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NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 Mainboards Roundup

August 31, 2003




nForce2 boards for the AMD Athlon XP (Socket A) chipset are not a rarity today, and the new modification of this chipset named nForce2 Ultra 400 doesn't look like a real technological innovation. No secret that the 400 MHz FSB was supported even in the nForce2-S/G. NVIDIA "suddenly found out" that the above mentioned chipset didn't have the 400MHz support only after the launch of the first Athlon XP which worked at that FSB clock. One more indication of the ephemeral novelty of the nForce2 Ultra 4 is that the board makers just changed numbers of the revisions of the existant boards instead of developing new models. On the other hand, if there are boards we haven't tested yet why not to return to the subject? Frankly, we don't expect the scores may surprise us, but what if they will? Well, let's see. 

Performance

Testbed:

  • Processor: AMD Athlon XP 3200+ (11x200 = 2200 MHz), Socket A
  • NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 based mainboards:
  • Memory: 2x256 MB PC3200(DDR400) DDR SDRAM DIMM TwinMOS, CL 2
  • Video card: Manli ATI RADEON 9800Pro 256 MB
  • Hard drive: Western Digital WD360 (SATA), 10000 rpm (IDE-SATA SABR200HV adapter)

Software:

OS & drivers:

  • Windows XP Professional SP1
  • DirectX 9.0a
  • NVIDIA nForce UDP 2.45
  • Silicon Image Drivers 1.0.0.32
  • ATI Catalyst 3.6

Test applications:

  • VirtualDub 1.5.4 + DivX codec 5.05a Pro
  • WinRAR 3.20
  • 7-Zip 2.30
  • Gray Matter Studios & Nerve Software Return to Castle Wolfenstein v1.1
  • Croteam/GodGames Serious Sam: The Second Encounter v1.07
  • Digital Extremes/Epic Games/Atari Unreal Tournament 2003 v2225

Brief comparison characteristics:

Board Acorp 7NFU400 ASUS A7N8X rev 2.0 Deluxe Biostar M7NCD Pro DFI LANParty NFII Ultra EPoX 8RDA3+ Gigabyte 7NNXP
Links Acorp 7NFU400 ASUS A7N8X rev 2.0 Deluxe Biostar M7NCD Pro DFI LANParty NFII Ultra EPoX 8RDA3+ Gigabyte 7NNXP
Chipset NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 (nForce2 SPP + MCP) NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 (nForce2 SPP + MCP-T) NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 (nForce2 SPP + MCP) NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 (nForce2 SPP + MCP-T) NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 (nForce2 SPP + MCP) NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 (nForce2 SPP + MCP-T)
Processor support Socket 462, AMD Duron, Athlon, Athlon XP
Memory slots 3 DDR 3 DDR 3 DDR 3 DDR 3 DDR 4 DDR
Expansion slots AGP/ 5 PCI/ CNR AGP Pro/ 5 PCI AGP/ 5 PCI AGP/ 5 PCI AGP/ 5 PCI AGP Pro/ 5 PCI
I/O ports 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2
USB 4 USB 2.0 + 1 connector with 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 1 connector with 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors with 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 1 connector with 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 1 connector with 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 1 connector with 2 USB 2.0
FireWire - 2 connectors - 3 connectors 3 connectors 2 connectors
Integrated IDE controller ATA133
External IDE controller - Silicon Image Sil3112ACT144 (SATA RAID) - Highpoint HPT372N (ATA133 RAID) + Marvel 88i8030-TBC (moct IDE-SATA) Silicon Image Sil3112ACT144 (SATA RAID) ITE IT8212F (ATA133 RAID) + Silicon Image SiI3112ACT144 (SATA RAID)
Sound Avance Logic ALC655 AC'97 codec MCP-T + Avance Logic ALC650 AC'97 codec Avance Logic ALC650 AC'97 codec  MCP-T + Avance Logic ALC650 AC'97 codec C-Media CMI9739A AC'97 codec  MCP-T + Avance Logic ALC650 AC'97 codec
Integrated network controller - 2 integrated (3COM and VIDIA) Fast Ethernet integrated Fast Ethernet integrated Fast Ethernet + Realtek RTL8100L (Fast Ethernet) integrated Fast Ethernet + Realtek RTL8100L (Fast Ethernet) integrated Fast Ethernet + Intel 82540EM (Gigabit Ethernet)
I/O controller Winbond W83627HF-AW ITE IT8708F-A Winbond W83627HF-AW Winbond W83627HF-AW Winbond W83627HF-AW ITE IT8712F-A
BIOS 2 Mbit Award BIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00 4 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit Award BIOS v6.00PG
Form-factor, dimensions ATX, 30.5x21 cm ATX, 30.5x24,5 cm ATX, 30.5x24,5 cm ATX, 30.5x24,5 cm ATX, 30.5x24,5 cm ATX, 30.5x24,5 cm

Test results

The nForce2 Ultra 400 is almost identical to the nForce2-S/G, and we hope that all board makers (who all are well known) realized the flows in their boards based on the original chipset. Actually, they did. But we should have checked it up anyway. Besides, testing is a good occasion to improve the test technique and try new approaches.

Gaming tests

This time we used so much awaited(?) Unreal Tournament 2003. But all the bars look equally long. By the way, on the newer version of the Unreal Tournament 2003 the gap is even smaller. Strictly speaking, the boards from EPoX and DFI have the scores lower by 2-3% at most. Since all three benchmarks have it the same, this can be considered a tendency... but the gap is so insignificant that we wouldn't take it into account. 

Media content encoding

EPoX 8RDA3+ & DFI LANParty NFII Ultra fall behind the others again. They've lost 15 seconds on the 14min distance (as compared to the ASUS). Just imagine how an engineer at EPoX slightly alters some unimportatnt parameter hidden in the BIOS Setup and maliciously tells: Well, dear testers, let's see how you're going to explain this peculiarity of our product! :) 

Archiving

The WinRAR was actually used before, but 7-Zip is a free new-comer. This is a powerful (in features and a compression degree) archiver which supports multiprocessor systems. This feature has become vital with the Hyper-Threading turning many desktop PCs into "SMP" systems. Besides, we cardinally changes the suite of files to be packed. 

Now this is an average statistical sample of frequently packed data - a folder with files totalling 300 MB; it's divided into 6 equal subfolders (50MB each), each containing files of a certain type. At the moment we use files of the following types: BMP (uncompressed graphic information); DBF (database format, very popular today thanks to 1C solutions); DLL (binary executable files); DOC (Microsoft Word files); PDF and TXT (plain text). 

Here's the first unexpected result: it turned out that the memory load immensely grows in case of well compressable files! The 7-Zip demonstrates that some boards perform differently in certain specific memory-intensive tasks. The WinRAR proves it but not so clearly because it completes the work much sooner. Well, taking into account the specific nature of the benchmark, we can single out the winners: ASUS, Gigabyte and Acorp (strange though it may seem). The scores look pretty good for the first trial in the remade archiving test. 

Conclusion

In most tests the boards work equally fast. On the other hand, "fine aesthetes" can choose the fastest product and even feel its suprimacy by running the WinRAR or 7-Zip :). As to the other parameters, I'm glad to see such a wide range of various solutions: here you can find a fully armed board from Gigabyte, an overclockable model from EPoX with the proprietary POST codes indicator, and DFI's pretentious LANParty though it's still pretty plain. Acorp's boards which used to be a symbol of the low-end market become faster. ASUS offers the Serial ATA support in addition to the brillinat performance... Who else? Biostar? This is probably the only board without any distinguishing features. On the other hand, Biostar always had an image of a manufacturer of inexpensive but reliable boards. Well, the choice is wide, and it's for you to decide what features are more important. 
 
  


Vladimir Rybnikov (puree@ixbt.com
Dmitry Mayorov (destrax@ixbt.com

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