- What the North Bridge and South Bridge Do
- Mobo Integration Madness
- What We Look for When Testing Motherboards
- How We Test Motherboards
- Careful Considerations for New Mobos
- Our Top Pentium 4 Chipsets: Intel's 875P and 865PE
- Also Solid: ATI's Radeon 9100 IGP
- Pentium 4 Chipset Pretenders
- Our P4 Mobo Recommendations
- The Back Story: Summer of Athlon XP
- Enter the 64-bit Chipset
- Why Hasn't Intel Integrated the Memory Controller?
- Looking to Overclock?
- Looking Ahead: Future Chipsets & Mobos
- VIA Makes Its Move
- Prepare for BTX
- New Sockets Forthcoming
Looking to Overclock?
Hoping to overclock your system to get the most from your investment? If so, there are a few additional motherboard features you'll want to look out for. For instance, the ability to adjust frontside bus speeds and clock multipliers through the BIOS is very desirable. Some mobos still use jumpers or DIP switches for this task. Even worse, others simply don't allow you to overclock at allso make sure you're getting the real deal.
Lately, some motherboards have begun offering the ability to adjust memory and FSB speeds independently of AGP and PCI bus speeds. If you're planning significant overclocking, this is a feature you'll definitely want to have. Traditionally, overclocking the frontside and/or memory buses resulted in the AGP and PCI buses being overclocked as well, thus increasing the number of possible failure points. A motherboard that allows your AGP and PCI devices to run at spec even when other parts of your system are overclocked significantly increases your chances of overclocking successfully.
MSI K8N Neo Platinum Edition
Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to be first. Such was the tale of the first Athlon 64 chipset, the nForce3 Pro 150. It lacked native Serial ATA, Gigabit Ethernet, and a high-speed HyperTransport link. Yawn.
Figure 3.15 The K8N Neo supports single-channel DDR Athlon 64s in Socket 754 trim.
MSI's K8N Neo Platinum Edition mobo, which uses nVidia's new nForce3 Pro 250Gb chip, aims to correct these previous blunders. Like the nForce3 Pro 150, the nForce3 250Gb is a single-chip solution (a benefit of having the memory controller for the Athlon 64 series on the CPU itself), which offers improved latency over the standard two-chip design that Intel and VIA use. But unlike the nForce3 Pro 150, the 250Gb's single chip boasts a Gigabit Ethernet core, which is even faster than Intel's blazingly fast CSA port and far superior to any PCI-based card.
Another improvement afforded by the new nForce3/K8N Neo product is a faster HyperTransport link between the CPU and the chipset. Although we've never been able to prove that the nForce3 150's 600MHz link hurt performance, the 250Gb supports a more confidence-inspiring 800MHz link, and can be bumped up to 1GHz.
In Lab testing, the K8N Neo ran faster than the Soyo CK8 board we used in June 2004's speed trials, but the difference was far from spectacular. In our real-world gaming benchmarks, the K8N Neo also outpaced VIA's K8T800-based Albatron K8X800 Pro II mobo, but again just barely. That's the nature of the Athlon 64 platformthe memory controller's placement on the CPU has greatly diminished the potential for performance differences among competing chipsets.
Fans of the nForce2's APU audio system will be disappointed that nVidia didn't include the real-time Dolby Digital encoding capabilities in its new chipset; the nForce3 offers a snazzy built-in hardware firewall as a consolation.
The K8N Neo also packs two parallel ATA133 ports, four Serial ports, and a rather unique RAID arrangement. You're offered RAID 0, 1, and 0+1 but, unlike conventional implementations, the K8N Neo lets you create a RAID partition across SATA and PATA drives. Using this capability on our evaluation board felt clunkyfor example, it took us five minutes just to figure out which drive was on which chain before we could activate the RAIDbut nVidia says its NVRAID 2.0 software will move the work out of the BIOS and into the operating system. Unfortunately, running RAID still requires the use of F6 drivers.
Figure 3.16 MaximumPC verdict.
Originally published July 2004