Processor Architecture

Another concern has surfaced in the last few months that should be a consideration for anyone shopping for an Athlon 64 motherboard - the processor factor. When we tested the nForce4 SLI boards, we used the 4000+ Clawhammer chip as our standard CPU. We also had done some testing with the early Winchester and Newcastle chips, which were based on the 90nm production process instead of the 130nm process used for Clawhammer. Overall, these early 90nm chips were mainly a die-shrink, and performance - and compatability - were much the same whether it be the Clawhammer, Winchester, or Newcastle.

Recently, however, we have some new choices from AMD in Revision E chips and dual-core. These new Revision E parts support SSE3, are based on the 90nm process, and they do not always behave as earlier chips did in the same motherboard. We saw this for ourselves in our Gold Editor's Choice MSI K8N Neo4/SLI. While we experienced outstanding overclocking with a Clawhammer chip, users with Venice/San Diego chips were experiencing perfectly miserable overclocking results. It has taken MSI some time to find a solution to this problem, but we are happy to report that a new BIOS has just been released that claims to fix the Venice issues on the MSI.

The point of this is that the newest Athlon 64 Revision E chips do behave differently than earlier Athlon 64 chips in some boards. This is likely a temporary concern as the market adjusts to the newest CPU architectures, but it is a factor that should be considered.

This becomes an even larger issue with the new Manchester/Toledo dual-core chipsets. The Athlon 64 X2 joins two Venice or San Diego cores on a single CPU. These Revision E X2 dual-core CPUs (the 4200+, 4400+. 4600+, and 4800+) generally will work in any Socket 939 board. However, you will certainly need at least a BIOS upgrade. Most of the major manufacturers have quickly brought the needed BIOS upgrades to market, but if you plan to run a dual-core chip, you need to check before you buy.

We approached these issues in this roundup by continuing our benchmarks with the Clawhammer-based 4000+ processor - to allow the greatest comparison to earlier motherboard reviews. However, we also checked each board with a Manchester 90nm 4200+ CPU. This required finding the latest BIOS for x2 support, which we have also listed in the Motherboard Features chart for each board. This tells you the earliest BIOS revision that has been said by the manufacturer to support the X2 dual core chips.

It should also be mentioned that AMD has implemented a hidden feature in Revision E processors, namely additional memory ratios that can be implemented in BIOS. As we had seen on the Abit motherboard in this roundup, a Revision E chip adds 433, 466, and 500 options to the available memory ratios. This has to be coded in the BIOS to be available, but the new asynchronous ratios are a feature of the Revision E Memory Controller. We identified 2 boards, the Abit and DFI, that correctly implemented this function with the Rev. E chips and included that information in the feature table.

The good news is that just about any Socket 939 motherboard can run dual-core, and every motherboard in this roundup had a BIOS very recently available to support AMD x2 processors. But you will more than likely need a BIOS update.

How to Update BIOS for Dual-Core if You Have Dual-Core Only

This brings up the nagging question that is always asked when BIOS upgrades are required for certain CPUs. What do you do if you have a board that needs a BIOS upgrade for dual-core and you only have a dual-core chip? We asked AMD this question and was given the following reply:
"If the BIOS you are working with (original BIOS in the board) supports a rev E single core (AKA... 90nm as most new boards should), it will allow you to flash the BIOS to a BIOS that supports rev E dual core. In my experience, a DC processor with single core rev E support will run fine, but only as a single core. If the BIOS doesn't support rev E (In other words, you may have a good board, but the BIOS is pretty old), you will likely need to install a pre-rev E (AKA-130nm) AMD processor to flash the BIOS.

I'm told that if a customer can't flash their BIOS, many mobo vendors will mail out the BIOS chip to them (if it's not soldered down, obviously)."

Index The Motherboard Test Suite
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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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