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Albatron K8 SLI — a Motherboard Based on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI (Socket 939)

September 12, 2005



We've been encountering motherboards on the latest chipset from nVidia (nForce4 SLI (Intel Edition)) more often of late. It was designed for Intel processors, while its predecessor nForce4 SLI for AMD processors remains in the shade. But in fact motherboard manufacturers still pay heed to this worthy in every respect product. Today we shall review the Albatron K8 SLI motherboard based on this core logic.

We should note right away that it's a middle end product, so we cannot expect any pretentious novelties in its functionality and bundle. All that the Albatron K8 SLI can boast of is a mediocre audio controller based on AC’97 codec Realtek (Avance Logic) ALC655 and a network controller supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/s, which has long become a standard for the majority of motherboard manufacturers. So, it has nothing new to offer.

As the Albatron K8 SLI uses the nForce4 SLI core logic (note that nForce4 SLI is based on a single chip), its designers decided to reduce the motherboard dimensions to 239198 mm. It's quite natural that the concentration of elements on a PCB was increased. Crowded elements near the 4-pin ATX connector make it difficult to plug/unplug a power cable to it. Memory slots are rather close to the processor socket, so there may be difficulties with them, when installing a CPU cooler. Access to the jumpers is a tad hampered, when a motherboard is installed into a chassis. Their brief descriptions are provided on the PCB. We should also note a convenient location of the FDD connector, but that's good news only to those who still need a good old Floppy.

The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates six 3300 uF capacitors, three 1500 uF capacitors, and six 1000 uF capacitors. The board also contains a memory voltage regulator (four 1000 uF capacitors and four 100 uF ones). The motherboard contains empty seats for connectors to brackets with the second additional COM port, a GAME port, and an IrDA module. Motherboard dimensions are 239198 mm ("narrow" ATX, six-screw mount, all motherboard edges are firmly fixed.)  

System monitoring (Winbond W83627HF-AW):

  • Chipset and battery voltage, +3.3V, +5V, and +12V
  • RPM of one fan
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • CPU socket (Socket 939, for AMD Athlon 64/64 FX)
  • 4 x DDR SDRAM DIMM (DDR 200/266/333/400, up to 4GB dual channel mode is supported)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for video accelerators
  • 2 x PCIEx1
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can connect a regular 20-pin connector, but in this case it's not recommended to use powerful up-to-date componentry like top PCIE video cards, and 4-pin ATX12V for a processor)
  • 1 x FDD
  • 2 x IDE (Parallel ATA) — both are based on a chipset (RAID support: RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1, JBOD). It can accommodate up to four IDE devices
  • 4 x SATA (Serial ATA) — chipset-based (RAID support: RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1, JBOD)
  • Two connectors for brackets with additional USB ports
  • Headers for a bracket with additional Audio-Outs and S/PDIF
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • 3 x fan headers (one of them allows RPM control).

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)


Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x LPT, Coaxial S/PDIF-Out, 1 x COM
  • 2 x USB (1.1/2.0)
  • 2 x USB (1.1/2.0) and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 3 x audio (Line-in, Front, Mic-in).

Package Contents

  • Package: box of standard dimensions
  • Documentation (in English):
    • User's guide
    • poster with brief instructions on how to install and configure the motherboard
  • Cables:
    • ATA 66/100/133 (gray)
    • FDD (gray)
    • Serial ATA
    • SATA power converter
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with software:
    • Motherboard drivers
    • Adobe Acrobat Reader
    • PC-cillin 2005 (antivirus)
    • Virtual Cable Tester (utility that monitors network connections)
    • DirectX 9.0.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the AC'97 codec Realtek (Avance Logic) ALC655, supporting 5.1 surround sound audio with front line-in/out and S/PDIF-In/Out jacks
  • Network PHY controller, based on the VITESSE VSC8201RX (PHY) chip, for chipset-integrated MAC controller Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000 Mbit/s Gigabit Ethernet).

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16bit, 44 kHz using the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.5 test application and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.17, -0.48 Good
Noise level, dB (A): -81.5 Good
Dynamic range, dB (A): 81.1 Good
THD, %: 0.034 Good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %: 0.043 Good
Channel crosstalk, dB: -84.9 Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %: 0.214 Average

We have encountered problems with incorrect operation of the bundled audio drivers during our tests of the integrated audio solution. Audio quality used to drop significantly, you can see it at this link. But these problems were eliminated, after we installed the drivers from the web site of the manufacturer Realtek. General performance: Good (Details).

Proprietary technologies

  • Watch Dog Timer: automatic restoration of old BIOS settings, if the motherboard fails to startup with the new settings
  • Over Temperature Protection: CPU overheating protection

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
In Award BIOS v6.00PG Memory timings
+
CAS Latency Time, DRAM RAS# to CAS# Delay, DRAM RAS# Precharge, Precharge Delay (tRAS)
Memory frequency selection
+
Auto, 200/266/333/400 MHz
PCIE bus frequency control
+
100 — 145 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI bus frequency control
 
K8 Cool’n’Quiet
+
 
PCI IRQ manual assignment
 
FSB frequency setup
+
200 — 450 MHz at 1 MHz steps
HT bus multiplier
+
x1 — x5
CPU multiplier
 
CPU voltage control
+
+5%, +10%, +15%;
Memory voltage control
+
2.7V, 2.8V, 2.9V, 3.0V
Chipset voltage control
+
1.5V, 1.6V, 1.7V, 1.8V
FSB voltage control
+
 
PCIE bus voltage control
 

We used BIOS vR1.01, the latest available BIOS version at the time of our tests. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 4000+ (Cooler: Gigabyte NeonCooler8-Pro ED821-MF)
  • Memory: Corsair XMS3200 TwinX x 2 (DDR 400, 2-2-2-5)
  • HDD: Samsung SP1213C (SATA, 7200 rpm, 8 MB Cache)
  • Video card: ATI Radeon X800 XT, 256 MB DDR
  • Power supply unit: FSP AX500-A
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

As we have tested only two motherboards (the table below contains their results) on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI chipset so far, it's difficult to draw any definite conclusions as far as the general performance of motherboards on this chipset is concerned. But we can say that the Albatron model under review is a tad slower than its competitor ECS KN1 SLI. Both models outperform motherboards on the chipset of the previous generation nForce3 Ultra (e.g. Gigabyte K8NS Ultra-939).

Test
Albatron K8 SLI (DDR 400)
ECS KN1 Extreme (DDR 400)
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec
7:43
7:32
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec
5:10
5:05
MPEG4 (DivX) encoding, min:se
3:50
3:47
Processing images in Photoshop, min:sec
32:44
31:08
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480x32), fps
84.5
86.1
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Medium@800x600x32), fps
79.6
81.2

Conclusion:

In conclusion I want to say that the motherboard under review is a middle end product in terms of functionality, performance, and bundle; it's designed for a mass consumer. We were slightly disappointed by the incident with audio drivers, but on the whole, we had no problems with testing this product. We found nothing cardinally new in the Albatron K8 SLI, so we only have to wait for test results of the other motherboards on nForce 4 SLI, in order to determine the fastest model.

This model on the manufacturer's web site (Russian mirror)


The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer



Reviewed by iXBT.com — this product has passed our lab tests
Vladimir Senchihin (sench@ixbt.com)
September 12, 2005.

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