NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra: Biostar's Performance Surpriseby Gary Key on February 16, 2006 12:05 AM EST
- Posted in
"Mistakes are the portals of discovery."This quote by the accomplished Irish author, James Augustine Joyce, describes our experiences with the Biostar TForce4 U 775 motherboard. Biostar has been in existence since 1986 and has a long history of providing generally good products at inexpensive price points. They have branched out recently with video card and SFF products with success. In fact, the majority of Biostar's market success is tied to their ability to quickly deliver product based on current chipsets or designs at bargain pricing. Biostar's products might not be as polished or feature-rich as other manufacturers, but they typically offer mid-range performance at entry level pricing.
The T-series product line currently includes five AMD based products and two Intel based products. This product series is a departure for Biostar as they are catering to the gaming and enthusiast crowd with this product line. The boards feature BIOS enhancements specifically tailored to the casual overclocker along with upgraded hardware components and window's based utilities. More information about the entire line of T-series products can be found here.
The TForce4 U 775 motherboard is based on the recently announced nForce4 Ultra SPP and nForce4 Ultra Intel Edition MCP chipsets. Our initial impression of the motherboard's performance was that of mediocrity and disappointment with a chipset that was designed to compete directly against the excellent Intel 945P. We were harsh in our opinion of the board's performance to Biostar and NVIDIA. In the end, our initial opinion was a mistake and it led to a path of discovery about the performance potential of this chipset and board.
Biostar along with NVIDIA had discovered issues with the original BIOS design and worked together in creating a highly optimized BIOS release that is at the center of the performance results generated by this board. While the performance is nothing less than astounding in certain benchmarks, it is also very average in others. The board has an almost "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" quality about it in configuration, performance, and options.
Once we discovered the right set up, the board's stability was exceptional and delivered impressive results in the latest synthetic and game benchmarks. However, the path that we traveled to find the limits of this board generally resulted in frustration and, at times, agony in the amount of work required to recover from errant settings.
The Self Recovery System (S.R.S.) within the BIOS would allow the system to recover from most errant settings, but we continually experienced random lockups upon entering the BIOS setup screen. These random lockups would require several power down and power up episodes or usage of the clear CMOS jumper. This process might be considered acceptable to an avid enthusiast who is discovering the limits of the board, but it is not for the intended buyer of this product.
The board was not very forgiving if we made a mistake with the settings. We would notice the board performing extremely well in both general applications and benchmarks at a given setting and then completely refuse to boot if we increased the FSB or Memory speeds by a couple of MHz. The majority of boards that we have tested recently would still boot, but would fail a benchmark or generate sporadic results until you finally reached the limit of the board. We attribute this to the Biostar BIOS optimizations and board level design due to cost constraints in meeting the US$95 price target.
Updated Bios Results
Biostar listened to our issues and provided an impressive bios update that has once again transformed this board. Biostar was able to replicate our Self Recovery System (S.R.S.) issues and recently provided bios update, NFUIA210.BST, which has eliminated random lockups once you enter the bios setup screen. This bios also allows for a graceful system recovery once you increase the FSB or Memory speeds past the board's limits for stable operation. We noted the board's overclocking performance and general stability at the increased FSB speeds has also improved. Overall the board feels more responsive and polished in our testing than before. We appreciate Biostar's ability to quickly resolve our reported issues while at the same time improving the board's performance.
The nForce4 Ultra SPP and nForce4 Ultra Intel Edition MCP are newly released chipsets for the mainstream market and will compete directly against the Intel 945P chipset. Unlike the Intel 945P chipset, the nForce4 Ultra SPP offers full support for all Socket 775 processors, including the Extreme Edition units. Further details on the release of this product can be found in our preview article located here.
The chart above lists the standard feature set available when utilizing the NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra SPP and nForce4 Ultra Intel Edition MCP chipsets. The nForce4 Ultra SPP enables full support for 1x16 PCI-E graphics support , up to four x1 PCI-E devices, 4GB memory addressability, and native DDR-2 667MHz memory support. The nForce4 Ultra Intel Edition MCP enables support for 8 USB 2.0 ports, HD Audio with S/PDIF connectors, Gigabit Ethernet, 5 PCI slots, 4 SATA 3.0Gb/s ports, and 4 IDE devices.
Unfortunately, Biostar chose to differentiate these options with AC-97 audio via the Realtek ALC-850 and 10/100Mb/s PCI Ethernet via the Realtek 8201CL PHY.
Let's find out what else we discovered with this board.