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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  • 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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