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
POST A COMMENT

108 Comments

View All Comments

  • ajmiles - Wednesday, March 2, 2005 - link

    If i was a doubting type I would suggest that Nvidia spent as much time tuning their drivers for benchmarks as they do games.

    Nice to see support for some unreleased games such as Battlefield 2 on the list though.

    Wesley, you get my email btw? (sorry for bugging you)?
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, March 2, 2005 - link

    nVidia has just advised the release of Beta 71.84 drivers now supporting 70 games in SLI. The drivers can be downloaded at http://www.nzone.com/object/nzone_downloads_rel70b... Below is a list of suypported games and benchmarks.

    Age of Mythology
    AquaNox 2: Revelation
    Armed & Dangerous
    Battlefield 1942
    Battlefield 2
    Battlefield Vietnam
    Breed
    City of Heroes
    Colin McRae Rally 2005
    Colin McRae Rally 4
    Conan
    Dark Age of Camelot: Atlantis
    Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps
    Dirt Track Racing 2
    Doom 3
    EverQuest
    EverQuest II
    Far Cry
    Flat Out
    Ground Control II : Operation Exodus
    Half-Life 2
    Halo
    Hitman 2
    IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles
    Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising
    Kohan II: Kings of War
    Leisure Suit Larry
    Lineage II
    Lock On
    Lord of the Rings, Battle for Middle-earth
    Madden NFL 2005
    Max Payne 2
    Medal of Honor
    NBA Live 2005
    Need for Speed: Underground 2
    Painkiller
    Perimeter
    Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
    Quake III
    Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
    Return to Castle Wolfenstien
    Rome: Total War
    Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
    Sid Meier's Pirates!
    Silent Storm
    Sims 2
    SpellForce
    Splinter Cell
    Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
    Star Wars Battlefront
    Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
    Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
    Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic
    SWAT 4
    The Chronicles of Riddick
    Thief: Deadly Shadows
    Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005
    ToCA Race Driver 2
    Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness
    Tony Hawk's Underground
    Tribes Vengeance
    Tron 2.0
    Unreal
    Unreal 2
    Unreal Tournament 2003
    Unreal Tournament 2004
    Vampire: Bloodlines
    Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
    World of Warcraft
    X2: the Threat
    Xpand Rally


    In addition to these top games, NVIDIA SLI supports the following applications:

    3DMark01
    3DMark03
    3DMark05
    AquaMark 3
    Code Creatures
    D3DRightMark
    HDRLighting
    NVIDIA Clear Sailing Demo
    NVIDIA Dawn Demo
    NVIDIA Nalu Demo
    NVIDIA Timbury Demo
    PCMark04
    Shadermark 2.1
    Trees of Pangaea

    Reply
  • giz02 - Wednesday, March 2, 2005 - link

    I've done some further testing, and still no luck. The PCStats review also indicated 192Khz output, but I can't find that either. I'm still hoping for something, and will let you guys know if anything comes up.

    Other points:
    + The onboard Creative can attenuate the digital outputs just like a regular live could. Most onboard solutions that i have used could not

    - Cannot have Analog and Digital outs enabled at the same time (at least I haven't found that yet). All other onboard solutions that I have tried were able to do this. An example of what I'd like to do (ideally) is have my Zalman Real Surround headphones plugged in to the analog ports, and the z5500's plugged into the digital (coax/optical). When the GF complains, I could turn the z5500's off, and put on the headphones. With creative you do this BUT you also have to uncheck the digital out only box. If they can bot h be enabled at the same time, let me know (Y)

    - Either the Z5500's can't accept 96/24 on the optical in, or the creative isn't outputting 96/24 on the optical out.

    - Only Coax or Optical work at one time (with the Z5500's)

    - DD and DTS passthroughs work with Videolan and DVD's/.ts's.

    I'll try this board for a while longer, but if encode will not work, I'll be heading to DFI. It's a bit more expensive, but you get the Lan Tote (woohhoo!) and the extra PCIx slots. Anyone have any comments on DFI's onboard sound?


    Reply
  • EODetroit - Wednesday, March 2, 2005 - link

    Thanks giz02. One of these days some manufacturer is going to realize there's demand for this and meet it... I just hope that day comes sooner than later.
    Reply
  • SLK75 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    I bought the GA-K8NXP-9 because fo the rave reviews on its OC abilities which Anandtech also proved in their pre-production sample reviewed towards the end of last year...All of a sudden now Gigabyte's production version of the board does not seem to clock high as was expected and proved previously WHYYYY ???? and Anandtech make it really clear to Gigabyte that people went and bought their board not only first its great features but also for its OC capabilities...I hope Gigabyte can address this with a new BIOS Reply
  • giz02 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    I feel DUPED by that PCSTATS review. I've asked the reviewer for why he indicated that the board can DICE (either how to do it, or who told him it was possible).

    The board is .... OK...

    I'da rather had the DFI (if DICE is not possible!)
    Reply
  • Aquila76 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    #89 - looks like we'll both still wait for the next SoundStorm. Maybe the next gen of PCI-E sound cards will have DDL? Reply
  • bob661 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    #89
    Thanks for the test.
    Reply
  • giz02 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    So far, It's a negative on the DICE :(

    I have a single coax cable connected from the onboard card to my Z-5500's and they are not recieving Dolby on the speaker tests. Left and Right channels come through but that is is... 96-24 is working as well, but zilch on the 5.1 :(
    Reply
  • 1955mm - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    #87: AMD has NOT made it clear that ECC is an Opteron only feature. Read the document from the link I posted. As for ASUS not supporting ECC, download the manual and look at pages 4-21 and 4-22. In the screenshot for DRAM configuration there is an item for ECC enablement. The ASUS K8N-E deluxe (socket 754) also supports ECC. If you still have doubts that the Athlon 64 supports ECC, go to crucial.com and see what memory is supported by the ASUS K8N-E deluxe and A8N-SLI deluxe. I think that you might be confusing registered memory with ECC. If you write code work with critical data ECC is worth having. I have had bad memory in the past that corrupted data without crashing the machine. Considering misinformation that is sometimes provided by motherboard manufacturers and your obvious confusion about the Athlon 64, I think that ECC deserves some mention by motherboard reviewers. I myself would like to understand why the A8N-SLI apparently supports 4 256MB ECC memory modules but not 2 512MB ECC memory modules (page 2-12 in manual), Wesley? Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now