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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  • yacoub - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    #33 - Wesley, that's awesome news. Can you post that somewhere more important so buyers know to be on the lookout for it? =) Reply
  • kyparrish - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Good article!

    I'm seriously considering dumping my DFI S754/NC 3200+ setup for that Epox board and a cheap S939 A64 :)
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    #29 and #31 - UPDATE: I have talked with contacts in the Memory Industry and Samsung TCCD is now available again from Samsung. TCCD disappeared for a few months but production didn't really stop. TCC5 is DDR466 and TCCD is DDR500, but both chips come off the same line and are binned for speed grade. Samsung stopped binning for DDR500 grade until recently - and left this job to the memory makers.

    Recently Samsung has told memory makers they are binning once again for DDR500/TCCD and the TCCD chips are available again. It will take a few weeks for the pipelines to fill but TCCD is not dead. Some companies are staying with TCC5 at a lower cost and binning for the top performance unless the yields start to go down.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    #24 - The base nForce4 is sometimes called the nForce4 X4 and runs at 800 HTT, while the Ultra and SLI run at 1000HT. When 1000HT was first introduced we found no real difference in performance at 800HT and 1000HT. What the 1000HT did provide was quite a bit more overclocking headroom. A reader may have an example of where 1000HT outperforms 800HT but the real world difference is negligible.

    #28 - There are now more than 60 BIOS releases for the DFI nF4, many customized for particular memory types. Only 3 have been posted to their website. For the latest DFI nF4 BIOS a good place to check is www.xtremesystems.org or the BIOS Files Forum at www.bleedinedge.com. There is now a 7/04 BIOS that is reported to be more stable in upper memory ratios (433,466,500) with Rev. E chips.

    #29 - You are overstating the TCCD situation. Corsair still sells TCCD, as do several other memory vendors. There is no doubt TCCD is drying up everywhere but Corsair, and that will continue. New TCC5 dimms that are said to perform like TCCD are in process in at least one memory company. We have requested these new TCC5-based dimms and will share our findings as soon as we receive the memory. There are also some new BH5 dimms that we thought were gone forever. We have even seen the new BH5 binned and advertised as DDR500 2-2-2 at higher voltages around 3.3V.
    Reply
  • yacoub - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Well, while this review -has- convinced me to go with the DFI board over the Chaintech, that is purely due to the audio CPU usage issues of the onboard vs daughterboard. I'm shocked at how much difference that makes.

    That said, most of the memory testing (and thus most of the review) was meaningless to me (and everyone else who doesn't have access to TCCD memory anymore). =/
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    #17 - Thanks for pointing out the errors. They have been corrected. Do you want a job proof reading :-)

    Reply
  • yacoub - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Regarding the tRAS recommendation:

    Can we petition Anandtech to stop using memory that the consumer can't get anymore? (Namely TCCD-based Plat Rev2.) Go pick up some TCC5 and do your tests with what the consumer is actually going to be receiving so your tests actually mean something.
    Reply
  • mongoosesRawesome - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    What BIOS version did you use with the DFI? It reads: "Award 7/01/2005 Release" in your list of features for the DFI, but I could not find that BIOS release on their website. Reply
  • AsiLuc - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Sorry I meant: GA-K8NF9
    http://www.giga-byte.com/MotherBoard/Products/Prod...
    Reply
  • AsiLuc - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    I'd liked to see the Gigabyte GA-K8NP9 reviewed, because it has passive southbridge cooling (silence :) ) and is cheap. Reply

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