Data Corruption - not Political Corruption - with NVIDIA’s Latest Boards

Our performance board roundups ended up delayed for a variety of reasons, but we will be back on track next week. Every conceivable problem has hit us from shoddy BIOS releases to repeated problems getting Crysis to benchmark correctly under 64-bit Vista. We are still not sure about the latter problem, as one image works and another does not on identical hardware and software setups. We finally got to the point of being able to benchmark, but it is not a process we would wish upon our worst enemies.

However, none of that compares to the data corruption problems we are seeing intermittently on the 790i and 780i platforms. We honestly thought NVIDIA had solved these problems back in 2006 on the 680i platform. Since the MCP has not changed, it is disconcerting to us that this problem seems to be rearing its ugly head again. This time, the data corruption problems appear contained to memory overclocking, especially on the 790i boards. We are not talking massive overclocks here, but apparently hitting the right combination of FSB rates around 400 and memory speeds above DDR3-1600 seem to trigger our problems. Also, we have been able to reach higher DDR3 speeds with absolute stability on the 790i than on the X48 during extreme overclocking, so this problem is even more perplexing to us.

On the 780i boards, the magical combination is right above 400MHz FSB (1600 QDR) and memory unlinked anywhere from DDR2-900~1200. Our 780i problems have been minor for the most part, but the underlying problem is that after the systems recover from a BSOD, we typically have stability problems or gremlin behaviors until we reload the system. This same problem can occur on Intel or AMD chipset boards, but it is extremely rare in our experiences to date unless we absolutely pushed the memory beyond reasonable settings.


Back to the 790i boards; the data corruption problems have occurred more frequently as the boards (and their early BIOS revisions) seem more susceptible to faulty behavior when pushing the memory above DDR3-1600 with low latencies. We have not nailed downed exact settings at this point, as they tend to fluctuate between test sessions and boards. What we do know is that we are tired of constantly reloading our images after making minor changes to our settings.

It is possibly coincidence only, but over the past couple of months we have lost two WD Raptors, a couple of Samsung 500GB drives, and a WD 250GB drive while benchmarking the 790/780i boards. It may have just been time for these drives to meet their maker, as our particular samples have spent significant time running benchmarks almost 24/7 over the past year or so (it might not sound like a long time, but we totally abuse the drives to some degree when testing in this manner). We have certainly had hard drive failures when testing other chipsets, ranging from complete mechanical breakdowns to index tables being so corrupted that we could not fully recover the disk. It could just be bad luck on our part.

However, we think it goes deeper than that. After the first roundups this coming week, we plan to delve into it. The reason is that we have not had any data corruption problems testing our 650i/750i, GeForce 6100/6150, or GeForce 7050 boards, none of which utilize the MCP in the 680/780/790i boards.  Of course, this could be tied to the fact that we do not push the boards as hard, but knowing about the previous 680i problems makes us think the current BIOS code or Vista drivers need to be revised again.

Other problems

We share test notes on an almost continual basis with each other when testing boards. We thought some of the test notes from our upcoming roundup would be interesting. In all fairness to NVIDIA, we are including our X48 thoughts as we wrap up testing.

790i test notes:

a) CPU multiplier likes to changes at will, causing an inability to POST after changing BIOS options. (Problem is likely linked to bad NVIDIA base code).

b) Poor memory read performance above 475FSB unless you enable “P1” and “P2” which NVIDIA refuses to document operation of or provide information about.

c) EVGA/XFX (NVIDIA reference design) lacks support for tRFC tuning - high density DDR3 configurations often refuse to work unless the module SPDs are tuned from the manufacturer. (This makes them needlessly slow in low-density configurations.)

d) The chipset does not do a very good job of balancing read vs. write priorities with respect to memory access - copy scores lower than X38/X48.

e) Regardless of what NVIDIA says, we think PCI-E 2.0 (and 1.x) implementation is still better on Intel’s Express chipsets - give us SLI on Intel to prove it!!!

f) Possible problem with NVIDIA reference design: sustained overclocked operation at >~1.9V for VDIMM may cause critical failure of 790i (Ultra) SPP. This does not seem to affect ASUS S2E design and is the most critical issue facing the board; we need to verify before making recommendations.

g) Possible HDD corruption issues. (We lost the two 74GB WD Raptors so far…)

X48 test notes:

a) Chipset defaults to tRD values that are excessively loose and are not competitive with NVIDIA’s new 790i. The problem is most MB manufacturers do not allow this to be specifically tuned in the BIOS.

b) DMI interface (x4 PCI-E link) is sloooow….X38/X48 should have been paired with ICH10(R), which will be PCI-E 2.0 compliant on the link interface.

c) Haven’t found an Intel X48 board yet that will handle 8GB of DDR3 properly, even though this is a major bullet for chipset support - board or memory makers? (We need to test this on the Intel DX48BT2 that just arrived.)

d) Chipset runs HOT…might even be hotter than 790i. Intel should have shrunk this thing long ago!

That is it for now and we will have additional information in the first roundup. Now a take on Gigabyte.

Pop goes the MOSFET Walking the Plank with Gigabyte...
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  • BikeDude - Sunday, April 6, 2008 - link

    Gary, I just sent you an e-mail detailing some of my woes with PowerDVD. I look forward to your coverage of this abysmal piece of software, and I hope you will do some digging into questions like 'why do they spawn all those processes?'. Does it really take 110MB worth of software just to play a DVD or blu-ray movie? (I guess they have to justify their $100 price tag somehow) Reply
  • Dobs - Sunday, April 6, 2008 - link

    Personally I find the AMD 9900/9850BE @ 125W killing mb's to be the biggest news in this story.... This is like a "Don't risk AMD" commercial for me!

    Also this is the first I've heard about the X-48 8Gb issue???
    "c) Haven’t found an Intel X48 board yet that will handle 8GB of DDR3 properly..."

    X-48 (P5E3 Prem.) and 8 Gb is exactly what I want for my next build (like now).. and this is the first thing I heard about this 8 Gb problem. Is it just a problem for particular boards or all X-48 ICH9R chipsets??? Can someone please point me in the right direction to research this problem more?? (links please)

    Thanks in advance.

    Oh and congrats to Anandtech for a seriously gutsy story - well done!
    Reply
  • Dobs - Sunday, April 6, 2008 - link

    Personally I find the AMD 9900/9850BE @ 125W killing mb's to be the biggest news in this story.... This is like a "Don't risk AMD" commercial for me!

    Also this is the first I've heard about the X-48 8Gb issue???
    "c) Haven’t found an Intel X48 board yet that will handle 8GB of DDR3 properly..."

    X-48 (P5E3 Prem.) and 8 Gb is exactly what I want for my next build (like now).. and this is the first thing I heard about this 8 Gb problem. Is it just a problem for particular boards or all X-48 ICH9R chipsets??? Can someone please point me in the right direction to research this problem more?? (links please)

    Thanks in advance.

    Oh and congrats to Anandtech for a seriously gutsy story - well done!
    Reply
  • lamikr - Sunday, April 6, 2008 - link

    At least I got from the previous 780G articles a feeling that these boards are designed for the people wanting to build HTPC systems with decent processing power of handling the encoding of full HD movies. And for this purposes the 780G boards are simply the best ones that have so far been released.

    When one wants instead of using the CPU's with 125 W of power consumption, it changes the requirements very much.
    (One starts talking from the CPUs which have 2-3 times bigger power consumption TPD compared to 4850e)
    Therefore it is understandable that those systems will also need some other type of motherboard than mATX.

    I however agree that the 780G board manufacturers should now start mentioning the maximum TPD that their boards support.

    Mika
    Reply
  • BikeDude - Sunday, April 6, 2008 - link

    Ditto.

    I have an old 4GB system now, and given the low price of memory, I'd certainly go for at least 8GB in my next configuration. Even my laptop has 4GB now. (I'd like more there as well, but it is hard to find laptops that offer more room for expansion, heck some are still maxed out at 2GB!)
    Reply
  • Tuvoc - Sunday, April 6, 2008 - link

    Well on the Intel side, the ASUS P5N-E SLI is a budget board, with 3=phase power. Yet it has been running my 130w QX6700 for over one year now 24/7. So 3-phase power can cope with power hungry CPUs Reply
  • cjb110 - Sunday, April 6, 2008 - link

    I was just wondering how much of the problem with the Gigabyte board is their fault? It sounds like the handling of the problem wasn't ideal, but from a technical point? Did gigabyte make the board badly? bad bios coding?

    Surely nvidia have something to answer for? after all they made the chipset and provided the info (or not) as to how it works and what it can do?
    Reply
  • Blazer7 - Sunday, April 6, 2008 - link

    All 3 680 based ASUS boards do support the QX6850 and Wolfdale. In fact ASUS released a beta that offers support for Yorkfield too but that works only when running @ stock. Any attempt to oc results in stability issues. Yet they did good on their claims for their boards and they also proved beyond any doubt that the problem lies with the design and not with the chipset.

    On the other hand Gigabyte did advertise their board as one that featured “several next generation technologies including FSB1333 support for the record-setting Intel® Core 2 Extreme Quad Core processors”. Guess what, they didn't deliver. The board does not support a single 1333 Quad Core, Extreme or other. Not even Wolfdale is supported.

    Kudos to AT for their stance on this one. It sure took a lot of guts to publish this article especially considering that Gigabyte must be spending quite a bit here @ AT for all these banners and ads.
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Sunday, April 6, 2008 - link

    On Thursday afternoon I left a new system build running at my office. It uses an X2-6400 on an ECS AMD770 board. Just like the 780 board you have, I see on ECS' website that they don't officially support the 6400 or any other 125W TDP processor. I didn't think to check, I just ASSumed that any new board that claims to be Phenom ready would support any current AMD CPU. I wonder what I'm going to find when I go back to the office? Stay tuned...
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Tuesday, April 8, 2008 - link

    Well, if anyone at all was curious, the system survived a few hours of Prime95, so I delivered it to the customer. At this point I'm ASSuming that the board can handle the X2-6400 just fine.
    Reply

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