Product: Intel D850GB Intel 850 Motherboard
Manufacturer: Intel Corporation
Price: $140 Street
The Intel Pentium 4 is certainly at the forefront of their product line, but the processor giant also has a few more eggs frying in the pan. Their i850 motherboard chipset is their only currently-available Pentium 4-compatible part and has proven to be a popular piece of hardware. With its 400 MHz processor bus and powered by dual-channel RDRAM, the i850 platform represents the true cream of the crop for Pentium 4 performance computing. In the near future, the Pentium 4 chipset landscape should open up quite significantly, as Intel, VIA, SiS, ALi and ATI are all readying various DDR and SDRAM Pentium 4 chipsets. It is still not clear how much of a performance impact that DDR or SDRAM will have when compared to RDRAM and it is quite conceivable that the i850/RDRAM combo will continue to be popular with the performance crowd long after the chipset dust has settled.
In addition to processors and chipsets, Intel has also been moving forward on the motherboard front. The product currently under review is the Intel D850GB motherboard, which features the i850 chipset and supports the Socket 423 Pentium 4 architecture. While this single motherboard does not represent a trend, there have been rumblings that once Intel transitions to the Socket 478 CPU format, their influence in the motherboard market is expected to grow. If the D850GB represents the "first wave" of Intel Pentium 4 motherboards, then it falls upon us to hit it from all angles and examine its strengths and weaknesses.
Intel has been producing motherboards for a while, now, but these products have always fit into a particular niche. Instead of competing directly against ASUS, ABIT or MSI for the overclocking and enthusiast markets, Intel has been satisfied with producing high performance motherboards at a low price point. Granted, there are usually few system BIOS tweaks available; but the vast majority of users will run their processor at its rated speed and no higher. This is especially true of the Pentium 4, which is clock-locked and far less attractive as an overclocking CPU than either the AMD Athlon or Duron, many of which ship in the unlocked state. Although hardcore overclockers would not likely consider an Intel brand motherboard, why should the rest of the users pay a premium for features that they may never use?