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EPoX is not one of the better known motherboard manufacturers in the United States, but over the past couple years have been building a reputation for some quality motherboards. With the popularly of small form factor systems thanks to home theater PCs and consumers conscious of the size of their systems, MicroATX motherboards have become increasingly more common to the market.
EPoX EP-8RGM3I mATX Board
The EPoX 8RGM3I is actually a revision of a previously released 8RGMI. Both of these boards were built around the popular NVIDIA nForce2 chipset with the integrated graphics processor or IGP. The difference in the two comes from the CPU support from the chipset and the graphics connectors. The originally 8RGMI originally only supported up to the 333MHz frontside bus AMD Athlon XP processors. The new 8RGM3I can now support the 400MHz frontside bus processors. The other unique feature to the 8RGM3I is the twin VGA monitor support. This allows the integrated graphics to control two monitors at once, something not found in most IGP implementations.
One of the big advantages to the nForce2 chipset was the support for dual channel memory configurations. This allows the memory bandwidth to be essentially double when two identical memory modules are installed in the system. This can be very beneficial for memory intensive applications such as graphics or even video games. The size of the motherboard does restrict the motherboard to only two DIMM sockets with a maximum of 2GB in memory. This isn't a problem since most systems will only use 512MB or maybe 1GB.
While the 8RGM3I now officially supports 400MHz or PC3200 memory, there is a problem for those looking to use the integrated graphics processor. The original design of the IGP onto the chipset was designed around a 333MHz maximum bus speed. As a result, use of the IGP will require a maximum memory setting of 333MHz bus. This will severely impact the performance of Athlon XP processors that use the 400MHz bus speed. The best performance is obtained by having the CPU and memory running at the same bus speed, referred to as synchronous.
One of the unique features of the 8RGM3I is the integrated graphics. Many manufacturers offer the IGP version of the nForce2 chipset on mATX boards, but EPoX is one of the few that have offered it with a dual VGA monitor support. The single IGP graphics processor will run two independent VGA monitors in a variety of configurations through the nView driver application. This benefits those who do a lot of multitasking. The increased workspace allows them to run more applications without screen overlap.
ATX I/O Panel of the 8RGM3I
Of course, the big drawback to the nForce2 IGP is the technology. The IGP is essentially a GeForce 4 MX graphics core. This is technology based around the very dated DirectX 7.0 specifications. This means that the integrated graphics controller will have a difficult time running many of the 3D games developed in the last couple of years. Speed and resolutions are also restricted.
Many consumers are building small form factor computers based on the MicroATX and smaller motherboards for home theatre PCs. Because of this, the audio components do play a crucial role in the evaluation of the system. The EPoX 8RGM3I motherboard opts to use the C-Media 6-channel processor. This is an AC'97 standard audio processor that has decent capabilities, but it is lacking for many home theatre options.
The motherboard only features the standard 3 mini-jack audio connectors. This allows the system to provide 6-channel audio, but only to 6 channel input capable components. This is not something that most home theatre equipment are designed for. They typically use digital connectors such as the SPD/IF or digital coax connectors, neither of which are available.
It would have been nice to see EPoX use the MCP-T component from NVIDIA that offers high quality 6-channel audio including Dolby Digital support. Since the boards is designed around low cost components though, they offered to go with the less expensive C-Media processor which is sufficient for most users. Home theatre users will opt to use a third-party PCI based sound card for improved audio quality.
What Comes in the Box
Contents of EPoX 8RGM3I
The EPoX 8RGM3I is very limited in what is provided with the box. This generally isn't much of a problem due to the limited space in the smaller form factor cases designed for mATX boards. Of course, most modern ATX cases will also support the smaller sized motherboard as well. Included in the box are:
Included on the Software CD are the hardware drivers, Magic Flash BIOS updater, USDM hardware monitoring tools, Trend Micro PC-Cillin 2004, Symantec Ghost and Personal Firewall 2004.
Performance testing of the EPoX 8RGM3I system includes benchmarks of CPU and memory performance via SiSoft Sandra MAX 2004 and FutureMark's PCMark04. In addition to this, FutureMark's 3DMark2001SE was used to test the graphics. Additional graphics testing was not done due to the age of the graphics processor and it's inability to render DirectX 8.1 or 9.
The configuration of the system in testing was as follows:
SiSoft Sandra MAX2004
The Sandra MAX 2004 is a synthetic benchmarking utility that is very good at determining the capabilities of the components in a computer system. It runs tests on the individual component levels to help notice any bottlenecks that might exist. In addition to this, it also provides a database of standard scores for comparison. In the case of this review, the CPU, memory and disk performance benchmarks were run with the following results:
Overall, these scores were inline with the reference scores for the equivalent hardware in the Sandra database.
FutureMark's PCMark04 differs somewhat from a synthetic benchmark in that it is a suite of application code that tests the relevant performance of the complete computer system and produces an aggregate score. This is based on actual application code instead of codes that just try to stress the components. In testing, the 8RGM3I scored decently with an aggregate of 3,017 PC Marks. This wasn't the fastest system available as it only uses a 2500+ Athlon XP, but it is sufficient for most individuals.
Since the graphics engine of the NVIDIA IGP is very dated, it was not capable of running many of the most current benchmarking applications. The 3DMark2001SE application is capable of testing both the DirectX 7 and DirectX 8.1 compatible hardware and generating an aggregated score to tell its relative performance. Below are the results for the 8RGM3I's integrated graphics:
This is far below even the most rudimentary of the budget graphics boards available on the market. Thankfully, those looking to do 3D gaming have the option of installing an AGP graphics adapter to replace the limited internal graphics.
For those curious, Unreal Tournament 2004 was installed on the system to test. The only playable resolutions were 640x400 and 800x600 at very low detail levels. Frame rates were playable, but the graphics were lacking much detail.
The NVIDIA nForce2 chipset has become very popular among enthusiasts thanks to its ability to overclock the processor. This allows a very inexpensive CPU such as the Athlon XP 2500+ to run at the equivalent speed as a much more expensive Athlon XP 3200+. Of course, for this to be possible, the motherboard BIOS typically requires features such as multiplier, bus speed and voltage adjustments.
Unfortunately, the 8RGM3I lacks any voltage adjustments for the CPU socket, memory and even AGP bus. As a result, the system does not really have the ability to do any effective overclocking. Without the ability to increase the CPU voltage, it is not possible to obtain any stable computing environment at increased bus speeds or multipliers. Those looking for this ability will need to look at other mATX motherboards.
Overall the EPoX 8RGM3I motherboard is an average board for its price range and design. It lacks many features one might expect such as FireWire support and overclocking. In addition, the limitations when using the integrated graphics processor can be very severe. It isn't capable of running any of the current 3D video games and it requires the memory be run at the lower 333MHz bus speed that is problematic for processors greater than a 2500+ rating.
Still, there are a few good things to say about the 8RGM3I. First, it is one of the few boards available to support dual monitors with an integrated graphics solution. This makes it a very inexpensive solution for those looking to run multiple monitors. Similarly, the small MicroATX motherboard size can allow users to build a very small footprint system.
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