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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  • vijay333 - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    oh...final system will have 4-5 HDs, standard DVD reader/writer along with (most likely) a 6800Ultra or a X800XL... Reply
  • Xenoterranos - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Anandtech did toy with a listening test a while back (I really don't remember much about it, other than the fact that they should have used Klipsch proMedia Ultra 5.1 speakers...) Reply
  • vijay333 - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Maybe I missed this info in the article somehow, but could you provide the minimum/recommended PSU wattages for the motherboards? esp the DFI and the Epox. I have a Antec 400W Smartpower PSU right now, but read a few posts on newegg that this might not be enough? Hope I don't need to upgrade this too along with the mobo, cpu and gpu... Reply
  • vijay333 - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

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

    I have a comment about audio -- a topic that most sites ignore.

    Shouldn't there be a blind listening test?


    i mean cpu utilization is fairly useless. If i am listening to mp3s i care more about the quality than cpu utilization.
    Reply
  • flatblastard - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    I stopped reading on page 4 upon discovering the round-up. No explanation needed... Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    g33k -
    The DFI was more a control to demonstrate SLI and Ultra performance were the same other than SLI video. Drivers have updated and we retested everything on the DFI as a sanity check. We ran benchmarks and not a full review, but it was hard to ignore the excellent performance.

    There is also a comment in our Final Words that the MSI Ultra board should also be considered a winner, since the SLI version was a Gold Editors Choice in the SLI roundup, and the Ultra should perform the same.
    Reply
  • g33k - Tuesday, July 05, 2005 - link

    Along the same logic though, I'm curious as to why you chose to review the DFI Ultra-D when you reviewed the SLI version of this board earlier as well?. Reply
  • g33k - Tuesday, July 05, 2005 - link

    Jeez, read Wesley's comments, he just answered why he did not review, the MSI board. It was already reviewed in the SLI roundup.

    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, July 05, 2005 - link

    "As you can see, none of the onboard audio solutions were quite as low in CPU utilization as the Creative SoundBlaster Live! Chip, which is used on the MSI K8N Neo4 SLI Platinum tested in the nForce4 SLI roundup."

    Since this is still nF4 we included components tested on all nForce4 boards. The Ultra version of the MSI, BTW, uses the Realtek ALC850 chipset and not the Sound Blaster Live!. The SB Live! is only used on the MSI SLI.
    Reply

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