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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  • Wesley Fink - Sunday, July 25, 2004 - link

    In compiling benchmarks for the upcoming 925X roundup, we realized we had used a different setup for our 925X AutoGK tests in this review than the setup for 939. This caused lower results with the 925X than we achieved with the same setup.

    AutoGK results have been corrected, and now show essentially the same encoding performance with the DivX 5.1.1 codec on both Intel 560 and AMD FX53 processors with a slight advantage to Intel. Tests with the Xvid codec show almost the same equivalent results with a slight tilt toward AMD.

    Graphs and review text have been corrected to reflect the corrected encoding results. Current AutoGK settings are 'no audio' and default '2CDs (1400Mb)' output size. We install and select Divx 5.1.1 instead of the included Xvid codec. Ripping is from the original DVD file for Chapter 9 of "Sum of All Fears". At present we use the latest release version of AutoGK, which is 1.25, though there are beta versions available through 1.48.


    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, July 24, 2004 - link

    #61 - You are mistaken in saying we used the SAME CPU in comparing 875 and 925X. If you will check our review at http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?... you will see that our comparison #2 was a 3.2E on the 925X to a 3.2 Northwood on 875. In fact we got a lot of flak from some readers because we didn't use the same CPU. We felt then, and still feel, the fairest comparison was the 875 with Northwood to a similar speed 775 with Prescott.

    Our options on 939 are a 3500+ (512k cache) at $500, a 3800+ (512k) at $700, or a FX53 (1MB cache) at $763. AMD is expected to announce price reductions soon, but those are our current 939 choices. Given those 3 options with prices beginning at $500, the FX53 is an easy recommendation.
    Reply
  • Staples - Saturday, July 24, 2004 - link

    Arrggg.

    Interesting numbers but I hate the fact that Anandtech keeps using the FXxx and only the FXxx. Sure I can now see that AMDs best wins over Intel's best but that is not really practical because I will never buy an FXxx. I want benchmarks between stuff the average consumer is going to buy. Most people including me are struck between.

    875/865 and Northwood (non EE)
    925x/915 and a Presscott (non EE)
    AMD64 754 vs 939 chips and chipsets but NOT the FX series.

    These testbeds have only added to a string of Anandtech blunders. Remember the 925x review which was supposed to compare the 875 against the 925x? Well to elimate as many variable as possible, you use the SAME cpu, not a Northwood in one and a Presscott in the other.

    I love Anandtech and I usually only come here for reviews but I really wish the staff would put more scientific thought into their testbeds. I will never buy an FX series processor and neither will most people because they cost way too much. At least you can throw in a testbed or two of some processors that the common man will actually buy.

    Hope this critical post circulates with the staff and is actually taken into consideration.
    Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Saturday, July 24, 2004 - link

    Would there really be any point in providing FSB adjustments above 300 on say the MSI K8N mobo?

    As far as I know there are only two reasons for increasing the FSB-- increasing the memory speed, and increasing CPU core speed on non-FX chips which don't have an upwardly adjustable multiplier.

    Theres no point in increasing the FSB beyond the point where the memory can run at a 1:1 ratio, and your fastest DDR550 memory was only able to hit 290FSB (DDR580). Unless faster DDR memory becomes available (which seems unlikely as the focus for speed will switch to DDR2), then 300FSB is more than enough.

    The only other reason for increasing the FSB would be if you were seriously overclocking a CPU. 300FSB is enough for a 50% overclock which is more than enough for anyone. Maybe if someone got the liquid nitrogen out they could take a 3500+ beyond 3.3GHz, but I'm sure those sort of people would have got the fastest FX instead so they could raise the multiplier and not have to worry about bus speeds holding them back.

    Myself, I'm sure I'm not alone in holding out for S939 boards with PCI-Express support. And maybe a 90nm Athlon 64 if they arrive before the end of the year. And if the MSI K8N whatever that is available then is as good as the current ones, that'll probably be what I get.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, July 24, 2004 - link

    #58 and others -

    The nForce3-250Gb and NForce3 Ultra do not provide a full integrated Gigabit LAN in the chip. They provide a MAC (Media Access Controller) and a dedicated Gigabit Ethernet PORT on the chip (nF30250GB and nF3-Ultra). This is then interfaced to any number of PHY (Physical Layer) Gigabit Ethernet Controllers.

    To quote the nF3 Tech paper from nVidia:
    "NVIDIA nForce solutions provide an industry-standard Reduced Gigabit Media Independent Interface (RGMII) for attachment of the 1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet PHY. The open, nonproprietary interface lets system designers interface the NVIDIA solution to Ethernet PHY from a variety of vendors. Consumers and enterprises all benefit from a broad range of competitive PHY offerings."

    This means seeing a listing of a particlular Gigabit Eternet Controller does NOT mean an nForce3 board is not using the on-chip Ethernet.

    If you look closely at the specs for the MSI, the Marvell LAN chip is spec'ed as PHY. It is also worth noting that the Marvell 88E1111 is the same chip nVidia used in their Reference designs for the nF3-250Gb and nF3-Ultra Reference Boards, but other brands can be used as you can see in the nVidia literature.
    Reply
  • darklight0tr - Saturday, July 24, 2004 - link

    Wesley,

    I was wondering how you determined that the MSI K8N Neo2 used the onboard nVIDIA LAN.

    If you go to the MSI website and look at the specs for the board, it says that the Dual LAN ports are controlled by Realtek and Marvell controllers, respectively. The nVIDIA LAN is not used.

    Is the board you tested different than the board listed on the MSI website?

    Also, is there any particular reason that no nForce3 Ultra motherboards use the onboard nVIDIA LAN?
    Reply
  • Drayvn - Friday, July 23, 2004 - link

    I thought it was pretty widely known that a nVidia graphics card will be totally optimized on a nVidia mobo, so when testing the X800 on an nForce chipset, ull get lower performance numbers wouldnt u, and so wouldnt that muck up the test results?

    #53, it still does show how well the FX-53 does against a product that is coming out in 2 months doesnt, and this 3.6Ghz is 1.2 Ghz faster and still its being outperformed, so isnt this telling u that the FX-53 is the system to go for? No need to get upset about the intel chip not being out, get the FX-53 now!
    Reply
  • vie2233hil - Friday, July 23, 2004 - link

    has anybody seen A8V revision 2 anywhere? Reply
  • Anemone - Friday, July 23, 2004 - link

    ECC while nice, doesn't seem to come in any high performance modules that aren't registered. And we know these boards don't take registered memory, which would make using ECC memory translate to using something at PC3200 or below.

    Am I incorrect?
    Reply
  • normteke - Thursday, July 22, 2004 - link

    I'm pretty new to overclocking. So when you guys say you can bump the fsb to 290 with a lower multiplier and a 1:1 memory ratio, does the memory now have to run at 290 as well, or can it stay at default 200 to keep those tight 2-2-2 memory timings? How exactly does that work? Reply

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