iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail

Platform

Video

Multimedia

Mobile

Other

Socket AM2 Platform as an Assembly — What, Why, and for Whom?



In compliance with a fashionable trend to assemble system components into a platform for this or that target audience (sometimes giving it a loud marketing label), such "system" offers should be reviewed from a consumer point of view for all components as a unit. That's why first of all we shall sum up what new features are offered for the new processor socket.

DDR2 memory support

As is known, DDR2 technology theoretically possesses three indisputable advantages — it's more economical, it allows twice as much memory size on a single module, and it's cheaper to manufacture (however, the last fact hadn't been reflected in market prices for a long time). When ripened (memory itself and its infrastructure), it promised to excel the best DDR implementations in all performance parameters, that is to demonstrate higher bandwidth and lower access latencies.

The difference in memory power consumption in absolute values is evidently insufficient for taking DDR2 benefits for desktop computers seriously. And memory volumes of over 4GB still concern only the server segment. Besides, 2-GB DDR2 modules are currently too expensive and available only as DDR2-400. Thus, performance gain remains the only relevant point. But our tests demonstrated that the expected memory bandwidth values remained unattainable, though AMD engineers managed to cope with latencies.

We can only establish a fact that neither Intel nor AMD managed to reveal the full potential of this memory type (three years on the market). In the first case, the problem is in a relatively high latency of the external memory controller and limited FSB bandwidth. In the second case — architectural limitations of the processor and, probably, of the current revision of the DDR2 controller. Thus, in future, Intel will have to raise FSB clock to 1600 MHz and AMD will have to make some changes in the CPU architecture to utilize resources of dual-channel DDR2-800.

Can AMD do without DDR2 support now? From the technical point of view, yes, it can. At least, it can easily delay it until the 65-nm K8 core or even until K8L processors and its top models (based on the current core) will still not be limited by memory performance. On the other hand, it has been delayed for too long already. And now support for DDR2 as well as DDR memory is objectively necessary to successfully fill the market with processors from Fab36. Moreover, it may be even more important for the budget sector, where attraction of a platform depends even less on performance nuances. But DDR2 price drops may become a significant factor.

Support for AMD Virtualization Technology

Previously known as Pacifica, the virtualization technology is supported by all processors for Socket AM2, except Semprons. Its technical implementation should be reviewed in a separate article, as the process of virtualization (that is, administrating access of programs, including OS, to CPU, memory, and peripheral resources) cunningly uses the integrated memory controller and Hyper-Transport bus.

No doubts, this technology is very useful in the server segment. What concerns desktop PCs, we cannot expect its wide usage at least until MS Vista. Running several operating systems on a desktop computer and switching between them in real time, or even restarting them independently of each other - it all sounds impressive, but such desktop environment is rarely necessary. In future, virtualization may increase resistivity of a computer to cracking and virus attacks. How will it be implemented exactly? We'll see. It's up to software.

Processors

The series has been supplemented with a couple of top Athlon 64 5000+ and FX-62 models, which should consolidate the advantage of the new platform over the old one using an old all-purpose trick — due to higher clocks. There is also a new Athlon 64 X2 4000+ model, which was skipped for Socket 939. It's addressed to those users, who want to buy a dual-core processor with maximum cache size for a relatively democratic price. Before this time, the line of processors with 2MB cache had started from the 4400+ model, except for server models. Single-core Athlon 64 models for Socket AM2 come solely with 512 KB cache and give ground to the expanding line of Semprons. Mass-production models have become more economic — all Athlon 64 X2 processors officially consume no more than 89 W, while 4600+ and 4800+ for Socket 939 officially consume 110 W. The limit for single-core models is lowered from 89 W to 65 W.

And finally, the main addition to this family is Energy Efficient processors. They differ from "usual" models with the same rating solely by reduced heat release. It's planned to print their TDP on the box to distinguish these models.

Family Index Clock, MHz L2 Cache, KB TDP, Watt Price (for 1000 pieces and higher), $
Athlon 64 FX
62
2800
1024 x 2
125
1236
Athlon 64 X2
5000+
2600
512 x 2
89
696
4800+
2400
1024 x 2
89
645
4600+
2400
512 x 2
89
558
4400+
2200
1024 x 2
89
469
4200+
2200
512 x 2
89
365
4000+
2000
1024 x 2
89
328
3800+
2000
512 x 2
89
303
Athlon 64 X2 65W
4800+
2400
1024 x 2
65
671
4600+
2400
512 x 2
65
601
4400+
2200
1024 x 2
65
514
4200+
2200
512 x 2
65
417
4000+
2000
1024 x 2
65
353
3800+
2000
512 x 2
65
323
Athlon 64 X2 35W
3800+
2000
512 x 2
35
364
Athlon 64
3800+
2400
512
65
290
3500+
2200
512
65
208
Athlon 64 35W
3800+
2400
512
35
n/a
3500+
2200
512
35
231
Sempron
3600+
2000
256
65
123
3500+
2000
128
65
109
3400+
1800
256
65
97
3000+
1600
256
65
77
2800+
1600
128
65
67
Sempron 35W
3400+
1800
256
35
145
3200+
1800
128
35
119
3000+
1600
256
35
101

As we have already heard about the intention to launch processors with reduced power consumption, we were mostly interested in final prices. They are higher only by 5% for dual-core models with TDP of 65 W, which clearly means high percentage of such processors in the overall production. Models with 35W TDP are officially intended for computers in compact cases and media centers with high requirements to a noise level. Considering that the line of 35W models includes a dual-core model and that this level of power consumption is reached with the 90nm process technology, AMD engineers have all reasons to be proud.

Chipsets

As Socket AM2 processors do not require anything from a chipset for their support, the new motherboards will be based on models, which we have already seen in the previous platform. Nevertheless, replacement of a CPU socket is the best time for launching new chipsets. It's much easier to attract manufacturers (and customers) with a new product, when they have to think about creating a new design (purchasing) new motherboards anyway. So there appeared several new models.

ATI has timed the final release of its long-awaited SB600 southbridge to the launch of Socket AM2. It should help it overcome dependence on shipments of third-party southbridges (from ULi). The new series uses old Radeon 1100, 1600 and 3200 as northbridges. They cover the entire range — from integrated video to systems with CrossFire support and a couple of full-speed PCI Express x16. A reference motherboard (top model) has already appeared in our testlab. It will be tested in the nearest future.

NVIDIA has launched a series of discrete chipsets nForce 500, consisting of four models. The ranking system inside the series is inherited from nForce4. You can read the details on this chipset in a separate article. In this review we shall examine two MSI motherboards, based on two middle-end models — 570 SLI and 570 Ultra. Integrated video from NVIDIA on Socket AM2 is still based on well-known GeForce 6100 and 6150 together with southbridges nForce 410 and 430.

MSI K9N Platinum

  • Chipset: NVIDIA nForce 570 Ultra (a single MCP55Ultra bridge)



Besides DDR2 memory slots, the new platform is given away by a modified socket frame. The frame is fixed to the motherboard in four instead of two points. But rumors about the incompatibility with Socket 939 coolers are exaggerated. Indeed, the retention system of the new boxed coolers has been modified (four holes at the edge of the frame), but traditional projections are preserved as well for compatibility. For the only difference that Socket 939 has three of them at each side of the socket, and now only the central one is left. Thus, only coolers with the original retention system may be left out of it - their installation required removing the standard frame and securing the assembly right through the mounting holes in a motherboard.



Look at the passive cooling of the chipset - such a solution was exotic for nForce4, but it promises to become typical for the 500th series. MSI engineers use a long low-profile heatsink. It's not installed on the center of the chip. It overhangs a motherboard at one side, tied to it through an insulating pad. The heatsink gets very hot. But active cooling is not necessary, because this chip can operate at up to 90°C and its own heat release is reduced. The motherboard was stable at the standard frequencies. But if you plan on testing this system in an overclocked mode, you will still need additional cooling. Note that enthusiast series (MSI Diamond, in particular) will be still bundled with robust cooling systems for this chipset. And single-chip solutions from NVIDIA are still highly integrated and predictably hotter than competing products (though much less than nForce4).

Even though the motherboard is based on the chipset, which officially does not support SLI, it still has two PCI Express x16 ports. The second port (yellow), always operating in PCI Express x1 mode, can be used for the second video card - for another pair of monitors. Considering that the PCB layout is identical to the model on nForce 570 SLI, we cannot rule out a possibility of unlocking additional PCI Express lanes and SLI mode, which will probably be available in the Ultra version of the chipset.

The board is equipped with a 4-pin ATX12V connector. Besides, video cards in PCI Express x16 slots can be powered from the standard 4-pin peripheral connector. The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates 3 field-effect transistors per channel, six 3300 uF capacitors and four 1500 uF ones. All capacitors are always from one manufacturer, but not from the first echelon (unknown brand). Memory voltage regulator uses capacitors from Rubycon and is reinforced with L elements. There are no empty seats on this motherboard — Platinum series from MSI traditionally differs from "simple" models by a full set of additional controllers, provided by the board design. It's inferior to the Diamond series only in its bundle and "safety margin" of the cooling system. Motherboard dimensions — 305x245 mm (full-size ATX), nine-screw mount, all corners are firmly fixed.

System monitoring (Winbond W83627EHG, according to BIOS Setup)

  • CPU voltage, +3.3, +5, +12 V
  • Rotational speed of one fan
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)
  • SmartFan — automatic CPU fan speed control depending on CPU temperature. You can select two modes of the CPU fan, to control its rotational speed:
    • Thermal Cruise — gradual change (8 steps — each one is 8% faster) of the rotational speed, temperature is automatically maintained within the specified thermal interval
    • Step Smart Fan — you are offered to specify two temperature thresholds. In this case, when the temperature is below the minimal threshold, the rotational speed is kept to minimum. When the temperature is within the specified range, the rotational speed is raised stepwise. When the upper threshold is crossed, the fan accelerates to its maximum speed.

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket AM2, officially supports all existing processors AMD Athlon 64/X2/FX and Sempron);
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 8 GB DDR2-533/667/800, dual-channel mode)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for video accelerators (always work in x16+x1 mode)
  • 2 x PCIEx1
  • 3 x PCI (the orange slot has a separate power circuit, it's intended for MSI Dual Net Card, but it can also be used as a regular PCI slot)
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins), 4-pin ATX12V for a processor, 4-pin peripheral connector for additional power supply of PCI-E video cards
  • 1 x FDD
  • 1 x IDE (Parallel ATA) for two ATA133 devices - chipset-based
  • 6 x SATA-II (Serial ATA II) for six SATA300 devices — chipset-based, connected drives can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5
  • 3 connectors for brackets with 6 additional USB ports
  • Connector for the bracket with an additional FireWire port
  • Connector for the 4-LED indicator on the D-Bracket
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • 1 x standard IrDA connector
  • 3 x fan headers, only one of them allows rpm control (in the current BIOS version). Smart Fan mode is available only with a 4-pin cooler.

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, 1 x COM, 1 x FireWire, 1 x coaxial S/PDIF-Out
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 5 x Analog Audio (Line-In, Line-Out, Mic-In, Rear Speaker Out, Center/Sub Speaker Out), 1 x Optical (Toslink) S/PDIF-Out.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the chipset support for High Definition Audio and Realtek ALC833 codec, 7.1 channel audio, front line-ins/outs, CD-In, and S/PDIF-Out jacks
  • 2 x Gigabit Ethernet supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/s: chipset-based (supporting high-speed interface and hardware firewall) and PHY Vitesse VSC8601
  • FireWire, based on the VIA VT6307 chip supporting two FireWire ports.

Note the support for two gigabit network adapters, integrated into the new chipset.

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS button(!)  
In BIOS v2.59 from AMI Allows to disable specific CPU functions + K8 Cool’n’Quiet
Memory timings + 1T/2T Memory Timing, CAS Latency, Min RAS Active Time, Row Precharge Time, RAS to CAS Delay, Row to Row Delay, Row Cycle Time
Memory frequency selection + 500, 533, 667, 800 (you actually specify a multiplier to the HTT frequency)
HT bus setup + Frequency (200, 400, 600, 800, 1000) for the northbridge-CPU bus and capacity (8 bit or 16 bit)
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI-E = 100—145 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + 200—450 MHz at 1 MHz steps and Dynamic Overclocking (1–15% overclocking under maximum load)
CPU multiplier + from x5, at integer steps
CPU core voltage control + +0.05—0.35V at 0.05V steps
Memory voltage control + 1.80—2.45 V at 0.05V steps

We used BIOS 9.03 dated 20.04.06, 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.

MSI K9N SLI Platinum

  • Chipset: NVIDIA nForce 570 SLI (a single MCP55SLI bridge)



As the top model is identical to the previous one (including the same BIOS version), except for the installed chip of the core logic and SLI support (x8 + x8), there is no need to list its features separately.

Note that the motherboard has no jumpers to select video slot modes, they are switched on the chipset level.



The core logic chip on the first production-line motherboards has an official designation already.

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • Socket AM2
    • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+
    • Memory: 2 x Corsair XMS2 PRO PC2-6400 (DDR2-800, 5-5-5-12, we used more aggressive timings to "equalize" the testbeds, they are already available as a standard scheme to elite DDR2 modules)
  • Socket 939
    • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 2.0 GHz
    • Memory: 2 x Corsair XMS3200 TwinX (DDR400, 2-2-2-5)
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Video card: XFX GeForce 7800 GTX, 256 MB DDR
  • Power supply unit: Chieftec GPS-400AA
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

We decided to take the ECS KN2 SLI Extreme motherboard on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI X16 for our Socket 939 comparison - it had demonstrated "reference" performance in our tests.

Test MSI K9N SLI Platinum DDR2-667 (3-3-3-5) MSI K9N SLI Platinum DDR2-800 (4-3-4-5) MSI K9N Platinum DDR2-800 (4-3-4-5) ECS KN2 SLI Extreme DDR400 (2-2-2-5)
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 6:37 6:27 6:27 6:29
Archiving with WinRAR, min:sec 2:33 2:27 2:26 2:28
MPEG4 (DivX) encoding, min:sec 4:32 4:31 4:31 4:34
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 6:00 5:57 5:57 6:03
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480), fps 78.6 74.0 74.1 77.5
Unreal Tournament 2004 (High@1024x768), fps 75.1 69.9 70.2 73.8
Doom3 (Low@640x480), fps 148.3 151.4 151.1 140.9
Doom3 (High@1024x768), fps 145.5 148.3 149.2 138.5

Memory operating in DDR2-667 shows an ambiguous picture versus DDR400 — a small lag, which exceeds the measurement error, in media encoders and archivers, compensated by symmetric break-away in games. The "serious" subgroup of our tests gains a little from DDR2-800 (with properly "softened" timings) compared to DDR400, while game results are not that simple. We can see further performance gains in some cases (DOOM 3), sometimes the result is contrary (UT 2004). The most likely explanation is that games depend differently on memory latency and bandwidth.

Bottom line

On the whole, the difference in test results between the new platform and the old one is expectedly low (under equal conditions). So there is absolutely no point in upgrading your system with a Socket 939 processor (which still satisfies your requirements) just for the sake of DDR2 memory.

But what should you prefer in a new computer? Perhaps, while the new components are filling the market, their prices will be higher than those for similar models for Socket 939. So the budget choice is crystal clear — just sum up the costs (both platforms are equipollent in other respects.)

It's quite another matter, if you want to buy a low-noise computer, especially in a tight case, and do not want to sacrifice performance. In this case, new Energy Efficient models should certainly be included into your choice list.

The motherboard and the processor have been kindly provided by MSI

Dmitry Vladimirovich (lpt@ixbt.com)
May 23, 2006

Write a comment below. No registration needed!


Article navigation:



blog comments powered by Disqus

  Most Popular Reviews More    RSS  

AMD Phenom II X4 955, Phenom II X4 960T, Phenom II X6 1075T, and Intel Pentium G2120, Core i3-3220, Core i5-3330 Processors

Comparing old, cheap solutions from AMD with new, budget offerings from Intel.
February 1, 2013 · Processor Roundups

Inno3D GeForce GTX 670 iChill, Inno3D GeForce GTX 660 Ti Graphics Cards

A couple of mid-range adapters with original cooling systems.
January 30, 2013 · Video cards: NVIDIA GPUs

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1

An external X-Fi solution in tests.
September 9, 2008 · Sound Cards

AMD FX-8350 Processor

The first worthwhile Piledriver CPU.
September 11, 2012 · Processors: AMD

Consumed Power, Energy Consumption: Ivy Bridge vs. Sandy Bridge

Trying out the new method.
September 18, 2012 · Processors: Intel
  Latest Reviews More    RSS  

i3DSpeed, September 2013

Retested all graphics cards with the new drivers.
Oct 18, 2013 · 3Digests

i3DSpeed, August 2013

Added new benchmarks: BioShock Infinite and Metro: Last Light.
Sep 06, 2013 · 3Digests

i3DSpeed, July 2013

Added the test results of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 and AMD Radeon HD 7730.
Aug 05, 2013 · 3Digests

Gainward GeForce GTX 650 Ti BOOST 2GB Golden Sample Graphics Card

An excellent hybrid of GeForce GTX 650 Ti and GeForce GTX 660.
Jun 24, 2013 · Video cards: NVIDIA GPUs

i3DSpeed, May 2013

Added the test results of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770/780.
Jun 03, 2013 · 3Digests
  Latest News More    RSS  

Platform  ·  Video  ·  Multimedia  ·  Mobile  ·  Other  ||  About us & Privacy policy  ·  Twitter  ·  Facebook


Copyright © Byrds Research & Publishing, Ltd., 1997–2011. All rights reserved.