Final Words

It was difficult to resist being a little sensationalist in this 939 roundup and titling the review, "Who needs 925X?" That would have been a fair title, however, since you can clearly see that all of the Socket 939/FX53 boards completely outperform Intel's top 560 on the top 925X motherboard. Even Media Encoding, the last bastion of Intel dominance, is now a dead heat with the new AutoGK benchmark.

Any of the Socket 939 motherboards that we tested here would make a great home for a Socket 939 Athlon 64. They all perform very well at stock speed and any of them will serve you well. We even found that all six of the tested motherboards performed at the fastest timings available and a 2T Command Rate with 4 DIMMs on board, so even that is a non-issue.

However, in this go-round, there are a few criteria that begin to separate the boards that we tested. The two nForce3 Ultra motherboards did particularly well in Winstones, outperforming the VIA K8T800 PRO boards in these important benchmarks of overall real-world performance. We also found that the two nF3 boards in this roundup were consistent top performers, and, like other nF3-250 boards that we have tested, are complete with a working PCI/AGP lock for overclocking. This is not a criticism of VIA, because every VIA-based board that we tested in this roundup does indeed have a working lock. However, our concern remains that it sometimes took 2 or 3 revisions to get that working lock on the VIA boards - an issue that we have yet to see on any of the nForce3-250 boards. The good news is we are now confident that VIA has the PCI/AGP lock working, but there are boards floating around without this working feature. Our advice is to be cautious in a VIA purchase if this is an important specification for you. A little time for the market to settle should remove any concerns that you might have in buying a VIA K8T800 PRO chipset 939 or 754.

The KV2 Extreme is a remarkable step forward for ECS, and we can heartily recommend it as a good value if you plan to run only at stock speeds or you will only need modest overclocking capabilities. It is a very good effort at producing an Enthusiast-level ECS board. However, we think that this board needs to mature a bit more before it turns into a board that will satisfy most enthusiasts. We feel similarly about the MSI K8T Neo2-FIR, which was somewhat a surprise as the socket 754 K8T Neo was a favorite. Our concern is based on the fact that we went through 3 K8T Neo2 boards before we got one that really worked. That may just be coincidence, but it raises concern about the quality assurance of this particular product. The final board works very well, and is very fast at stock speed, but it falls well short of the remarkable overclocking capabilities of the sister K8N Neo2. A little time will likely take care of this issue, but we remain cautious for the time being.

Of our top four boards, we can honestly say that any of these 4 would be a great choice. The K8N Neo2 and Gigabyte K8NSNXP are both based on the nForce3 Ultra chipset, and the Abit AV8 and Asus A8V Deluxe Revision 2 are very clearly the top of the VIA boards, reaching our second best overclocks at 289 and 280. However, if you look carefully at the features, performance results, and just plain class in a market segment filled with top performers, the MSI K8N Neo2 stands out.

Based on top performance, the full implementation of the nForce3 Ultra features, value, overclocking performance, and flexibility, the MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum emerges from a class of top Socket 939 Athlon 64 boards as our Gold Editors Choice. This makes the K8N Neo2 our choice as the best Athlon 64 motherboard that you can buy. MSI has produced two excellent motherboards in a row based on nVidia chipsets for Athlon 64. The K8N Neo for A64 Socket 754 was also one of our top choices for Single-Channel Athlon 64. The K8N Neo2 continues that performance as the top Athlon 64 motherboard that you can buy.

The choice for Silver Editor's Choice is a bit more difficult. We could make arguments for the nF3 Ultra Gigabyte K8NSNXP-939, the VIA K8T800 PRO Abit AV8, or the VIA Asus A8V Deluse Rev. 2. However, when we look closely at value, we find the Abit and Asus are both much cheaper to buy than the Gigabyte, which sways our choice in those directions. As a result the Silver Editors Choice is a tie between two VIA K8T800 PRO motherboards - the Abit AV8 and the Asus A8V Deluxe Revision 2. Please note the award to Asus ONLY applies to Revision 2, since the first revision does not have a reliable working PCI/AGP lock.

We are extremely pleased to award the Silver Editors Choice for best Athlon 64 Socket 939 motherboard to the Abit AV8. Abit proved you can build an excellent Enthusiast 939 motherboard, and have all the overclocking bells and whistles, with the VIA chipset. The Abit was not a standout in any one area in our tests, but it is a very balanced motherboard with all the Enthusiast features that we have come to expect from Abit motherboards. It is also an excellent value among Socket 939 motherboards. Abit has worked very hard to reach this level of performance with the VIA chipset, and they have produced a board that is really fun to use.

It gives great pleasure to also award the AnandTech Silver Editors Choice to the Asus A8V Deluxe Revision 2. It took Asus quite a while to get to this point, but there is a lot to like, and little to dislike, with the A8V Deluxe Revision 2. The A8V is not generally the fastest board here, this distinction now belongs to the nF3 Ultra boards, but it is definitely one of the best overclockers in the entire roundup. Asus has finally delivered on the promise of that first A8V, which reached high but just could not quite make the cut. Revision 2 is all we hoped we would see, and Asus deserves congratulations for the perseverance to stay the course and finally deliver one of the best Socket 939 boards on the market. While we still lean toward the nVidia nForce3 Ultra as the better solution for round 2 of the Athlon 64 chipset wars, there is no doubt Asus has massaged the K8T800 PRO for all it's worth - delivering the kinds of headroom we didn't think would even be possible with the VIA chipset. We can only admire the kind of Engineering prowess that took the A8V to what we see today.

There are no real losers in this roundup, but there are clearly some winners that stand above the crowd. We look forward to the evolution of the 939 as the mainstream Athlon 64 socket, because that will bring even more choices to the marketplace. For now, there are several outstanding homes for your new 939 CPU, but in the future there will be even more choices, and even more opportunites for a new winner to emerge. That's what makes this industry fun for some and maddening for others - there is always the possibility something better is just around the corner.

Workstation Performance
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  • harsaphes - Sunday, October 10, 2004 - link

    just set up my a8v board. no go on firewire, will not see ipod or external firewire drive. any idea?...bad board maybe? Reply
  • kd4yum - Thursday, August 05, 2004 - link

    Reply
  • Fender - Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - link

    The first words in this review confirm that you should never buy a VIA product before they revised it! (KT266 to 400 saga anyone?)
    Also, it's oddly that Hyperions used here are 8 months old...
    It could be interesting if you include, in your tests, any possible issue concerning OS installation or updating drivers (from the CD included in the box to the updated drivers from the manufacturer's site) because this is what happens to most buyers out there. Remember that you're testing a 64bit CPU with a 32bit OS, and drivers development will be a further support insurance.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - link

    #79 - Page 13 is corrected. That error slipped past 3 proofreaders. Thank you for alerting us. Reply
  • Sidewinder0010 - Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - link

    the k8t neo2 overclocking page has a typo that was throwing me off
    "much lower than the 290 on the K8T Neo2"
    That should be changed to k8n neo2
    Reply
  • Compddd - Friday, July 30, 2004 - link

    Wesley, did Asus say when the A8V Rev 2.0 will be hitting Retail Stores like Fry's, Best Buy, etc? Reply
  • thebluesgnr - Friday, July 30, 2004 - link

    How does the lower bandwidth (4900Mb/s) affect real world performance?

    One more thing, perhaps the MSI K8T Neo2 Platinum references should be changed to MSI K8T Neo2-FIR? That's the name of this board on MSI's site, there's no mention of it being a Platinum board. And here's a link of all the boards in the Platinum series: http://www.msicomputer.com/pressrelease/platinum.a...

    Off-Topic: Wesley, will there be reviews on AnandTech of Socket A mobos based on the nForce2 Ultra 400Gb and VIA KT880 chipsets? They offer the exact same features of the mobos on this roundup, and with the new Semprons and the good XP-Mobiles I suspect a lot of your readers are still interested in this socket.
    Sorry for the off-topic.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, July 30, 2004 - link

    #75 - You are confusing boards as MSI had TWO boards in the roundup. We had no problems at all with the first or second K8N Neo2 (based on nForce3 Ultra) we tested, and that is the board that received the Gold Editors Choice. The MSI K8T Neo2, based on the VIA K8T800 PRO, was the problem board and we definitely did NOT give the K8T Neo2 an award.

    #74 - On page 5 we talk about the memory bandwidth differences in 1T and 2T command rates: "The best performance is at a Command Rate of 1T, and the Abit AV8 was completely stable at a 1T setting with 2 DIMMs. Standard memory bandwidth measured with SiSoft Sandra 2004 SP2 shows a 6000 MB/s bandwidth with 1T Command Rate compared to a 5000 MB/s bandwidth with a 2T setting." This is also mentioned on page 11: "While a full memory comparison of the nVidia and VIA chipsets is beyond the scope of this roundup, we did run several SiSoft Sandra 2004 SP2 runs of the memory test module. At default settings, and the aggressive 2-2-2-10 timings on the FX53, the nF3-250 Ultra showed memory bandwidth in the 6100 range for FPU and Float. The same test on the VIA K8T800 PRO boards showed memory bandwidth in the 6000 range. Performance of both chipsets at the 1T setting was very similar. 2T Command Rates, with everything else the same, generated bandwidths of 4900 to 5000Mb/second."

    Reply
  • Z80 - Friday, July 30, 2004 - link

    Considering your statement "Our concern is based on the fact that we went through 3 K8T Neo2 boards before we got one that really worked" I'm surprised that you went ahead and gave the MSI board your gold award. I see that MSI is being sued for intentionally using capacitors that were made with an improperly-formulated electrolyte solution. My personal experience with MSI quality assurance was never good at least back in the day it wan't but maybe they have changed like you say OCZ has? I'll stick with Asus and Abit, thank you. Reply
  • SignalPST - Friday, July 30, 2004 - link

    quote from the article:
    "We even found that all six of the tested motherboards performed at the fastest timings available and a 2T Command Rate with 4 DIMMs on board, so even that is a non-issue."

    Does that mean that if 4 sticks of ram are installed, there won't be a performance hit and it will work just as fast as 2 sticks installed?
    Reply

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