Index

This is our third roundup of Athlon 64 Socket 754 motherboards. Our first roundup appeared last fall in Athlon64 Motherboards: First Look at Chaintech, FIC, and MSI. Several individual boards were reviewed after that, and then we did a roundup of the second generation 754 boards this past May in Socket 754 Roundup: Comparing Generation 2. This was just before the introduction of Socket 939, and we really thought that this would be the last review of major boards for Socket 754. It was expected that when the dual-channel Socket 939 was introduced in June, the only new 754 boards would be aimed at the value market. However, several factors have changed those expectations.

First, the second generation 754 chipsets for Athlon 64 represented a genuine improvement in features, flexibility, and performance for AMD's processors. Second, while we did find the 939 to be a faster processor, the real performance improvements from dual-channel memory are fairly small, mainly because the Athlon 64 uses shorter pipes and is not as bandwidth-sensitive as current Pentium 4 processors. This means that the real improvement from dual-channel 939 is only about 2% to 5%. Third, and perhaps most important, AMD has kept prices for Socket 939 very high, with all the value A64 CPUs only available in Socket 754. Fourth, enthusiasts have found that many Socket 754 boards, like the recently reviewed DFI LANParty UT nF3-250Gb, overclock those bargain processors very well - often reaching beyond the performance that can be achieved with overclocked 939 processors, which are more expensive.

All of these factors have encouraged some manufacturers to introduce new Socket 754 motherboards aimed at the enthusiast even after the Socket 939 was launched and processors were available. In this installment, we will take a closer look at the Asus K8N-E, Soltek K8AN2E-GR, and the DFI nF3-250Gb. All 3 boards are based on the second generation nVidia nForce3-250Gb chipset. As you saw in our chipset review, nVidia has added the features to bring their nF3-250 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 and truly useful features compared to other A64 boards. nVidia also fixed the problems with their implementation of PCI/AGP lock on the 150, and we have found a working PCI/AGP lock on every nForce3-250 motherboard that we have tested, just as nVidia promised.

We have compared the 3 new motherboards to all of the boards in our second generation roundup. Since boards based on the nF3-250 family and the updated VIA K8T800 PRO offer genuine improvements over the earlier first generation boards, we have only included boards based on these second generation chipsets in this comparison. If overclocking is not particularly important to you, then one of the first generation boards based on the VIA chipset might also meet your needs at a lower price. Please keep in mind that most of the first generation boards did not have working AGP/PCI locks and HyperTransport speeds, and options were generally lower than second generation boards. Again, this probably does not matter if you never plan to overclock your Socket 754 board, but if overclocking is part of your plans, the 2nd generation boards are much more capable. As already mentioned, the feature sets are also generally better on 2nd generation motherboards for A64.

Asus K8N-E: Features and Layout
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  • thebluesgnr - Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - link

    #28,

    have you tested any SiS board from ASRock? They claim their K8S8X locks AGP/PCI. I've seen good OC results with that board - including this one:
    http://members.home.nl/ethanol/mem.JPG

    Also, OCWorkBench has a review of the ASRock K8-Upgrade-760GX. They overclocked the FSB to 252MHz on this mATX board, so I can only assume it locks the AGP/PCI buses.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - link

    #24 - justly
    There is actually another complaint about Sis. None of the Sis A64 cipsets I have tested, including the 939 Reference Board, have a working PCI/AGP lock. We sincerely hope this is fixed on the upcoming 939 chipset.

    We liked the Sis chipset very much, but major manufacturers just wouldn't support it. If you recall we awarded the Refernece Board our Editors Choice - as did other web sites - then we all waited for the boards that never came.

    I think Sis is an innovative chipset and we have reviewed all the Sis 754 boards we could find, including DFI and Foxconn. The people at Sis are also great to work with and we would personally love to see a significant win by Sis. Unfortunately, Sis is mainly seen in bargain boards. We agree it's a shame, but we also have to deal with reality in our testing.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - link

    #24 and #26 - Justly -
    Thanks for the benefit of the doubt here. I always compare new drivers to earlier scores to see if there are substantive differences. Frankly if there are I normally stick with the old drivers for consistency.

    That is the reason you have not seen us using Divx 5.2, for instance, in place of 5.1.1. When we tested 5.2 the performance differences from 5.1.1 were significant. Eventually we will replace 5.1.1 with the latest Divx when it fits the schedule to do retesting.

    The performance differences I found cannot be explained with 4.8 vs. 4.5 ATI drivers. I suspect BIOS tweaks DO have something to do with it however, which, as you are suggesting, probably means the earlier boards with later BIOS' are probably also faster.

    There is always the trade off between changing driver versions for testing and keeping drivers up-to-date. I can only say AnandTech is very cautious about driver versions - particularly in ongoing test/database areas like motherboards.

    You will soon be seeing a new General Performance Benchmark at AnandTech, since Veritest and PC Magazine have discontinued support for Winstones (and they don't work well with SP2). We will be talking more about this in an upcoming review.
    Reply
  • justly - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    #25 – I understand the delay involved in retesting. I am not trying to say that retesting is required for comparison, but if the scores where just copied then it would be nice to see it pointed out on the test configuration or in the final words that more than one video driver was used.

    Actually a while back (around the time of “the real slim shady” article) I noticed identical systems being retested (using identical software/drivers) where the scores fluctuated more than the difference I suspect this article might have. So I am really giving Wesley a lot of credit (although it may not sound like it) for being able to set up systems months apart with such consistency.

    Really the only complaint I have (other than leaving out SiS) is that if he did what I suspect, then it should have been mentioned in the article. Then again if what I suspect is true it might have been better to leave out the whole first paragraph on the final word page.
    Reply
  • TrogdorJW - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    #24 - I understand the desire to see comparable scores, but retesting on old hardware with new drivers would probably add a week or two of work. I certainly wouldn't want to do it! Then there are BIOS revisions that need to be updated as well. Yuck. :p

    I think it's relatively safe to say that performance with most of the other Nforce3-250 boards is going to be about the same as these, and the only remaining factor tends to be overclocking and features. I'm perfectly happy with my MSI K8N Neo Platinum. Were I buying a new S754 board today, it would still be a tough call between the DFI and the MSI board. I don't like the Asus look (or lack of certain features), and the same goes for the Soltek.

    Really, I think I would still stick with my MSI board. It would probably end up coming down to what else was included with the motherboard - nice rounded IDE cables would be great, as would a rounded floppy cable (because I still use a floppy drive on occasion). Just one man's opinion, of course.
    Reply
  • justly - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    Wesley, first off I would like to say that I think your articles are some of the best on Anandtech. The thing is I still see a few things in your articles that “ever so slightly” annoy me.
    One is this quote “If overclocking is not particularly important to you, then one of the first generation boards based on the VIA chipset might also meet your needs at a lower price.” WELL WHAT ABOUT SiS. It seems that Anandtech has amnesia when it comes to SiS chipsets. Other than the very first SiS based socket 754 motherboard (the ECS 755-A) all Anandtech reviews seem to have only one main complaint about the SiS chipset, it overclocking abilities. So why don’t you mention it?

    The other thing is that by looking through the Generation 2 Socket 754 Roundup it appears that the Generation 2 motherboard results where copied not retested. I think it would be fine to do (for comparison sake) if everything was the same but in the Generation 2 Socket 754 Roundup it shows a different video driver than what is listed for the Socket 754 Roundup, Part 3. So I have to ask is there absolutely no performance difference between the cat 4.5 and cat 4.8 drivers, or could the reason that the 3rd generation boards seem slightly faster have something to do with the video driver being used?

    I realize that my concerns are very trivial and probably have no effect on the outcome of the article, but to be fair to the other chipset and motherboard manufactures I still think they are valid questions, trivial yes but still valid.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    #21 and #22 - The full implementation of nF3-250Gb is 4 SATA ports that can be combined in any way in RAID with the IDE ports. Asus implemented 2 nVidia SATA ports plus 4 Silicon Image SATA ports.

    The problem is ports 1 and 2 on nVidia are coupled with the PHY Gigabit LAN and generally will not overclock very well. Ports 3 and 4 generally perform as well as regular IDE on the nF3-250Gb chipset.
    Reply
  • jediknight - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    OK... I'm confused here. I thought Asus added an *extra* RAID controller in addition to the one provided in the stock 250gb implementation. Am I wrong here? Reply
  • Zebo - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    "The decision by Asus to use Silicon Image SATA instead is really a drawback in overclocking."

    Instead of what?
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    #18 -
    Quite a few users are reporting success using the Mobile Athlon 64 chips with the DFI LANParty UT. Many are stating the DFI recognizes the mobiles just fine and sets the correct settings for the mobile chips. In fact you will see this combination as an alternate in an upcoming OC Guide.

    The biggest issue with the 754 mobiles on a desktop, once the board compatability is fine, is the HSF. Most won't make good contact with the mobile that does not use a heatshield. I am hearing decent things about the Thermalright XP-90 sink with mobiles on a K8.
    Reply

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