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GigaByte GA-K8NS Ultra-939 – a Motherboard Based on NVIDIA nForce3 Ultra (Socket 939)

May 19, 2005



The new Socket 939 platform for AMD Athlon 64/64 FX processors has becoming increasingly popular, gradually pushing its predecessors into the background - Socket 754 and 940. It happens so because the S939 is currently the best combination of AMD64-based CPU and chipset technical characteristics, which used to exist only separately. Add good performance and acceptable (especially compared to Intel components) for these days prices for AMD processors and motherboards with Socket 939, the process of gradual transition to S939 is absolutely clear, justified, and inevitable.

GA-K8NS Ultra-939, based on the nForce3 Ultra chipset, is the first motherboard equipped with Socket 939 from GigaByte. The key differences of the new motherboard from the currently available on the market Gigabyte K8NNXP-940 and Gigabyte K8NSNXP (Socket 940 and 754, correspondingly) are the core logic nForce 3 Ultra (which in its turn differs from nForce 250 only by a faster HyperTransport bus, operating at 1 GHz) and Socket 939. In other respects, the GA-K8NS Ultra-939 offers nothing cardinally new: it supports the dual-channel memory mode (DDR 200/266/333/400), 4 x SATA (two of them are in the chipset and the other two are based on the additional controller Silicon Image 3512), traditional DualBIOS, and an average integrated audio controller based on AC’97 codec Avance Logic ALC850.








The PCB layout is quite good due to a single-chip core logic, we experienced no special inconveniences when assembling the system. Access to jumpers is not hampered, when the motherboard is in a case, their brief descriptions are provided on the PCB. Voltage at memory slots is indicated by a yellow LED. Besides, when a +3.3 V video card is installed into the motherboard, a LED will light up to inform that such a card is not supported. The 6-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates six 3300 uF capacitors and seven 1000 uF capacitors. The board also contains voltage regulators for AGP bus (six 1000 uF capacitors) and for memory (six 1000 uF capacitors).

The PCB contains no empty seats for chips and connectors. Motherboard dimensions — 305x245 mm (full-sized ATX, nine-screw mount, all motherboard edges are firmly fixed). System monitoring is performed by the ITE IT8712F-A chip.

System monitoring (ITE IT8712F-A):

  • CPU and memory voltage, +3.3V and +12V
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU temperature (by the embedded CPU sensor)
  • Board temperature (by the on-board sensor)

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 differ by color, grouped by two)
  • AGP 4x/8x (with a latch) — supports only 1.5V video cards
  • 5 x PCI (compatible with PCI 2.3)
  • Power connectors: Standard ATX (20-pin) and a 4-pin connector for 12 V
  • 1 x FDD
  • 2 x IDE (Parallel ATA)
  • 4 x SATA (Serial ATA), two of them are in the chipset, the other two are due to an additional controller (Sil 3512)
  • Connector for a bracket with additional USB (2.0) ports
  • Connector for the bracket with additional FireWire ports
  • Connector for a bracket with four additional audio outs (Side, Sub center, Real R/L, and SPDIF-Out)
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • 1 x standard IrDA connector
  • 3 x fan headers (all with RPM control.

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)




  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x LPT and 2 x COM
  • 2 x USB (1.1/2.0) and 1 x RJ-45 (10/100/1000 Mbit/s Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB (1.1/2.0) and 1x RJ-45 (10/100 Mbit/s Fast Ethernet)
  • 3 x Audio (Line-in, Line-out, MIC-in)

Package Contents




  • Package: the box is designed in a standard K8 Triton style
  • Documentation: User's guide, IDE RAID Setup Guide, and a poster with brief instructions on how to install and configure the motherboard — all in English
  • Cables: 2 x Serial ATA, 1 x ATA 66/100/133, and an FDD cable
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x USB and 2 x GigaWire
  • Rear panel bracket with Center/Sub, Rear, Side, S/PDIF-Out (Toslink and Coaxial)
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with software.

Integrated Controllers

  • AC'97 Avance Logic ALC 850 Audio Codec supporting 7.1 surround sound audio, with front line-in/out and S/PDIF jacks
  • Two network controllers, one of them is based on the chipset and a PHY controller ICS1883AF, supporting 10/100 Mbit/s Base-T (Fast Ethernet). The second controller is based on the Marvell 88E8001-LKJ chip, supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/s Base-T (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • GigaWire (FireWire-800, IEEE 1394b), based on Texas Instruments TSB82AA2 and TSB81BA3-A chips, supporting 3 ports
  • SATA RAID, based on NVIDIA nForce3, supporting two SATA connectors and RAID 0, 1, 0+1, JBOD
  • SATA RAID, based on the Silicon Image SiI3512CT128 chip, supporting two SATA connectors and RAID 0, 1.

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16bit, 44 kHz using the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.4 test application and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
+0.21, -1.23
Average
Noise level, dB (A):
-76.4
Average
Dynamic range, dB (A):
73.5
Average
THD, %:
0.054
Average
Intermodulation, %:
0.072
Good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-78.0
Very good

General performance: Average (details).

Proprietary technologies

  • Gigabyte DualBIOS (the board has a backup Flash EEPROM chip with a copy of BIOS)
  • Q-Flash and @BIOS (these utilities are used to flash new BIOS versions without booting into DOS)
  • EasyTune 4 (a proprietary Windows utility to overclock and control parameters in real time)
  • Xpress Recovery (this utility backs up the data in the hidden area of a hard drive and then allows to restore this data)
  • Xpress Install (automatic installation of necessary drivers and applications from the bundled CD).

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
In Award BIOS v6.00PG Memory timings CAS Latency, RAS to CAS Delay, Min. RAS Active Time, Row Precharge Delay, Refresh Period
Memory frequency selection Auto, DDR-200, DDR-266, DDR-333, DDR-400
AGP bus frequency control 66-100 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI frequency divider setup
-
PCI IRQ manual assignment
-
FSB frequency setup 200—300 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier
-
CPU voltage control Normal, 0.8—1.7 V at 0.025 V steps
Memory voltage control Normal, +0.1, +0.2 V
Chipset voltage control
-
HT bus voltage control Normal, +0.1, +0.2, +0.3 V
AGP voltage control Normal, +0.1, +0.2, +0.3 V

We used BIOS F8, the latest available BIOS version at the time of our tests.

Performance:

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 4000+
  • RAM: Corsair XMS3200 TwinX x 2 (DDR 400, 2-2-2-5)
  • HDD: Samsung SP1213C (SATA, 7200 rpm, 8 MB Cache)
  • Graphics: ATI Radeon 9800 Pro, 256 MB DDR
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

According to the test results, GigaByte GA-K8NS Ultra-939 takes the second place among the Socket 939 motherboards we reviewed. We had no problems during our tests.

Just one thing. This board seems to set the performance-important DRAM Timing to 2T. This results in a slight lagging behind typical dual-channel AMD K8 boards capable of working with 1T DRAM Timing. And BIOS doesn't allow to change this.

Test
GigaByte GA-K8NS Ultra-939 (DDR 400)
Albatron K8X890 ProII (DDR 400)
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec
7:46
7:41
Memory read rate, MB/sec
4227
4303
Memory write rate, MB/sec
1910
2444
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec
5:16
5:08
MPEG 4 (DIVX) Encoding, min:sec
3:51
3:47
Processing images in Photoshop, min:sec
33:34
32:38
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Fast@800x600x32), fps
84
84
Unreal Tournament 2004 (High@1280x1024x32), fps
79
79

Conclusion:

GA-K8NS Ultra-939 is a worthy representative of the motherboard family from GigaByte, intended to support the latest AMD Athlon 64 processors. It can compete with the motherboards supporting the latest Intel processors, both in its price and performance.

References



Vladimir Senchihin (sench@ixbt.com)

April, 2005.

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