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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  • Odeen - Monday, May 31, 2004 - link

    There is a difference between SATA native to chipset, and SATA native to the OS.

    SATA native to chipset means the chipset runs the SATA internally, off the Hypertransport or V-Link bandwidth, which is at least a gigabyte/second.

    Intel's implementation of SATA is cool because to the OS it emulates a standard IDE controller. (Thus it's "native" to the OS.) The downside of this approach is that every OS other than XP gets horribly confused seeing two primary and two secondary controllers. (i.e. your PATA1 is Primary, your PATA2 is Secondary, your SATA1 is.. again Primary) Without "compatibility" options in the BIOS, which limits you to four drives total (i.e. SATA channels become masters on IDE1 and IDE2, with PATA masters becoming slaves, and PATA slaves dropping off the map, or, as an alternative, PATA2 disappearing, and SATA1 and SATA2 becoming PATA1 Master and PATA1 Slave) Win2K and DOS-based utilities (such as bootable Antivirus or Partitioning program CD's and utilities like the drive test disks that you get with a hard drive,) fail on startup.

    Running SATA as a SCSI-over-IDE, requiring drivers, is a more flexible approach, but requires the use of driver floppies. Still, there's something neat about having four drives all hooked up as masters (2 SATA / 2 PATA) and installing XP without driver floppies.

    I'm not sure how it can be remotely possible with a 4 drive SATA controller, though.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Monday, May 31, 2004 - link

    Does anybody know if the NF3 chipset has any functionality similar to Intel's SATA, like is SATA done natively without needing any special drivers or programs for the os to use or understand? Reply
  • rms - Monday, May 31, 2004 - link

    I also would have preferred to see feature benchmarking instead of cpu/memory benchmarking.

    rms
    Reply
  • Zak - Sunday, May 30, 2004 - link

    2 RAM slots on the Abit mobo??? They call THAT an improvement??? Why can't there be at least 4? With 1GB chips' prices being still very high that would be a major selling point for many. I'd upgrade my mobo instantly if I could stick 4 512MB DDR400 chips and not have them run at 333...

    Zak
    Reply
  • Odeen - Sunday, May 30, 2004 - link

    I'm very surprised that none of the motherboards except for MSI actually implemented all the features of their chipsets. Both the NF3-250GB and the K8T800 Pro support 4 chipset-level SATA ports, but only MSI has all 4. If it wasn't for that Corecell silliness, I'd be taking a long, hard look at the MSI board. Reply
  • Crassus - Sunday, May 30, 2004 - link

    Whats the point of showing benchmarks when all the boards perform within margin of error? When the memory controller is part of the CPU there's IMHO little point in benchmarking it.

    Why not go after the components that make a bigger difference, esp. HDD, Ethernet and stuff in terms of throughput, CPU utilisation and so?
    Reply
  • JustAnAverageGuy - Saturday, May 29, 2004 - link

    #11

    In RAM, generally speed increases are more noticible in real world performance than timings.

    Obviously if you have 400 cas 3-3-3-8, versus 400 cas 2-2-2-11, 2-2-2-11 would win. Generally though, speed is more important than timings after a certain point.

    Reply
  • bigtoe33 - Saturday, May 29, 2004 - link

    #9

    I think you may have one of these supposed 3000 boards that have non-pro chipsets that Abit says are pro chipsets but really appear to be not..

    I would take your issue to Abit.
    Reply
  • qquizz - Saturday, May 29, 2004 - link

    Concerning the overclock. I can overclock the crap out of my XP2100+, but I keep it at levels where it's stable using Prime95 and Memtest. I wonder if these overclocks can meet my standards? Reply
  • gplracer - Saturday, May 29, 2004 - link

    All of the ram in this comparision was CAS3. I wonder how the CAS3 at 270mhz compares to CAS@ at 250mhz. I run my corsair at that speed now. Reply

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