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8-Way nVidia nForce 2 Motherboard Roundup

By: Cameron Johnson | NVIDIA Chipset in Motherboards | Posted: Jul 3, 2003 4:00 am

Features of the 7NJS Zenith

 

Board and Layout

 

 

7NJS is Chaintech's first attempt at the nForce platform. The board itself is designed around the nForce2 reference design with a 4 layer PCB measuring 305mm x 230mm.

 

The motherboard is designed with a single AGP slot supporting the rev 3.0 specifications - if you were interested that means that AGP 4x works with 1.5v signalling and AGP 8x works with 0.9v signalling. Five PCI slots are included for additions such as RAID controllers, PCI sound cards and various other devices. Surprisingly the 7NJS comes with an ACR slot which the nForce2 does support standard but it is very rare to see this slot on any motherboards these days, however, Chaintech makes good use of it in this case.

 

The placement of the onboard connectors could have been better thought up. First off, the 20pin power connector is placed between the CPU socket and the I/O backplane ports. This means that the large ATX cable is draped around the CPU heatsink and fan. The placement of the IDE and FDD connectors also could have been thought up a bit better. IDE connectors are on the lower right hand of the board, three connectors are present on a vertical axis. This means that you will need some very long IDE cables to reach the top of most cases, something which the Chaintech board doesn't come with, only standard sized cables. The FDD connector is below the IDE connectors meaning a fairly long FDD cable is needed to reach the middle part of the case.

 

Chipset Usage

 

 

While it might seem pointless to explain the chipset side of things considering this is an nForce2-only roundup, remember there are a few flavours to choose from which include the IGP, SPP, IGP 400, SPP 400 with either MCP or MCP-T south bridges.

 

We will be showing the chipset components used and their native features and which have been used or denied on each product. To get us started, the 7NJS Zenith uses the nForce2 SPP with the MCP-T. Native features are DDR-400, AGP 8x, Dual Ethernet, Firewire and the Dolby Digital APU built into the MCP-T. Onboard audio and the second Ethernet controller are not used.

 

Serial ATA

 

 

While the nForce2 is the straggler in supporting native Serial ATA on the south bridge, Chaintech makes up for this with the inclusion of the Promise Serial ATA controller chipset. This chip supports two Serial ATA channels with one drive per Serial ATA channel and one IDE channel supporting two IDE devices. It also allows for RAID 0, 1 or 0+1; this includes mixing IDE and Serial ATA, so you can have four drives in a RAID array on the Promise chip.

 

C-Media PCI Audio Controller - but why?

 

 

One of the major features of the nForce2's MCP-T south bridge is the inclusion of Dolby Digital AC-3 audio decoding for DVD audio.

 

Chaintech for some unknown reason have chosen to scrap the APU of the nForce2 and go with the C-Media 8738 six channel Audio controller. This chip is, by today's standards, is outdated for use on an nForce2 MCP-T based motherboard.

 

nVidia MCP-T Networking

 

 

In order to keep up with the needs and demands of the end users, onboard Ethernet is one of the must haves which allows for LAN gaming and connection to Ethernet based ADSL and cable modems. nVidia comes to the party with two built in network controllers on the MCP-T Southbridge, however, Chaintech has only setup the 7NJS for use with one of them. The MCP-T supports an nVidia 10-100 MAC and a 3Com 10/100 MAC, the nVidia 10/100 controller is the only one used with an Agree PHY interface.

 

Firewire

 

 

Another of the great feature of the MCP-T is its native Firewire controller. Chaintech has taken advantage of this with a slight twist.

 

Rather than building a direct controller on to the motherboard, an ACR card with the Realtek RTL8801 PHY has been added. This card has two external 6 pin Firewire ports and a single internal inline port for connection to the C-BOX2 front panel access which is next on the menu.

 

C-BOX2 - External Connectivity at the front of your case

 

 

From the start of their motherboard line, Chaintech has included front panel access to the internal ports. This includes four USB ports, front panel Audio ports, six pin Firewire port and a Port 88 debugger. This is one of the best features I have seen; it tells you similar to EPoX's own port 88 device in code what is happening with your PC without the need to remove the cover. Invaluable!

 

Overclocking

 

The Chaintech 7NJS is designed to aim towards the overclocking market. This is evident with its overclocking features but let down by its lack of options.

 

Under the Frequency / Voltage control menu in the BIOS you will find the options for overclocking the board. Under this menu you will find Vcore, VDIMM, VAGP, FSB Frequency and PCI/AGP dividers.

 

FSB adjustments are possible from 100MHz up to 225MHz in 1MHz increments. All these options allow for maximum overclocking, and allows for the use of the Barton 400FSB CPU, which we tested on this board and worked without a problem.

 

CPU voltage can be adjusted from 1.4v up to 1.9v in 0.025v increments. DDR DRAM voltage can be adjusted from standard to a maximum of 2.85v in steps of 2.65, 2.76, 2.85v, in all we have a very limited DRAM voltage selection. AGP voltage selections are also limiting - 1.5v, 1.63v and 1.74v are the only options available.

 

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