ULi Fights Back - M1695 Athlon 64 Chipset Preview

During Computex 2005 in Taiwan there was plenty of talk around town about ULi's fight back into the chipset scene. The company formerly known as ALi has sent us their newest AMD64 reference motherboard based on their M1695 Athlon 64 two chip chipset solution. Read on as we take a complete look at the design behind the chipset and how it performs against VIA's K8T890 Pro and nVidia's nForce4 Ultra chipsets. Do we have a real new chipset competitor on the block? Read on and find out!
Published Mon, Jul 11 2005 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:26 PM CDT
Manufacturer: none

ULi M1695 Preview - Introduction

IntroductionULi, formally known as ALi, has been one of the most back burner companies for quite some time. In fact, the last ALi based chipset we can remember hearing much about was the ALi Aladdin Super 7 chipset and back then they were more of a compatibility problem talking point rather than exceptional performance.ALi changed its name to ULi in order to gain a fresh new start with new technicians and staff to take on the role to build ULi into a chipset power. While the ULi company has put out some chipsets in the past, not many of them have been picked up for even OEM usage, however, ULi hopes to change all this with a new line of chipsets for both the AMD and Intel line of processors.ULi has only one other chipset for the AMD K8 architecture dubbed the M1689, its features were not that impressive, and with the competitors offering already well established, it was simply a dead running solution.This time around ULi has pushed ahead and even started to get the jump on one of its major competitors (VIA Technologies) in terms of features to market along with some features that others could take a look at adding. Could this be the start for ULi to become a real chipset competitor? For everyone's sake, we'd love to see competition in the chipset market heated up.Today we look at the ULi M1695 chipset, fresh from the Computex 2005 floor in Taiwan. We have received this reference sample direct from ULi for some extensive tests and we will pit it against the VIA K8T890 and nVidia nForce 4 Ultra to see just how well this baby can perform against its established competitors.

ULi M1695 Preview - Chipset in Detail

The ULi chipsets that make up the package

Before we take a look at the test board and its feature set, its time to take a good look at the chipset and see just what ULI has put on offer.The M1695 comes in a two chip solution and while we have voiced our dislike on two chip AMD Athlon 64 solutions with VIA, our opinion still stands that there is no need for this with the memory controller now on the CPU. One thing ULi does have though is a segment of several other Southbridge's coming later this year in order to augment the design for server, workstation and mainstream markets - all using the same Northbridge.
ULi places on the Northbridge its PCI Express root port controllers, in total there are 20 PCI Express lanes available. 16 lanes are routed to the primary PEG or PCI Express Graphics Port. After this there are 4 PCI Express lanes available for additional devices. ULi recommends either 2x PCi Express x1 slots with 2 lanes free for PCI-E Networking and PCI-E SATA controllers for the mainstream/performance market or using all 4 lanes in a single PCI Express x4 slot for use with new SAS PCI-E controllers and other devices coming into the server/workstation market.ULi has designed its PCI-E graphics link with Dual Graphics in mind. If the motherboard manufacturer decides to go for a Dual Graphics setup, the PCI Express x16 port can be split into two PCI Express x8 ports, similar to how the SLI setup of nVidia works - currently there is no definitive answer if the ULi chipset will support SLI but nVidia are working with other chipset makers at the moment to added SLI certification to their chipsets.At this currant stage, ULi has only one Southbridge available, with 1 or 2 others coming in the near future. Currently the M1567 is the Southbridge of choice available with the option to add in an additional chip to the PCI-E bus. The M1567 uses the HyperTransport protocol to connect the Northbridge to the Southbridge. ULi has stood out in terms of connection speed, ULi allows for a 16x uplink and 16x downlink connection from North to Southbridge's in order to accommodate extremely bandwidth intense products, which we will explain shortly.The M1567 uses a 16x Uplink and 8x downlink HT interconnect, as the M1567 isn't as intense with bandwidth as the upcoming companion chips. First off the unique design of the Southbridge has a built in AGP 8x graphics controller. That's right, it's on the Southbridge. Rather than building it into the Northbridge, the AGP is moved to the Southbridge. This has some advantage as it allows the motherboard manufacturer the freedom to incorporate the AGP Southbridge or one of the others ULi also has on the horizon.A new Southbridge is on the way that uses a 16x up and 16x down link to the Northbridge for a couple major upgrades - the first is that the newer Southbridge will have SATA-II support with 4 ports. The other is ULi plans to add a second PCI-E x16 lane - that's right - a dedicated PCI-E x16. This means that ULi will have the first Dual Graphic system (or even Quad Graphics or 4-way SLI maybe *grins*) that has two dedicated x16 PCI-E ports. If you want to run three graphics cards, this can be done by splitting up the PCI-E x16 on the Northbridge into two PCI-E x8 slots and either having an AGP or a second PCI-E x16 slot, ULi has thought of the server market in great detail. Another advantage of the ULi design is the ability to add in other Hypertransport devices such as the AMD Hypertransport to PCI-X controller chip used for Opteron processors - it truly is universal.ULi also has another trump card up its sleeve. ULI has a Southbridge chipset that currently runs on the PCI-E interface which allows a manufacturer the ability to add in a second or third Southbridge onto their boards, simply by adding in the ULi chip onto a free PCI-E x1 link. This means ULi can bridge its SATA support and expand it from the current 2 up to 4 ports, and with the new Southbridge, from 4 up to 8, making the design that much more flexible.Unfortunately in this series Southbridge, ULi has only included a 10/100 Ethernet MAC onboard. With the trend from SiS, nVidia and Intel moving to Gigabit as standard, it would be nice to see ULi add in a Gigabit MAC to its next line of Southbridge's.

ULi M1695 Preview - Reference Motherboard

ULi's AP9567A Reference MotherboardWhile at Computex this year in Taiwan we passed by ULi's booth and took a look at what ULi had to offer in the upcoming months ahead. While there we caught our first look at the reference board and simply had to get one in for testing. Thankfully the guys at ULi were very helpful and sent us one hot off the production line to our labs here in Australia to see just what can be done with the board.
ULi has based its latest K8 architecture system around a full ATX board measuring 30x25cm. This gives the ability to locate the components easier than using the more compact Standard ATX which some VIA K8T890 boards are being designed on. Due to the reference nature, we aren't going to be hard on the layout of the board in terms of connectors, however, we hope that the end manufacturers that pick up on this chipset will look at placement a bit better - case in point: the placement of the 24 pin ATX power connector is simply not on between the Northbridge and the I/O plate, and the 4 pin is too far away for the OEM power supply units that have smaller AUX power connectors.
ULi's reference board is designed to demonstrate the versatility of the current ULi setup. 1 PCI Express x16 slot takes care of current and future graphics cards with two PCI Express x1 slots for upcoming peripherals such as sound cards, TV tuners and various other PCI-E devices. 1 AGP 8x slot is also included to demonstrate the legacy application that is possible. Last but not least are two PCI slots to support legacy PCI devices. Overall this shows ULi has put a lot of thought into its current chipset line-up and allows third party motherboard manufacturers with plenty of options for retail products.
The ULI M1695 Northbridge uses the same Ceramic Ball Grid Array package that VIA and SiS use. We are surprised that this is currently being used with FC-BGA being a more effective cooling package; however, we surmise that the temperature isn't much of a problem as ULi only needs a passive cooler on its Northbridge. This is where all of the PCI Express lanes are located for ULi setups, similar to how VIA works. The Southbridge is also based on the same package technology as the Northbridge. This is where the AGP interface is located along with the SATA, PATA, MAC and all the other devices are located.

ULi M1695 Preview - Benchmarks - Test System Setup and SiSoft Sandra

Test System SetupProcessor: AMD Athlon 64 3000+ WinchesterMemory: 2x 512MB OCZ DDR-533 (Supplied by OCZ)Hard Disk: 2x Maxtor Maxline III 250GB (RAID 0)Graphics Cards: ASUS Radeon X800XT PCI Express and AGP (Supplied by ASUS)Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2Drivers: ATI Catalyst 5.4 and ULi AutodriverWe have done tests using both AGP and PCI-E in order to see if there is any performance degradation using the AGP from ULi.We have also put the ULi chipset up against VIA's K8T890 motherboard from Gigabyte and nVidia's nForce 4 Ultra motherboard from EPoX.SiSoft SandraVersion and / or Patch Used: 2005 SR1Developer 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.
Here we see very little in performance differences between the platforms including the AGP usage of the ULi board.

ULi M1695 Preview - Benchmarks - PCMark05 Professional

PCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used: 2005 ver. 1.0Developer 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.
PCMark05 shows that the ULi chipset board even in its reference stage is able to keep up with the major chipsets already on the market in retail form which is a great sign for ULi. ULi actually manages to take the lead over the VIA chipset in the HDD results.

ULi M1695 Preview - Benchmarks - Super PI

Super PIDeveloper Homepage: Homepage:
Developed by some folks from the University of Tokyo (yes, Japan), Super PI is a small utility that does just as the name implies. It figures PI to a set number of decimal places. Since PI is an infinite number to the right of the decimal point, the utility measures the time it takes to figure a set number of places. It runs the calculations a set number of times and gives a time for the completion of the task. This is a simple and effective way to measure the raw number crunching power of the processor being used to compile the results.
Here we see Super PI scores almost identical across each platform.

ULi M1695 Preview - Benchmarks - 3DMark Series

3DMark03Version and / or Patch Used: Build 360Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: It Here
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.
3DMark03 shows very similar scores across the platforms, AGP usage doesn't effect the results either.3DMark05Version and / or Patch Used: Build 120Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: It Here
3DMark05 is the latest version in the popular 3DMark "Gamers Benchmark" series. It includes a complete set of DX9 benchmarks which tests Shader Model 2.0 and higher.For more information on the 3DMark05 benchmark, we recommend you read our preview here.
3DMark05 shows the same results as 3DMark03, the ULi chipset is very capable even when paired up with an AGP card.

ULi M1695 Preview - Benchmarks - Doom 3

Doom 3Version and / or Patch Used: UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used: Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: Product 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 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.
Doom 3 shows that with running PCI Express graphics the ULi chipset can hold it with the best of them, the AGP lags slightly behind, but not by much.

ULi M1695 Preview - Benchmarks - Half Life 2

Half Life 2Version and / or Patch Used: UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used: Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: Product Homepage: http://www.half-life2.comBuy It Here
By taking the suspense, challenge and visceral charge of the original, and adding startling new realism and responsiveness, Half-Life 2 opens the door to a world where the player's presence affects everything around him, from the physical environment to the behaviours even the emotions of both friends and enemies.We benchmark Half Life 2 with our own custom timedemos as to avoid possible driver optimizations using the "record demo_name" command and loading the timedemo with the "timedemo demo_name" command - For a full list of the commands, click here.
Half Life 2 shows the same trends as Doom 3.

ULi M1695 Preview - Final Thoughts

Final ThoughtsULi, being relatively new to the chipset market, is now aiming to make a name for itself with the latest chipset for AMD processors, but will it be enough to convince the crowds?There are some companies that, despite the new name, remember some of the older ALi products, and the sour taste it left in their mouths when the motherboards refused to work with many of the PCI and AGP devices of the time, many years ago now.That though, is the past, and ULi has set its sights on the future and with the M1695 chipset, have a good aim. One of the best features we liked about this chipset is the companion Southbridge's that not only add in the support for all the additional peripherals, but also give support for additional devices like AGP, and an additional PCI-Express x16 lane on the next revision to come out. Added to this list the ability to split the primary graphics down the middle to create a possible SLI setup, we can only hope that ULi works within the SLI specs and add this to the list of already impressive specs in their latest chipset.Overall the ULi M1695 chipset was a delight in terms of stability; we found no problems with the reference motherboard even in its early stages of development. The M1695 performed flawlessly, and with impressive results against established retail motherboards to go along with its stability earns, ULi a place on the chipset hall of fame and we look forward to checking out retail motherboards based on ULi's M1695 chipset.

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