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.

Processor Architecture
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  • arfan - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    "So ECS, Foxconn, Biostar - we can only suggest that you need to add features and performance that will make an AMD user want to buy your boards. "

    Why u think's ECS is bad ???

    From your benchmark, ECS is not too bad, their ranking in the middle until top1.

    Sorry, if myenglish is so bad.
    Reply
  • smn198 - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Page 1: "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."

    I thought the base nForce4 had a 800MHz HT where as the Ultra and SLI have 1GHz. Is that not correct?
    Reply
  • Frallan - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    For PSU requirements read the mfg websites. Especially the DFI comes with explicit requirements.

    480W 24pin ATX 2.0+ PSU and from experiance Id have to say that U want a 1st tier PSU on top of that. Anecdotal advices that its possible to run a DFI SLI set up overclocked from a 350W PSU exists but fact remains that a good solid 500W+ ATX 2.0+ PSU will help U with stability.
    Reply
  • Calin - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    What I want to ask: does the processor works with four DS DIMMS at 1T command rate at lower frequency? By what you say (that 2T command rate is much slower than 1T command rate), then 1T command rate at 333MHz would be faster than 2T command rate at 400MHz. Reply
  • Vesperan - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    I love the look of that Epox board. Pity noone imports Epox products into New Zealand any more. Reply
  • GhostlyGhost - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Ermm.. It's "Marvell". With two l's. Reply
  • Heidfirst - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    I think that you must have a bad example of the ABIT. A no. of other sites (HardOCP, Hexus etc.) have all been over 300 ref. clock with it.
    Not to mention that there is also now the non-Fatality AN8 Ultra which is cheaper & yet has better sound & 3.55Vdimm instead of 2.8V on the Fatality ...
    Reply
  • DLeRium - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    I think the Neo4 should've been included even though it was in the SLI test. Same with the Asus board. Those are really important boards. I'm sure if you add up the Asus and MSI users they would outnumber Biostar + Foxconn + Chaintech + ECS. Iono. just my 2 cents. I dont want to go look at the SLI review and then compare it to this review to see other boards and do a mental benchmark merge to get hte relative performance.

    You know what we should make? We should make the uber super chart system. Kinda like THG's CPU charts. Just make the interactive system comparation machine. Choose a CPU, a mobo, a gfx card etc. If you bench every component (not every combo), but just CPUs vs CPUs, mobos vs mobos, you can get the relative score and construct a relative table for combinations..... hmm just a thought.
    Reply
  • Palek - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    A few mistakes made it into the final article...

    -------------------------------------------------
    Page 7

    1. The following bit does not belong in this review. Cut and paste?

    "There are absolutely no PCIe slots at all on the Neo4/SLI except for the pair of x16 slots for SLI video. MSI tells us that the 2nd PCIe can function as a PCIe x1 slot if you're not using it for video, but that is it for PCIe. Does this really matter? Right now, it really isn't important, since we had a very hard time even finding a PCIe x1 LAN card for the new PCI Express. It may matter in the future, but by that time, you will likely have moved on to a newer version of whatever chipset is the latest wonder. This is particularly clear when you look at the feature set of the MSI, since it is definitely a cut above the other boards in this roundup."

    2. "SPDIG" should be SPDIF, or S/PDIF if you want to be really accurate.

    Page 11

    1. The title row of the table is incorrect. The motherboard name should read:
    "DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra"

    2. Link to next page is also incorrect, same as above.

    Page 12

    1. Title of the page is incorrect, same as above.

    2. Title row of the table is incorrect, same as above.

    Page 13

    1. "SPDIG" round two.
    --------------------------------------------------

    Also, do guys have any idea why placing the codec on a daughter card reduces CPU overhead? Obviously there is something more going on than just the physical relocation of the chips. Any theories or explanations?
    Reply
  • Xenoterranos - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Just a word about the soundblaster Live on the MSI board...

    "That price tag [200$] may be a bit high for the average gamer who just spent most of his/her savings on a Pentium II / Voodoo2 setup, however if you're going to swallow the cost of an expensive sound card it might as well be the Creative Labs SB Live!"

    That was Anandtech back in '99. And you're getting this for free! (well, almost)
    Reply

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