Index

The second generation chipsets for Athlon 64 represent a genuine improvement in features, flexibility, and performance for AMD's flagship processors. As you saw in our chipset review, the nForce3-250 nVidia has added the features to bring their nF3 to the competitive edge of Athlon 64 chipsets. The HyperTransport speed, which was widely criticized on the 150 chipset, is now 800 or 1000 depending on the chipset version. The on-chip Gigabit LAN and on-chip Firewall are also unique in A64 land and are truly useful features. nVidia also fixed the problems with their implementation of PCI/AGP lock on the 150, and we are finding a working PCI/AGP lock on every nForce3-250 motherboard that we test, just as nVidia promised.

VIA's update to their excellent K8T800 chipset was less dramatic on the surface as there are not many new features, but the improvements are just as dramatic under the hood. As detailed in our review of the K8T800 PRO chipset, VIA brings 1000 HyperTransport to the PRO chipset for all Athlon 64 Sockets: 940, 754, and 939. Perhaps the most significant improvement was the addition of a working PCI/AGP lock to the K8T800 PRO. While VIA had demonstrated very fast performance with the K8T800, particularly on Socket 940 Dual-Channel, many enthusiasts had stayed away from VIA due to the missing PCI/AGP lock. With the K8T800 PRO, the PCI/AGP lock, which some vendors call "asynchronous operation", is finally a VIA feature for Athlon 64.

Today, we are looking at 5 new motherboards featuring the new chipsets. Since nVidia was first out with their chipset revision, the majority of the motherboards feature nForce3-250. Abit is the only board sporting the VIA K8T800 PRO only because the VIA is a more recent announcement. We fully expect to see more boards in all Athlon 64 sockets using the PRO chipset in the future. With VIA pricing the PRO chipset the same as the earlier K8T800, there is no reason for manufacturers not to use the K8T800 PRO instead.

While all the boards in today's test are Socket 754, please keep in mind that both nF3-250 and K8T800 Pro were really developed for next month's Socket 939 introduction. Socket 939 specifies 1000 HyperTransport speed and this is why you are seeing that feature on many of these new boards. The features and performance that you will see in this roundup should give you a better idea of what to expect in upcoming Socket 939 motherboards. Socket 939 adds Dual-Channel memory capabilities to the mainstream Athlon 64 and it will allow the FX flavors of Athlon 64 to work with the much more common unbuffered DDR memory instead of the current Registered DDR. Other than the new memory capabilities, which are really on the Athlon 64 chip as an integrated memory controller, Socket 939 will be basically the same as you will see in these new generation Socket 754 motherboards.

With this perspective in mind, let's take a closer look at the Abit KV8 PRO, Chaintech VNF3-250, Epox 8KDA3+, Gigabyte K8NSNXP and MSI K8N Neo.

Abit KV8 PRO: Features and Layout
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  • karlreading - Monday, August 30, 2004 - link

    i braught the chaintech vnf3-250 based on the review it recieved at AT and TBPH its a cracking motherboard, plus it easily gets my 2ghz a64-3200+ to 2.4 ghz and lets you run 1ghz HT if u running the cpu stock, something whic supposidly only the nf3 ultra let u do.all in all a very fast, very reliable, very overclockerbul motherboard which i have NMO regrets about buying :) Reply
  • lem79 - Friday, August 06, 2004 - link

    I have the Epox 8KDA3+ here with an Athlon64 2800+, runs nice, except for one quirk, which Anandtech failed to mention here (they probably didn't even know)..

    Cool'n'Quiet only works on this board when _one_ DIMM slot is in use (that is, DIMM1). If there's RAM in DIMM2 and DIMM3 slots, Cool'n'Quiet gets disabled by the BIOS (July revision, earlier BIOS images leave it enabled, but Cool'n'Quiet activation causes system instability and lockups). Epox themselves told me that this was the case.

    I think the review needs updating..
    Reply
  • operator - Sunday, June 06, 2004 - link

    I have the same question as #25. with a small addition.

    when will the msi k8n or the epox board be available in Canada?
    Reply
  • Zebo - Wednesday, June 02, 2004 - link

    This is a very good review Wesley, thanks. I really like how you went into detail with memory and boards FSB capabilites for the clockers out here.:) Looks like the Chaintech is the board for me. Cheap and a real performer. It's really to bad nVidia failed to have a decent sound solution though. Reply
  • Sk0t - Tuesday, June 01, 2004 - link

    Nice review.... BUT Im unable to understand why the Epox 8KDA3+ was awarded gold, and MSI K8n Neo Platinum only awarded silver ?

    Epox pros over MSI:
    6th pci-slot
    Slightly better overclocking

    MSI pros over Epox:
    Firewire
    3 working dimm sockets (at 400mhz)
    Slightly better layout (dimm-sockets)
    Supports Cool&Quiet*

    *Since the review seems to completly ignore cool&quiet (unless i missed it?) I will stick to my current rule of thumb, that only Asus & MSI fully supports this feature

    Did I miss some wonderfull feature on the Epox ? or was slightly better overclocking considered more important than features & layout ?
    Reply
  • gmenfan - Tuesday, June 01, 2004 - link

    Does anyone know when the MSI K8N Neo will be available? Thanks. Reply
  • mbf - Tuesday, June 01, 2004 - link

    Nice review! I just have one question; how can there be boards *without* ECC support, when the A64 has the memory controller on-die and it *inherently* supports unbuffered ECC memory? I'm especially thinking of the Epox and MSI boards, since they interest me the most (hardware firewall et al).

    Actually, I wrote to MSI (US) about this and was told that indeed ECC is supported and the "non-ECC" statement on the product spec page was erroneous. The page was immediately updated (http://www.msicomputer.com/product/p_spec.asp?mode... However, only the US site has been updated, and neither the manual (PDF) nor the BIOS available from the MSI Taiwan site state ECC support. Neither do the manual or BIOS for the Epox board.

    As ECC support is pretty important to me having had some bitter experiences with regular memory, I was wondering if some kind person at Anandtech might be persuaded to throw in a stick of unbuffered ECC memory into either the K8N Neo or the Epox 8KDA3 and let me know if the memory is detected as such? I'd really appreciate the effort!

    I know the ASUS K8N-E Deluxe (http://www.asus.com.tw/products/mb/socket754/k8n-e... states ECC support, but it's anyone's guess when that board will be out, since they cannot even make their mind up if the board is to be shown on their home page or not (right now it is, tomorrow it may not).
    Reply
  • l3ored - Tuesday, June 01, 2004 - link

    price is mentioned as a component in electing the epox as the gold winner, so whats the current street price? Reply
  • SilverRyu - Monday, May 31, 2004 - link

    Do you think shuttle will make a 250Gb or K8T800Pro XPC? Reply
  • cnq - Monday, May 31, 2004 - link

    Wesley,

    Nice writeup...
    A question about overclocking: you tested at 1:1 ratios, meaning you didn't really find the bounds of the FSB/HTT so much as you found the bounds of the PC4400 RAM that you used. If you had dropped the RAM ratio, do you have any indication which boards could have topped 300 MHz? I am of course thinking of your great AK89 Max review from a few weeks back, where you made waves by showing FSB/HTT speeds of 347 MHz. Will you have time to do similar tests on these new boards? (Or, for that matter, can I ask why you didn't do similar tests on these new boards? Is it merely because ClockGen hasn't yet been ported to NF250?)

    I'd also like to second the suggestion made by posting #1 (he mentions aceshardware.com. techreport.com has also chimed in with recent articles on the subject. Not surprisingly, their conclusion is to just avoid cheap Realtek products if you want good CPU utilization. And sudhian.com found great ethernet performance with low CPU overhead from the NF250-GB chip's embedded controller.)
    Reply

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