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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  • Andreos - Thursday, July 07, 2005 - link

    Wesley - That helps, thanks for educating me on this stuff. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, July 07, 2005 - link

    #51 - We reviewed the K8NXP-SLI in the SLI roundup and the Ultra counterpart is the K8NXP-9. If you will look closely at the Gigabyte website pictures of the K8N Ultra-9 you will see it is the same board with a passive heatsink and fewer features. For information on how your Gigabyte performs at stock speeds (which is all that interests you) then please refer to the single video benchmarks for the K8NXP-SLI in the SLI roundup. We report all benchmarks at stock speeds so you and other readers can compare performance. Overclocking is covered as a separate feature. If you do not choose to overclock that is your business, but the information you are asking for is fully covered in our reviews. ALL the nForce4 Ultra boards perform almost the same at stock speeds, which should not really come as a surprise since the memory controller is on the CPU. If you were expecting the Gigabyte K8N Ultra-9 would perform better at stock speeds that anything else then you are badly misinformed. The Gigabyte boards do very well at stock speeds, but all the nF4 boards are close in performance at stock speeds.

    #53 - The BFG VNF4 Ultra is a rebadged (relabeled) Chaintech VNF4 motherboard. We did review the Chaintech VNF4 Ultra in this roundup.
    Reply
  • VinnyS - Thursday, July 07, 2005 - link

    I would have liked to have seen the BFG NF4 Ultra board included in this round-up, it got high marks in a [H]ardOCP review. Any chance for an update to this review with this board included? Reply
  • TheGlassman - Thursday, July 07, 2005 - link

    Well I was tired, You were using the 6-3-05 bios, should have quit while I was ahead. So now I have no idea what the problem was.
    At any rate the 6-3-05 bios is a dual core bios, so no flashing to a beta is needed for dual core.
    Reply
  • Andreos - Thursday, July 07, 2005 - link

    I don't think you guys know your audience all that well. Not everybody is into overclocking to the hairy edge. Some of us wnat a fast and quiet board with dead-nuts solid reliability. For that reason, it is incomprehensible that the Gigabyte GA-K8N Ultra-9 was not included in this so-called "roundup". This board has no SLI counterpart, but it is of extreme interest to a lot of folks planning workstations based on X2 processors (and for which overclocking is of lower interest than reliable operation). Wake up dudes - the game is changing! Clock speed is no longer the Holy Grail. Other sites are savvy to this and will soon be eating your lunch! Reply
  • Palek - Thursday, July 07, 2005 - link

    #49, no worries. I don't work for Anandtech, by the way. :)

    By my "far more than a day" remark I intended to say that I figured a review like this would take more like a week at a minimum - quite possibly even longer - to put together, so by the time the article was released some BIOSes would be outdated, since BIOS updates seem to pop up every other day these days. That is all.
    Reply
  • TheGlassman - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Sorry Palek, you didn't write the review, oops. My apologies to you and time for bed.
    Wesley, can you look into that?
    Thanks, and I'm sure glad the over a day remark wasn't yours.
    Reply
  • TheGlassman - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Thanks for your comments Palek, especially the latest and greatest comment. I checked the bios you used for the chaintech, it is a dual core only beta, ANY release bios including the 6-03-05 official dual core support (a month older than either of the winning (because they over clock TCCD better?) boards, and older than any dated bios) will perform much better in overclocking and probably every other test.
    If Chaintech shipped you a board with that bios it wasn't a wise move for a single core test. I think it would be fair to retest the chaintech vnf4 with a release bios, and if the results are different to note that.
    As far as the time taken to prepare this round up, much less time could have been used running bench mark after benchmark that shows apprx the same performance, and I would expect it take more than a day to write up such a comprehensive review. To take a few days to do testing that can benefit people who will base their buying decisons on your results, I think would be worth while.
    I am happy that I could pinpoint the problem with the Chaintech VnF4 Ultra results, as you may have guessed I am quite familliar with it. In the past, Anandtech has always explained why a beta bios was being used, I guess that it wasn't noted this time because you felt rushed.
    PS I know the DFI's are excellent boards, but their site lists a march date for their most recent bios, so maybe you should have used that one instead of their latest and greatest TCCD overclocking beta bios, and since you were using a beta, you should, again, have listed why.
    I'm sorry, saying it took more than a day is not good enough for the anandtech standards that have been so high for so long.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    We have corrected the CPU and Memory voltage adjustments for the Abit AN8 Fatal1ty. This version only has voltage adjustments to 2.8V for memory, while the later Ultra and SLI versions do support memory voltages to 3.55V. Reply
  • Palek - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Wesley, that would be "proofreading" - one word! ;) Is that a job offer? :)

    #41, TheGlassman, you shouldn't have unreasonable expectations. I'm sure this review took far more than a day to put together, so of course some of the BIOSes used will not be the latest and the greatest. Adding three different types of RAM to the mix would require even more time. Then if you want to test them with different divider etc. settings, suddenly you have over a hundred combinations, a benchmarking nightmare. You have to draw the line somewhere. This was not an article focused on overclocking, but a comparison of 7 motherboards. I would have liked to see the new Abit boards included as well, but I guess that review will come soon enough, too.
    Reply

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