Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of our AM2 roundup examined six AM2 motherboards based on the nForce500 family of chipsets. Four were based on the top-end 590SLI chipset and two were based on the mainstream 570SLI chipset. This installment, Part 4, looks at the first two AM2 motherboards to reach retail that are based on the ATI RD580 chipset.

The RD580 was introduced with great excitement in early March, but the market was still Socket 939 Athlon64 running DDR memory. With the AM2 launch just a few months away, everyone knew ATI had designed RD580 for Socket AM2 and DDR2. In fact many manufacturers skipped producing an RD580 Socket 939 board because the life would be so short. Those manufacturers said they would wait for AM2 to provide RD580 chipset solutions to the market.

AnandTech reviewed the ATI RD580 Reference board for AM2 on June 1, and boards were expected to start appearing in the retail channel in just a few weeks. That didn't happen, and it has taken from June 1 to mid-August to finally see the first retail RD580 boards for AM2 and DDR2. This is the all too typical ATI chipset delays that have killed just about every ATI chipset introduction to date.

This time around, however, the stakes are much more interesting. Several weeks ago AMD announced it was acquiring ATI. That gives us every reason to expect - down the road - that ATI chipsets will be the standard AMD chipsets just as Intel has their own chipsets for Intel processors. Since the AMD announcement it has been even more frustrating that it has taken ATI so long to reach retail with RD580-based motherboards supporting AM2. We are happy to announce they are finally here, and you should be able to buy RD580 chipset AM2 boards beginning this week. While there are only a few early RD580 boards, we have been told that many more are on the way. It will be interesting to see if the performance justifies the wait for RD580 chipset motherboards.

RD580 is similar in feature set to the top-line NVIDIA 590SLI chipset. Both support dual X16 GPUs - NVIDIA with SLI and ATI with CrossFire. Both also represent the top-line chipset for each respective manufacturer. Physically the chips differ in ATI RD580 being a low-power single-chip North Bridge and NVIDIA 590SLI using two different chips to each provide an X16 PCIe slot to the architecture. NVIDIA 590SLI provides I/O off the chips that also support the dual X16 PCIe slots. ATI uses a more traditional South Bridge with the RD580 to provide I/O.

The South Bridge has been the weak link in past ATI chipset designs. Best performance was provided by ULi South Bridge chips while ATI's own SB450 only supported SATA1 and was plagued by slow UBS 2.0 performance. Beginning with RD580, ATI can now provide a complete and up-to-date chipset by combining RD580 with their new SB600 South Bridge. This came none too soon, as NVIDIA bought ULi in early 2006 and found themselves in the position of supplying their major chipset competitor with the South Bridge chips that made the ATI chipset competitive. With SB600 now in the market, ATI (and AMD) can now provide a complete single source chipset to motherboard manufacturers. This also means ATI is no longer dependent on their major competitor to provide a complete and competitive chipset for the A64/AM2 platform.

SB600 and the Transitional SB460
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  • mike6099 - Thursday, September 21, 2006 - link

    The review does not list the ASUS M2N32-SLI as having raid 5. however, at newegg it lists that it does. does the ASUS M2N32-SLI indeed have raid 5 capability? Reply
  • dougcook - Friday, September 08, 2006 - link

    Be careful with the MSI K9A. If you get one, you'll probably want to get a better chipset cooler for it.

    I bought an MSI K9A board (after reading this review). The 570 chipset seemed about right for me. Everything seemed ok (some things seemed a bit cheap, but nothing really unusual). There were reports about it being incompatible with some memory, so I was careful there and got the good stuff. I got it all installed and it looked like it was running fine...

    For one day (until I actually tried to use it).

    The first real thing I did was burn a few CDs. In the middle of the 3rd CD, the Northbridge overheated and the machine turned itself off. This happened 2 more times, and then the machine failed to boot at all (even after giving it time to cool off). I wasn't overclocking, and the box had decent ventilation. The CPU's temperature was fine, the GPU's temperature was fine, the case temperature was fine, but the chipset temperature was through the roof. I had to return the motherboard.

    This may not happen for everybody, but looking on NewEgg, it seems that this has happened to many other people. The MSI northbridge does not have an adequate heatsink and is likely to burn up. Save the time and get something better. I got the equivalent ABit 570 SLI motherboard, and I've been very happy so far. I hear good things about the ASUS 570 as well.
    Reply
  • Stele - Wednesday, August 23, 2006 - link

    Great article! If only there were more Xpress 3200 boards on the market now... perhaps Anandtech would do a further roundup when that is the case?

    Good to see that most motherboard manufacturers are keeping that 24-pin ATX connector well at the edge. So far the only outstanding exception to this practice seems to be EpoX...

    As for the 4-pin 12V connector, well, it may not be the best place to be for airflow and cable routing reasons, but that location is actually part of the ATX form factor specifications, which clearly states that the 12V connector should be "next to Voltage Regulator" (ATX Specification v2.2, pg 8). Motherboard designers likely just followed that to make life easier. Specifications aside, it also makes much engineering sense as it keeps traces short - crucial to maintain the quality of power supplied to something as important as the CPU VRM. Besides, airflow considerations are less of an issue with respect to four strands of wire.

    IMHO perhaps the one improvement the designers could do while keeping with the spirit of the specifications would be to put the connector on the other side of the VRM, nearer the motherboard edge, though still at the I/O side of the motherboard instead of at the edges nearer the 24-pin ATX connector.
    Reply
  • lopri - Wednesday, August 23, 2006 - link

    Boy, do I love this article! Thanks to Wesley for this great review. Usually in previous AT motherboard reviews, many difficulties/bugs that end-users experience were often overlooked. (Warm-boot, Cold-boot, Vdroop(?), etc.) I sort of understood it as a result of working with motherboard manufacturers (It's been mentioned that they get BIOS updates on a daily basis), but I used to think AT's motherboard reviews were somewhat different from end-users' experience of retail products.

    This review feels much realer and it sounded almost like what I went through with a couple of the boards that I bought after reading AT reviews. I'm very glad and grateful, and hope AT keeps this critical viewpoints for future reviews, especially for motherboards.

    lop
    Reply
  • Le Québécois - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    When you are talking about the SB600 features
    quote:

    # Supports the following AMD processors: Desktop: Athlon 64, Athlon 64 FX, Athlon 64 FX X2, Sempron, Opteron, dual-core- Opteron


    Shouldn't it be: Athlon 64, Athlon 64 X2, Athlon FX, Sempron... To my knowledge Amd have Athlon 64 X2 ;) and even if the FX-60 (939) and the FX-62(AM2) have 2 core AMD still call them simply by FX and not FX X2.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    Edited. Basically, SB600+RD580 supports all current 939/AM2 AMD CPUs. Not sure about SB460, as Wes specifically didn't list dual core and Opteron parts there. I would guess it does, but I will leave that edit to him just to be safe. Reply
  • Furen - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    =)
    He just meant that FX X2 doesn't exist. There are A64s X2s and A64 FXes but even the dual-core parts are plain FXes.
    Reply
  • mendocinosummit - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    So, awards were handed out despite the fact that ASUS and other top mobo manus don't have ATI boards yet? Am I to assume that this is the end of the mobo lineup? I would really like to see at least two more boards featuring a ATI chipset; especially since the ECS board will basically be a flop at launch. Reply
  • Gary Key - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Am I to assume that this is the end of the mobo lineup?
    We also have a few mATX AM2 boards along with a couple of value solutions that we will be reviewing shortly. There is still the upcoming DFI 590SLI AM2 board to review also. :)
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    Will you guys be testing any of the ABIT boards ? For me personaly, so far, my choice is the ABIT AN9 32x (non fata1ity). I like this board because it offers the SIL 3132 controller, and has an eSATA socket in the I/O section. This is, I'm hoping to use this board with a SATA port multiplier, for some external RAID 5 goodness :) Reply

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