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8-Way nVidia nForce 2 Motherboard Roundup

Since its announcement from nVidia, nForce 2 has been one of the most hyped up chipsets the industry has seen. Roughly six months ago nVidia brought this chipset to life with a huge bang, with many motherboards sporting the chipset and its many variants. Today Cameron "Sov" Johnson takes a look at 8 of the most popular nForce 2 motherboards on the market putting them all head-to-head to see who has the force.
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Published Wed, Jul 2 2003 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:25 PM CDT
Manufacturer: none

nForce 2 Roundup - Introduction

IntroductionWhen nVidia launched its nForce platform back in early 2002, the market was expecting to see a huge change in the way AMD Athlon processors would perform. Not only was the performance of the nForce well below expectations but it took nearly half a year from launch date till the chipset would be widely available. nVidia's fatal mistake was to release the product information well ahead of its launch, by the time the chipset was available, VIA has perfected its KT266A chipset to combat the nVidia rival of the time.On paper, the nForce was the ultimate in chipset technology, on the actual front line; the nForce had some major flaws which we will re-cap on now. First off the memory controller, while being able to supply double the memory bandwidth of the KT266A, the chipsets engine didn't distribute the extra bandwidth to the extra devices like the onboard video, Hyper-transport link and so on the way it should have. This meant that the nForce was essentially wasting all that extra memory bandwidth and when the onboard video was enabled, it used the 2.1GB/s that were being sent to and from the CPU, in essence just the same as every other SMA chipset.nVidia, not discouraged by their mistakes, took a second shot at the nForce platform. This time, a lot more R&D would be put into their newest chipset. First off, nVidia waited until AMD had finally moved beyond the 266MHz FSB, in fact, the nForce2 is able to run 400MHz FSB, fast enough for the latest AMD Barton core.Second, memory performance was to be upgraded to support Dual Channel DDR-400 memory which was designed to give full memory capability to the latest AMD CPU's as well as being able to route the extra memory bandwidth to the onboard graphics for the IGP versions and the Hyper-Transport protocols in order to produce a much faster chipset.One of the biggest features of the nForce series was the Dynamic Adaptive Speculative Pre-Processor or DASP. Unfortunately with the original nForce, the DASP suffered two major drawbacks that led the nForce to its demise:- Prefetches got in the way of "real work", meaning they took bandwidth away from the CPU when it needed it.- The latency reduction resulting from a correctly predicted prefetch wasn't as high as it could have been.In the nForce2, a second generation DASP system has been implemented to combat the problems with the first generation. The nForce2 DASP now has better prefetching intelligence allowing it to correctly predict data that will be used next more correctly thus increasing efficiency. The improvement in prefetch intelligence comes partially from an improvement in the prefetching algorithm that detects when to prefetch data streams.The combination of these two improvements to nVidia's DASP results in very competitive performance and in some cases, a significant performance boost when using Dual DDR. It is this improved DASP that nVidia attributes the extremely large performance gains in SPECviewperf to. But if SPECviewperf were the only situation that the second generation DASP improved performance in it wouldn't be all that useful. As such, today's reviews will not focus on the nForce2 architecture but more on the 8 motherboards we have collected to give you a best of the best look into nForce2 motherboards available today on the market.

nForce 2 Roundup - Specifications - Chaintech and EPoX

Specifications of the Chaintech 7NJS ZenithCPUSupports AMD Duron 600MHz ~ 1.2+ GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 700MHz ~ 1.2GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 1GHz ~ 1.4GHz @ 266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 1500+ ~ 2800+ @266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 2400+ ~ 3800+ @333MHz FSBChipsetnForce2 AGPsetnVidia nForce2 SPP Northbridge nVidia nForce2 MCP-T SouthbridgeAMD Hyper-transport 800MB/s InterconnectBus Frequency100MHz/133MHz Internal200MHz/266MHz ExternalSupports DDR-200, DDR-266, DDR-333, DDR-400 Memory in single and Dual ChannelAlpha EV6 Communication BusExpansion Slots1 AGP 4x, 8x5 PCI1 ACRExpansion Ports1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port6 USB Ports 2.0 (2 rear accessible, 4 via optional expansion bus)2 Serial Ports1 Parallel Port6 Audio Ports (Audio out front, Line in, Microphone via backplane, Center/Sub, Rear via expansion bracket)1 Midi/game PortSpecial FeaturesBIOS Control of FSB, VCore, VDimm, VAgp settingsnVidia 10/100 NICC-Media Hardware SoundACR Firewire Card Specifications of the EPoX 8RDA+CPUSupports AMD Duron 600MHz ~ 1.2+ GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 700MHz ~ 1.2GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 1GHz ~ 1.4GHz @ 266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 1500+ ~ 2800+ @266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 2400+ ~ 3000+ @333MHz FSBChipsetnForce2 AGPsetnVidia nForce2 SPP Northbridge nVidia nForce2 MCP-T SouthbridgeAMD Hyper-transport 800MB/s InterconnectBus Frequency100MHz/133MHz Internal200MHz/266MHz ExternalSupports DDR-200, DDR-266, DDR-333, DDR-400 Memory in single and Dual ChannelAlpha EV6 Communication BusExpansion Slots1 AGP 4x, 8x6 PCIExpansion Ports1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port6 USB Ports 2.0 (2 rear accessible, 4 via optional expansion bus)2 Firewire Ports (via expansion bracket)2 Serial Ports1 Parallel Port3 Audio Ports 1 Midi/game PortSpecial FeaturesBIOS Control of FSB, VCore, VDimm, VAgp settingsnVidia 10/100 NICFirewire

nForce 2 Roundup - Specifications - Soltek and Albatron

Specifications of the Soltek SL-75MRNCPUSupports AMD Duron 600MHz ~ 1.2+ GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 700MHz ~ 1.2GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 1GHz ~ 1.4GHz @ 266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 1500+ ~ 2800+ @266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 2400+ ~ 3000+ @333MHz FSBChipsetnForce2 AGPsetnVidia nForce2 SPP Northbridge nVidia nForce2 MCP SouthbridgeAMD Hyper-transport 800MB/s InterconnectBus Frequency100MHz/133MHz Internal200MHz/266MHz ExternalSupports DDR-200, DDR-266, DDR-333, DDR-400 Memory in single and Dual ChannelAlpha EV6 Communication BusExpansion Slots1 AGP 4x, 8x5 PCIExpansion Ports1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port6 USB Ports 2.0 (2 rear accessible, 4 via optional expansion bus)2 Serial Ports1 Parallel Port3 Audio Ports 1 Midi/game PortSpecial FeaturesBIOS Control of FSB, VCore, VDimm, VAgp settings Specifications of the Albatron KM18G ProCPUSupports AMD Duron 600MHz ~ 1.2+ GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 700MHz ~ 1.2GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 1GHz ~ 1.4GHz @ 266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 1500+ ~ 2800+ @266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 2400+ ~ 3800+ @333MHz FSBChipsetnForce2 AGPsetnVidia nForce2 IGP Northbridge nVidia nForce2 MCP SouthbridgeAMD Hyper-transport 800MB/s InterconnectBus Frequency100MHz/133MHz Internal200MHz/266MHz ExternalSupports DDR-200, DDR-266, DDR-333, DDR-400 Memory in single and Dual ChannelAlpha EV6 Communication BusExpansion Slots1 AGP 4x, 8x3 PCI Expansion Ports1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port6 USB Ports 2.0 (2 rear accessible, 4 via optional expansion bus)1 Serial Ports1 Parallel Port1 VGA Port3 Audio 2 TV Out PortsSpecial FeaturesBIOS Control of FSB, VCore, VDimm, VAgp settingsnVidia 10/100 NIC

nForce 2 Roundup - Specifications - Shuttle and ABIT

Specifications of the Shuttle AN35-400CPUSupports AMD Duron 600MHz ~ 1.2+ GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 700MHz ~ 1.2GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 1GHz ~ 1.4GHz @ 266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 1500+ ~ 2800+ @266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 2400+ ~ 3800+ @333MHz FSBChipsetnForce2 AGPsetnVidia nForce2 400 SPP Northbridge nVidia nForce2 MCP SouthbridgeAMD Hyper-transport 800MB/s InterconnectBus Frequency100MHz/133MHz Internal200MHz/266MHz ExternalSupports DDR-200, DDR-266, DDR-333, DDR-400 Memory in single and Dual ChannelAlpha EV6 Communication BusExpansion Slots1 AGP 4x, 8x5 PCI Expansion Ports1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port6 USB Ports 2.0 (2 rear accessible, 4 via optional expansion bus)2 Serial Ports1 Parallel Port3 Audio Ports 1 Midi/game PortSpecial FeaturesBIOS Control of FSB, VCore, VDimm, VAgp settingsnVidia 10/100 NIC Specifications of the ABIT NF7-MCPUSupports AMD Duron 600MHz ~ 1.2+ GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 700MHz ~ 1.2GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 1GHz ~ 1.4GHz @ 266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 1500+ ~ 2800+ @266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 2400+ ~ 3800+ @333MHz FSBChipsetnForce2 AGPsetnVidia nForce2 IGP Northbridge nVidia nForce2 MCP SouthbridgeAMD Hyper-transport 800MB/s InterconnectBus Frequency100MHz/133MHz Internal200MHz/266MHz ExternalSupports DDR-200, DDR-266, DDR-333, DDR-400 Memory in single and Dual ChannelAlpha EV6 Communication BusExpansion Slots1 AGP 4x, 8x5 PCI Expansion Ports1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port6 USB Ports 2.0 (2 rear accessible, 4 via optional expansion bus)2 Serial Ports1 Parallel Port6 Audio Ports 1 Midi/game PortSpecial FeaturesBIOS Control of FSB, VCore, VDimm, VAgp settingsnVidia 10/100 NIC

nForce 2 Roundup - Specifications - ABIT and Gigabyte

Specifications of the ABIT NF7-SCPUSupports AMD Duron 600MHz ~ 1.2+ GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 700MHz ~ 1.2GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 1GHz ~ 1.4GHz @ 266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 1500+ ~ 2800+ @266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 2400+ ~ 3800+ @333MHz FSBChipsetnForce2 AGPsetnVidia nForce2 SPP Northbridge nVidia nForce2 MCP-T SouthbridgeAMD Hyper-transport 800MB/s InterconnectBus Frequency100MHz/133MHz Internal200MHz/266MHz ExternalSupports DDR-200, DDR-266, DDR-333, DDR-400 Memory in single and Dual ChannelAlpha EV6 Communication BusExpansion Slots1 AGP 4x, 8x5 PCI1 ACRExpansion Ports1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port6 USB Ports 2.0 (2 rear accessible, 4 via optional expansion bus)2 Serial Ports1 Parallel Port6 Audio Ports (Audio out front, Line in, Microphone via backplane, Center/Sub, Rear via expansion bracket)1 Midi/game PortSpecial FeaturesBIOS Control of FSB, VCore, VDimm, VAgp settingsnVidia 10/100 NICFirewireSerial ATA Controller Specifications of the Gigabyte 7NNXPCPUSupports AMD Duron 600MHz ~ 1.2+ GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 700MHz ~ 1.2GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 1GHz ~ 1.4GHz @ 266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 1500+ ~ 2800+ @266MHz FSBSupports AMD AthlonXP 2400+ ~ 3000+ @333MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon XP 3200+ @ 400Mhz FSBChipsetnForce2 AGPsetnVidia nForce2 SPP 400 Northbridge nVidia nForce2 MCP-T SouthbridgeAMD Hyper-transport 800MB/s InterconnectBus Frequency100MHz/133MHz Internal200MHz/266MHz ExternalSupports DDR-200, DDR-266, DDR-333, DDR-400 Memory in single and Dual ChannelAlpha EV6 Communication BusExpansion Slots1 AGP 4x, 8x5 PCIExpansion Ports1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port6 USB Ports 2.0 (2 rear accessible, 4 via optional expansion bus)2 Serial Ports2 Firewire Ports1 Parallel Port6 Audio Ports (3 by backplane, 2 via expansion bracket)1 Midi/game PortSpecial FeaturesBIOS Control of FSB, VCore, VDimm, VAgp settingsnVidia 10/100 NICIntel Gigabit EthernetFirewireSerial ATA ControllerITE IDE RAID Controller

nForce 2 Roundup - Features - Chaintech 7NJS Zenith

Features of the 7NJS ZenithBoard 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!OverclockingThe 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.

nForce 2 Roundup - Features - EPoX 8RDA+

Features of the EPoX 8RDA+Board and Layout
EPoX 8RDA+ is one of the most basic of nForce2 motherboards available but by far (as you will soon see) a great contender for your money. Like the Chaintech 7NJS, the EPoX 8RDA+ measures 305 x 230mm and is designed similar to the reference nForce2 board with just a few exceptions. Slot wise, due to the lack of onboard peripherals, the EPoX 8RGA+ comes with an AGP slot that supports both 4x and 8x standards, six PCI slots are included onboard to accommodate RAID controller cards (since there are none onboard), sound cards and various other devices you want to connect to the PCI bus that the motherboard does not cater for.Placement of the power connectors on the 8RDA+ could have, like the Chaintech 7NJS, been thought up a little better. The 20pin ATX connector is placed between the north bridge heatsink and the I/O back panel, making the CPU socket cluttered when the ATX power cord is plugged in.Chipset Usage
The 8RDA+ uses the nForce2 SPP north bridge and the MCP-T south bridge. This allows for Dual Channel DDR-400, AGP 8x, Dolby Digital AC-3 sound, twin Ethernet controllers and Firewire. All but the twin LAN controllers are used on this board.Firewire and Networking
While trying to keep the board as cheap as possible, the 8RDA+ has added the ability for Firewire onboard; after all it costs all of $5 to add the PHY chip. The Realtek RTL8801 PHY controller is added to the board which adds support for two Firewire ports.While supporting two Ethernet controllers on the MCP-T, only the nVidia 10/100 Ethernet controller is used. This allows for connections to a LAN or broadband equipment.Overclocking - Exceptional ClassWhile being lean on features, overclocking options are the best available on any nForce2 motherboard we have tested. Under the Frequency / Voltage control menu you will find access to all of the overclocking options. CPU voltage can be adjusted from 1.3v up to 2.1v in 0.025v increments. This is by far the largest Vcore adjustment we have seen on any AMD board without modifications. While 1.9v is as high as you would want to go, 2.1v on water cooling or vapour is a great improvement and option for the extremists. DRAM voltage is also in great abundance, you can adjust the DRAM voltage from 2.8v up to 3.2v in 0.1v increments. AGP voltage can be adjusted on this board from 1.5v up to 1.9v in 0.1v increments. By far this is the most voltage tweaking we have ever seen, period.FSB adjustments on the 8RDA+ are also as flexible as the voltage adjustments. You can adjust the FSB frequency from 100MHz up to 280MHz in 1MHz increments. AGP and PCI dividers can be changed to locked standard frequencies in order to keep the AGP and PCI buses within specifications.Brilliance is the only word that comes to mind as far as overclocking support goes.

nForce 2 Roundup - Features - Soltek 75MRN

Features of the Soltek SL-75MRN-LBoard and Layout
Soltek uses a similar layout design as most nForce 2 motherboards with a few slight exceptions that make it a bit more cable friendly than the first two motherboards we checked out here. First off we have to mention the PCB. Rather than using a dull green PCB, Soltek uses a gold coloured PCB measuring 300 x 225 mm. Expansion wise, one AGP slot comes standard with AGP 8x and 4x transfer protocols. While there are no added peripherals onboard, five yellowish gold tone coloured PCI slots are added to the board for add-on components such as RAID controllers and sound systems.Placement of connectors is somewhat better than other nForce2 motherboards, like we mentioned above. The Soltek motherboard is the first in our roundup that makes use of the 12vaux 4 pin connector. This is used to give additional power to the CPU as well as power the north bridge and AGP 12v lines. Unfortunately these two connectors are located between the north bridge heatsink unit and the I/O back panel connectors, causing clutter around the CPU. Location of the IDE connectors is better placed than most nForce2 boards. The two connectors are located behind the memory sockets, keeping the cables away from the CPU and allowing for easier installation into larger cases. The FDD connector is not as well placed, located at the bottom of the board, you will need long FDD cables making the internal system untidy.Chipset and Memory
The Soltek 75MRN-L is equipped with the nForce2 SPP north bridge with the MCP south bridge.It is the first motherboard in our roundup that uses this south bridge. The MCP is almost identical to the MCP-T only there is no Firewire controller, a single nVidia network controller and the APU has been removed and replaced with a standard and cheaper AC'97 audio codec. One of the great features of this board is the use of colour coded DIMM sockets. It's not the first time we have seen this but it certainly is a great feature when setting up 128bit operations. Two DIMM sockets are coloured yellow and one black. In order to run the system in 128bit mode (or Dual Channel, as it is better known) it is only a simple task of putting identical memory modules in the same coloured DIMM sockets.Overclocking - Bombed OutThe overclocking options of this motherboard are somewhat of a lacklustre effort on the part of Soltek. While all the adjustments were there, the end results were somewhat less than thrilling. FSB can be adjusted from 100MHz up to 20 MHz in 1MHz increments. Voltage wise, only CPU core voltage could be changed from 1.5v up to 1.8v in 0.025v increments, in all pretty disappointing when compared to other products in this roundup.

nForce 2 Roundup - Features - Albatron KM18G Pro

Features of the Albatron KM18G ProBoard and Layout
KM18G Pro from Albatron is the only Micro ATX motherboard in our roundup. Measuring 244 x 244 mm, it is not the smallest Micro ATX motherboard on the market. While small the board is set out well in most regards.As far as expansion slots onboard go you get a single AGP slot supporting 4x and 8x transfers and three PCI slots giving enough potential for most of the demanding micro systems. Connectors on the boards are, for the most part, placed well. IDE and floppy connectors have been placed behind the DIMM sockets; this is what we want to see from a full ATX board. The power connector on the other hand could have been done better. Like most nForce2 boards, it is placed between the north bridge heatsink and the I/O back ports.Chipset and Memory
For its first nForce2 motherboard, Albatron has chosen to use the nForce2 IGP and the MCP south bridge. This gives DDR-400 Dual Channel memory support, integrated GeForce4 MX graphics - all of which are used. Like the Soltek nForce2 motherboard, Albatron colour coded the DIMM sockets to show you how to get 128bit memory working within seconds of installation. Overclocking - Hop, Skip and Miss?While Albatron has came out of nowhere with its push into the overclockers market, the KM18G Pro is definitely aimed more at integrators rather than overclockers.In the BIOS under the Frequency / Voltage control menu you are given very limited overclocking options to the Soltek motherboard - simple FSB adjustments from 100MHz up to 200MHz in 1MHz increments, and CPU voltage up to 1.7v giving us nothing to write home about.

nForce 2 Roundup - Features - Shuttle AN35-400

Features of the Shuttle AN35-400Board and Layout
This is the first Shuttle motherboard we have had at the TweakTown labs for quite some time. Their AN35-400 product is amongst the latest motherboards for the AMD Athlon platform to come from the Taiwanese based company. Measuring 305 x 240 mm, Shuttle dresses the board up with a dark blue PCB just as Albatron and Gigabyte do.Expansion wise, one AGP slot is included for AGP 8x and 4x transfers and five PCI slots come standard. Shuttle left a large gap between PCI slot 1 and the AGP slot to allow for OTES style video cards or the latest in nVidia's FX5900 video cards due to larger coolers making sure no PCI slots are wasted. Good thinking guys!On the connector side of things, this is where Shuttle has worked their board out to a tee. The IDE, FDD and 20pin ATX power connector are all placed behind the DIMM sockets which eliminates the clutter around the CPU area and allows maximum air flow around and through the case making it the most well thought out motherboards in this roundup, so far.Chipset and Memory
Shuttle uses the latest revision of the nForce2 SPP north bridge, the SPP 400. This new revision officially supports 400MHz FSB Athlon XP processors along with the normal features that the original SPP introduced. The MCP south bridge is placed onboard to add USB, IDE and AC'97 audio with nVidia networking. Like the Albatron and Soltek motherboards, the DRAM slots for Dual Channel DDR SDRAM operations have been colour coded in blue to indicate the two DIMM slots needed for 128bit operations.Networking
Since the MCP supports the nVidia 10/100 network controller, and to sell a motherboard today you must at least have onboard Ethernet. Shuttle uses the Realtek RTL8100BL PHY connector for the onboard Ethernet LAN connections.Overclocking - Up with the bestOverclocking features on the AN35-400 are quite in-depth and well rounded. Under the Frequency / Voltage menu you will find all the overclocking options.FSB adjustments can be set from 100MHz up to 250MHz in 1MHz increments. Dram voltage can be adjusted from 2.5v up to 2.8v in 0.1v increments. AGP voltage can be adjusted from 1.5v up to 1.7v in 0.1v increments.Within this menu is the adjustment for the memory frequency which can be set to various speeds depending on the FSB due to the asynchronous bus used. AGP and PCI dividers can be locked to their default 33/66MHz respective bus speeds to prevent any data instabilities when overclocking the CPU which will minimize data corruption on the hard disk and various other PCI devices.

nForce 2 Roundup - Features - ABIT NF7-S

Features of the ABIT NF7-SBoard and Layout
ABIT has been one of the biggest players in the overclocking field in the past, and again, ABIT moves in on the nVidia nForce2 front.Featuring a full 305 x 230 mm brown PCB, the NF7-S looks just like any other standard nForce2 motherboard. On the expansion side, the board comes with one AGP slot supporting rev 3.0 specifications. Five PCI slots are included to add extra devices for your expansion needs. Like the Shuttle board, a large gap between the AGP slot and the first PCI slot is present serving as a savoir for PCI slot 1 which would sometimes otherwise go missing with video cards with large coolers.Layout wise, ABIT are normally known for for reasonably good layouts on their motherboards, however, their NF7-S leaves little to be desired. First off the placement of the IDE connectors are located toward the bottom right of the board which means that longer IDE cables will be needed to reach the upper part of some tower cases. The ABIT NF7-S is one of the few boards that use the 12Vaux connector along with the 20pin connector. These have been placed between the north bridge heatsink and the back panel I/O ports.Chipset and Memory
ABIT's nForce2 flagship comes equipped with the nForce2 SPP north bridge on pre- rev 1.0 and SPP-400 on later revisions. It supports DDR-400 Dual Channel DDR SDRAM and AGP 8x. In order to get the best bang for your buck, the MCP-T is added for the ultimate experience. This gives us the AC-3 APU, Firewire and Dual Ethernet. For a nice touch, the north bridge is covered with an Orb like cooler to keep the nForce2 SPP cool when overclocking to the extremes. Serial ATA RAID
ABIT doesn't leave too much to chance. While the nForce2 doesn't support native Serial ATA, ABIT has added the Silicon Image SATAlink RAID controller. Two ports are located towards the bottom of right of the board for easy access.Network and Firewire
Thanks to the MCP-T south bridge, the ABIT NF7-S comes with a few extra onboard features. While the MCP-T does support two LAN ports by default, only one of them is used. The nForce 10/100 MAC is used with the Realtek RTL8001BL PHY to give a single nVidia 10/100 Ethernet controller onboard.
Next in line is the Firewire controller. The Realtek RTL8801 PHY controller is integrated to the motherboard to give two Firewire ports for serial operations. This gives the full amount of connectivity you will need on any single motherboard.Overclocking - Softmenu is hereIn the past ABIT have been known for their overclocking prowess, and this is something ABIT has attempted to continue with their NF7-S.ABIT's well known Softmenu overclocking system is present with all your usual features. FSB adjustments from 100MHz up to 250MHz in 1MHz increments are available allowing for the maximum to be squeezed out of the CPU.If you have an unlocked Athlon, you can also adjust the multiplier from 8x up to 20x. CPU core voltage can be adjusted from 1.5v up to 1.9v in 0.025v increments. DRAM voltage is adjustable from 2.5v up to 2.8v in 0.1v increments. Memory dividers are also selectable from this menu overall giving ABIT an overclocking package which will make most enthusiasts happy.

nForce 2 Roundup - Features - ABIT NF7-M

Features of the ABIT NF7-MBoard and Layout
The NF7-M is ABIT's budget nForce2 motherboard. Using the exact same PCB as the NF7-S, the only major difference is a darker brown colour on the M series. Expansion wise, there are a few slight differences. First off, one AGP slot as standard, unlike the NF7-S, the M series comes with six PCI slots, due to the lack of onboard features which help bring down the overall price of the product.Connector wise, the NF7-S and NF7-M are identical, placement of the IDE, FDD and power connectors are identical - the same problems that are experienced on the S are the same as the M.Chipset and Memory
While the NF7-S comes with the SPP and MCP-T, the M series comes with the IGP and the MCP. This means that there is no Firewire controller just a single NIC and integrated graphics.OverclockingLike the NF7-S, the NF7-M supports the same Overclocking features so we won't bother going over it again.

nForce 2 Roundup - Features - Gigabyte GA-7NNXP

Features of the Gigabyte GA-7NNXPBoard and Layout
Gigabyte's previous offerings for the AMD Athlon platform have been very exciting with great features and fantastic overclocking abilities. The 7NNXP is the first nForce2 motherboard to come out of the Gigabyte doors. Using a blue, full sized ATX motherboard coming in at 305 x 244 mm; it is no bigger than the other boards we have seen in this roundup. Expansion slots include a single AGP slot for AGP 4x and 8x with five PCI slots for add-on peripherals if you can find anything else to add which this motherboard does not already offer.Layout wise, the Gigabyte board is one of the best of the roundup. The placement of the IDE and FDD connectors are behind the four DIMM sockets, that's right four. Gigabyte has gone with four sockets to maximise the amount of RAM you can use in Dual Channel mode, and they are colour coded to tell you which are Channel 1 and which are Channel 2 - just like Intel Canterwood and Springdale based motherboards.The power connector is located behind the FDD connector, well out of the way of any of the CPU area resulting in good ventilation around the CPU area giving us something to tell the folks back home.Chipset Usage
For their first motherboard with the nForce2 chipset, Gigabyte has gone straight to the top and used the SPP-400 and the MCP-T chipsets allowing for 400MHz FSB support along with the many impressive features that the MCP-T supports.Added to the already impressive line up of features, this is the only motherboard in our roundup to include two network controllers.Dual RAID
Gigabyte first introduced the 6 Dual Miracle system on the 8INXP motherboard, and some of these features have been ported into the 7NNXP. First off for Serial ATA support the ever popular Silicon Image SATAlink RAID controller is added for the inclusion of two Serial ATA ports.
The second part of the Dual RAID is the ITE GigaRAID controller. This is a standard two port IDE RAID controller for those who have IDE RAID drives and don't want to give them up. Good consideration Gigabyte!Firewire and Dual Ethernet
What kind of manufacturer would you be if you neglected to use the features that the south bridge provides? Gigabyte certainly isn't going to have to worry about answering that question. The Realtek RTL8801 PHY is included to give a total of three Firewire ports for your system via an external expansion bracket, two 6 pin and one 4 pin guarantees compatibility with all Firewire devices currently on the market.
As stated, this motherboard has two Ethernet controllers but not both are supplied by the MCP - the first Ethernet controller is the nVidia 10/100 MAC with the Realtek RTL8001BL PHY and the second is the Intel PCI Gigabit Ethernet controller that has been used on quite a few of the past Gigabyte motherboard giving 10/100/1000 Ethernet control over standard CAT5E cabling.Dual Power
The Dual Power system first also appeared on the 8INXP. This introduced a riser card with three phase power circuit. With the existing three directly supported on the motherboard, when this card is inserted, a six phase power circuit is created to stabilise the power delivered to the CPU and aid in overclocking with stable voltages.External Serial ATA?
Another feature we have seen in the past is the Internal to External Serial ATA adapter card which allows you to connect Serial ATA drives up external to the system for hot swapping which is a great idea indeed. Included are all the cables and instructions needed to make it happen.Overclocking - We have a winner!Overclocking on the 7NNXP was bar none, one of the best setups available. Under the Frequency / Voltage control menu are all the options you will need to overclock the system. FSB adjustments are adjustable from 100MHz to 300MHz in 1MHz increments.CPU voltage is adjustable from 1.3v up to 1.8v in 0.025v increments. DRAM voltage is adjustable from 2.5v up to 2.8v in 0.1v increments. AGP voltage can be adjusted from 1.5v up to 1.7v in 0.1v increments.AGP/PCI divider locks are available to keep the PCI and AGP within their specified bus speeds allowing a much more stable overclock.

nForce 2 Roundup - Benchmarks - Test Setup and Sandra 2003 SP1

Test SystemProcessor: AMD Athlon XP 2100+ (266FSB -13x133) (Supplied by AMD AustraliaMemory: 2x 256MB DDR-400 Kingmax (Supplied by Kingmax Australia)Hard Disk: Western Digital WD80 7200RPM (Supplied by Techbuy)Graphics Card: ATI Radeon 9700 Pro (Supplied by ATI)Software Used: SiSoft Sandra 2003, Lame MP3, DIVX Encoding, Sysmark 2002, 3DMark03, PCMark2002, Vulpine GLMark 1.1, Quake 3 Arena, Star Trek Voyager, Jedi Knight II, Comanche 4, Aquanox and UT 2003SiSoft Sandra 2003 SP1SiSoft Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) 2001 is a synthetic windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
In the synthetic system benchmarks, all of the motherboards come out almost equal with Gigabyte on top with the ABIT NF7-S in hot pursuit.

nForce 2 Roundup - Benchmarks - System and Multimedia Productivity

Real World System and Multimedia ProductivitySysmark 2002Sysmark2002 incorporates the following Internet Content Creation and Office Productivity applications:Office Productivity: Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Microsoft Access 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred v.5, WinZip 8.0, and McAfee Virus Scan 5.13.Internet Content Creation: Adobe Photoshop 6.01, Adobe Premiere 6.0, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 7.1, Macromedia Dreamweaver 4, and Macromedia Flash 5.
In business productivity you don't see any difference between the 8 boards - ICC shows the ABIT just on top with Gigabyte in chase mode.Lame MP3 Audio EncodingLame MP3 Encoder is used to convert a 120MB WAV file into a 128bit 44Hz MP3 File - the lower the score the better.
Gigabyte and ABIT tie it for first place.Media Concepts DIVX EncodingMainconcept is used to convert a 1.2GB Digital Video to a MPEP-2 file using 25fps as the default rate. The Benchmark is expressed in time in seconds, of course less is better.
This time Gigabyte gains the upper hand.

nForce 2 Roundup - Benchmarks - Synthetic 3D and PC

Synthetic 3D and PC3DMark033DMark03 is the latest instalment in the popular 3DMark series. By combining DirectX 9 support with completely new graphics (including the GeForce FX and ATI Radeon 9800), it continues to provide benchmark results that empower you to make informed hardware assessments
All 8 boards score within 2% of each other. This shows a great deal of optimisations have been done to all of these motherboards.PCMark2002PCMark2002 is a completely new, multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark2002 consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark2002 also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.
Again all score within 2% of each other with Gigabyte and ABIT slugging it out for the top of the pack yet again.Vulpine GLMark 1.1PVulpine GL mark is a Windows based OpenGL API designed to stress the OpenGL systems of a 3D Accelerator. Patch 1.1p adds in support for ATI Radeon 9800's fast 256bit memory interface optimisations and early support for the nVidia GeForce FX.
All 8 boards score equally here which is due to a lack of CPU strength.

nForce 2 Roundup - Benchmarks - OpenGL

Real World OpenGLQuake 3 ArenaQuake 3 Arena is a real-world OpenGL benchmark that we have been using here at TweakTown for quite a while now because it has proven itself to be one of the best gaming benchmarks around to compare a range of different products.
In the first of the all important Real World tests, Gigabyte takes a slight lead with ABIT right on its heels writing out a similar script to past benchmarks.Star Trek VoyagerStar Trek Voyager is a real-world OpenGL benchmark. Based on the Quake 3 Arena engine, this game is a OpenGL master utilising DirectX 8. We also apply the new Opt3D patch to allow for the use of Hardware T&L's use as well as new optimisations for AMD Athlon XP and Pentium 4 SSE2.
Gigabyte and ABIT tie it for first place once again.Jedi Knight IIJedi Knight II, Jedi Outcast is a newly released OpenGL game that many have been waiting for. It has much improved graphics over its predecessor. It fully supports advanced shaders, as well as very high texture resolutions and effects. There is one demo included in the multi-player section that is good for benchmarking use. In order to enable the benchmarking mode, you have to make a shortcut to the jk2mp.exe program located in the GameData folder of Jedi Knight 2. You have to put the switch "+set sv_cheats1" (no quotes) at the end of the line in the Target Area so that it looks like this: "C:\Star Wars JK II Jedi Outcast\GameData\jk2mp.exe" +set sv_cheats 1. The demo file used is jk2ffa.
Jedi Knight shows a slight lead by ABIT, this is something different.

nForce 2 Roundup - Benchmarks - Direct3D

Real World Direct3D

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