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Motherboard roundup  
Socket 939 Motherboard Showdown
By Jason Cross


There aren’t a lot of Socket 939 processors out there—the vast majority of Athlon 64 CPUs sold are the Socket 754 variety. That’s sort of a shame, since the 128 bit memory interface of Socket 939 offers a nice little performance boost. We also expect AMD’s desktop dual-core processors, scheduled to release in about a year, to plug into Socket 939, so it offers a clear upgrade path. Sure the Socket 939 chips are more expensive, but you can get an Athlon 64 3500+ for under $400, so that’s no longer a great excuse.

Having said all this, why aren’t we seeing a lot more Socket 939 motherboards on the market? Both nVidia and VIA recently released updated versions of their Athlon 64 chipsets, including improved Hyper-Transport link speed and a handful of other tweaks, but most of these are showing up in Socket 754 motherboards. Still, we managed to get our hands on final retail units of four new Socket 939 boards. Three of them use VIA’s new K8T800 Pro chipset, and one uses the nForce 3 Ultra from nVidia.

When will we see more 939 boards? Our guess is that Socket 939 chip prices will fall in about 3 to 4 months, around the same time Athlon 64 chipsets appear to support PCI Express (PCIe). That confluence of events should result in a bigger wave of 939 motherboards. If you’re not waiting to upgrade, or you want to make use of your existing AGP graphics card, you’ll want to check out one of the four boards reviewed here.

Feature Comparison and Test Setup
These are all considered high-end boards, and are all based on new chipsets with a ton of great features. They all include Serial ATA RAID, gigabit Ethernet, and multi-channel AC ’97 audio. All have four memory slots, one AGP slot, and five PCI slots. In fact, in terms of raw features, they’re more alike than different. What does set them apart is reliability, board layout, and small differentials in performance.

Here’s how the basic features stack up:

North Bridge South Bridge Slots Audio Drive Connections RAID USB / 1394 Ethernet
ASUS A8V Deluxe VIA K8T800 Pro VIA 8237 1 AGP, 5 PCI Realtek ALC850 2 PATA, 4 SATA (two from VIA 8237, two from Promise 20378 controller) VIA 8237 and Promise 20378 both support RAID 0, 1, or JBOD 8 USB 2.0, 2 FireWire Marvell 88E8001 Gigabit Ethernet
MSI K8T Neo 2 VIA K8T800 Pro VIA 8237 1 AGP, 5 PCI RealTek ALC850 2 PATA, 4 SATA (two from VIA 8237, two from Promise 20579 controller) VIA 8237 and Promise 20579 both support RAID 0, 1, or JBOD 8 USB 2.0, 3 FireWire Realtek 8110S Gigabit Ethernet
MSI K8N Neo 2 nVidia nForce 3 250gb None 1 AGP, 5 PCI RealTek ALC850 2 PATA, 4 SATA Both PATA and SATA ports support RAID 0, 1, or JBOD 8 USB 2.0, 2 FireWire Realtek 8110S Gigabit Ethernet, nVidia Gigabit Ethernet
Abit AV8 VIA K8T800 Pro VIA 8237 1 AGP, 5 PCI RealTek ALC 658 2 PATA, 2 SATA VIA 8237 SATA supports RAID 0, 1, or JBOD 8 USB 2.0, 2 FireWire VIA 6212 Gigabit Ethernet

We paired each of the motherboards with an Athlon 64 FX-53 CPU and a pair of 512MB Kingston HyperX DDR400 memory modules. Here’s the complete test-bed setup:

    • AMD Athlon 64 FX-53
    • 2X512MB Kingston HyperX DDR400 memory, CAS 2.5
    • ATI Radeon X800 XT, Catalyst 4.9 drivers
    • Sound Blaster Audigy 2
    • Seagate Barracuda 160GB SATA
    • ASUS DVD+RW drive
    • Micron 19″ monitor
    • Fresh install of Windows XP Pro Service Pack 2
    • DirectX 9.0c

    We made sure each board was running the latest official drivers and BIOS revisions from each vendor before testing. Many retail boxed motherboards ship with some sort of slight overclocking already enabled, or a measure of dynamic overclocking turned on. We disable all of this in the BIOS, running at stock speeds and voltages for the CPU, RAM, AGP bus, and everything else. It’s straight-up performance and stability we’re concerned with here, not figuring out which vendor can send us the best hand-selected overclocked motherboard.

     
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  • table of contents
    Introduction
    SYSMark 2004 and PCMark 2004 performance
    Video and Audio Encoding Tests
    Graphics Workstation Tests
    Gaming Benchmarks
    ABIT AV8
    ASUS A8V Deluxe
    MSI K8T Neo 2
    MSI K8N Neo 2
    Final Thoughts


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