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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  • Richdog - Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - link

    Reply
  • bigtoe33 - Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - link

    If you are looking for the K8NN939 beta M03 again its availabale at bleedinedge.com on bigtoe's bios bin.

    http://www.bleedinedge.com/forum/showpost.php?p=32...

    Reply
  • grdh20 - Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - link

    http://forum.abit-usa.com/attachment.php?s=&po...

    abit av8 1.3 bios link
    Reply
  • grdh20 - Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - link

    The msi K8N Neo2 will hit the states in 2 weeks according to MSI.

    How will the A8V rev. 2.0 be sold in terms of order by model #. Same or different? Rev. # is only printed on the PCB, not the box.
    Reply
  • Brickster - Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - link

    I love my new Gigabyte 939 board! It kicks a*s and is perrrty in the dark! :) Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - link

    #36 - The new Gigabyte BIOS DOES have multipliers in BIOS as I detailed in the review specifications. See the link in #35. Reply
  • RyanVM - Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - link

    With performance getting so similar between the various boards/chipsets, it seems to me that AT is overlooking some of the bigger differentiating factors: integrated features. It would be nice to see how the USB, Firewire, IDE/SATA, Ethernet, Sound, etc. implementations differ in CPU utilization and overall performance.

    For example, the Gigabyte (inexplicably) uses a 3rd party GigE controller instead of the NF3-250's controller. What impact on throughput/CPU utilization does this have? How is VIA's SATA implementation compared to nVidia's?

    It seems to me that those are become more relevant of questions than "Which board has a higher Winstone rating?"
    Reply
  • Parc - Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - link

    I had heard the Gigabyte board would not let you adjust the multipler in the bios but I saw a picture where it could be adjusted from the software in windows? Is this true? Any disadvantages to this? Also just how bad is the voltage limit holding the Gigabyte board back? Is there anyway Gigabyte could allow you any more voltage adjusts through the bios in the future or is this board hopeless for volts? Reply
  • bigtoe33 - Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - link

    For all who want the AV8 bios...first join the forums over at www.bleedinedge.com, then look in bigtoe's bios bin. you will find the bios under abit amd boards.

    http://www.bleedinedge.com/forum/showpost.php?p=32...
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - link

    #31 - A friend will post a host for the BIOS soon, as I can't handle all the individual requests. Until then email me and I will be happy to send it to you.

    #32 & #33 - The Socket 939 boards WILL handle ECC and non-ECC memory, but I suspect the question is larger than this. Socket 940/Opteron requires REGISTERED memory and the ECC can be on or off. We have tested the 939 with Registered memory and it is definitely NOT compatable with Registered memory. If you want to keep using Registered memory (Which you may have bought for 940) you will have to stick with an Opteron.
    Reply

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