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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  • 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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