Battle at the Top

The long-awaited Socket 939 Athlon 64 from AMD debuted on June 1 at Computex, but it has taken quite a while for Socket 939 motherboards to make their way into the retail channel. With the Socket 939 still perched at the top of the AMD product line, both in price and performance, the offerings still remain very small. We take a look at 6 new motherboards for Socket 939 from Abit, Asus, ECS, Gigabyte, and MSI.

The Asus A8V Deluxe was not included in the original roundup because Asus told us a new Revision would soon be available. The Asus A8V Deluxe Revision 2.0, with a working AGP/PCI lock, was received a few days ago and has now been added to the roundup. We have included full test results from the Revison 2 A8V and compared it to the other 5 top-end 939 boards in the roundup. DFI has also announced a Socket 939 board based on the nForce3 Ultra chipset, but the retail introduction of that board is still several weeks away.

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 has added the features to bring the nVidia chipsets to the competitive edge of Athlon 64 chipsets. The HyperTransport speed, which was widely criticized on the 150 chipset, is now 1000 in the Ultra version of the chipset used for 939. The chipset is, otherwise, the same as the 800 and 1000FSB versions that we saw in our Socket 754 Roundup: Comparing Generation 2. The on-chip Gigabit LAN and on-chip Firewall are unique and truly useful features among Athlon 64 solutions. 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 as there are not many new features, but the improvements are just as dramatic under the hood. As you saw 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. Since all PRO chipsets support 1000 HT, the chipsets used in our Socket 754 Roundup: Comparing Generation 2 are the same as you will see in our 939 roundup.

As reported in the Socket 754 roundup and the Socket 939 launch review, VIA had early problems with their PCI/AGP lock. While we continued to see problems with a working AGP/PCI lock in early 939 samples, we are pleased to report that every vendor in our roundup now appears to have the VIA PCI/AGP lock working. If you have a VIA board with PCI/AGP lock issues, our advice is to contact your motherboard vendor for the latest BIOS or possibly a revised version of your motherboard. The good news is that VIA has worked with manufacturers to fix the issues, and the issues can be solved; the bad news is that there are still many VIA K8T800 PRO motherboards in the market with PCI/AGP lock issues, and some require a motherboard replacement to fix the problem. In some cases, we are looking at a third motherboard revision before we finally receive a working PCI/AGP lock on a VIA K8T800 PRO board.

Today, we are looking at 6 new Socket 939 motherboards, representing the top performance level for the Athlon 64, which is the fastest current CPU. Consider this roundup a search for the best of the best, since Socket 939 supports the top-performing Athlon 64 processors available in the fastest Dual-Channel memory configuration. The Gigabyte K8NSNXP-939 and MSI K8N Neo2 feature the nVidia nForce3 Ultra chipset, while the Abit AV8, Asus A8V Deluxe Rev. 2, ECS KV2 Extreme, and MSI K8T Neo2 are based on the VIA K8T800 PRO chipset.

Abit AV8: Features and Layout
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  • jrphoenix - Friday, July 30, 2004 - link

    I am using the Gigabyte 939 NF3 board for the past week now. It appears that their are two lan connections listed as Marvell (lan 1) and Nvidia (lan 2). I have been using the Nvidia one?

    To get the firewall to function with the Gigabyte board all you have to do is download the Nvidia 4 in 1's after installing the Gigabyte drivers.

    Of course I'm a noob.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, July 30, 2004 - link

    #70 - The nVidia fiewall is a port on the chipset that allows for direct communication with the Gigabit chip PHY layer. It is therefore very difficult to determine if the on-chip port is being used just from looking at the specifications.

    Earlier this week we asked nVidia for help in identifying which motherboards were using the on-chip gigabit port. nVidia is looking into the list of boards we supplied and said they would be providing us with updated information soon. When we receive that info we will post it.
    Reply
  • Anemone - Friday, July 30, 2004 - link

    Any chance to have tested the OCZ 4000 gold rev 2, with the 2.5-3-3 latencies and compare that to the 3700 EB?

    Curious as I narrow down things.

    Any news on Pci-e for AMD64's?

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • REMF - Friday, July 30, 2004 - link

    i too would like to know whether the Gigabyte NF3 board uses the nVidia NIC/firewall, and if not not, why anandtech failed to mention the fact? Reply
  • geogecko - Thursday, July 29, 2004 - link

    What is the noise difference in the retail packaged CPU fans in this class (S-939), and the Thermaltake Silent Boost K8 used in the reviews.

    I notice that Thermaltake also has another CPU cooler using heatpipes, the SilentTower 4-in-1 CPU Cooler. Have you guys tested this out?

    My current PC (AMD XP 1800+ with the equivalent of a Volcano 9) gets too loud for me when it gets warmed up, and that's with it sitting on the floor next to my desk.
    Reply
  • Staples - Tuesday, July 27, 2004 - link

    #62, you must have read the post incorrectly. I was hoping you would have used the same CPU, which you did not. Somehow you read the opposite. I figure in comparing the chipset to the other, using a different CPU throws in a ton of extra variables. Now if you are looking at it from a prospective of which is faster, then your setup is fair. Of course most people would buy the Northwood on the 875 but it becomes more of a platform benchmark rather than anything that could be called a chipset competition.

    About the FX53, one reason I do not like you using it is because it is AMD's flagship product and at least from what I remember, the Presscott that you used was not an EE. Even so, the biggest bother is that the FX53 will always cost more than $500 and very few people will actually ever buy it when they can get so much more band for their month with just a regular class AMD64. This is the case with the EE too, they will always cost an arm and a leg so I'd say only about 5% of people will be buying the FX and the EE series chips. By an overwhelming majority, most consumers will be buying the non-enthusiast parts.
    Reply
  • bigtoe33 - Tuesday, July 27, 2004 - link

    Please take this as the official responce to the rumours about 3500 and 3700EB.
    We have NOT stopped production of these modules, it sells quicker than we can produce it..that is the only real issue.

    We have just shipped another huge order so please go bug your favourite stores to stock it..

    EB is here to stay at least for the time being.

    Tony
    Reply
  • expletive - Monday, July 26, 2004 - link

    Also, has the performance discrepancy with Halo and the nforce boards ben figured out yet? If it somehting that may resurface in other games ill get an nforce board. If it is fixable or just a one off with halo, i can save a few $ and get a via board while i am waiting for PCIx...

    John
    Reply
  • expletive - Monday, July 26, 2004 - link

    Does the Gigabyte board use the Nvidia LAN as well? I see it says marvel but after the last series of posts with the marvell/nvidia chipset i am confused now...

    Reply
  • Anemone - Monday, July 26, 2004 - link

    Thank you for enlightening on the LAN issue with the NF3 ultra - for me I'm getting and FX.

    Since this article is getting referenced a lot with people I talk with and such, can we keep a front page link to it for a while?

    Also looking forward to memory reviews as well. Rather sad the 3700EB has been discontinued :(
    Hopefully OCZ will have something better to take its place in not too long, but that might be impossible.

    Reply

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