DFI has performed a miraculous change of marketing directions in the past two years. They have moved from a solid second tier motherboard manufacturer producing nice OEM motherboards and a few solid, but dull, branded motherboards to a company whose products have come to define the Computer Enthusiast market. We can all chuckle when we say that Diamond Flower International became Designed For Innovation to fit their new image, but the transition is truly that remarkable.

A quick visit to www.xtremesystems.org or any other site devoted to enthusiasts who live to top the orb at Futuremark will find huge discussions of each little feature of upcoming DFI motherboards. Now, enthusiasts seem to ask with each new motherboard review, "That's fine, but what will the coming DFI do?" The DFI Socket 754 nF3 250Gb was one of the last 754 boards to market, but it was so heavily anticipated that DFI pre-sales totaled several months of production even before the board landed on the market.

This time around, the new nForce4 boards from DFI are some of the first to market, surely a first for DFI, and the new boards have already created quite a buzz when it was found that their new nF4 Ultra board, with two x16 PCIe slots, could be modded easily into an nForce4 SLI by closing a bridge on the nF4 Ultra chipset. Suddenly, a $140 motherboard could deliver everything that a full SLI board could deliver with a simple mod using a #2 pencil. Details of that mod are at Morphing nForce4 Ultra into nForce4 SLI. Add to that the incredible range of tweaking controls, which are becoming trademark DFI, and enthusiasts have been lining up to buy the new DFI nForce4 boards, which should actually be available right now.

There are two new DFI nForce4 boards covered in this review - the full-blown LANParty nF4 SLI-DR and the LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D. However, the boards are basically the same and built on the same PCB. The LANParty is based on the nVidia nForce4 SLI chipset, while the UT has a few less features and is based on the nForce4 Ultra chipset. However, both boards sport 2 x16 PCIe slots, both boards perform the same, and they even use the same BIOS. As we found in the Ultra to SLI mod article, the UT board becomes, in every way, an SLI board after the simple mod. We will talk about the few differences between the boards in this review, but all benchmarking, overclocking, and memory performance tests apply equally to both boards.

DFI wanted to be certain that buyers of the lower-priced UT Ultra board still had all the overclocking controls and options available on the full-blown LANParty, and in this case, it is not just lip service. The SLI and Ultra boards can be considered equal in performance. The full-blown LANParty package with SLI adds a few more features to justify the $60 premium that the LANParty SLI will ask.


UPDATE 2/05/2005: nVidia has acted to prevent, or at least make it more difficult, to mod the Ultra board to SLI. First, DFI has advised us, and posted on their website, that they will NOT sell the SLI bridge to buyers of the Ultra board. Second, nVidia has advised us that future shipments of the Ultra chipset have been modified so that the mod to SLI will no longer be possible. An additional side effect of this second action is that the "Dual Video" mode, which performs at about 90% of SLI performance levels, will only work with nVidia SLI drivers 66.75 or earlier. If you do a quick check of web driver postings you will see it is now very difficult to find 66.75 drivers. With a chipset modded to SLI the "Dual Video" mode worked through 70.xx versions of the nVidia driver. nVidia also made it clear they will continue to make driver changes to prevent functioning of any "non-standard" (8X/8X) operation of their SLI driver. This also throws into question whether the VIA "dual graphics" mode on the 894 Pro chipset will ever work with nVidia graphics cards. If you are interested in the current UT Ultra-D we suggest you buy one now if you can find it. Future versions of the UT Ultra-D will not have the same capabilities as a result of these actions.


Basic Features: DFI nForce4
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  • rjm55 - Wednesday, February 2, 2005 - link

    It looks like your praise for the DFI riled the competition in #26. Frankly it is good to see your enthusiasm for the DFI. It is nice to see some excitement come through in the review.

    Over the years of reading your reviews I've learned that if you get excited it's a product I'll be very happy with. I just wish you could persuade DFI to use a VIA Vinyl codec instead of that very pedestrian Realtek 850. It's a shame to waste the potential of the Audio Module on the 850. This board deserves better.
    Reply
  • bupkus - Wednesday, February 2, 2005 - link

    Oops, my bad. I need to wait until Epox releases their nForce4. Reply
  • Illissius - Wednesday, February 2, 2005 - link

    Awesome board. Unfortunately, not perfect. I find the following faults with it:
    - The second GbE is PCI and not PCIe.
    - It uses the same crappy Realtek audio everyone else does, rather than Creative SBLive (a la MSI SLI) or VIA Envy24PT.
    - Its color scheme is not blue thingies-that-are-not-the-PCB on a black PCB.
    These shortcomings conspire to demote it from the status of 'awesomest motherboard in the history of history' to 'best A64 motherboard thus far, and possibly ever'.

    Have a nice day :D.

    As for the review; for the most part great, except... using 61.77 drivers for everything else, and 71.40 for the nForce4, probably invalidates all the gaming scores, as there have been significant performance improvements from the 61.77 to the 66.93, and I would imagine the 71.40 doesn't regress in this regard.
    Also, I'm interested in the maglev chipset cooler. Is there any visual difference from a standard cooler? Is it quieter, at least?
    Reply
  • bupkus - Wednesday, February 2, 2005 - link

    Was there anything good about the competition? Were they cheaper and almost as good, like a second place winner for us cheap economy guys. How about the Epox? Reply
  • knitecrow - Wednesday, February 2, 2005 - link

    The DFI board is very nice, and if anyone is going to overclock, this board is the one to get. For non-overclockers, MSI board looks good as well.

    The chipset fan seems gimicky, I wish it had a bigger heatsink with a more efficient fan.

    I am reading correctly between the lines? Is Nvidia charging some insane SLI tax? I like to see what DFI can do with the upcomming ATI chipset for athlon64.

    I can tell you from personal experience that the realtek ALC850 (also used on my DFI UT nF3 250GB) is absolute crap. And I am not being picky either. My old soundblaster 16 sounds better. Gone are the days of good audio on the NFII. There are SO many better choices, why not go with a better AC'97 codec? Via Vinyl, sigmatel, cirius logic?

    Its really dumb to go through all the trouble of having an add-in card and then use the worst AC'97 codec chip on the market.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, February 2, 2005 - link

    #39 - The FrontX is a "breakout box" that installs in a drive bay and provides front audio, usb, firewire, and SATA ports in this design. FrontX also features diagnostic LEDs that tell you how the board is functioning.

    We covered FrontX in detail in past LANParty reviews which you can look up at AnandTech. It is a modular design. You can also find more info at www.frontx.com

    SPDIF is a digital audio input and output. I'm sure others here will explain more about SPDIF.
    Reply
  • DeanO - Wednesday, February 2, 2005 - link

    Does anyone know what the FrontX and Diagnostic LED Connector, that are included with the SLI-DR motherboard, do?
    The manual says:
    One FrontX device equipped with:
    - 4 diagnostic LEDs, 1 S/PDIF-out, 1 mini 1394 port and 1 Serial ATA port
    The article doesn't seem to mention it anywhere, and neither does the DFI website.
    What do the LEDs do? And what is an S/PDIF-out?

    Thanks ~ DeanO
    Reply
  • Aileur - Wednesday, February 2, 2005 - link

    Any idea how much the SLI bridge will go for, seperately?
    I can see it being as much as 20$, bringing the price difference between real SLI and modded SLI to a point where youd have to ask yourself, do i wanna risk it.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, February 2, 2005 - link

    #35 - 318 (DDR636) is the highest clock speed we have acheived with THIS memory at 1T with DS dimms in dual-channel mode AT ANANDTECH. The previous 1T record with this setup was 295.

    We are aware you can reach higher speeds with single-sided dimms and a single dimm, but users don't generally run their machines with 2 256MB SS dimms. We have seen reports of memory speeds of DDR680 and even higher with single-sided dimms.

    You can also reach higher speeds with a configuration with water-cooling or phase-change cooling or liquid nitrogen.

    The important thing in our opinion is performance with the exact same setup, and here the DFI reached new performance levels with this memory and this CPU with air cooling.

    Reply
  • mctmcpoop - Wednesday, February 2, 2005 - link

    318 is not the highest record ...
    The HTT record of this board is 456mhz ...
    http://www.coolaler.com/ipb/index.php?showtopic=37...

    The 1:1 DRAM record is DDR750 ...
    http://www.coolaler.com/ipb/index.php?showtopic=38...
    Reply

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