Socket 754 Roundup, Part 3: Asus, Soltek & DFIby Wesley Fink on September 14, 2004 12:03 AM EST
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IndexThis 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.