Since Computex 2006, we have been hearing rumours on a couple fronts that really had us interested and as it turns out, both turned out to be true. First was the highly discussed and anticipated RD600 chipset from the then ATI designed to take Core 2 Intel CPU's to the next level and the second was AMD buying up ATI.At first rumours were flying on the latter front with "it's on, it's off" kinda feeling. But late in 2006, AMD and ATI finally made the move and now we have AMD with its own chipset and graphics division thanks to that of the ATI brand.This left us wondering on the Intel front, would RD600 ever make it to the market potentially being an AMD owned chipset for an Intel CPU. First there were rumours of it being scrapped, but now we have finally seen the first board based on this chipset cross our path, and by the looks of it possibly the only one that you will ever see.DFI has taken to the market and with courage decided to face whatever Intel does to them further on down the track, after all, why be afraid these days? There is still the AMD market if DFI gets shafted by Intel. Nevertheless, it's good to see a company like DFI stand up and be strong and give the consumer what they want.Today we are checking out the DFI ICFX3200-T2R/G motherboard based on the new RD600 or Crossfire 3200 as it's now known. From the word go, this chipset was set to be a tremendous overclocker but what were the team at DFI able to do with the motherboard? Let's check it out and see if it was worth the fuss and wait!
SpecificationsSpecifications of the DFI ICFX3200-T2R/GCPU
Supports Intel Socket & LGA775 Series Core 2, Pentium D, Pentium 4 and Celeron DDoes not support Intel Pentium Extreme SeriesChipset
ATI Crossfire 3200 IntelATI RD600 NorthbridgeATI SB600 SouthbridgeA-Link PCI Express x4System Memory
4 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM SocketsSupports DDR2-533/667/800MHz64/128Bit Dual ChannelSupports up to 4GB Total Memory (4x 1GB)Bus Frequency
100/133/200/1066MHz Internal400/533/800/1066MHz ExternalExpansion Slots
3 PCI Express x163 PCIConnectivity
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives8 Serial ATA ports2 Gigabit Ethernet PortExpansion Ports
1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port10 USB 2.0 Ports (4 rear accessible, 6 via expansion bracket)2 SPDIF RCA Ports6 Stereo Audio Ports2 Firewire 400 Ports (1 rear accessible, 1 via expansion bracket)
Crossfire 3200 Intel Closer InspectionCrossfire 3200 in Detail
While this is a motherboard review, it's also the first time we have looked at the Crossfire 3200 (RD600) for the Intel platform, so we are going to have a look at its major components.First off the name of the chipset is simply ATI Crossfire 3200. When AMD/ATI from Taiwan were here in Sydney for their Christmas party, we attended this and asked some of the questions on our minds - one of them was if they will continue to make chipsets for Intel processors and they answered, a big yes, as the market is ripe for that. If people want to use the competitors CPU, they will provide chipsets to run it, as they will still make money.Chipsets designed for the AMD Athlon processors will be given an AMD name such as the AMD580 which is the Crossfire 3200 for AMD renamed. Chipsets for the Intel market will bare the ATI logo, as this prevents any confusion on this part. It's probably gonna be a little strange having a consumer buy an AMD motherboard for his Intel processor.
ATI uses a two chip platform for the Intel Core 2 Crossfire 3200 chipset. There is the RD600 Northbridge and the choice of SB450 or SB600, the latter being the more intelligent choice for motherboard manufacturers, as it does resolve some of the issues that the previous Southbridge suffered with, such as performance.- The Northbridge
First thing we want to cover is the RD600 Northbridge. While its features are somewhat similar to that of the RD400 chipset, it's a totally redesigned setup. RD600 has been designed from the ground up in order to take on nVidia in the overclocking department.The RD600 Northbridge while being called the Crossfire 3200 does not contain dual PCI Express x16 graphics lanes. The graphics system supports Crossfire however, when Crossfire is setup the graphics cards share a PCI Express x8 lane each. While this is slower than the Dual 16 lanes the AMD setup receives, it's still enough to give it full Crossfire compatibility. Both of these slots run off the Northbridge chipset, so there is no need for communication to a Southbridge based PCI Express slot like nVidia does. The next impressive feature is the addition of a third PCI Express x16 slot. This though is only set to run at PCI Express x2 speeds but what is it for? Physics.ATI demonstrated hardware physics to us last year using an X1600Pro graphic card in a separate PCI Express slot to handle the physics side of things. This has finally been implemented on the RD600 Northbridge. The extra slot runs of a PCI Express x2 lane that is also wired into the Northbridge. Now we get down to the last past of the RD600, the memory controller. DFI has tried to follow nVidia in terms of its memory configurations. Its able to run almost totally asynchronous to the FSB, however, our board didn't have 1MHz increments for the memory controller, they were 3MHz increments. This does allow for you to set the memory and FSB at different rates so you don't have to overclock the memory as high as the FSB, if your RAM cannot handle it.- The Southbridge
Not it's onto the second half of the equation, the SB600. First introduced to be the companion to the AMD Crossfire 3200 chipset, it now finds it way to the Intel based version, and why not? It's been beefed up since the SB450 chipset. First off it's got a new storage system. It natively supports 4 SATA ports with the SATA 2.5 spec fully compliant, so it allows for NCQ, hot swap and 300MB/s data transfers. The IDE system has been cut from 2 port to a single IDE channel, similar to nVidia's setup. The Southbridge also implements Azalia HD audio, so it doesn't miss out on the new 7.1 audio standard. The Southbridge doesn't use any network features but rather relies on PCI Express based controllers to be added on rather than adding in one itself. Lastly is the link ATI uses for connecting the North and Southbridges. While it may be called A-Link, it's nothing more than a PCI Express x4 lane that the Southbridge sits on, allowing for seamless changes of Southbridges in the future.
Package and ContentsPackage and Contents
DFI has gone with a new colour scheme for its ICFX3200 series board. The box rather than being green goes for a red/yellow motif. On the front there is only the name of the board and the Lanparty UT logo to distinguish it.
The back contains a bit more info on the board's features as well as a detailed colour photo of the board itself with full explanations of its main attractions.
DFI has done a marvellous job on its documentation. The user manual is over 200 pages thick with full details in 4 languages on the board's features and setup. The CD provided comes with all the drivers for the board as well as some software to get you up and running. The floppy disk contains the Windows XP F6 boot drivers for the ATI SB600 and the Promise Fastrack 3410 controller chip, so there is no downloading required for this part.
The cable bundle DFI gives is rather small, but it will get you going - a couple rounded parallel cables that are UV reactive under a black light are provided, one for the IDE and one for the floppy disk. The four SATA data cables are also UV reactive but not SATA-II spec, that is, they don't lock onto the boards SATA ports or the SATA drive - bit of a disappointment there.
Lastly we have what DFI calls its KARAJAN audio module. This is simply a plug in section that goes onto the rear I/O ports to give you the 6 channel audio. The module contains the Audio Codec itself on it. DFI explains it as keeping the noise from the motherboard from making its way into the audio, however, we didn't notice any difference in audio quality compared to a non-KARAJAN audio board. If you plan to use a separate sound card, leave this module out and the system won't detect the onboard audio as the codec chip will be missing.
MotherboardDFI's ICXF3200 Motherboard
DFI has really done a fantastic job, not only in the aesthetics department, but also on the functionality side of things.First off the PCB is a black full 30x24 ATX layout, a big board it is packed to the brim with features. The layout of the plugs, in a word, is excellent. The 24-pin power is located behind the DDR-2 UV reactive memory slots along with the IDE port. The 8-pin aux power connector sits between the CPU and the rear I/O ports at the top left of the board away from the heatsink, allowing good air flow though the system.The Southbridge operated SATA ports and the FDD port are rotated 90 degrees to the board, making them a cable routing dream, especially for the smaller cases.
The CPU is free from large capacitors that can obstruct the installation of large aftermarket heatsinks. The only thing of any height around the CPU is the heatsink module that sits on top of the 5 phase voltage regulation system that powers the CPU. In case you haven't noticed already, DFI have really tried designing this motherboard just for you guys, the overclockers.
Turning our attention to the rear I/O ports you can see the large space where the KARAJAN audio module sits when it's installed. The RCA ports are SPDIF ports, red for in, yellow for out. The rest is pretty simple.
To the expansion slots and you can see what DFI offers. You can notice this board carries three PCI Express x16 slots. The top two slots are x8 compatible when two Crossfire graphics cards are installed. The last one at the bottom of the board is a x2 powered slot for the Physics card. There are no additional PCI Express slots on the board, only 3 PCI legacy slots. All of the expansion slots are UV Reactive under a black light. Located just below the final USB tower is a VIA 2 port PCI based Firewire chip, this is how the board gets its Firewire support.
Lastly we have the Promise Fastrack PCI Express RAID controller chip. This adds the four extra SATA ports at the bottom of the board, totalling eight SATA ports when you add the Southbridge ones into the equation.
BIOS and OverclockingBIOS and Overclocking
Now it's down to the BIOS and one thing is for sure, DFI has done a fantastic job when it comes to this part.First off the main BIOS window shows up just like any of the other boards that DFI has manufactured. To get the overclocking features up you need to open the Genie BIOS Settings menu, from there it just gets better.
We have never seen a BIOS with so many features, and they aren't all shown here due to screen size. To give you a bit of an idea of what's on offer we have comprised this little list of the frequency and voltage settings. Frequencies
CPU: 0 to 511MHz in 1MHz incrementsDRAM Ratio: 133, 166, 200, 266, 333, 400, 533DRAM Overclock Frequency: 133MHz to 658MHz in 3MHz incrementsPCI Express: 100MHz to 150MHz in 1MHz incrementsVoltages
CPU VID Control: 0.44375V to 1.60000V in 0.00625V incrementsCPU VID Add Special: 100% to 125.25 in 0.025% incrementsDDR2 Voltage: 1.50V ~ 3.01V in 0.02v ranging incrementsCPU VTT: 1.21v to 1.59v in ranging incrementsNB Core: 1.3v to 2.18v in ranging incrementsNB PLL 1.2: 1.21v to 1.46v in ranging incrementsNB PLL: 1.8v: 1.83v to 2.51v in ranging incrementsNB PCI-E: 1.22v to 1.6v in ranging incrementsSB Core: 1.23v to 1.59v in ranging incrementsOne other of the feature we must note that if you disable the CPU PLL override it gives you a few extra MHz on your FSB, however when we tested this it proved to be too unstable.To this end though we managed to get the full 511MHz FSB out of the test system with only raising the CPU voltage to 1.4v, DRAM to 2.24v, and leaving the rest of the voltages at stock. It's clear that this board can do more, however without any further FSB MHz available in the BIOS we can't get our board faster than what DFI have allowed.Having said that though, even compared to the best Intel P965, 975X and nForce 680i boards we have reviewed, the DFI motherboard manages to offer the best FSB overclocking by around 25MHz and that's sure to mean something when it comes to our benchmarks. DFI has clearly worked very hard on their BIOS but let's hope they continue tweaking and allow for an even higher FSB.Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we don't have enough time to tweak the motherboard to the maximum and find the highest possible FSB as this could take days to properly find. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released or "burn in" time might come into play if you believe in that.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and SandraTest System SetupProcessor
: Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 (Supplied by Intel
: 2x 1GB DDR2-1066 Corsair (Supplied by Corsair
: 500GB Seagate 7200.9 (Supplied by Seagate
: MSI Radeon 1950Pro (Supplied by MSI
: Gigabyte Neon775 (Supplied by Gigabyte
: Microsoft Windows XP SP2Drivers
: Intel INF 18.104.22.1681, ATI Platform Drive 6.10, nVidia Platform Driver 9.53Now we get into the benchmarks of our review. Today we are pitting the P965 DQ6 from Gigabyte against the nForce 680i from eVGA against the DFI Crossfire 3200. We will be checking out stock speeds as well as overclocked speeds to gauge performance.For our overclocked results we used the Gigabyte motherboard at 487MHz FSB with a multiplier of 6x. The EVGA motherboard was running at 489MHz FSB with the same 6x multiplier. And the DFI motherboard again used a 6x multiplier but running with the higher 511MHz FSB. All of the motherboards were running the memory synchronously (1:1) with the FSB to give best results.Let's get this show on the road and see how the new DFI RD600 motherboard is able to hang with the other boards.SiSoft SandraVersion and / or Patch Used:
2007Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.co.ukProduct Homepage: http://sisoftware.jaggedonline.com/index.php?location=home&a=TTA&lang=enBuy It Here
SiSoft Sandra (S
iagnostic and R
ssistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
At stock speeds the DFI board manages to just beat out the competition, however at overclocked speeds we can see that nVidia despite a lower FSB and memory clock still holds the crown here.
Benchmarks - PCMarkPCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.2.0Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/Buy 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 MadOnion.com benchmarks.
We can see that in both memory and HDD the DFI board manages to keep up with the best at both stock and overclocked speeds.
Benchmarks - WorldBenchWorldBench 5.0Version and / or Patch Used:
Retail, version 5.0Developer Homepage: http://www.pcworld.com Product Homepage: http://www.pcworld.comBuy It Here
WorldBench 5.0 is the fifth generation of PC World's industry-standard benchmarking application. Designed to measure the performance of today's wide range of personal computers, WorldBench has been in continuous use at PC World for nine years.WorldBench 5.0 uses the following applications to gauge system performance: ACD Systems ACDSee PowerPack 5.0, Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1, Adobe Premiere 6.5, Ahead Software Nero Express 22.214.171.124, Discreet 3ds max 5.1 (DirectX), Discreet 3ds max 5.1 (OpenGL), Microsoft Office XP with SP-2, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9.0, Mozilla 1.4, Musicmatch Jukebox 7.10, Roxio VideoWave Movie Creator 1.5 and WinZip Computing WinZip 8.1.
WorldBench puts the DFI board on top in the final results, when we looked closer at the scores though, it managed to do very well in the multimedia encoding department.Remember lower scores are better.
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere ElementsAdobe Premiere Elements 2.0Version and / or Patch Used:
2.0Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/Buy It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 is performed with a raw two hour AVI file. It is then compressed into DivX format using the latest version codec. We measure the time it takes to encode and then record CPU usage.
Media encoding tasks is where the DFI board shines. Even at stock it's slightly faster than the nVidia board.
Benchmarks - 3DMark063DMark06Version and / or Patch Used:
Build 110Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/Buy It Here
3DMark06 is the very latest version of the "Gamers Benchmark" from FutureMark. The newest version of 3DMark expands on the tests in 3DMark05 by adding graphical effects using Shader Model 3.0 and HDR (High Dynamic Range lighting) which will push even the best DX9 graphics cards to the extremes.3DMark06 also focuses on not just the GPU but the CPU using the AGEIA PhysX software physics library to effectively test single and Dual Core processors.
The RD600 also appears to like the synthetic testing more than the competition.
Benchmarks - PREYPREYVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.2Timedemo or Level Used:
HardwareOC TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.humanhead.com Product Homepage: http://www.prey.comBuy It Here
PREY is one of the newest games to be added to our benchmark line-up. It is based off the Doom 3 engine and offers stunning graphics passing what we've seen in Quake 4 and does put quite a lot of strain on our test systems.
Prey only just gives DFI the win, even when overclocked it's not that much faster than the nVidia board.
Benchmarks - Far CryFar CryVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.3Timedemo or Level Used:
Benchemall DefaultDeveloper Homepage: http://www.crytek.comProduct Homepage: http://www.farcrygame.comBuy It Here
While Far Cry is now one of our older benchmarking games, it is still able to put pressure on most computers systems as it is able to utilize all parts of the system. Utilizing PS2.0 technology with the latest versions supporting Shader Model 3.0 with DX9c and offering an exceptional visual experience, there is no denying that even some of the faster graphics cards get a bit of a workout.
Far Cry with the higher FSB of the DFI board manages to salvage another win here.
Benchmarks - Crossfire TestsCrossfire Tests
We wanted to see if there was any difference between the DFI RD600 chipset and the Intel P965 chipset when it comes to Crossfire setups.We used Prey at both 1024x768 and 1600x1200 with two Radeon 1950Pro's from MSI to see if there was any difference. Since the nVidia board cannot run Crossfire (just SLI) it's eliminated from this test.
The DFI board due to its twin x8 slots rather than a x16 and x4 slot setup of the P965 manages to just scrape ahead.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
It's certainly clear that there is a new chipset player on the Core 2 field and both nVidia and Intel better look out. The performance figures for the first released RD600 chipset are amazing, its overclocking is incredible, and its feature set is quite impressive. It's easily the best chipset we have seen designed by the folks at ATI in terms of not just performance and overclocking but also features.ATI certainly did take its time though with regards to releasing this chipset. Rumours flew around for at least half a year in 2006 about the RD600, and the AMD and ATI merger didn't do much for its publicity, especially for Intel-fearing companies. Who wants to make a motherboard using a chipset from AMD for an Intel processor and risk making Intel annoyed at them? DFI had the balls and did it and did it well, too.DFI for its first Crossfire 3200 Intel motherboard has done a great job, while there is a bit of room for improvement, the first release is incredible in terms of firstly overclocking which is the best we have seen in our labs from any Core 2 motherboard to date and performance and features are also A grade. And as far as pricing goes, it should cost around $250 USD in most regions which makes it about the same as most regular nForce 680i motherboard, minus of course the ASUS Striker.All we can hope is to see some more BIOS updates allowing higher FSB's rather than having to cheat by using PLL overrides and software clock gens. Nevertheless, DFI are likely going to sell a lot of these motherboards to overclockers and if you are one of those people who like taking things to the extreme, you'll have plenty of fun tinkering with this motherboard as it was made for you guys!- Pros
First RD600 motherboardUltra overclocking friendly (best Core 2 board we have tested so far)Very good performance even at stockCrossfire and Quad Core supportFull featured layout with overclockers in mindShould cost about the same as most 680i boards (around $250 USD)- ConsOnly
goes to 511Mhz FSB - need to tweak setting or use softclock gen to run higherNot cheap but not overly expensive eitherRating - 9.5 out of 10 and TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Editor's Choice Award!