Originally Published: Tuesday, 18 January 2000 Author: Kristopher Kersey
Published to: enhance_articles_hardware/Hardware Reviews Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

BP6: Good Value, Small Hassle

So you've been wanting to take your Linux box to the next level by getting that dual CPU motherboard and popping in that second chip. The first question you probably have is, how can I afford a quality solution? Well, Abit has your answer with the only duel Celeron board on the market. The BP6 board has all the latest and greatest features. But how well does it hold up under everyone's favorite OS? Let the tests begin.

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So you've been wanting to take your Linux box to the next level by getting that dual CPU motherboard and popping in that second chip. The first question you probably have is, how can I afford a quality solution? Well, Abit has your answer with the only duel Celeron board on the market. The BP6 board has all the latest and greatest features. But how well does it hold up under everyone's favorite OS? Let the tests begin.

The Board: Abit BP6 - Dual Socket 370 Processors Based Ultra DMA66 Ready Mainboard

  • Supports Dual Socket 370 processors (Based on 66/100MHz clock)
  • Intel®440BX (66/100MHz) AGPset
  • Two Channels of Bus Master IDE Ports supporting up to four Ultra DMA 33/66 devices
  • Two Channels of Bus Master IDE Ports supporting up to four Ultra DMA 33 devices
  • Supports AGP 1X/2X devices
  • Three 168-pin DIMM sockets supports up to 768MB
  • CPU SOFT MENU II for CPU settings
  • One AGP slot, Five PCI slots and Two ISA slots
  • Hardware monitoring - Including fan speed, voltages, System environment temperature

Installation

Installation with a board that has as many features can be quite an experience. There are many features to be considered and many things that could go wrong. I found that while all of the features of this board worked, the quality of performance was sometimes variable. This board took many hours to test due to the many challenges and pecularities that I faced.

Before I go into details, let me assure you that SMP does work and that it works beautifully. With a simple 'menuconfig' to change my kernel configuration and a recompile I was on my way. I rebooted the box and sure enough, I had twice the computing power of a single Celeron 366. I know now that you are probably wondering about the overclocked 550 ability of this board. Unfortunately, I didn't have great luck. Instead of buying specially tested Celerons, I bought two matched chips off the shelf. I was able to boot with the chips clocked to 550 but it was unstable even at higher voltages. Note that this is in no way a reflection on the motherboard itself. The instability issues centered on the chips I purchased. However, I have heard more than a few reports of successful overclocking.

The next feature I was concerned with was the on-board HPT366 DMA66 controller. In order to even begin to get this going, you either need to download a 2.3.* developemental kernel or patch your existing 2.2.* kernel. I have tried it both ways and under both instances, I had the same results. The ability to boot off of this controller under Linux with LILO seems shaky at best. It worked for me on a 10GB IBM drive. Unfortunately, it failed on a 9.1GB Quantum drive using exactly the same procedures. Two possibilities exist that would explain this problem. First, the BP6 itself may have trouble with the controller with the Quantum drives. Secondly, it could be a problem with Linux compatibility, since it worked fine under Windows.

A nice feature you want on any new motherboard is hardware monitoring. The Abit board definitely covers that with a nice Winbond chip that monitors BOTH CPU temperatures, voltages, fan speeds, and the case temperature. You can monitor all of these readings with a wonderful package called lm_sensors. This package allows you to grab the readings from the motherboard and view them under Linux. It may be a bit tough to handle for beginning users, but it does provide two methods of installation via modules or kernel patch. Once installed, lm_sensors can be used by programs such as BP6mon or wmbp6 for quick and easy monitoring of your system.

As an important note, when it comes to installation, be aware that the PCI resources on this board are difficult to manage. Abit has provided the on-board HPT366 controller without sacrificing a cherished fifth PCI slot. While this may seem nice, it creates a major problem if you have PCI cards that require to be the master card on an IRQ. When installing devices keep in mind the following layout of your PCI sharing:

  • AGP slot and PCI 1
  • PCI 3 and HPT66 UDMA controller
  • PCI 4 and PCI 5
Finally, I do have one glitch to report. Linux seems to have a tough time finding out how much memory is installed to the board even thought the BIOS detects it correctly. This is not something that I had experienced with other Abit boards and it caught me off gaurd. This manifested itself under both SMP and single CPU modes. I admit this an oddity, but it was easily fixed by passing "mem=amount" at boot time.

Installation Score: 5/10 This rating did not suffer as much as you would think since the solutions to my problems were remedied rather easily.

Performance

When it comes to performance, the Abit BP6 meets all the expectations for a solid dual processor motherboard. Most importantly, it provides choices ranging from a single CPU up to dual Pentium IIIs. The SMP support is flawless as long as the CPUs were running at their specified speeds. Stability was not a problem, even when running two SETI@home clients for several days straight, which utilized both CPUs fully.

If you can get this board to work with your hard drive, it also provides the joy of UltraDMA/66. The performance difference between DMA/33 and DMA/66 has been debatable, but every little bit is nice. There is no way that I can tell you for sure that your hard drive will behave but just remember that you can fall back to the default Intel IDE controller of you have to.

Performance Score: 8/10

Value

If you are looking for a board that gives you the best bang for your buck then this seems like a definite contender. It provides you with the power of duel processors without the cost of Pentium IIIs and the onboard DMA/66 controller satisfies your need for speed even without SCSI. If you've been meaning to do a low cost upgrade but you haven't had the money, now seems like a good time take the plunge with SMP on the Abit BP6.

Value Score: 9/10

Overall

In the end, I can say that this board delivers where it counts. I did have many problems in the beginning from the HPT366 problems to a variety of PCI conflicts but it did end up stablizing and the system is running great. However, I must caution new users of the Linux OS. This cannot be considered an easy transition if you want to take advantage of all the features.

Overall Score: 7.5

Test System: Processors: Dual Celeron 366 Motherboard: Abit BP6 RAM: 128 MB PC100 SDRAM OS: SuSE Linux 6.3Manufacturer: Abit Product: BP6 Duel Celeron Motherboard Manufacturer's URL: http://www.abit-usa.com Price Range at Time of Writing: $118-$189

Update: I did use some serious cooling on those chips. The biggest and the best. I was using the FEP32 which can be found at http://www.coolchip.com. To no avail though, Linux didn't like it.





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