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

  • Gholam - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I'm curious, where can I find benchmarks of SiI3114 with a 3 or 4 drive RAID5 setup? Read/write speed, access time, CPU utilization (especially important since it's essentially a software hack), general stability impressions, etc.

    I'm finally replacing my aging Duron 1200 soon, and looking at A8N-SLI Deluxe (no other NF4 board has a layout suitable for passive/quiet chipset cooling due to video card interference), and I plan to eventually build a ~700GB redundant storage array as home media server on it. However, I can't find benchmarks of SiI3114 RAID5 function anywhere.
    Reply
  • Slaimus - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    About the audio CPU utilization tests. Is that with the nForce Audio or Realtek driver? Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #15,#18 and others - the 3DMark2003 SLI scores were an incorrect duplicate of 3DMark05. The 3DMark03 SLI scores have now been corrected and should make sense now. I apologize for the error.

    #4 - I saw none of the heat and instability issues with the DFI that were described at [H]. I discussed this with Editors from several other websites who also had no problems with this board. I would agree that the 5V jumper for very high memory voltages can get everything on the board real hot real fast, but this is a feature unique to the DFI and one that only the hardcore with more advanced cooling would attempt to use anyway.

    #5,#20 - Any x16 PCIe slot can be used for x1 or x4 or any other flavor of PCIe. MSI does NOT have an extra x1 slot, but they tell us video slot 2 can be used for an x1 device. You still can't use SLI and another PCIe device at the same time on the MSI, but you can use single video with an additional PCIe device in video slot 2.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #4 - Abit has just shipped the Fatal1ty Ultra board to AnandTech. We haven't even received it yet. It will be included in a later Ultra roundup, bu the Ultra boards will have the same performance in single video as the similar SLI board from the same manufacturer. We met with Abit this weekend and they told us it would still be several weeks until their SLI would be available for review - and the SLI is NOT a Fatal!ty board. Reply
  • L3p3rM355i4h - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    318fsb 1:1? Jeezus Christ! Reply
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    "but on the Asus board you also have to connect another 4-pin Molex for additional video card power. Asus says that this is required for "stable SLI operation", but the other 3 SLI designs do fine and are quite stable without the 5th power connector."

    The gold-winner DFI also has the same connector, though it wasn't mentioned in the review. And even though it wasn't necessary in your testings (with an OCZ 520W PSU), other people (like tbreak.com) could only find a stable SLI setup with the ASUS board, probably because of it.
    I also don't think its location is important, the fact it's close to the PCI-E x16 slots is probably a smart engineering decision.

    For future reviews it would be nice if you could show results with "Maximum FSB" where it actually means "Maximum FSB", that is, you remove memory overclocking from the table. It's great to see DDR600 and beyond, but I'm the kind of guy who spends $130 for quality 1GB of RAM, but still want a board that can take a 3000+ to 9*300.
    It's not really a 1:1 ratio as you're always using a divider for memory speeds (from the CPU clock).

    Looking forward to reviews of the mainstream PCI-E boards (K8T890, nF4 Ultra, etc).
    Reply
  • ceefka - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    oops typo

    It's a shame that there are non nF4 Ultra boards with HD Audio.

    I meant

    It's a shame that there are none nF4 Ultra boards with HD Audio.
    Reply
  • ceefka - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Jeez, Wesley, that must have been a hell of a job. Thanx.

    It's a shame that there are non nF4 Ultra boards with HD Audio.

    #12 Right, I am contemplating the Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-9 (the Ultra, not the SLI) and wonder if the Yesico FL-420ATX will do. Have you searched http://www.msi.com.tw/program/products/mainboard/m... or http://www.giga-byte.com/MotherBoard/Products/Prod... ? Look for manuals (Gigabyte) and compatability tables (MSI).
    I wish though these manufacturers would clearly state if its ATX 1.3 or 2.0 etc + minimum V/A requirements. That would be much easier than scrolling through their website.

    Just one silly question, because this has not been clear since the introduction of SLI-boards. Can you use a one of the 16xPCI-e slots on a SLI-board for something else than a second graphics card (in the future)? Maybe a (hefty) soundcard in the future?
    Reply
  • neologan - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    btw, excellent review, one of the best i've read in a long time! Reply
  • blckgrffn - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Yeah, what is with the 3dmark03 scores? The SLI seems really low..more like a repeat of the 05 scores....

    Glad to see more indepth mobo reviews! I for one was getting tired of looking at the BIOS as a way to differentiate!
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now