Athlon64 Motherboards: First Look at Chaintech, FIC, and MSIby Wesley Fink on September 23, 2003 1:03 PM EST
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Chaintech ZNF3-150: Athlon64 with Every OptionThe Chaintech ZNF3-150 is one of the more interesting packages that we have seen in quite a while, since it creates a new definition for high-end motherboards. We have seen this from Chaintech before, with the remarkably complete 7NJS-ZENITH and 7NJS-ZENITH Ultra. The ZNF3-150 certainly continues that tradition of providing every option that the enthusiast could want and then some. DFI and Soyo have produced similar packages with their LANParty and Platinum series boards, but Chaintech has a slightly different slant. It is clear that their aim with this Athlon64 board is the Performance enthusiast.
This time around, Chaintech has concentrated on board options that can affect performance, which include using 4-phase power instead of the 2- and 3-phase designs that we see on other Athlon64 boards. They have also added a copper heat-pipe cooling solution to the power transistors, which they call Radex. The performance options are new, but the rest of the package mirrors the more recent Chaintech packages and includes round cables, audio riser card, a front bay with ports and flash-card reader, and every option that you can think of including a Chaintech screwdriver.
While we have to give Chaintech the award for the most intriguing motherboard package that we have seen in quite a while, our main interest is whether all this attention to performance enhancement will really make a difference. This is, after all, the Athlon64 single-channel version of the new processor, and AMD is also introducing the “Enthusiast” version of this CPU, called Athlon64FX, that will run at a little faster clock speed and support dual-channel memory. Why, then, have an enthusiast Athlon64 board?
The answer is really very simple, and we think Chaintech is right on track with this solution. Athlon64FX is very expensive as it is launched, and the costs are not just the higher priced CPU. FX is basically an Opteron in a different costume, and as a result, it requires the use of at least Registered DDR memory or Registered ECC DDR memory. You cannot use your common unbuffered DDR400 or DDR500 with an Athlon64FX. New Registered Dual-Channel DDR400 memory is very hard to find at present. You also will have, initially at least, a much smaller selection of motherboards from which to choose. We currently have an Asus SK8N that we will be benchmarking with an Athlon64FX, but there are very few FX boards available.
This will all change early next year, when Socket 939 will be introduced. This will be Athlon64FX designed for regular unbuffered Dual-Channel memory. However, until that happens, the decision to go for Athlon64FX will be a very expensive one, also tempered by the limited availability of Athlon64FX chips for the next few months. For those reasons, Chaintech made a very wise decision in producing the ZNF3-150. Performance truly comparable to 3.2GHz processors and the promise of even faster Athlon64 CPUs will be a breath of fresh air for most, and many will be looking for a full-featured top-performing motherboard to go with their new Athlon64.