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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  • RyanVM - Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - link

    Also, networking benches would have been nice (throughput and CPU utilization). It would be interesting to see what kind of impact Gigabyte going with a 3rd party ethernet controller has in comparison to the MSI board using the NF3's controller.

    On a somewhat related note, when will the Neo2 actually be available for purchase?
    Reply
  • Marlin1975 - Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - link

    How about telling board makers to use better Sound for their boards.

    I got my board as it came with a VIA Envy soundcard. When I see RealTek sound that tells me they don;t care about quality, but about what they can say comes with the board.
    Even C-Media has a new full (non-ac97) soundchip out now that can;t be that much more then a realtek 850/650/655 chip.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - link

    #7,8,9 - Corrected. Since ECS did use a SiS chip on their VIA board for secondary RAID, I got confused and spread the chipsets around :-) Reply
  • Stefpet - Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - link

    ...but when will we see K8T890 or nforce4 motherboards?

    I don't want to be forced to replace the motherboard with a new one to get that top performing PCI Express card later...
    Reply
  • Crassus - Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - link

    Final words, somewhere in the middle of the page:
    "The ECS is a remarkable step forward for ECS"
    :c)

    Great work, though.
    Reply
  • RyanVM - Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - link

    Silly me, I meant ECS, not Epox. Reply
  • RyanVM - Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - link

    "8 USB 2.0 ports supported by nF3-250" for the K8T800PRO-based Epox KV2? Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - link

    #4 - Corrected. With more than 9000 words a number typo seems inevitable. Reply
  • BLHealthy4life - Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - link

    Still can't find the MSI K8n Neo2 mobo for sale anywhere.

    Been waiting and waiting....and waiting some more...

    Reply
  • AkumaX - Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - link

    Our FX53 topped out at about 2.59 GHz on the ECS KV2, which is slightly below the 3.6+ achieved on the top 939 boards Reply

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