AMD Athlon 64 has now taken the back seat in the CPU war for the most powerful CPU per watt environment. Once the king of the mountain in many aspects, AMD has now had to hand this title over to Intel once again with the Core architecture really making a big name for itself. While not able to technically challenge the Core 2 for highest scores in the performance benchmarks, AMD's line-up of Athlon processors are still a great for their dollar value. AMD still holds the crown for cheapest high-end desktop CPU and there are many chipsets available to support the K8 architecture, most notably coming from nVidia.nVidia has been the biggest success story of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. First taking on 3DFX for the most popular and powerful 3D graphics processor, they now have a strong platform to build on, that being the nForce chipset range for both AMD and Intel processors.The highest offering from nVidia for AMD Athlon K8 is the nForce 590SLI boasting dual full-speed PCI Express x16 slots, advanced RAID features and overclocking that manages to score really high for the AMD platform. nVidia did announce the upcoming nForce 680a chipset and we are interested to see what that will bring but we have heard anything about motherboards based on this chipset as yet.Today we are looking at the nForce 590SLI chipset in a motherboard from EPoX, one of the biggest AMD supporters since the K7 era. EPoX back in the day made some of the best overclocking motherboards that money could buy but recently fell off the horse a little recently but is it time for them to make a comeback with their fancy Optimus EP-AF590 SLI2 Motherboard?Let's continue on and see what the folks at EPoX have to offer!
SpecificationsSpecifications of the EPoX Optimus AF590 SLI2CPU
Supports All AMD K8 AM2 Series CPUChipset
nVidia nForce 590SLInForce 590SLI SPP NorthbridgenForce MCP590 SouthbridgeHyper Transport @ 2GHzSystem Memory
4 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM SocketsSupports DDR2-400/533/667/800MHz64/128Bit Dual ChannelSupports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)Bus Frequency
200MHz Internal2000MT/s ExternalHyper Transport Interconnect Expansion Slots
2 PCI Express x162 PCI Express x12 PCIConnectivity
2 Parallel ATA port supporting 4 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)1 Serial Ports 1 Parallel Port6 Stereo Audio Ports1 SPDIF RCA Port1 SPDIF Toslink Port
In the BoxPackage and Contents
First off as always we look at the package that the board is shipped in. EPoX usually are known for the plainer package options for their boards and the Optimus is no different. The front of the box is simply black with the Optimus logo and the model number of the board, nothing else apart from the EPoX logo.
The back of the box is a little different. There is a bit more info on the back about the board as well as a full colour picture. This is what we really enjoy to see, as there is really no questions over what the board inside looks like and what you get when you are at your local PC shop.
EPoX does provide a good user manual with their boards. Inside you get a full detailed description of the board, its technical specs, info on connecting headers and cables as well as BIOS and included software settings.
Cable bundles are also very important - if you're going to buy a board with lots of expansion headers, you want to have all of the required cables included, rather than having to go buy extras which can slowly add up in the price department. EPoX does provide a few cables in its box but not the full 100%. Out of the total 8 SATA ports onboard only 6 SATA cables are included, same with the IDE situation, 2 IDE ports, 1 IDE cable. Since there is only 1 FDD port, only 1 FDD cable is needed and it's provided. It's not a bad effort in this department but the situation could have been improved by including ALL
Again out of the 3 extra USB headers, only a single two port USB header bracket is included. Since the EPoX board isn't a standard ATX port layout board EPoX has included an I/O shield.
Lastly we come to the SLI Bridge. Since the boards SLI graphics ports are further apart than pervious boards, a new SLI bridge is supplied. The bridge is a PCB based one (not flexible) with SLI connectors at each end. While a flexible bridge is more preferable, this setup isn't really that bad.
Unfortunately EPoX has made a few design mistakes from an enthusiast point of view. The board uses the full ATX size limit of 30x25cm; EPoX went with a dark brown/black PCB in the colour department. The bad points in the layout come in for form of the power connector placement and the FDD port. EPoX have been known to place their 20/24 pin power connectors between the Northbridge and the I/O ports. This location is definitely not the place to put them, as it requires you to route the large cable around and over the CPU heatsink - they have again make the same mistake here.The 4/8 pin combo power connector is located between the PS2 ports and the voltage regulators, well out of the way of obstructing vital airflow. The FDD port on the other hand is right at the bottom of the board, another pet hate of ours for this ports placement.
The CPU area is well clear of any large capacitors that could interfere with the installation of large aftermarket heatsinks. As far as power requirements are concerned, the CPU gets its power from a 4 phase voltage regulation system.
The rear I/O ports give you 2 PS2 ports, 1 Serial and 1 Parallel port which ends the legacy port section. For the Audio side there are 6 3.5mm stereo audio ports along with 2 SPDIF ports, 1 RCA and 1 Toslink. We've also got a couple RJ45 LAN ports for the dual gigabit Ethernet and 4 USB ports that make the I/O ports up.
EPoX has done a good job on the expansion slot side of the equation. Being based on nVidia's nForce 590 SLI chipset, there are a total of 32 PCI Express lanes dedicated to graphics alone. On the board there are a couple of PCI Express x16 slots, one red and one yellow. The red slot is connected to the 590SLI SPP Northbridge. The Northbridge itself is simply a PCI Express to Hyper Transport bridge chip; this is all this chip was designed for. The yellow PCI Express x16 slot is connected to the MCP590 Southbridge chip which also contains the remaining PCI Express lanes, SATA ports, sound system and the extra features of the platform.Next there are 2 PCI Express x1 slots that sit between the 2 PCI Express x16 slots for any other PCI Express devices such as the new Creative Audigy X-Fi PCI-E and TV Tuners that are now starting to show up on the market. Lastly there are 2 red PCI slots for legacy cards like modem as well as the older sound cards.
Now down to the last of the board we have the extra features. While 6 SATA ports are enough these days for most people, EPoX has added in an extra 2 SATA ports and an extra PATA port though the JMicron PCI Express controller chip.One thing that impressed us was the cooler that was on the Southbridge chipset. While it might seem a little over the top, the Southbridge just get hot and why not use something fancy that looks good while doing the job of cooling. It's not completely silent which is a shame considering many companies have now moved to heat pipe cooling solutions but it's not by any means loud, either.
BIOS and OverclockingBIOS
Now we get down to where the nitty gritty is, the BIOS. Award version 6 is the BIOS of choice that EPoX uses for its boards, and it hasn't changed for the Optimus. The Overclocking features are located under the Power BIOS Features Section as well as the Advanced chipset features.
Under the Power BIOS Features menu are the major features for the overclocking, advanced chipset features contains the Hyper Transport divider controls.FrequenciesCPU Frequency
: 100MHz to 500MHz in 0.02MHz incrementsPCI Express Bus (NB)
: 100MHz to 200MHz in 1MHz increments or Hyperclock GPUPCI Express Bus (SB)
: 100MHz to 200MHz in 1MHz increments or Hyperclock GPUReal Time Turbo Mode
: +0MHz to +31Mhz in +1MHz incrementsCPU Clock Ratio
: x4 to CPU Max Supported in +x1 incrementsVoltagesCPU Voltage
: -0.2v to +0.35v in 0.025v incrementsNB Voltage
: 1.2v to 1.55v in 0.025v incrementsSB voltage
: 1.5v to 1.85v in 0.025v incrementsNB/SB HT Voltage
: 1.3v to 1.5v in 0.025v incrementsDIMM voltage
: 1.8v to 2.5v in 0.025v incrementsVTT Voltage
: 1.2v to 1.55v in 0.025v increments1.5VSB Voltage
: 1.5v to 1.8v in 0.1v incrementsOverclocking
The overclocking of the Optimus was quite impressive.We managed to get it to 364MHz FSB with a multiplier of 6x (2184MHz), with CPU voltage at 1.35v, Northbridge voltage at 1.45v, Southbridge voltage at 1.7v, DIMM voltage at 2.2v, VTT at 1.55v and the Hyper Transport link speed at 3x.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 Memory PerformanceTest System SetupProcessor
: AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+Memory
: 2x 1GB DDR2-1066 Corsair (Supplied by Corsair
: 500GB Seagate 7200.9 SATA (Supplied by Seagate
: MSI Radeon X1950 Pro in Crossfire (Supplied by MSI
: Gigabyte Neon K8 (Supplied by Gigabyte
: Microsoft Windows XP SP2Drivers
: nForce Platform Driver 9.35, ATI Catalyst 7.1 and DX9cOur test system consists of the nForce 590 SLI EPoX and the MSI K9N SLI Platinum which is based on the nForce 570SLI chipset. We ran the systems at stock speeds as well as overclocked.Technically the only differences between the 570SLI and 590SLI chipsets is that the 590SLI uses dual full-speed PCI Express graphics slots and the 570SLI uses half speed - hence, 590SLI might see some advantage in games but probably not that much.At overclocked speeds the MSI motherboard was operating at 342MHz FSB with a multiplier of 6x providing a CPU clock speed of 2052MHz and the EPoX motherboard was operating at 364MHz FSB with a multiplier of 6x providing a CPU clock speed of 2184MHz.Let's get the testing under way!EVEREST Ultimate EditionVersion and / or Patch Used:
2006Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.comBuy It Here
EVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems.
At stock speeds there is barely any difference in memory speeds due to the memory controller being CPU based rather than chipset based. It's only when the clock speeds kick up we see the memory scores go in EPoX's favour.
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.
Again at stock there is very little difference in the two - it's only when the overclocking comes into the firing line that we see the EPoX motherboard take the lead.
Benchmarks - WorldBenchWorldBenchVersion and / or Patch Used:
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 18.104.22.168, 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 doesn't really benefit much on the AMD platform compared to the Intel platform that we have seen when the speed is increase; there is a few points difference, but nothing really stellar.Remember that lower scores are better here!
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere ElementsAdobe Premiere ElementsVersion 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.
When the clock speeds go up here the time to encode goes down giving the EPoX motherboard the upper hand.
Benchmarks - HDD PerformanceHD TachVersion and / or Patch Used:
3.0Developer Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.comProduct Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com/Public/index.php?request=HdTach