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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  • Zebo - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Does ECS build EPOX's boards? just curious because they look pretty cheap like ECS IMO.. Reply
  • Heidfirst - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    "[b]#19 and Others - I'm sure you must have noticed that some web sites have never posted a negative review of an Abit board. Also water cooling and asynchronous ram is hardly comparable to our air-cooled tests.

    The first thing I did was check other reviewers and users of the Abit board. The great majority are running into problems at about 250 FSB - although a few are getting better performance. Abit has had so many complaints about the OC performance of this board that I would fully expect a hardware revision on the horizon.[/b]"
    Well the Fatality AN8 SLi, AN8 SLi, AN8 Ultra, AN8 V2.0 & AN8-V are effectively the new revision as I pointed out. Why buy a Fatality AN8 when the AN8 Ultra has better Vcore, better sound & is cheaper?
    & people have had HTT395 & DDR660 out of them on air ...
    Reply
  • Heidfirst - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    #19 and Others - I'm sure you must have noticed that some web sites have never posted a negative review of an Abit board. Also water cooling and asynchronous ram is hardly comparable to our air-cooled tests.

    The first thing I did was check other reviewers and users of the Abit board. The great majority are running into problems at about 250 FSB - although a few are getting better performance. Abit has had so many complaints about the OC performance of this board that I would fully expect a hardware revision on the horizon.

    Abit set the expectation that the AN8 Fatal1ty was the best of the best with a price tag to match. It's an interesting board with many interesting features, but it's performance as it now stands is nowhere near the best.
    Reply
  • TheGlassman - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    I think that a round up such as this would serve the readers better if three types of memory were used and various dividers used.
    My Chaintech VnF4 is running at 256x11 quite happilly, so I know it will run well over 245 with a divider with my memory, and I'm sure most of the other boards as well. And yes, many people run it over 300 HTT with lower multi cpu's.
    This is not to say that 1:1 testing is not important, but since this is a round up, the various needs and budgets of your readers should be taken into account.
    Seeing bios's used that are dated during the testing, with a known single memory may if repeated cause readers to think that Anandtech doesn't deserve it's well earned reputation as a fair and complete tester of all things important to PC ethusiasts.
    Using memories with 3 different types of chips and using relevant dividers to find maximum HTT's and cpu speeds with each, while being more work, I think will be worth while to your readers, especially in a round up where boards are compared directly to each other.
    This current round up implies that most nF4 boards are not capable of high HTT's, but the truth is you have only shown that most do not run one type of memory at very high speeds. You have not exposed the limits of the boards, nor do we know if the situation is the same with any of the other commonly used memories.
    Reply
  • bldckstark - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Xpose-
    Not too early. I don't have my board yet. I have been waiting on X2. Using your same logic that means that nobody has a board yet right? I mean, since I am the only person I know that is going to build a A64 system soon then I should assume that nobody has one.
    Geez
    Reply
  • xpose - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    This Editor's Recommendation for best motherboard is at least 3 months too late. We already have had all of our boards.

    Also, to say that the VN4F Ultra is a bad overclocking board is completely wrong. I have a 3000+ CPU running at 2.67gz now. That is about 49% OC and damn good reguardless of the MB.
    Reply
  • Son of a N00b - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    great article! you can clearly see the hours of hard work you put into it. Great Job, I enjoyed it and it was jam packed with info.

    one quuestion though where was the gugabyte board ultra board?? sure you may have reviewed it in the SLI roundup, but then did you not do the same with DFI? Plus you had great results with the reference gigabyte board, but not the revision 1 board...i'd like to see how ir fairs now...maybe i missed something why you reviewed the DFI board again becuase I am not familiar witha ll their variations and naming scheme, but to me it looked the same...why review that one and not the others? sure its great to rehash what a great board the DFi one is but....

    just wondering as I have always had great success with gigabyte boards...but i probably missed something even thought i read it back to front, sorry if i did as i know that you would never do something without a good reason behind it...

    anyway thanks, keep the awesome articles rolling...
    Reply
  • smn198 - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Hi Wesley, thanks for the clarification on the HTT. do you know if it would have any more of an impact when dual core is brought into the equation?

    Thanks again. Good article BTW!
    Reply
  • BigandSlimey - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    #18 I really like that idea, would probably be a headache to make it and keep it updated though. Reply

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