While the Athlon64 FX is clearly the fastest processor currently available, several developments have made finding motherboards to use with these FX chips something of a problem. First of all, the FX chip has had very limited availability until recently. Now, we are seeing greater quantities of the expensive FX chips, but even those few manufacturers producing Socket 940 boards have been caught with out-of-stock product because they underestimated AMD production. Second, the Socket 940 Athlon64 FX requires Registered DDR 400 memory instead of the more common unbuffered DDR that most already own. This became an even bigger handicap when AMD let it be known at the 9/23 introduction that the FX would be launched in a new 939 socket version in the first half of 2004. The new Socket 939 version will allow use of regular unbuffered memory instead of the more expensive, harder-to-find registered DDR memory required by 940 boards. It now seems that the 939 should appear somewhere in the March/April 2004 time frame.

Whatever the liabilities of the Socket 940 Athlon64 FX motherboards, there is no disputing that the Enthusiast community has recently embraced the FX chip. Recently, an FX-based board was the first to crack 30,000 on the FutureMark 2001SE Hall of Fame. With this kind of attention to the FX processor, and about 3 to 4 months until Socket 939, it was time for a closer look at the performance of Socket 940 motherboards.

When AMD launched the Athlon64 FX on September 23rd, the only motherboard readily available was the Asus SK8N, a board developed for the Opteron and based on the nVidia nForce3-150 Pro chipset. The MSI K8T Master, which was also developed for the Opteron and based on the VIA chipset, also went through some revision and emerged as an FX motherboard. AnandTech evaluated the MSI board in its review of the ElitePC Titan FX gaming system. Gigabyte also introduced a Socket 940 board for the FX, and we reviewed the nF3-150 Pro Gigabyte K8NNXP-940 in October. Asus has recently introduced a second Socket 940 motherboard, based on the VIA chipset, called the SK8V. The SK8V is just now entering the marketplace.

These 4 motherboards are the only Socket 940 motherboards that you will likely find for sale. A few others like Leadtek have shown Socket 940 products, but they have been very difficult or impossible to find, at least in the US. There also have been many BIOS revisions to these boards as they have developed and matured. In fact, these seemingly endless updates have delayed this Socket 940 roundup several times as we ended up retesting boards with the latest BIOS update, offering improved performance and added features. Our goal is to find the best Athlon64 FX board that you can buy. Is there a clear winner among the four motherboards that can be bought for the top-of-the-line FX processor?

A Closer Look at nForce3 150 Pro and VIA K8T800
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  • AnonymouseUser - Saturday, December 20, 2003 - link

    Since this review is for the Athlon64 FX motherboards, shouldn't the links for the "Anandtech Deals" (just below the title) be for Athlon64 FX (socket 940) instead of the non-FX 3200+ (socket 754)?

    O_o
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, December 20, 2003 - link

    #7 -

    The scores with the 11/03 nVidia platform drivers combined with Catalyst 3.9 and the latest BIOS' we tested have dropped the GunMetal 2 benchmarks to those reported in this review. We have discussed the very unusual GunMetal scores we got in the past with Yeti Studios who is looking into the scores.

    At this point, we are concerned that the GunMetal 2 bechmarks are really telling us very little about the performance of the boards and systems we are testing. Unless Yeti can update or explain what we have been seeing in Socket 940 scores, we will likely drop GunMetal 2 from our benchmarks.

    We apologize for the confusion regarding GunMetal 2 bechmarks, but we have shared with you over several reviews our growing skepticism over their validity in benchmarking FX and Opteron.

    Reply
  • TrogdorJW - Friday, December 19, 2003 - link

    #7, if you look at those benchmarks in question, the results are HIGHLY questionable in the original benchmarks. They even mentioned it at the bottom of the page:

    "The astounding scores in GunMetal 2 by the Dual-Channel Opteron and Athlon64 FX51 are difficult to explain, since they are not duplicated by our single-channel Athlon64 benchmark. We were convinced that these scores on the original Opteron must be a fluke until they showed up again in our tests and retest of the K8NNXP-940 Dual-Channel."

    My bet is that the earlier versions of the GunMetal benchmark were in some way flawed. Perhaps it was a driver issue, and the game was really only rendering about 2/3 of the screens that it was reporting. Given that all the other systems appear to be close to maxed out on frame rate by the graphics card, the FX and Opteron scores were initially incorrect and have now been fixed.
    Reply
  • justly - Friday, December 19, 2003 - link

    Wesley Fink, I have had issues with previous Anandtech articles and I thought (or at least was hopefull) that they would happen less often with some of the new staff. I now regret being so hopefull as I am still seeing the same problem.

    What I would like to know is what would cause the gun metal benchmarks on the Gigabyte K8NNXP-940 to drop 25% or more since the review of that same board on 9 Oct (there was even a link to this article on page one).

    I realize that the motherboard and video drivers have changed along with some hardware, and BOIS updates mentioned on page 1 (stating that they "offering improved performance and added features"). The thing is that none of these changes should lead to this kind of preformance hit. What is the story here, was there a mistake in benchmarking, if so what article is correct, if not how do you explain this since most of the other benchmarks on this board varied (an estimated)5% or less.

    Reply
  • Icewind - Friday, December 19, 2003 - link

    Doubtful #5 as there is no BIOS option to enable or disable it for the VIA boards. Reply
  • bex0rs - Friday, December 19, 2003 - link

    The integrated LAN on the SK8N is 10/100 only, not gigabit as mentioned several times.

    http://www.asus.com/prog/spec.asp?m=SK8N&langs...

    http://www.realtek.com.tw/products/products1-2.asp...

    Also, would there be any way to run the HT bus on the VIA boards at 600 to make a determination if that is the limiting factor on nV's implementation?

    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, December 18, 2003 - link

    #1 - You are correct, and page 4 has been corrected. The SATA ports for the SK8N were correctly stated as 2 in the Feature listing for the 4 motherboards. Reply
  • Icewind - Thursday, December 18, 2003 - link

    Unless im mistaken #1, is that one right next to the CPU cooler itself in the picture below? Hard to judge from the contrast Reply
  • Icewind - Thursday, December 18, 2003 - link

    Best to wait for the 939 pin socket without the unregistered memory modules. I know I will. Paired with a possible PCI Express, SATA 2.0, ATi's 420, 2004 is gonna be a freaking expensive upgrade but better get the best before I finally move outa my folks house. Reply
  • adipose - Thursday, December 18, 2003 - link

    http://anandtech.com/mb/showdoc.html?i=1936&p=...

    On this page you state:

    The IDE connectors, IDE RAID, and 4 SATA connectors are all in good locations. They should present no problems in most case designs.

    But I believe the SK8N only has 2 SATA connectors, and I can only see two on the image.

    -Dan
    Reply

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