Socket 939 Motherboards - MSI and nVidia vs. ABIT and VIA

Mike has served us up some AMD related content today where he compares two Socket 939 Athlon 64 motherboards. The first is the MSI K8N Neo 2 Platinum which is based on nVidia's nForce3 Ultra chipset and the second is the ABIT AV8 3rd Eye which is based on VIA's K8T800 Pro chipset. We tested with an Athlon 64 FX-53 along with a whole bunch of benchmarks over a whooping 24 pages.
| Oct 9, 2004 at 11:00 pm CDT
Manufacturer: none

MSI vs. ABIT - Introduction

IntroductionWhen it comes to advances in computer technologies, the Socket 939 is one of the newer ones to hit the marketplace. There aren't too many choices yet in this arena, but we have managed to gather up a couple of the top contenders to see what kind of performance you can expect to get from the two chipsets vying for supremacy in this new market.Yes, two chipsets will be covered here as well as two motherboards. Fighting for your upgrade dollars are the nVidia nForce3 Ultra powered MSI K8N Neo 2 Platinum and the VIA K8T800 Pro propelled ABIT AV8 - 3rd Eye. We've seen the nForce being the choice in chipset for the Athlon 64 based on the Socket 754 packaging, so we'll run a series of tests to try to determine where your allegiance needs to lie for this new processor type.So sit back and relax as we toss an Athlon 64 FX-53 into both boards and see where the power lies. We already know the processor is strong, so now we just need to figure out which board will best support its power!

MSI vs. ABIT - MSI K8N Neo 2 Platinum

MSI K8N Neo 2 Platinum Edition
Our entry from the MSI lineup is none other than the highly vaunted K8N Neo 2 Platinum Edition motherboard. It is based on the nForce3 Ultra chipset and requires no added Southbridge to function at its full potential. It is a full-featured board and can be found online for about US$139 at the time of this piece. Before we take a look at some of the highlights of the board, let's take a look at a feature list as provided by the manufacturer:CPU SupportSupports Socket 939 for AMD Athlon™ 64 FX / Athlon™ 64 processorSupports up to 3500+, 3800+ Athlon 64 FX 53, or higher CPUnForce 3 Ultra ChipsetHyperTransport link to the AMD Athlon 64/Athlon 64 FX CPUHyperTransport supporting speed up to 1GHz (2000MT/s)AGP3.0 8X interface at 533 MT/s (million transfers per second)Two independent SATA controllers, for four drivesIEEE 802.3 NVIDIA MAC for 1000BASE-TDual Fast ATA-133 IDE controllersMemorySupports dual channel DDR 266/333/400, using four 184-pin DDR DIMMs.Supports a maximum memory size up to 4GB with ECC.Supports 2.5v DDR SDRAM DIMM.IDE/SATAAn IDE controller on the nVidia nForce3 Ultra chipset provides IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO, Bus Master and Ultra DMA133/100/66 operation modes.Can connect up to 4 IDE devicesSupports 4 SATA ports. Transfer rate is up to 150MB/s.NV RAID (Software)Supports up to 4 SATA & 2 ATA133 Hard drivesRAID 0 or 1, 0+1, JBOD is supportedRAID function work w/ATA133 + SATA HDD or 2 SATA HDDOther FeaturesRealtek 7.1 AudioDual GigABIT LAN ports (1x Realtek, 1x Marvell)3x IEEE 1394 Firewire (VIA 6306)8x USB 2.0Live Update 3Core CellCore Center

MSI vs. ABIT - MSI In The Box

In The Box
When you break open the seal of this package, you'll be greeted with many different items. You get the usual assortment of motherboard, cables, manual, drivers and such, but nothing really out of the ordinary. The MSI board's biggest selling point is features and it is certainly loaded with them, but you should also find about everything you'll need to get your new system working out of the box.One thing that I was a little surprised about was only one IDE cable. The board still supports a full complement of IDE devices, so I had really expected cabling enough to handle the load. Obviously not.
There was one interesting additional item, however. While a quick glance might make you think this device is nothing more than a simple USB port, you would find yourself missing out on a great deal of functionality. Take a little closer look at the LED lights above the top USB port.
See the lights numbered in series? This little PCI add-on card is also a hardware diagnostics device that attaches to the motherboard. Through a coded set of lighting modes, you can find out where a potential problem lies without having to rip everything out and starting over again. While it would have been a nicer touch to have this visible from the front in some manner, the addition of the device shows some intuitiveness from the folks at MSI.Let's take a quick look at the motherboard itself and hit some of the high points as far as features are concerned.

MSI vs. ABIT - MSI Motherboard

The Motherboard
The overall layout of the board is pretty good as far as design goes. Power connectors are placed where they won't get in the way of moving fan blades and the color coding of the different feature ports is a nice touch.
The socket sits close to the memory slots as may be expected. The board comes with both the plastic HSF mounting installed and a backing plate on the reverse side of the board. This is pretty common for the Socket 939 boards, but some of the older Socket 754 boards did not include the backing plate.
I'm not real sure about the designer behind the memory color scheme, but in my humble little opinion, he/she should go back to school. What do I mean by that?If you were to look at the memory slot layout and use a bit of common sense, you would probably figure to use the purple slots together and the green slots together to have your dual-channel memory in working order. Well guess again, my friend.You use slots one and two for dual channel as well as slots three and four. And if you happen to be the type who actually reads the manual, you'll even find a blurb where it says not to install the memory in this configuration. Alas, a little further down the same page shows the graphic requiring the use of subsequent memory slots for the dual channel to be in effect. Is anybody else confused here?Needless to say, I went ahead and used slots one and two to get the dual channel capabilities working properly and had no problems. Just something to keep in mind if you happen to purchase this board.
Moving on to the peripheral slots shows a full complement of available upgrading room. You get a single 8x AGP port and five PCI slots to give you a huge amount of flexibility. Considering this board has a very workable audio setup and LAN built in already, you won't really need to add a lot of items, but you still have the option to do so if you want or need to.Oh, you want to know about the pretty orange colored slot? It is a communications slot as well as a standard PCI slot. It will work normally if needed, but was designed to be used with an add-on communication device. Kinda reminds me of the old AMR riser slots placed on many boards a few years ago, but at least you can still use this one as another PCI slot if needed.
Sitting under the golden fan is the chipset. In the case of this MSI board, you'll find the mighty nForce3 Ultra hiding beneath those plastic blades. It also manages to handle the full workload of board communications as noted by the lack of a Southbridge chipset.If you'll look at the upper right hand corner of the picture above, you'll see the rear portion of the AGP slot. I have been asked in the past about the use of larger cooling solutions on high-end video boards, but you won't have any problems. Even though the Northbridge is very close to the AGP port, the fan is a low profile type that won't get in the way of a large sized video board.Also pictured above are two of the four SATA connectors available on this board. The other two are by the AGP slot. Not the greatest place for a drive connection, but the ability to have a total of four SATA drives is huge. It opens many possibilities for RAID or mass storage devices and still gives the full compliment of IDE devices as well.

MSI vs. ABIT - MSI Motherboard ~ Cont

The IDE ports are tucked away close to the primary power connection. Their placement should make it pretty easy to get your cabling to the necessary devices, and their location toward the top edge of the motherboard will help make tidying the cables up a breeze. You won't have to worry about working miracles to get the cabling close to a frame of the enclosure since they're right there from the beginning.
The layout of the external ports is pretty straightforward. The Firewire port is in a bit different spot than I am used to, but accessing it was no problem. Also included in the setup is a backplate that will fit into any standard ATX style case so you won't have to worry about modifying your old one to fit this board.
One of the new features of the Neo 2 Platinum is this CoreCell module. The CoreCell feature is composed of four capabilities; Speedster (for overclocking), Power Pro (for power saving), Life Pro (temperature control and fan monitoring), and Buzz Free (for noise management). It is basically designed to help you out no matter what your goals in the system may be. From enthusiast to power-saving miser, the CoreCell is made to be make your life a little easier.
Remember when I said you had LAN capabilities included with this board? To be a little more specific, you have dual GigABIT Ethernet ports all made possible because of this little Realtek RTL8110S-32 chip embedded onto the motherboard. The backplate uses two standard RJ-45 jacks and automatically switches to 10/100/1000 Mb speeds.
I was a bit surprised to see a VIA chip attached to the motherboard that uses the nForce3 chipset, but here you have it. In actuality, this VIA VT6306 chip allows the use of Firewire (IEEE1394) capabilities. It used to be that you could only get Firewire on an Intel based system, but the transition has been successful for the AMD crowd to enjoy this feature too and you will find this particular chipset from VIA is very popular these days.

MSI vs. ABIT - MSI Installation and BIOS

Installation Notes
Being a standard ATX design, there were no real issues when it came time to install the board into a system. Above you'll see the board mounted to the motherboard tray with the processor, HSF, memory and video board already in place. Even when using a large heatsink like the Thermaltake POLO735, there was no problem getting everything in place. You can also see what I meant earlier about a long video card not causing problems in regards to the Northbridge HSF.BIOS Features
Let's be realistic, if you're looking at a Socket 939 board at this point in time, you're likely an enthusiast. So instead of going through every single BIOS screen available, we'll cover the important stuff here.That said, the first screen of real importance is called the Cell Menu. In simple terms, this is where you make things go as fast as humanly possible. From here you can change multipliers, FSB speeds, Hyper Transport speeds and voltage levels to your primary areas. It also has the ability to change your AGP speeds and also to lock them in place so you won't have to worry about the video subsystem slowing you down when you begin your overclocking.The setting above called Dynamic Overclocking is for those who don't want to manually make changes to the clock speeds. It has six settings beyond the disabled shown above ranging from to . Strange names, but this militaristic viewpoint will let you change clock speeds from 1% to 11% clock adjustments by changing only this setting. I don't care for this concept myself and likely most true enthusiasts will feel this way as well, but it does work as a good starting point for the inexperienced overclocker. Who knows, maybe they'll see what kind of improvements they're missing out on and come join our ranks!Note: Yes, I realize the clock speed shows under the rated 2.4GHz speed of the processor used for testing. I was playing with FSB speeds before taking the photo of the configuration screen.
Moving on to the memory configuration menu shows just a few settings, but they are the important ones. From here you can change memory speeds as well as the primary timings and command rate. From here you will have no problems configuring your memory for either speed demon status or ho-hum cheap RAM status.As a side note for the budding overclocker, make sure you check out the location of the CMOS Reset jumper. You'll eventually need it.

MSI vs. ABIT - MSI Overclocking

A new fad in overclocking lately seems to be what is called "Overclocking On The Fly". While this has been tried in the past with different boards, it has just recently become a successful endeavor. Above is a screenshot of the CoreCenter utility panel that comes with this board. In short, it allows you to make adjustments to key BIOS values while using the system under Windows.From within the utility you can adjust voltage levels and FSB speeds. You can also monitor the fan speeds of attached fans and keep an eye on temperatures as provided by the onboard probes. If you happen to crank things up a little too much (yeah, I did it), the system will just lock down. A simple reboot and your original speed settings will be brought back to life as the utility will forget the settings you tried that did not work out. If you come across settings you like, you can save them through the utility, but I will always prefer making the hard settings within BIOS for this stage of the operation.As far as success in overclocking goes, I was able to maintain a stable system with no problems with the FSB set to 220MHz. And yes I realize that FSB is a term that is being phased out of modern overclocking, but the concept of its use is still a valid manner to increase the overall speed of the processor. To make sure I didn't run into the top capacity of the processor, I reduced the multiplier from a value of 12 to a value of 10.While many will say this is a meager speed increase, you should keep in mind that the processor used for testing is an Athlon 64 FX-53, which happens to be one of the world's worst overclocking processors. When we begin receiving more processors in for testing that utilize the Socket 939 design, we'll take another look at overall overclockability.

MSI vs. ABIT - ABIT AV8 3rd Eye

ABIT AV8 3rd Eye
On the other side of the fence is the ABIT AV8 - 3rd Eye. It too is a standard ATX sized motherboard and uses the VIA K8T800 Pro chipset along side the VIA VT8237 Southbridge. Since the development of the original nForce chipset, there has always been a good deal of competition between the VIA and nVidia companies. This is a good thing, of course, since it keeps prices at a more stable level. If only we could get some decent competition for Microsoft, it wouldn't be so darned expensive for the operating system!Anyway, lets take a gander at the main feature set of the ABIT board.CPU SupportSupports AMD Athlon™64 / Athlon™64 FX 939-pin processor2000MHz system bus using Hyper Transport™ technologyVIA K8T800 Pro/VT6237 ChipsetVIA K8T800 Pro/ VT8237 chipsetSupports Advanced Configuration and Power Management Interface (ACPI)Accelerated Graphics Port connector supports AGP 8X/4XMemoryFour 184-pin DIMM sockets (Unbuffered Non-ECC DIMM)Supports 2 DIMM Single Channel DDR 400/333/266 (Max. 2GB)Supports 4 DIMM Dual Channel DDR 400/333/266 (Max. 4GB)IDE/SATA2 x Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 ConnectorsSupports SATA 150 MB/s RAID 0/1Other Features6-Channel AC'97 CODEC on boardOn board GigABIT PCI Ethernet ControllerSupports 3 ports IEEE 1394 at 100/200/400 Mb/s transfer rate8x USB 2.0uGuru TechnologyABIT Guru Clock (The 3rd Eye On Your PC)Instant Overclocking & H/W Monitoring & PC On/OffMSN/E-mail NotificationLarge LCD Screen & Room Temperature Display

MSI vs. ABIT - ABIT In The Box

In The Box
Much like with the MSI board, when you crack open the plastic seals of the box you will be greeted with the standard array of stuff that you have come to expect when purchasing a motherboard. Instruction manuals, driver disks, the board, and cabling are all included. What you have come to expect, you will find here. One nice addition that ABIT decided to add was a small card with the primary wiring layouts and port pinouts for the main connectors of the board. Especially useful was the layout of the enclosure headers and switches. While a small thing, it was nice to be able to grab a card and not have to rifle through the manual.A little rant here is in order, I think. First off, this ABIT board comes with only a single IDE cable, just like the MSI board also being tested. While this didn't make a big impression on me (I was used to the concept I guess), I was amazed to see them including ribbon style cabling for the IDE drives and the floppy drive. Come on now! I fail to see the reason of creating a motherboard that caters specifically to the enthusiast crowd and then add in cheap ribbon cables. Did I miss something and not realize airflow had no meaning anymore? Even if you're going to be using SATA drives, you will still have to manage cabling for the optical devices.While everything above is pretty common fare, there was one item included that was out of the ordinary.
It is called the Guru Clock and is where the 3rd Eye portion of the board's name comes into play. It is an external device that works in a very similar manner to the MSI CoreCenter overclocking utility. It gives you a constant monitoring of temperatures, fan speeds, voltage levels, processor speed; it even has a small digital clock in the lower right hand corner. It is a pretty innovative idea that actually works very well through the ABIT designed chip on the motherboard.
On top of the Guru Clock is a small set of three buttons. While you can use these to make your settings to the device, it is much easier to use the included utility. It allows you a much easier means to configure what is monitored and making adjustments to the settings of the Clock. It also acts as an On The Fly overclocking utility, but we'll cover that a little later.
Though the flash drowns out the display a bit, the photo above will give you an idea of what the Guru Clock looks like when it is active. Oh, and don't mind the dust. =)

MSI vs. ABIT - ABIT Motherboard

The Motherboard
The layout of the ABIT AV8 board is a world apart from that of the MSI model we looked at previously. Though different, there still aren't many problem areas to be concerned with. The Northbridge is covered by only a passive heatsink and it sits far away from the AGP port so there will be no problems in this area. The 20-pin main power connection is below the processor socket, but it sits far enough away where you won't have to worry about wires getting into your fan blades.
As with the MSI board, the ABIT AV8 comes complete with the plastic HSF mount and also a backing plate secured to the reverse side. For those unaware of the concept of this plate, it allows the heatsink to be mounted with more force than a PCB would be able to tolerate. It also has vents in the metal plate so heat won't build up to the point where it becomes an issue.There is just a bit of clutter around the socket on the ABIT board, but not enough to interfere at all with the large Thermaltake cooler used for testing. It will take an extreme sink to cause problems with this board.
At least the creator of this board wasn't color blind like that of the MSI version. You simply install your memory into slots of the same color and you have dual channel working perfectly. As with the other board tested, you use non-ECC, non-registered DDR memory so you won't have to worry about getting expensive ECC/registered modules.Since many folks are new to the Athlon processors coming out nowadays, here is a brief rundown of the different socket configurations regarding memory. Socket 754 systems use non-ECC memory but only offer a single channel memory controller. Socket 940 was actually designed for server boards and require the higher priced ECC modules. Finally, the Socket 939 is set to become the AMD mainstream and offers the ability to use non-ECC modules in a dual channel setup.
A single 8x AGP slot and five PCI slots seems to be the norm. The ABIT is no different in its offering, but like most quality boards hitting the market it offers most of the standard peripherals onboard. If you have a desire for a sound board or other devices, though, you're well prepared to accommodate them.
One of the special points of the ABIT board are the jumpers. While not something you use every day, they do come into use pretty frequently for the enthusiast (especially the CMOS reset). The jumpers used on this motherboard are very user-friendly. They come with a high grip that makes it very easy to remove the jumper and set it to another position. Sometimes it is the simple things that stand out and it certainly was a nice change to be able to easily manipulate the jumpers.

MSI vs. ABIT - ABIT Motherboard ~ Cont

The concept of this layout is promising, but the position of the ports isn't the best. This sideways approach to IDE devices has been used before and it isn't a bad concept. The biggest problem I had was in the case of a good sized enclosure, it was difficult to get cables long enough to reach from the very bottom portion of the board to the upper optical devices.The floppy connector uses the older upright mounting technique and sits toward the top edge of the motherboard. Maybe if the FDD and the second IDE connectors were to switch places things would work out better.
Tucked in behind the IDE ports are the two SATA ports. Each port can be used to connect a single drive to the system and they also allow support of a RAID setup.Also pictured above is a diagnostic LED that has become a mainstay for ABIT's line of performance boards. If an error occurs during boot up, you can use the manual to help you locate the cause of the problem.
Though having only a single RJ-45 jack, the layout is similar to that of the MSI board tested. Four USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire, 6-channel sound output and all the standard ports are present. Also included is a backplate for use in your enclosure, so there are no worries there either.
With regards to that RJ-45 jack mentioned above, you will have GigABIT Ethernet included with this board also. This seems to be a growing trend, and while it may not have a lot of use for your broadband connection, it does make a difference if you create a small home network. Your Internet connection will always be limited by your ISP, but if you have two computers connected with GigABIT Ethernet, you'll see a huge increase in data transfer rates.
Look familiar? It should since it is the very same chipset that controls the Firewire capabilities on the MSI board. At least it doesn't look quite so out of place since the rest of the chipset is based on a VIA solution.As far as Firewire capabilities go, you have three IEEE1394 ports at your disposal. One mounted on the back of the board and two ports on the board itself to hook up externally accessible cards or devices.

MSI vs. ABIT - ABIT Installation and BIOS

Installation Notes
As with the MSI motherboard, there was nothing out of the ordinary when it came to installing the board. Besides the issue of the placement of the secondary IDE port, everything went very smoothly during the install process.As a side note to those who are using a SATA device for the first time, remember to use the included floppy disk when installing the OS. When it prompts you to hit the F6 key to install a RAID or SCSI adapter, do so. It will continue to load the base files for the installation and then take you to a special screen that allows you to load the necessary drivers for your SATA ports. From there installation of Windows goes on normally.BIOS Features
Though the layout is a bit different, you will have nearly the same abilities to adjust voltages and memory speeds as you do with the MSI board. Since the motherboard is based on the VIA K8T800 Pro chipset, you have the ability to lock the AGP/PCI speeds at a set level so your peripherals won't get in the way of your overclocking.
As far as memory settings go, you have a bit more in the line of options than on the MSI board. Simply set the Timings Selectable to "Manual" and you have full access to all sorts of tweaking tools. Just make sure to locate the CMOS Reset jumper before you start since it will likely get a workout during this phase of the setup.

MSI vs. ABIT - ABIT Overclocking

If you'll recall, I told you a little about the Guru Clock device that comes with this board. While it is very functional as a monitoring device, it can be difficult to make adjustments to your preferences. To bring the full power of the Clock into being, you'll want to use the included uGuru utility. It allows you to make adjustments on the fly to voltages and speeds, as well as allowing you to dictate what probes on the board will be displayed on the Guru Clock. Once you have this set up in the utility, the Clock will only display what you want it to.I would recommend that you leave the check box pictured above empty until you get to your most reasonable overclocked settings. As long as it is left empty, the system will not remember these settings when you are forced to reboot due to excessive overclocking.As far as overclocked speeds go, I went with the same setup as before with the multiplier at 10 and was able to go no higher than 218MHz before the system hacked up the proverbial hairball. Remember, though, that I have one of the worst possible processors for overclocking. The results are shown just so you know the board has the ability to take you beyond default.

MSI vs. ABIT - Benchmarks - Test System Setup & SiSoft Sandra

TestingWell, we already know that the processor and video board being used are powerful, so given that everything will be the same on both test systems we should be able to see where both of the chipsets show their best performance. Since overclocking on this processor is nearly moot, I'll be using default speeds. I will also use default speeds for the video board. After all, we're testing motherboards here, not graphics!As I have pointed out before, most of our readership falls into either the enthusiast or hardcore gamer categories so I will maintain a series of tests with this type of user in mind. Our selection is a mixture of synthetic, gaming and real-world applications that should give us a pretty good idea as to strong and weak points in either motherboard.Before we go further, let's take a quick look at the test system and the utilities being used for testing.Test System SetupMSI K8N Neo 2 Platinum (Supplied by MSI)ABIT AV8 - 3rd Eye (Supplied by ABIT)AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 Processor (Supplied by 256MB OCZ PC3500 Platinum Memory (Supplied by OCZ)Thermaltake PurePower 480-watt Butterfly (Supplied by Thermaltake)Sapphire X800 XT PE Graphics Card (Supplied by Sapphire)Western Digital 80GB SATA Hard DriveTest SuiteSiSoft Sandra 2004 SP2bMadOnion 3DMark2001Futuremark 3DMark03Futuremark PCMark04HD Tach 3 RWCinebench 2003AquaMark 3Quake III ArenaUnreal Tournament 2004 (full version)Doom 3Cool 'n Quiet (a fan speed/power saving feature) was disabled on both boards during testing so it wouldn't be a factor in overall results. Memory timings used were 2-3-3-7 on the OCZ memory modules with a 1T Command Rate. Windows was updated to SP1 (I'm still not confident enough in Microsoft to implement SP2, sorry) and all test programs were updated to their latest version with the exception of Quake III Arena. This program was left in its original state so we could continue to use the Demo001 file included with the game.Drivers used for testing consisted of the ATI Catalyst 4.8 for the Sapphire video board, VIA Hyperion 4.53 and nVidia Unified Driver 4.27.Let me mention one final fact regarding testing of these two motherboards. The MSI board comes with the base memory speed set to 200MHz but in fact runs at about 200.9MHz with the base speed of the processor at 2411MHz. The ABIT board, on the other hand, comes set to 207MHz out of the box. I left the MSI board set to default and reset the ABIT board to 201MHz bring the speed of the processor to 2412MHz. This should help keep a level playing field during all tests.SiSoft SandraVersion and / or Patch Used: 2004 SP2bDeveloper Homepage: Homepage: It Here
SiSoft Sandra (System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
Since I am using other utilities and programs to help test for CPU prowess, I only used Sandra for memory benchmarking. Sandra is one of the basic tools for testing this type of performance so it is included in our suite. After all, we're looking for tests that you can run on your own systems to give a direct comparison.While the results are not different between the two competitors, the MSI board using the nForce3 Ultra chipset does manage to come out ahead in the memory department. The memory timings used are a little aggressive, but not overly so. When we crunch some numbers, though, the difference is roughly 1% or less in each test.

MSI vs. ABIT - Benchmarks - 3DMark2001 SE

3DMark2001 SEVersion and / or Patch Used: Build 330Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: It Here
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.
Again we see some very close results but this time it is the VIA powered ABIT board that has the slight advantage. A quick check on the calculator shows a difference of just over 2%, so while it does manage to garner the better score, it isn't a massive difference.

MSI vs. ABIT - Benchmarks - 3DMark03

3DMark03Version and / or Patch Used: Build 340Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: It Here
3DMark03 is the latest version of the highly favored 3DMark series. By combining full DirectX9.0 support with completely new tests and graphics, 3DMark03 continues the legacy of being industry standard benchmark.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.
While we have shown in the past that the newer 3DMark revisions are nearly all graphics card limited, we can still use this benchmarking tool since we have the same components in both test systems. The only difference is the motherboards, so this test does have merit.That said, we see another very close race between the two competing chipsets. The math shows just a bit over 1% performance gain when using the ABIT board. Again it isn't much, but every little bit helps.

MSI vs. ABIT - Benchmarks - PCMark04

PCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used: Build 120Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: It Here
PCMark 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. PCMark consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other benchmarks.
It never fails; when you think you have these boards figured out they pull a fast one on you. In our previous tests we saw the ABIT board winning where graphics were the main forte and the MSI taking the win in memory testing. Wouldn't you know it that when we come around to the PCMark test phase, they pull a quick switch on us.For those unfamiliar with PCMark, it tests several different facets of your computer system. It covers multi-threading tests, audio conversion, web page rendering, video compression and graphics, just to name some of its testing capabilities. In our tests we noted the ABIT board as coming out on top and the MSI board bringing in the top honors with regards to CPU and overall scores. All results still fall within about 1% of each other.

MSI vs. ABIT - Benchmarks - HD Tach 3

HD TachVersion and / or Patch Used: 3010 RWDeveloper Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.comProduct Homepage: It Here
HD Tach has been around for a long time and is excellent when it comes to testing hard drive performance. It is also a very handy program when it comes to testing the controller used on particular motherboards. Tests such as Read, CPU Utilization and Burst are available at a click of the button and give you a good idea of how the hard drive can perform from system to system.
When running the HD Tach utility, I used the Quick Bench test utilizing 8MB zones. The HD Tach test moves data across the entire surface area of the hard drive at intervals and measures the time it takes for the transfer to finish. From these tests it gives us a good deal of information concerning overall hard drive performance.Our tests with the two boards today shows the SATA controller for the MSI board as being a little better than the ABIT model. Considering the MSI board gives you four SATA drives on the system board, this says a lot for that model if you are looking for mass storage and home server operations. The MSI board has a good deal to offer in this area.

MSI vs. ABIT - Benchmarks - CINEBENCH 2003

CINEBENCHVersion and / or Patch Used: 2003Developer Homepage: http://www.cinebench.comProduct Homepage:
CINEBENCH 2003 is the free benchmarking tool for Windows and Mac OS based on the powerful 3D software CINEMA 4D R8. The tool is set to deliver accurate benchmarks by testing not only a computer's raw processing speed but also all other areas that affect system performance such as OpenGL, multithreading, multiprocessors and Intel's new HT Technology.
Well, it appears that we're back to our normal results again. PCMark threw us for a loop, but the results of Cinebench reflect our initial impressions.When testing the rendering performance of the processor alone the MSI board edges out the ABIT one. But when doing the actual rendering and taking advantage of the graphics subsystem the ABIT board once again shows its colors.

MSI vs. ABIT - Benchmarks - AquaMark 3

AquaMark 3Version and / or Patch Used: UnpatchedDeveloper Homepage: http://www.massive.deProduct Homepage: http://www.aquamark3.comBuy It Here
AquaMark 3 is the latest installment of the AquaMark benchmark suite. This new benchmark is much more powerful and demands much more from both the system and the graphics card. If there is any weakness in the system or 3D components, AquaMark 3 will find them.
In our AquaMark test series we have a mixed bag of results. While the MSI board manages to utilize the CPU power a bit more efficiently, the ABIT gets better performance from the video board and also wins the race for overall score. We are still seeing, however, a very evenly matched pair of motherboards.

MSI vs. ABIT - Benchmarks - Quake III

Quake III ArenaVersion and / or Patch Used: v1.11Timedemo or Level Used: Demo001Developer Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.comProduct Homepage: It Here
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 Arena is getting very old, but is still one of the best ways of testing video and PC systems for any instability and best performance hence the reason we are still using it today.
Yes it is a bit old, but it is still entertaining to see what sort of frames we can pull from the game engine. As far as settings are concerned, we turned everything up to the maximum. While it doesn't do a lot to curb the outrageous frame rates, it does manage to bring them down a little bit.Now that we've entered our gaming phase of testing, we see the VIA powered ABIT board taking a lead in every resolution. There isn't a large difference in numbers, but if this becomes a trend then it will show a definite edge for the ABIT board in overall performance results. Lets continue to play some games and see what we can find out.

MSI vs. ABIT - Benchmarks - Unreal Tournament 2004

Unreal Tournament 2004Version and / or Patch Used: 3270Timedemo or Level Used: ons_dria (download here)Developer Homepage: http://www.atari.comProduct Homepage: It Here
Unreal Tournament 2004 or UT2004 for short is the latest installment to the Unreal Tournament series. The full version of the game is based on DX9 (the demo only uses DX8.1 like UT2003) and has faced quite a big make over and is a lot more intensive then its predecessor.
Unreal Tournament 2004 is a very processor intensive game. While it makes use of the video board, you will always gain more performance when you upgrade the processor in the box. During our tests I set ALL settings to their maximum to place as much stress on the components as possible. The demo used has a good deal of action and has managed to embarrass the 9800 Pro board we used to use for testing.After the dust settled we see that the ABIT board has once again taken the number one place throughout all resolutions. We even see a gain of nearly 10% when running the game at a 1600x1200 resolution, so the differences are weighing in a bit more heavily this time around.

MSI vs. ABIT - Benchmarks - Doom 3

Doom 3Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1262Timedemo or Level Used: Demo1Developer Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.comProduct Homepage: http://www.doom3.comBuy It Here
Doom 3 is the latest game to hit our test lab and is one of the most intensive games to date. Using the "Demo1" file included with the game 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.
In our final gaming tests we found that the ABIT board once again maintained the lead in performance by beating out the MSI board in all resolutions. Considering the power sucked up by this game in particular, even a few frames per second makes a difference.

MSI vs. ABIT - Conclusion

ConclusionOverall I was impressed with the abilities of both boards. Each has a huge list of features and the added overclocking capabilities of both boards will be a delight to even the most demanding enthusiast. While the ABIT board did better in the gaming arena, the MSI stood a bit ahead when it came down to processor/memory powered applications. This bodes well for those who are interested in photo and movie editing, as the extra power in this area will serve you well.As far as overclocking goes, I'll have to wait a bit before I can give a decent assessment. While the processor being used kicks ass, it is a boar when it comes to adjusting speeds. As we continue to get new processors in for testing, I will look into addressing this issue in more detail. One thing to consider, though, is both these boards have the ability to lock AGP/PCI speeds. This was a huge issue when the first K8T800 and nForce3 chipsets hit the market, but the Pro and Ultra versions (respectively) have taken care of this issue.With regard to price, both of our competitors today fall into the same category. The MSI board as tested can be found online for around US$139 while the ABIT board can be had for around US$129 as shown on DealTime. Considering the pricing of most modern motherboards (regardless of chipset and processor support), these boards will fare well against other possibilities on the market.When it comes down to picking a winner, there are a few things to consider. For the MSI board you have the extra GigABIT LAN port and a pair of extra SATA connectors built onto the board. It is hard to look past these features as they don't exist on most other competitors' hardware right now. While overclocking won't weigh heavily in this particular review given the processor used for testing, the MSI K8N Neo 2 was still able to get a bit higher speed and run with a high degree of stability, so this bodes well if you have plans on this aspect of computing.For the ABIT board we have the Guru Clock, which does an excellent job of monitoring internal data and the consistently higher scores in all gaming tests used. Whether playing an old faithful like Quake III or the latest in hardware killing games like Doom 3, the ABIT board simply did better from every angle. If you have big plans of gaming with your new Socket 939 rig, this aspect of the performance will be of vital importance to you.So it all boils down to what you really plan on doing with your new toy. Since one board didn't outperform the other by a large margin in an overall sense, your own goals will have to be a deciding factor in your purchasing choice. Both contenders performed very well and with great stability, so figure out where you want to go and choose accordingly.Oh, if you happen to be wanting PCI Express, you'll have to be patient still. While new boards supporting this feature are due out in the near future (from nVidia with the nForce4 and ATI with the RS480 and VIA with the K8T890), we're just not quite there yet but should before Christmas this year.Important note regarding the Socket 939 platform and the use of power supplies. It is a given that when you step up to this level of performance, you are simply going to have to have a solid performing PSU. If you are in the market for this type of system board and don't have a quality power supply yet, please note that I was unable to get the Antec line of power supplies to work with any stability with either of these boards. I will see about contacting them and trying to find out if they are looking at this issue, but as of right now I would recommend staying away from this brand until the problem is rectified. This is really a shame, too, as the Antec is one of the best performing brands on the market, but stability is a huge issue. When I changed out to a Thermaltake model and left all other settings alone, the system worked flawlessly.10-13-04 Update: As I mentioned before, I have been in contact with Antec and have received a confirmation for the ABIT brand motherboard. Below is a blurb from their company representative on this issue:
We've heard of problems with our TruePower's and Abit's AV8 motherboard.Recently Abit reported that our True power series has compatibility issue with their AV8. The symptom is the system will be in reboot loop during startup. We've tested all Truepower models here and haven't been able to recreate the problem.According to our engineers, the symptom is not happening to every unit, but rather to a few here and there. They have found out that the instability was caused by 5Vsb and they come up with a solution by changing a capacitor in the power supply.As a service to our customers we're replacing problem TruePowers with these updated versions. We instituted an inline change for all TruePower power supplies so that in the near future exchanging the PSU's with us will not be necessary.
If you are having stability issues with your Antec TruePower PSU and the ABIT AV8 Motherboard, you can contact are still looking into the issue with the MSI board and I will post any additional information I receive regarding the stability issue.MSI K8N Neo 2 Platinum- ProsVery good performance in memory and processor intensive tests4x SATA with RAID capabilities for them allColored ports for easy installationDual GigABIT LAN portsBetter HDD performance- ConsOnly a single IDE cableRetarded color coding of memory slotsRating - 8.5 out of 10ABIT AV8-3rd Eye- ProsSuperior performance in all gaming testsMore BIOS settings availablePriced slightly lessGuru Clock- ConsRibbon cables?Only a single IDE cableIDE connector on board will be hard to attach in tall tower casesRating - 8.5 out of 10

Last updated: Apr 7, 2020 at 12:26 pm CDT

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