nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - IntroductionIntroduction
We first had a look at the nForce 3 250GB platform from nVidia when it was released
earlier this year and we can honestly say without a doubt that it was one of the best chipsets to accompany your AMD Athlon 64 processor with its rich features such as native RAID and Gigabit networking. Thanks to an extremely fast MCP we have super fast Serial ATA transfer speeds, excellent networking support and so much more.You'll probably want to read back over our initial review (link just above) of the chipset back from April of this year to get a proper understanding of everything the chipset has to offer since we will not be covering chipset specific features in this article.When a chipset like this hits the market there is only one thing to do - get motherboards from the biggest names in the industry, benchmark them to hell and back (sorry too much Doom 3
) and show you guys the results to see who has the better motherboard.We will be looking at all the familiar faces today: MSI, ASUS, Gigabyte and Shuttle. We will be seeing if there is a difference in performance amongst the motherboards and how they do as far as their packages and features go.Let's get the show on the road, as they say!
nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - Gigabyte K8NSNXPGigabyte K8NSNXP- The Package
Gigabyte as usual has an absolutely beautiful looking box which folds out to give the user all the information you would possibly need to know. The front of the box gives you a little bit of information but once opening it up this is where you see everything.
Moving to the inside of the box we have, as usual, quite a big package from Gigabyte. We have three IDE cables and a floppy cable which is plenty for most motherboards. Also included are two Serial ATA cables and your Serial ATA power converters if you're using a SATA hard drive that doesn't support your standard molex connector. Also something cool is the external SATA ports. With the plug and play ability of SATA you can plug a drive in externally, do what you want with it and unplug it without having to open the case or turn your computer off.
The latest DPS (Dual Power Supply) is included to help keep a consistent and stable line of voltage to the motherboard so when overclocking you have a more stable CPU voltage which can help increase stability. Something like this shouldn't really be needed at standard speeds. You have your extra back panels which include sound, USB 2.0 and Firewire and your normal array of manuals and driver CDs.- The Motherboard
Gigabyte hasn't really done much with the motherboard design compared to their usual offerings. They still have their multitude of colors but it has become a bit boring as they are all extremely similar these days - we have the blue PCB, purple memory slots, green AGP and IDE ports. Gigabyte haven't chosen to include a fansink on the northbridge even thought it might look like they have.
The Serial ATA ports can be found just above the AGP slot and just below the bottom IDE ports - much like the reference nForce3 250 motherboard. They are in quite a tight position which can be hard to work with. We recommend you plug them in before you plug your graphics card in and install your heatsink as then it becomes a little "challenging".
You have two PS2 ports, audio ports, four USB pots and something that not a lot of motherboards have but Gigabyte have chosen, two LAN ports. This is handy for someone who is on a network and also uses a broadband Internet connection but cannot afford a router. While it doesn't offer Firewire, this isn't really a huge deal as it can be found with the bundled PCI plate.
nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - MSI K8N Neo PlatinumMSI K8N Neo Platinum- The Package
The black box looks excellent and on the front you can see that it is the "Platinum Edition" which utilizes the nForce 3 250GB chipset as opposed to the normal nForce 3 250 chipset which doesn't include native and speedy Gigabit networking.
We have some more colorful Serial ATA cables, a molex to Serial ATA power connector, two extra USB ports and DrLED display. This is similar to EPOX error code display except MSI's version simply uses four LEDs which you can reference to the manual to figure out what is wrong.- The Motherboard
The MSI motherboard has an awesome looking and feeling black PCB which really can only be shown properly in real life. It's a smooth thick PCB and looks fantastic. This particular motherboard is very colorful as you can see with a red AGP slot, orange SATA ports, yellow parallel ports and aqua memory banks. This really is a nice looking motherboard - we hope MSI didn't spend all their time on aesthetics and not tweaking it, although we highly doubt it judging on the company's history of motherboard production.
The RAM slots are in a slightly different position then you would normally expect and just below them you can see the MSI CoreCell chip which is designed to help increase motherboard performance by automatically increasing the FSB slightly from time to time. Let's see if it works later on when it comes to benchmarking the motherboard.
The Serial ATA ports really stand out on the MSI motherboard, if you didn't notice them in the first picture they can be found towards the bottom right corner of the motherboard and just above the AGP port. With a total of four Serial ATA ports and two Parallel ATA ports this should be plenty for most people. Being native as well the speeds are so much better as we found out in our Serial ATA controller roundup
earlier this year, especially with a pair of Western Digital Raptor drives in RAID 0.
The MSI motherboard uses the 250GB version of the nForce 3 chipset which includes native Gigabit networking which helps remove the PCI bus bottle neck and also helps lower CPU utilization which results in stunning LAN performance.
It offers four USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire port, Gigabit Networking, 8 Channel Audio and RCA/S/PDIF output ports.
nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - ASUS K8N-E DeluxeASUS K8N-E Deluxe- The Package
While the front of the box from ASUS is extremely plain it is actually very nice and calm. The top left corner of the box shows the main features of the motherboard like Dual RAID, 8 Channel Audio and the fact that it is using the 250GB version of the chipset instead of the standard 250 core which comes without native Gigabit networking support.
The package like the Gigabyte motherboard is quite healthy. Included is load of manuals, USB 2.0, Firewire and game port PCI brackets, four SATA cables and two SATA power converters.- Motherboard Layout
The ASUS motherboard looks more regular when compared to some of the motherboards we see today. ASUS has decided against multi colored AGP/PCI slots, bright colored memory slots and weird colored IDE ports. It's a very simple looking motherboard with a little blue heatsink.
The Serial ATA layout is extremely similar to the other motherboards that we have here today, except it is nice to see that ASUS has chosen to add an extra two SATA ports to the K8N-E which is powered by a Silicon Image controller chip. This is great for someone who wants an extra bit of storage on their system or down the track. With a total of six Serial ATA drives you could easily have a terabyte of hard drive space. While the K8N-E isn't the most exciting motherboard to look at it, is nice to see that ASUS chose to include the extra SATA ports that other companies decided against.
The ASUS I/O plate is extremely similar to the one found on the MSI motherboard - four USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire port and a network port powered by the 250GB chipset giving native Gigabit networking. We also have our sound ports including RCA/SPIDF and our normal array of com, serial and ps2 ports as well.
nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - Shuttle AN51RShuttle AN51R- The Package
The front of the box has a nice orange and black color scheme going for it which helps it stand out quite well. The box is very basic and at the bottom of it we see all the features that are available including SATA RAID, 6 Channel Audio, Firewire 400, USB 2.0, off-chip Gigabit Ethernet and a lot more.
Apart from our normal manuals we also find included our I/O plate, USB 2.0 and Firewire back plates, Serial ATA cable, Parallel ATA cable and a floppy cable.
While the front of the box is quite nice, once you open it up there isn't too much that will excite you. Let's have a look at the final motherboard of our roundup.- The Motherboard
We have a nice big blue motherboard here from Shuttle which looks great. The PCB color really stands out much like the old red variety from MSI. We have a 1/5 AGP/PCI configuration which is quite standard and as you can see we have our 3 memory slots up the top with the main power cable connecting just next to it.
Having a closer look we notice we have a total of four Serial ATA ports - two down the bottom right corner near the extremely helpful power and rest button and another two ports just above the AGP slot. This is the only motherboard that comes with built in power and reset buttons which is great from a tester's perspective but not so helpful to the average user.
As far as the motherboard layout goes, it is very simple and there really isn't that much you could complain about but there is no denying that the usefulness of the on board power and reset buttons are excellent and saving you have to identify the location of the jumpers to perform the same task. The only other motherboard that we have seen use this is the LANPARTY series from DFI.
On the I/O panel we have our normal PS2 and Com/Serial ports, four USB 2.0, one Firewire port, Gigabit Network (supplied by the Broadcom controller), 6 Channel Audio and something else new we haven't seen before - a clear CMOS button on the motherboard which is great for all those overclockers who are sick of trying to find the jumper to reset the BIOS.We are confused as to why Shuttle decided against using the native Gigabit networking controller built into the nForce 3 250GB chipset. It provides significantly better performance than the CPU driven Broadcom controller.Testing time begins on the next page!
nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - Benchmarks - Test System Setup and SiSoft SandraTest System SetupProcessor(s):
AMD Athlon 64 3400+ Video card(s):
Gigabyte X800XT Platinum Edition (Supplied by Gigabyte
1 X 512MB Kingmax PC4000 (Supplied by Kingmax
Western Digital 74GB SATA 10,000 RPM Raptor (Supplied by Western Digital
)Operating System Used:
Windows XP Professional SP1Drivers Used:
ATI Catalyst 4.7 and nVidia Reference 409All motherboards were tested with the exact same memory timings of 3-4-4-8 along with the same FSB settings and so forth to create the most comparable testing environment.One thing which should be mentioned is the fact that we did not disable the MSI CoreCell feature on the K8N Neo Platinum as it comes out of the box turned on and this is what users will get when they buy the motherboard. This may improve the performance of the MSI motherboard a little but it shouldn't affect things all that much.Now we are done with all the technicalities, let's get onto the benchmark results!SiSoft Sandra 2004 SP2
SiSoft Sandra (S
iagnostic and R
ssistant) 2004 SP2 is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
Here we can see that the ASUS and MSI motherboards are slightly faster then the Gigabyte and Shuttle. Let's see what the results look like when we turn off the optimization.
We see a similar result to above except the ASUS motherboard shows a slightly bigger jump.
Here we see that the MSI is considerably quicker then the other motherboards. Let's have a look at a few more synthetics before we move into real world gaming.
nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - Benchmarks - PC Mark 2004PCMark 2004
PCMark2004 is a 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. PCMark2004 consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark2004 also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.
Like Synthetic CPU in Sandra we again see the MSI is the fastest motherboard.
We see again that the MSI is considerably faster then the other motherboards with the ASUS again being second.
Testing the synthetic graphics we see that the ASUS is the fastest here with the MSI just behind it.
nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - Benchmarks - 3DMark 2001 SE3DMark 2001 SE
3DMark2001 SE is a part of the popular 3DMark series. By combining DirectX 8.1 support with completely new graphics (including the GeForce4), it continues to provide benchmark results that empower you to make informed hardware assessments.
The MSI motherboard takes the lead again in both resolutions. Over 1,400 points separate the MSI motherboard from the ASUS.
nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - Benchmarks - 3DMark 20033DMark 2003
3DMark03 is the latest installment 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. Please Note: Due to recent events with the 3DMark03 series, we are adding results purely for those who are still in favor of 3DMark03. These results should not be taken too seriously and are only added for interest sakes.
In 3DMark 03 we see the motherboards are closer together and this time around ASUS come out back in front. Let's have a look at some real world gaming results now.
nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - Benchmarks - Doom 3Doom 3
Doom 3 is the latest game to hit our test lab and is one of the most intensive games to dates. With our own custom time demo we are able to give a realistic rating on what kind of FPS you will be achieving.For more information on benchmarking Doom 3 we recommend you check out our extensive article regarding it here
At both resolutions the ASUS and MSI motherboards are much quicker then the Gigabyte and the Shuttle with the ASUS motherboard being able to break over 100FPS average mark which is over 20% quicker then the Shuttle motherboard.
nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - Benchmarks - Unreal Tournament 2004Unreal Tournament 2004
Unreal Tournament 2004 is the latest installment to the Unreal Tournament series. Using DirectX 9 the game has faced quite a big make over and is a lot more intensive then its predecessor.
You can see that the MSI motherboard is quite a bit quicker in both the resolutions yet the game seems quite CPU limited, or in this case motherboard limited. This gives you a good idea how the MSI is just that little bit faster then the others available.
nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - Benchmarks - Quake 3Quake 3
Quake III 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 wide range of different products. Quake III is getting very old, but is still one of the best ways of testing video and PC systems for any instabilities and best performance.
For our final test we see the MSI motherboard well and truly take the lead over the others. There is quite a big gap between the four and this can clearly be seen with the ASUS and MSI which have both performed extremely well.
nForce 3 250 Motherboard Roundup - Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
ASUS and MSI have produced what can only be said as probably the best A64 socket 754 motherboards around. The MSI K8N Neo Platinum which we have awarded 9.5 out of 10 and the TweakTown "MUST HAVE" Performance Award
would have to be the fastest out of the lot, there is no denying that as the results speak for themselves.
The ASUS K8N-E Deluxe we have given 9 out of 10
since it constantly just trailed behind it with coming just ahead sometimes. From a performance perspective you really couldn't go past either this motherboard or the ASUS. With this said though, when it comes down to the package, it is quite limited and not all that exciting.The Gigabyte K8NSNXP which received 8.5 out of 10 and our TweakTown "MUST HAVE" Best Features Award
has got an excellent bundle happening with their motherboard and if you wanted to use features like the external Serial ATA connectors or dual LAN ports, you couldn't look pass this motherboard. With DPS2, the motherboard is able to supply a constant steady flow of power but we must say that we had no issues with power on any of the other motherboards while testing them. We can understand the DPS2 will be useful when you start plugging in more devices and pushing for more performance.
The Shuttle AN51R which received 7 out of 10
has got a product that is quite basic, the package is quite small and the performance on the motherboard isn't the best which does make it hard to recommend. We wouldn't turn around and say don't buy this motherboard, but if you have the extra money to spend on something from ASUS or MSI we would highly recommend that you look down that path as you'll get better performance and a better package.While we would have probably liked to give both the ASUS and MSI the performance award, we do have to choose one and can honestly say that the MSI motherboard was consistently that little bit faster then ASUS. Due to performance being so close it will come down to price and what people prefer as far as brands go when it comes to purchasing their next or first Socket 754 motherboard.Have fun!