Processor Architecture

Another concern has surfaced in the last few months that should be a consideration for anyone shopping for an Athlon 64 motherboard - the processor factor. When we tested the nForce4 SLI boards, we used the 4000+ Clawhammer chip as our standard CPU. We also had done some testing with the early Winchester and Newcastle chips, which were based on the 90nm production process instead of the 130nm process used for Clawhammer. Overall, these early 90nm chips were mainly a die-shrink, and performance - and compatability - were much the same whether it be the Clawhammer, Winchester, or Newcastle.

Recently, however, we have some new choices from AMD in Revision E chips and dual-core. These new Revision E parts support SSE3, are based on the 90nm process, and they do not always behave as earlier chips did in the same motherboard. We saw this for ourselves in our Gold Editor's Choice MSI K8N Neo4/SLI. While we experienced outstanding overclocking with a Clawhammer chip, users with Venice/San Diego chips were experiencing perfectly miserable overclocking results. It has taken MSI some time to find a solution to this problem, but we are happy to report that a new BIOS has just been released that claims to fix the Venice issues on the MSI.

The point of this is that the newest Athlon 64 Revision E chips do behave differently than earlier Athlon 64 chips in some boards. This is likely a temporary concern as the market adjusts to the newest CPU architectures, but it is a factor that should be considered.

This becomes an even larger issue with the new Manchester/Toledo dual-core chipsets. The Athlon 64 X2 joins two Venice or San Diego cores on a single CPU. These Revision E X2 dual-core CPUs (the 4200+, 4400+. 4600+, and 4800+) generally will work in any Socket 939 board. However, you will certainly need at least a BIOS upgrade. Most of the major manufacturers have quickly brought the needed BIOS upgrades to market, but if you plan to run a dual-core chip, you need to check before you buy.

We approached these issues in this roundup by continuing our benchmarks with the Clawhammer-based 4000+ processor - to allow the greatest comparison to earlier motherboard reviews. However, we also checked each board with a Manchester 90nm 4200+ CPU. This required finding the latest BIOS for x2 support, which we have also listed in the Motherboard Features chart for each board. This tells you the earliest BIOS revision that has been said by the manufacturer to support the X2 dual core chips.

It should also be mentioned that AMD has implemented a hidden feature in Revision E processors, namely additional memory ratios that can be implemented in BIOS. As we had seen on the Abit motherboard in this roundup, a Revision E chip adds 433, 466, and 500 options to the available memory ratios. This has to be coded in the BIOS to be available, but the new asynchronous ratios are a feature of the Revision E Memory Controller. We identified 2 boards, the Abit and DFI, that correctly implemented this function with the Rev. E chips and included that information in the feature table.

The good news is that just about any Socket 939 motherboard can run dual-core, and every motherboard in this roundup had a BIOS very recently available to support AMD x2 processors. But you will more than likely need a BIOS update.

How to Update BIOS for Dual-Core if You Have Dual-Core Only

This brings up the nagging question that is always asked when BIOS upgrades are required for certain CPUs. What do you do if you have a board that needs a BIOS upgrade for dual-core and you only have a dual-core chip? We asked AMD this question and was given the following reply:
"If the BIOS you are working with (original BIOS in the board) supports a rev E single core (AKA... 90nm as most new boards should), it will allow you to flash the BIOS to a BIOS that supports rev E dual core. In my experience, a DC processor with single core rev E support will run fine, but only as a single core. If the BIOS doesn't support rev E (In other words, you may have a good board, but the BIOS is pretty old), you will likely need to install a pre-rev E (AKA-130nm) AMD processor to flash the BIOS.

I'm told that if a customer can't flash their BIOS, many mobo vendors will mail out the BIOS chip to them (if it's not soldered down, obviously)."

Index The Motherboard Test Suite


View All Comments

  • arfan - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    "So ECS, Foxconn, Biostar - we can only suggest that you need to add features and performance that will make an AMD user want to buy your boards. "

    Why u think's ECS is bad ???

    From your benchmark, ECS is not too bad, their ranking in the middle until top1.

    Sorry, if myenglish is so bad.
  • smn198 - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Page 1: "There are no performance differences in the SLI and Ultra chipsets, or even the base nForce4 for that matter. These chipsets differ only in which features are available to the buyer - but they beat with the same heart."

    I thought the base nForce4 had a 800MHz HT where as the Ultra and SLI have 1GHz. Is that not correct?
  • Frallan - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    For PSU requirements read the mfg websites. Especially the DFI comes with explicit requirements.

    480W 24pin ATX 2.0+ PSU and from experiance Id have to say that U want a 1st tier PSU on top of that. Anecdotal advices that its possible to run a DFI SLI set up overclocked from a 350W PSU exists but fact remains that a good solid 500W+ ATX 2.0+ PSU will help U with stability.
  • Calin - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    What I want to ask: does the processor works with four DS DIMMS at 1T command rate at lower frequency? By what you say (that 2T command rate is much slower than 1T command rate), then 1T command rate at 333MHz would be faster than 2T command rate at 400MHz. Reply
  • Vesperan - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    I love the look of that Epox board. Pity noone imports Epox products into New Zealand any more. Reply
  • GhostlyGhost - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Ermm.. It's "Marvell". With two l's. Reply
  • Heidfirst - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    I think that you must have a bad example of the ABIT. A no. of other sites (HardOCP, Hexus etc.) have all been over 300 ref. clock with it.
    Not to mention that there is also now the non-Fatality AN8 Ultra which is cheaper & yet has better sound & 3.55Vdimm instead of 2.8V on the Fatality ...
  • DLeRium - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    I think the Neo4 should've been included even though it was in the SLI test. Same with the Asus board. Those are really important boards. I'm sure if you add up the Asus and MSI users they would outnumber Biostar + Foxconn + Chaintech + ECS. Iono. just my 2 cents. I dont want to go look at the SLI review and then compare it to this review to see other boards and do a mental benchmark merge to get hte relative performance.

    You know what we should make? We should make the uber super chart system. Kinda like THG's CPU charts. Just make the interactive system comparation machine. Choose a CPU, a mobo, a gfx card etc. If you bench every component (not every combo), but just CPUs vs CPUs, mobos vs mobos, you can get the relative score and construct a relative table for combinations..... hmm just a thought.
  • Palek - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    A few mistakes made it into the final article...

    Page 7

    1. The following bit does not belong in this review. Cut and paste?

    "There are absolutely no PCIe slots at all on the Neo4/SLI except for the pair of x16 slots for SLI video. MSI tells us that the 2nd PCIe can function as a PCIe x1 slot if you're not using it for video, but that is it for PCIe. Does this really matter? Right now, it really isn't important, since we had a very hard time even finding a PCIe x1 LAN card for the new PCI Express. It may matter in the future, but by that time, you will likely have moved on to a newer version of whatever chipset is the latest wonder. This is particularly clear when you look at the feature set of the MSI, since it is definitely a cut above the other boards in this roundup."

    2. "SPDIG" should be SPDIF, or S/PDIF if you want to be really accurate.

    Page 11

    1. The title row of the table is incorrect. The motherboard name should read:
    "DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra"

    2. Link to next page is also incorrect, same as above.

    Page 12

    1. Title of the page is incorrect, same as above.

    2. Title row of the table is incorrect, same as above.

    Page 13

    1. "SPDIG" round two.

    Also, do guys have any idea why placing the codec on a daughter card reduces CPU overhead? Obviously there is something more going on than just the physical relocation of the chips. Any theories or explanations?
  • Xenoterranos - Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - link

    Just a word about the soundblaster Live on the MSI board...

    "That price tag [200$] may be a bit high for the average gamer who just spent most of his/her savings on a Pentium II / Voodoo2 setup, however if you're going to swallow the cost of an expensive sound card it might as well be the Creative Labs SB Live!"

    That was Anandtech back in '99. And you're getting this for free! (well, almost)

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