Socket 754 Roundup: Comparing Generation 2by Wesley Fink on May 28, 2004 5:57 PM EST
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IndexThe 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.