AOpen MX46-533V: SIS 651 review

AOpen MX46-533V

Recently picked up an inexpensive mATX motherboard for testing AGP graphics cards – the AOpen MX46-533V. The specs are pretty good for its intended purpose – socket 478 for cheap Pentium 4 cpu’s, up to 533MHz FSB support, DDR333 memory support, Universal AGP, and drivers ranging from Windows 98 SE and NT4 to Windows XP. There’s even an integrated graphics unit  in case I want to test something other than graphics cards.

The board supports hyperthreading, confirmed by testing my P4 3.06GHz HT processor in Windows XP. Initially, the board came with some mystery bios R1.02TR, and the official bios update list claims to have fixed a few bugs related to hyperthreading, so I tried to install a newer bios, only to run into an unpleasant surprise – the official bios updater claims my board is some mystery AOpen MX46-U2CN. Searching the web, seems like the board never existed, and yet it says “AOpen MX46-533V” right on it. So, instead of relying on the official bios updater, I downloaded Award Winflash, and forced it to flash all the bios blocks using an official updated bios image. To my relief, the update went smoothly, and the board now identifies itself correctly.

Now for some facts and details:

  • The integrated SIS 315 gpu does not support hardware T&L. I saw mentions on the Web that the discrete SIS315 graphics card supports hardware T&L. Well, the IGP version certainly does not. Not that I was planning on gaming with it.
  • The IGP causes a decrease in memory performance. Inserting an AGP graphics card disables the integrated graphics, and brings memory performance in line with expected results. Using a PCI graphics card only slightly improves memory performance compared to using the IGP, but not to the same level as an AGP card.
  • Under Windows 98 and its default DirectX 6 runtime, the integrated gpu will not support hardware 3D acceleration. Installing DirectX 7 or later fixes the problem, and 3D acceleration works.
  • The board plays ok with bridged late AGP cards. At least my Visiontek Radeon HD3850 AGP worked without problems under Windows XP.
  • It also plays ok with flaky old AGP 2x cards like the Trident 9850. On Via 133 chipset boards, this card would usually lock up in full screen 3D applications. To be fair, the newer Via KT333 has no problems with it either, but I wouldn’t put my Asus A7V333 board in the “cheap beater” category.
  • Even more impressively, the board plays ok with my 3dfx Voodoo. On old Via 133 or Intel 815 boards, even a 600MHz Pentium 3 would cause problems, such as old DOS Glide games being unable to detect the card, or texture corruption in other games, simply because the cpu is too fast. And yet, with this board I can run a 3GHz Pentium 4 with DDR memory, and the Voodoo has no problems running Tomb Raider or GLQuake.
  • All the USB ports are USB 2.0. Except if you’re using Windows 98. Then these ports work at USB 1.0 speeds only.
  • The bios has settings for base clock, memory speed and timings, and IRQ assignments. No voltage adjustments. No cache disabling.
  • Hyperthreading can be disabled in the bios. This is useful if you want to run Windows 98, or some applications like 3DMark2000, which don’t play nice with HT.
  • There are no SATA ports. You’re stuck using IDE drives only. For a beater testing board, I suppose that’s not a big deal.

Overall, the board has lived up to my expectations so far. No major annoying issues or quirks or compatibility problems. There is passive cooling for the north bridge and south bridge, which I like. Even the VRM MOSFETs have a heatsink for extra cool points if nothing else. Currently I have it set up dual booting Windows XP and Windows 98 SE off a single 120GB hard drive, 512MB RAM, and a 2.53GHz Pentium 4. Why not use the 3.06GHz P4 HT? Well, the 2.53 is my beater cpu, and fast enough. I have other plans for the 3.06, plus that way I don’t have to enable or disable HT, depending on what OS I’m booting. Because having a 3.06GHz P4 HT and not using HT at all seems like a waste.

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