Athlon64 Motherboards: First Look at Chaintech, FIC, and MSIby Wesley Fink on September 23, 2003 1:03 PM EST
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At long last, we finally get an opportunity to take a first look at shipping Athlon64 motherboards. The first Athlon64 boards at Anandtech seem almost equally divided between the VIA K8T800 chipset and the single-chip nVidia nForce3 150. Unlike the wide performance differences we see on Athlon between KT600 and the nForce2 Ultra400, performance of VIA and nVidia with Athlon64 is practically a dead heat. Each chipset offers certain unique advantages and weaknesses; but as a buyer, you can evaluate fairly the Athlon64 boards with an eye to features and assume that they will perform similarly – whether they are nForce3 or K8T800. This may change, as we may see one or the other pull ahead over time, but our early testing shows that there is virtually no performance difference between the chipsets.
So where do these new Athlon64 motherboards fit in the new offerings announced today by AMD? The top performer from AMD is called AthlonFX51, and it is more like an Opteron than an Athlon64. This new FX Socket 940 processor, in fact, requires an Opteron motherboard, and at least Registered DDR memory (or Registered ECC) to get it running. The memory you have now is likely unbuffered DDR and it will not work on AthlonFX. FX51 runs Registered or Registered ECC memory in Dual-Channel mode. AMD is projecting small numbers of FX chips and boards going to Computer Enthusiasts until the relaunch of FX early next year in a Socket 939 that can use regular unbuffered memory like you already own.
The new mainstream AMD is Athlon64, a Socket 754 chip that will run your regular unbuffered memory up to DDR400, but in single-channel mode only. The 3 boards for today are all Athlon64 boards tested with AMD’s new Athlon64 3200+. AMD has also announced it will release the Athlon64 in 3400+ speed rating in a few weeks. The upcoming 3400+ runs about the same real speed as the new Athlon64FX51.
The real question is whether Athlon64 can now compete effectively with Intel or outperform the P4 with their mainstream offering. That is a question we hope to answer in these reviews. We also hope to shed some light on whether the Single-Channel Athlon64 is really hampered in competing with the top Pentium 4 chips. The answers may surprise you.
For more in-depth CPU information, please read Anand Shimpi’s Technology Review posted today. He delves deeper into the positioning of the new chips and does in-depth performance comparisons of Athlon64, Athlon64FX, and the Intel P4 chips. If you are confused about the new chips, the speed ratings, or comparative performance, please read Anand’s excellent overview of the new CPU’s. While we will compare performance of the 3 Athlon64 boards with the fastest P4 and Athlon XP offerings in our recent tests, we are comparing performance of 3 motherboards all running an Athlon64 3200+ CPU to the best from our recent Performance tests.
This is the first installment of a larger Athlon64/FX motherboard roundup that will be coming as more boards are delivered to our Lab. With all the significant new hardware and offerings in the market, we will also be updating our benchmark suite to measure and compare better the performance of the newest equipment.
The Chaintech ZNF3-150, FIC K8-800T, and MSI K8T Neo all take different approaches to building a performance motherboard. While the features will be compared, in the end, we are most interested in how the Athlon64 motherboards perform.