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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  • Staples - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    I bought a 3200+ system a week ago and this Soltek board. I am glad to see that incomparison, this board's performance fairs really well. There is a big thread here and it seems quite a few people are experiencing various problems with it. Myself included. I think any potential buyer who is inticed by the cheap price might want to check it out before deciding on this one. Reply
  • Illissius - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    Excellent review, and excellent boards. The only nitpick I have is that you say the three boards are constantly trading performance leads in the stock benchmarks; in reality, the Asus K8N-E and Soltek K8FNAEDKJL:DSGKJ3 trade wins and the DFI is usually behind them, where by a larger, where by a smaller margin, except for the Far Cry test where it manages to squeak a win by a fraction of a FPS.
    The DFI board is damn near perfect. There are only three minor problems with it: (1) The various stuff on the board that is glaring yellow is not blue instead; (2) It is not Abit; (3) It's slightly slower at stock speeds than the Asus and Soltek. Otherwise it's completely perfect, if I were buying a board right now it would absolutely be the one I'd choose.
    One topic I'd like to see touched upon is support for mobile/DTR processors; mobiles AXPs were hugely succesful overclockers, but the mobile A64s are held back by almost universally substandard motherboard support for them. A 35W (1.2V) Mobile 2800+ coupled with the Lanparty UT would be pretty amazing, if it worked.
    Reply
  • DoobieOnline - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    Hey Wesley, that's weird that you couldn't get to 9x250 with a SATA drive on the Soltek. I'm using that board and running 10x250 with a 74GB Raptor on NVIDIA SATA 1. It's a great board for under $100! - doobie Reply
  • devonz - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    Just a thought. When you review memory modules you untimately produce comparison charts of the top overclocked performance of the modules. Why not have a set of graphs showing the top overclocked performance of motherboards so we can judge them based on that information too? Reply
  • icarus4586 - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    It would have been interesting, just as a side-note, to see some tests on the DFI running at CAS 1.5, whether they were here or in the article on that board specifically. I've never seen any board/RAM that can run at 1.5-2-2 Reply
  • LocutusX - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    Regarding the Asus board:

    Wesley, is your A64 a Newcastle/CG revision or Clawhammer/C0? I have absolutely no issues running my Newcastle 3000+ @ 255FSB - it's like a rock. But yeah, I am using PATA.

    Also, note that there is a new BIOS (1005) for the K8N-E which allows usage of 2.8v V_dimm on the 1.05 revision mobos.
    Reply
  • jensend - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    I think it would be interesting to see tests of how well different s754 chipsets and boards do with the Paris core Sempron. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    The information in the Soltek Features table has been updated to reflect the latest BIOS values. Reply
  • Gundamit - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    Price performance ratio is so much stonger for the 754. Thats why I decided to go for the DFI right now. In 6-8 months I'll take another look at the 939.

    The only dissapointment in the article was the fact you ran the 1.5 CAS setting but didn't post any results. Maybe it would have been out of place in a "roundup". BTW- Is still a round-up with only three mobos or cows? Maybe you could run some benchmarks and update the original LanpartyUT review?



    Reply
  • ceefka - Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - link

    If you haven't bought anything yet: The 754's only real disadvantage I can think of is its upgrade path or non existence thereof. It is still a very good platform. So what if it is limited to 2/3GB of RAM support. There are not many home users with 2GB+ of RAM. Reply

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