphics card Diamond Viper 330 4MB AGP
Diamond Monster 3D II 8MB PCI
Operating System Windows 98

The GA-5AX posted excellent marks under ZDBOp's Business Winstone 99 benchmarking application and the scores reflected below are an average over three runs with each processor...

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Extremely stable even at FSB speeds of 115MHz, I had no trouble whatsoever with the system at the above configuration. I did run into a bit of trouble running Diamond's Viper 550 during gameplay in OpenGL Quake II.  The system ran the Demo1, massive and Crusher timedemos without a hitch but occasionally locked during actual gameplay.

Conclusion

Gigabyte's overhaul of the GA-5AX now provides endusers with the ability to grow as the super7 platform matures.  The quality and stability of this system board and the Gigabyte name go a long way into insuring that this system board will provide exceptional performance over the long haul.  Currently available with prices on Pricewatch.com starting at $68.00, the GA-5AX offers good value for money and an extended future.  Even those that are somewhat intimidated by extensive jumper configuration need have no fear. awardblu.gif (5629 bytes)

Gigabyte's outstanding documentation of the GA-5AX is supremely more than adequate. and while the drivers accompanying the board are a bit over the hill, the latest can easily be downloaded once the system is up and running.  To find out more about Gigabytes GA-5AX, check out their website at http://www.giga-byte.com/

last update 4/1/99

 

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