The New Motherboard Test Suite

One of the ongoing concerns at AnandTech has been the tight clustering of performance results in our recent motherboard tests. In general, it is rare to see really wide variations in stock performance with motherboards these days. This has been made even clearer by the AMD Athlon 64 CPU, which has the memory controller on the CPU itself, removing another variable from the chipset equation. This is not bad news for buyers, since more consistent performance at stock speeds makes choosing a motherboard an easier task. Readers have pointed out that we need to do more tests, which would really differentiate boards, and we have been working on updates to our tests.

First and foremost, we have been including overclocking tests and memory stress testing for some time - simply because motherboards can vary a great deal in these capabilities. This tells you which motherboards overclock well and which ones are poor, and even if you don't ever plan to overclock, the ability of a motherboard to run at much higher than stock speeds tells you something about the quality of components used in a motherboard. Good overclockers generally use better components and regulate power on the board better, so the good overclocking boards often make sense to buy even if you will never overclock. You can reasonably expect better stability and a longer service life.

Features are increasingly important in motherboards these days as well. With USB, Firewire, IDE, SATA controllers, RAID, LAN, and audio commonly found on top-line motherboards, you are buying much more than sockets for a processor and memory. There are potentially great variations in performance of these features, which could be very important for certain uses of the board. AnandTech has done a good job of detailing these features in past motherboard reviews, but we confess that we have not done very well in actually testing and comparing performance of these features. Our new motherboard tests are designed to correct that.

Starting with this roundup, we are adding iPeak storage tests first used by Anand in his storage reviews. iPeak will be used to establish baseline performance for nForce4 on-chip IDE and SATA performance; iPeak will also be used to test the throughput of the various additional SATA controllers on these SLI motherboards. USB 2.0 and Firewire 400/800 throughput will be measured with a new test developed for motherboard testing. Basically, we create a RAM disk in Windows XP, write a standard test file to the RAM disk, and then copy the file from the RAM disk to a USB 2.0, Firewire 400 or Firewire 800 connected hard drive. We record the time to copy from RAM disk to the connected drive with a timer program developed by our IT Manager.

Ethernet testing uses the Windows 2000 DDK to connect two computers with a CAT 6 crossover cable. We then use a standard host computer as the server and measure the transmission rate and CPU overhead at the client side, which is our test motherboard. We have talked about the advantages of PCIe over PCI gigabit Ethernet in the past, and in this roundup, you will be able to see the actual difference in the performance of Gigabyte LAN over these two busses.

Audio is an area that is still under development and we will be adding tests of audio quality, as well as do subjective listening in future testing. For this roundup, we have included results from the industry standard RightMark benchmark suite for CPU utilization or overhead. There is only room for so much in a roundup, but in the future, we will definitely be including additional audio benchmarks to our motherboard tests.

Last, we have added some new benchmarks, like the popular video synthetic benchmarks from FutureMark - 3DMark 2005 and 3DMark 2003. These tests are particularly useful for testing SLI, since current nVidia drivers support SLI mode in both benchmarks. We are continuing Winstones 2004 for Business and Multimedia, PCMark04, and AutoGK for media encoding. Games are now more heavily weighted toward the most current games with Half Life 2, Far Cry, Doom 3, and Unreal Tournament 2004. Aquamark 3, which is better known as a benchmark than the game on which it is based, is also continued. Return to Castle Wolfenstein-Enemy Territory and Quake 3 have been retained primarily because of their sensitivity to memory performance. It is also a useful reference to include Open GL-based games with so many new game offerings based on Direct X or sporting DX9 front ends.

We are still experimenting with methods of presenting this new data to you, so please let us know if you have suggestions for the future.

Changes in Memory tRAS Recommendations

In past reviews, memory bandwidth tests established that a tRAS of 10 was optimal for the nForce3 chipset and a tRAS setting of 11 or 12 was generally best for nForce2. In the first memory stress test of a production nForce4 board, tRAS timings were first tested with memtest86, a free diagnostic program with its own boot OS that will boot from either a floppy disk or optical disk. Bandwidth of OCZ PC3200 Platinum Rev. 2, based on Samsung TCCD chips, was measured from tRas 5 to tRAS 11 to determine the best setting.

 Memtest86 Bandwidth
DFI nForce4 with Athlon 64 4000+
5 tRAS 2191
6 tRAS 2242
7 tRAS 2242
8 tRAS 2242
9 tRAS 2141
10 tRAS 2141
11 tRAS 2092

The best bandwidth was achieved with this combination of nForce4/4000+/TCCD in the 6 to 8 range, so a mid-value tRAS of 7 was chosen for all tests. It appears that optimal tRAS timings may also be memory dependent on the nForce4, so we recommend a quick series of memtest86 to establish the optimum tRAS timings for other memories.

Index The Roundup
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  • TigerFlash - Monday, July 04, 2005 - link

    I thought this link would be rather important to see:

    http://forum.msi.com.tw/index.php?topic=82427.0
    Reply
  • TigerFlash - Monday, July 04, 2005 - link

    Reply
  • NightCrawler - Thursday, May 05, 2005 - link

    You make a big deal out of the fact that the DFI can hit 318 but they both do the same 2.8 ghz, users won't see much difference, if any.

    Asus: Maximum OC:
    (Standard Ratio) 234x12 (Auto HT, 2-3-3-7, 1T, 2.8V)
    2808MHz (+17%)
    Maximum FSB:
    (Lower Ratio) 255x11 (2805MHz) (4X HT, 2.5-3-3-7, 2.7V)
    (1:1 Memory, 1T, 2 DIMMs in DC mode)
    (+28% Bus Overclock)

    DFI: Maximum OC:
    (Standard Ratio) 238x12 (Auto HT, 2-3-2-7, 1T, 2.9V)
    2856MHz (+19%)
    Maximum FSB:
    (Lower Ratio) 318x9 (2862MHz) (Auto HT, 2.5-4-3-7, 2.9V)
    (1:1 Memory, 1T, 2 DIMMs in DC mode)
    (+59% Bus Overclock)
    Reply
  • DeanO - Monday, April 18, 2005 - link

    Don't know if anyone's noticed yet, but I just took a trip over to MSI's website, and guess what? Only the SLI mobo has the Creative chip. The Neo4 (i.e. nF4 Ultra chipset) mobo uses the Realtek ALC850. I for one was disappointed...
    That makes for an interesting decision: the SLI board is still cheaper than the Ultra board plus a Creative 24-bit sound card. Hmmm...
    Reply
  • phusg - Friday, March 04, 2005 - link

    New PCI card with C-Media DDL chip: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?s=&a... ge=20&pagenumber=1

    Currently only available via ebay apparantly:
    http://search.ebay.com/HDA-Digital-X-Mystique-7-1-...

    If it has the same performance as Soundstorm remains to be seen. Reading the thread the EAX support is just as dodgy as it was on Soundstorm.
    Reply
  • ElFenix - Thursday, March 03, 2005 - link

    What chipsets did your USB and firewire drives have?

    thanks for the great review!
    Reply
  • bjorn44 - Thursday, March 03, 2005 - link

    Anyone know how they did the memory benchmark with memtest86 3.2? I can't find any option for testing bandwidth.

    Thanks,

    Bjorn
    Reply
  • giz02 - Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - link

    Well if it's any consolation, PCSTATS have updated thier site review of the MSI Neo4 Plat SLI (and will probably make two more updates to it)
    - now states 96Khz
    - will modify DICE statement
    - they are indicating that the sil3132 can do raid5, but I'm not sure that it can...

    Wow Roomraider, that's quite the system you have there.

    Reply
  • Roomraider - Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - link

    #82 u r absolutely correct sir. I have the top SB card available(Audigy 4 Pro)& the only way i get DTS or Dolby Digital of any form is SPDIF out Via Coax or Fiber optic cable with settings for (Passthrough) to my Yamaha 7.1 Amp.



    MOBO Gigabyte Ga-K8NXP-SLI
    CPU AMD Athlon 64 FX-55
    Cooler Gigabyte 3D CoolBlue Ultra Gt
    PSU Thermaltake Purepower 650 Watt
    MEMORY 4xCorsair 512Mb 3200XMS PRO Tracer Ram/Dual channel 2-2-2-5
    Video 2xBFG 6800GT OC PCIE W/Serials in order
    HDD 2xWD-74 GB Raptor HDD/Raid(0)configged
    2xMaxtor 300 GB SATA HDD
    OPTICAL 2xPlextor PX716SA-SATA 16xDual Layer+-DVDRW-48xCDR
    CASE Lian-Li P60 W/clear side panel
    MODS 4 Blu 80mm/1 Blu 92mm(roof/exh)& 4 Blu Cold Cathode Lite Strips
    MONITOR Sony SDM-P234 23" 1920x1200 native
    SOUND Creative Audigy-4 Pro,YamahaDSP-A3090 7.1ch amp/Boston Micro90 spks/Bose AM-5 W/Sub

    ADD-ON MSI TV@nywhere Personal Cinema FX5200 TV/FM tuner
    Reply
  • Tatunkhamon - Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - link

    I admit this is slightly OT, but as I first got excited about the possible DD-encoding feature on the MSI-mobo and then let down by the obvious lack of it, I was happy to find these news:

    http://news.designtechnica.com/article6709.html
    http://www.engadget.com/entry/1234000683034067/

    I know many of us don't like the DRM/HDCP-features of HDMI, but HDMI certainly is the way to transmit high-definition, multichannel audio *without the need* to compress ie. encode to DD. And live content, such as games, would not probably have the copyprotection flags on, anyway. Of course, getting enough coverage for HDMI in both h/w and s/w will take time, but I bet this is the way it's ment to be played in the near future.

    For example, think about combining this with s/w generated mc-audio and Intel HDA. No need for badly implemented codec/DAC in this model. Of this combined with discreete graphics card and the audio generated with the help of vector processing on the card.. I just hope Intel/Nvidia/ATI/whoever would start a strong enough, open standard to compete with EAX. Then Creative would either have to run, fast, or join their forces.

    Meanwhile, because there is not much HDMI-support (except for the earlier, non- multichannel-high-def-audio-supported HDMI-standard, for mainly graphics) some solution providing DD-encoding to be sent over standard S/PDIF would still be very, very desired for many of us.

    I end this thread-hijacking attempt here and apologize if being OT. Now back to our regular programming... :)

    Wbr, Tatu
    Reply

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