In the last year, NVIDIA has risen to the top of the AMD Athlon 64 chipset market with their nForce series of single-chip solutions. As Socket 939 has matured, nForce4 has gained the dominant position in the AMD motherboard market. VIA, who has never been able to ship a competitive solution to NVIDIA's SLI, has moved down the pecking order somewhat, and is now more regarded as a value chipset, along with SiS, in the Athlon 64 market.

Recently, ATI has demonstrated some very interesting chipsets for the Athlon 64, and a Crossfire multi-GPU video solution to compete with NVIDIA's industry leading SLI. But the ATI chipsets and Crossfire boards have yet to ship, so they still remain a potential competitor for the future. At the low-end ULI, which is what remains of the former ALi chipset maker, has also been showing some very interesting chipsets for Athlon 64. There are new players emerging in the AMD market, but for now, the nForce4 chipset is King of the Athlon 64 hill. For that reason, people care quite a bit about how the various nForce4 motherboards compare in performance and features.

Several months ago, we took our first look at nForce4 production boards in nForce4 SLI Roundup: Painful and Rewarding. That look was very early in the nForce4 cycle, and we had our own share of problems getting all the features to work on those early nF4 boards. We persevered and did complete the roundup, finding a couple of boards that stood out from the crowd as Editor's Choices. This time around, we are looking at boards based on the single GPU nForce4 Ultra chipset. Keep in mind that nForce4 Ultra and nForce4 SLI are the exact same chipset, with the only difference being that the SLI function is enabled on the SLI version. There are no performance differences in the SLI and Ultra chipsets, or even the base nForce4 for that matter. These chipsets differ only in which features are available to the buyer - but they beat with the same heart.

The fact that the nForce4, nForce4 Ultra, and nForce4 SLI are identical core chips is important to anyone comparing board performance. SLI can be an expensive option, and if you don't require it, the nForce4 Ultra provides a single video solution with a chipset that performs exactly the same as the SLI chipset in single video. If you can give up a few more features, then the base nForce4 is an even cheaper solution that can give the same level of single video performance. This means that you can look at the performance of one member of the nForce4 family - an nForce4 SLI motherboard tested with single video, for example - and be fairly confident that the lower members of that family have a chipset that performs exactly the same. The different motherboard designs and chips selected for features might have some small impact on final performance for different nForce4 boards from the same manufacturer, but the differences will mainly be the available features on the various boards.

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  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Saturday, July 09, 2005 - link

    "If you looking to save even more money, the 9NPA, based on the nForce4 x4 chipset, has a street price of around $90. You give up the SATA 2 support and 1000 bus, but most of the performance features are still available in the same basic motherboard. "

    I think you're talking about the 9NPAJ motherboard, which uses the nForce4 chipset and supports "2.0 GTs HT FSB".
    Reply
  • truteck - Monday, December 19, 2005 - link

    Regarding the post from ChineseDemocracyGNR on: Jul 9, 2005 3:19 PM
    Quoting statement from Anandtech's reviewer:
    "If you looking to save even more money, the 9NPA, based on the nForce4 x4 chipset, has a street price of around $90. You give up the SATA 2 support and 1000 bus, but most of the performance features are still available in the same basic motherboard. "
    -------------------

    ChineseDemocracyGNR:

    I think you're talking about the 9NPAJ motherboard, which uses the nForce4 chipset and supports "2.0 GTs HT FSB".

    -------------------
    I agree with ChineseDemocracyGNR! To AnandTech:
    No disrespect intended!
    "Sorry to say, but i believe your statement is wrong".
    The Epox Model # EP-9NPA+Ultra MoBo does support Sata-2 drives.
    I don't know where you got that incorrect info.
    Also, i'm not sure what you are refering too about your other statement about "giving up 1000 bus"? It supports 2000 bus.

    T_T
    Reply
  • TheGlassman - Saturday, July 09, 2005 - link

    HTT's multi's were listed in the review.
    I have confirmed that the Chaintech's 6-03 bios overclocks just fine with single core cpu's.
    Phiro, I understand your point, and it is a good one.
    For me Anandtech reviews are one of my primary tools for deciding what hardware to buy. I think it is the same for a lot of people. Anandtech has earned this trust. That is why this review is disturbing. The results do not match my experience. You might notice in my previous posts, that I have followed false trails trying to figure out why. I cannot explain why the Chaintech board (and others with experience with other boards) performed so poorly in overclocking.
    The reason this is imoportant is that the final ratings follow the philosophy stated in the beginning, that a better overclocker is a better board, because the actual performance at stock speeds is equal.The application testing bore this out.
    Us 'bleeding edge" guys are well aware of how very small changes can make a big difference in performance. The fact that the award winners were using bios's not available to the public ( I have just now rechecked) that are dated a few days after their most recent bios, (for dfi, a beta which carries no warrantee support, their last release bios (the one that will be on the board you buy) is dated in March), throws the final results into doubt. In other words they appear to be special bioses for this test.
    In the past, Anandtech has been very forthcoming when using a beta bios, explaining why, and stating that the board maker will make it available, or the included features available in a release bios. This was not done, they were not even labeled as beta's.
    When Anandtech labels a board as an award winner, it is giving it's seal of approval, that people such as your self and myself will factor in when making a buying decision. The truth is under your criteria, any of these boards will serve you very well. From the application tests, your decision should be based on a) a good match to your programs, b)features you need or think you may need, and c) price. Anandtech's recommendation is irrelevant.
    Anandtech's "forum-bleeding edge" audience is larger than you assume in your estimate. The fact that you are looking at an nVidia board at all says you are very involved in you purchasing decisions, other wise you would let some one else handle it for you. "gimme something that works" would be your involvement.
    Anand awards have been given to 2 boards that you cannot buy, or so far even upgrade, to "as tested".
    Speaking for myself, computer hardware is hard to keep up with, and losing a rock like Anandtech will be a great loss. I hope that will not happen, but excellent sites do fall by the wayside if they slip too far.
    Reply
  • Phiro - Friday, July 08, 2005 - link

    I think Anandtech has their audience nailed down about 80% of the time - their one flaw is listening to their forums a little too much IMO.

    Too many people have posted "oh what a dumb review we already bought our motherboards blah blah blah" - a GOOD example of not listening to the forums. If you're posting on the forums, you've probably been here for some time and you're in that 1% of computer users who qualify as "bleeding edge". Anandtech doesn't want to constantly address just the bleeding edge audience - as fun as you can be, you're 1% of the market, and for every right decision you make, you make wrong decisions.

    To rip on Anandtech a little bit though, they do listen too much to the forum overclockers. The vast majority of users have NO interest in overclocking. 4% higher framerates isn't worth goofing around with voltages and installing a water cooling system.
    Reply
  • arswihart - Friday, July 08, 2005 - link

    I think its funny that so many people are now like, "Epox is the best" "they OC the best" "I'm gonna get one of those Epox NF4 boards that Anandtech reviewed". I have told you for months that Epox is nice, and to get the 9npa+, and great reviews have been floating around for a long while now. someof you take Anandtech's word as the word of GOD. That is hilarious and I guess its to be expected out of the mainstream audience that reads Anandtech.

    About the 9npa+ and 9npa SLI, OFFICIAL dual-core BIOS's were just released today by Epox. Enjoy.
    Reply
  • TheGlassman - Friday, July 08, 2005 - link

    Good question. It could explain the problems experienced with most of the boards. The chipset will run well over 1000 with no problem, but 1200ish will cause the boards various problems, usually a reset to a safe mode.
    Reply
  • Peanya - Thursday, July 07, 2005 - link

    Hmm I wonder if they tried a 3x LDT multiplier on some of those boards. I'm thinking that's why the Abit wouldn't get past 250MHz. I've not only seen reviewers get well past there, but many users. Some brands automatically lower the LDT for you, whereas some do not. Was this taken into consideration? Reply
  • AtaStrumf - Thursday, July 07, 2005 - link

    MOBOs have always been messy things to test, debug etc. The thing I hate most is changing the MOBO, because there are so many possible problems associated with it.

    I do have one HUGE gripe with this roundup. You chose to test DFI's non SLI board as a control for SLI/Ultra boards, but that happens to be the worst possible choice. Why? Because, as you pointed out yourself, that is exactly THE SAME board, with just one pin on the chipset shorted/cut. For control you should have tested the worst case scenario, like a physically different board (just one PCIe 8x/different layout, feature set) possibly a newer revision. This brings us to the biggest problem with this kinds of assumptions and MOBO testing in general. Different versions, REVISIONS, bios', different memories, variable sample-to-sample MOBO quality, and now to top it off, different Athlon CPU revisions. I definately think you should not have made the assumptions that you did and should have tested ASUS, MSI and GIGABYTE NF4 Ultra boards. They are afterall one of the biggest enthusiast MOBO manufacturers.

    If you want to keep your reputation you should definately pay more attention to this sort of things. Don't rush so much! You don't have do a roundup, post individual board reviews and take more time with them. Like you did with the DFI! You should even get at least three samples of each MOBO from different sources and compare them in order to really be able to get reliable results. Forum posts from other people can be very misleading, because of all the variables and skills these people have. This would make you THE BEST ;-) As things stand now, you're pretty mediocre I'm afraid.

    One typo I found:

    Page 19:

    Our past tests have shown performance of the AGP-8x and PCIe **688** Ultra to be virtually identical

    Probably 6800 ;-)
    Reply
  • Viper4185 - Thursday, July 07, 2005 - link

    1) Wesley next time please can you post instructions of how to run memtest to determine the best tRAS rating for your memory. I emailed you in your last article and received no response. Yes, I am a n00b. Perhaps someone else can tell me :P

    2) I have the same memory as you, how do I check if it is TCCD or TCC5?

    3) You don't actually say which ethernet controller is better, the Marvell or the NVIDIA?

    4) I think it was a big mistake for you to leave out the Gigabyte boards. For those that are interested in the Gigabyte boards compared to some of the above check out this review.
    http://www.hardwarezone.com/articles/view.php?cid=...

    Otherwise good review, thanks Wes. Hopefully you can answer Q1-3 or someone else :)
    Reply
  • Jotequila - Thursday, July 07, 2005 - link

    Hum.... Chaintech VNF4-Ultra can reach 275+ FSb easily, there are so many users here that can say same thing as me....

    There is something strange on the results, i can bet that other mobos on the round-up can reach high mhz too....

    Look this:

    http://img55.imageshack.us/img55/2891/superpi17hi....

    Is with my chaintech, i think that you are cheating things here...

    Best Regards,

    Juan Edaurdo Donoso
    Reply

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