Index

This is our third roundup of Athlon 64 Socket 754 motherboards. Our first roundup appeared last fall in Athlon64 Motherboards: First Look at Chaintech, FIC, and MSI. Several individual boards were reviewed after that, and then we did a roundup of the second generation 754 boards this past May in Socket 754 Roundup: Comparing Generation 2. This was just before the introduction of Socket 939, and we really thought that this would be the last review of major boards for Socket 754. It was expected that when the dual-channel Socket 939 was introduced in June, the only new 754 boards would be aimed at the value market. However, several factors have changed those expectations.

First, the second generation 754 chipsets for Athlon 64 represented a genuine improvement in features, flexibility, and performance for AMD's processors. Second, while we did find the 939 to be a faster processor, the real performance improvements from dual-channel memory are fairly small, mainly because the Athlon 64 uses shorter pipes and is not as bandwidth-sensitive as current Pentium 4 processors. This means that the real improvement from dual-channel 939 is only about 2% to 5%. Third, and perhaps most important, AMD has kept prices for Socket 939 very high, with all the value A64 CPUs only available in Socket 754. Fourth, enthusiasts have found that many Socket 754 boards, like the recently reviewed DFI LANParty UT nF3-250Gb, overclock those bargain processors very well - often reaching beyond the performance that can be achieved with overclocked 939 processors, which are more expensive.

All of these factors have encouraged some manufacturers to introduce new Socket 754 motherboards aimed at the enthusiast even after the Socket 939 was launched and processors were available. In this installment, we will take a closer look at the Asus K8N-E, Soltek K8AN2E-GR, and the DFI nF3-250Gb. All 3 boards are based on the second generation nVidia nForce3-250Gb chipset. As you saw in our chipset review, nVidia has added the features to bring their nF3-250 to the competitive edge of Athlon 64 chipsets. The HyperTransport speed, which was widely criticized on the 150 chipset, is now 800 or 1000 depending on the chipset version. The on-chip Gigabit LAN and on-chip Firewall are also unique and truly useful features compared to other A64 boards. nVidia also fixed the problems with their implementation of PCI/AGP lock on the 150, and we have found a working PCI/AGP lock on every nForce3-250 motherboard that we have tested, just as nVidia promised.

We have compared the 3 new motherboards to all of the boards in our second generation roundup. Since boards based on the nF3-250 family and the updated VIA K8T800 PRO offer genuine improvements over the earlier first generation boards, we have only included boards based on these second generation chipsets in this comparison. If overclocking is not particularly important to you, then one of the first generation boards based on the VIA chipset might also meet your needs at a lower price. Please keep in mind that most of the first generation boards did not have working AGP/PCI locks and HyperTransport speeds, and options were generally lower than second generation boards. Again, this probably does not matter if you never plan to overclock your Socket 754 board, but if overclocking is part of your plans, the 2nd generation boards are much more capable. As already mentioned, the feature sets are also generally better on 2nd generation motherboards for A64.

Asus K8N-E: Features and Layout
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  • Term - Monday, September 27, 2004 - link

    Uhm.. the new ASUS bios fix the OC stability problem with SATA right? Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, September 18, 2004 - link

    #34 - The Asus K8N-E manual does state 3MB of memory as the maximum capacity. The specifications have been corrected in the review. Reply
  • LocutusX - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    Daxzus,

    For more accurate "real-world advice" concerning the K8N-E, please see the unofficial thread for that mobo at the Anandtech forums. There are people there who have been using it extensively for the last 2 months, who have tried a wide variety of components/overclocking on it.
    Reply
  • justly - Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - link

    #27 – Wesley
    Thank you for the explanation about your testing methodology, now I feel more comfortable knowing that you do check for these minor deviations when comparing new products against older ones.

    #28 – Wesley (again)
    I agree about it being a shame that SiS seems to always get dumped on by big name motherboard manufactures and that even when a good product hits the street it seems to get forgotten about or overlooked. The thing is I still think you are just as guilty as many others reviewers. If you don’t understand what I mean then just look at #32 (by PrinceGaz) since I would have said the EXACT same thing.
    This might be a little arrogant of me, but would it really hurt to mention their product when talking about a section of the market that they perform so well in (non-overclockers).
    Reply
  • Daxzus - Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - link

    also...I was wondering if anyone has a good powersupply and case that might work good for me for a good price. Reply
  • Daxzus - Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - link

    I read every thing that was in the review about the 3 diffrent motherboards and I have some questions.

    In the review it was said that the Asus K8N-E deluxe maxed out at 2GB of memory, but at newegg and some all the other places I can buy it from-and even Asus homepage, say that the Asus K8N-E deluxe has a max of 3GB of memory. What this in error in the reveiw or am I looking at buying the wrong board?

    Also I was thinking about buying the Asus K8N-E deluxe and I have a college budget and I was wanting to get some recomendation as to some really good cheap memory to get for it. Also maybe some good budget video cards. I saw that in the review that ATI 9800 was used...wouldn't a Nvidia video card work better considering the chip set?

    but all in all thank for the info that you put into the reviews Fink!

    Dax
    Reply
  • AtaStrumf - Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - link

    I just hope that your upcoming OC article will at least mention sempron 3100+, since you (AT)did promise to OC it, but untill now you have not done so. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - link

    #28 Wesley Fink-

    From the aricle- "If overclocking is not particularly important to you, then one of the first generation boards based on the VIA chipset might also meet your needs at a lower price."

    And your reply- "There is actually another complaint about Sis. None of the Sis A64 cipsets I have tested, including the 939 Reference Board, have a working PCI/AGP lock."

    If overclocking is not particularly important to someone, the lack of a PCI/AGP lock wouldn't matter.
    Reply
  • jwix - Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - link

    The article mentions overclocking difficulties with SATA drives with the DFI board being the exception. I wonder....if running 2 drives in a raid 1 config, would it make it any more difficult to overclock on the DFI? Reply
  • LocutusX - Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - link

    "The problem is ports 1 and 2 on nVidia are coupled with the PHY Gigabit LAN and generally will not overclock very well."

    Source?
    Reply

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