Leadtek K7N420DA - IntroductionIntroduction
Leadtek is more well known for their Video card line than motherboards. In fact, I doubt that I have really ever seen one out there. Though I haven't looked hard, something like this would stand out. Leadtek has recently entered the motherboard domain with a select few products.Leadtek have only made three boards of late for the AMD Athlon products. First made was the Winfast 7350KDA that was based on the SiS 735 chipset, a very impressive chipset I must say and a wise choice on their part. The other two Athlon motherboards are the K7N415DA and the K7N420DA, the latter, which we are reviewing today. The K7N415DA is based on nVidia's nForce 415 chipset and the K7N420DA is based on the original nForce 420D chipset. In my personal opinion, I believe the use of nForce chipsets by motherboard manufacturers is more of a relations issue than a better product issue. With test results coming out showing that the nForce is rather under-powered, especially when compared to KT333 and even KT266A, why would anyone choose to use nForce?This is most likely because Leadtek are prime buyers of nVidia's video chipsets, and trying to push the nForce might curry some favors from nVidia. After all, look at Gigabyte, DFI and Biostar. They aren't doing any video cards and they have no nForce boards because of its slack performance. We have seen in the past that boards based on the nForce chipsets display somewhat less than stellar performance. Will this be the case here? Let's find out.
Leadtek K7N420DA - SpecificationsSpecifications
-CPUSupports AMD Athlon 600MHz ~ 1.4GHz @ 200MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon 1.0GHz ~ 1.4GHz @ 266MHz FSBSupports AMD Athlon XP 1500+ ~ 2100+ @ 266MHz FSBSupports AMD Duron 600MHz ~ 1.3GHz @ 200MHz FSB- ChipsetnVidia nForce 420DnVidia IGP128D NorthbridgenVidia MCP-D SouthbridgeHyperTransport @ 800MB/s- Bus Frequency100/133MHz Internal 200/266MHz ExternalAlpha EV6- Expansion Slots1 AGP 4x (1.5v Only)4 PCI1 ACR- Expansion Ports1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port6 USB 1.1 Ports (2 rear accessible, 4 via expansion bracket)1 Serial Ports1 VGA Port1Parallel Port3 Audio Ports1 Game Port- Special FeaturesBIOS overclocking control of FSB, Vcore, MultipliersLAN Controller
Leadtek K7N420DA - FeaturesFeaturesLayout
The layout of the Winfast K7N420DA is rather disappointing. You only get a 1/4/1 (AGP/PCI/Riser) layout. Even with the onboard peripherals that come with the board, 4 PCI slots just aren't going to cut it. Just think, adding in a RAID, second NIC, USB 2.0 Controller card or Firewire card and you're down 2-3 slots. The ACR slot is useless since the board has onboard 6ch audio so this space is wasted where another PCI slot could have gone.Chipset
Powering the K7N420DA is the nForce 420D Northbridge Controller. This chipset before its release was the most talked about chipset since the KX133. This chipset, according to sources and hardware fanatics, was supposed to revolutionize AMD Athlon systems. This was because of the 128-bit memory controller built into the 128IGP-D Northbridge. When released, we soon found out that even though the memory controller in 128-bit mode delivering upwards of 4.2GB/s bandwidth, the AMD Athlon processor would only use 2.1GB/s max for it's interface. This made the extra memory performance totally useless. The IGP128-D also integrated nVidia's Geforce2 MX video controller. This also was supposed to revolutionize Integrated PC's with a fast onboard video solution, however, due to its SMA with the system memory for the video card, it turned out quite less than stellar.Coupled with the MCP-D Southbridge you get a standard ATA-100 IDE controller which proved to be one of the fastest in its time. Also with the MCP-D you get 6ch Dolby Certified Surround sound via AC'97 audio. This chip was the best AC'97 audio ever release and still carries quite a bit of respect. This Southbridge would have been a great hybrid Southbridge, but SiS, VIA and AMD didn't use HyperTransport for the interconnect so this Southbridge only got used by a chipset with a bad reputation.Dolby Audio
As mentioned above, the MCP-D allows for Dolby Digital Surround decoding. This means that the MCP-D does the audio signal processing from the Dolby source (being DVD in this case) and converts the signal to either 6 channel Analogue outputs as provided by the external brackets for the 2 front, 2 rear speaker and the Center and Sub channels, or it can be sent directly to the Coaxial port for connection to other Dolby devices such as stereo players.nForce LAN: This is actually the best part of the nForce
Another interesting feature of the MCP-D is the ACR link to the LAN controller. The chip above is nVidia's own LAN controller chip so Windows does detect it as nVidia LAN rather than either Realtek or SiS LAN. This controller was actually one of the best I have ever used. When running my DSL modem this card created less lag packets than any other I have used so far. One good step for nVidia.Overclocking
Leadtek has added some, but very few overclocking features to their motherboard. Using an Award BIOS, Leadtek has added its own sub-menu called X-BIOS-II. This is where you will find the overclocking controls for the board. The options are pretty plain and simple with no hardcore overclocking in mind.First off you get the FSB adjustments. Unlike many boards out there, this board does not allow 1MHz increments. You are given a set amount of FSB speeds and that's it. These speeds are 100MHz, 112MHz, 120MHz, 127MHz, 133MHz, 140MHz, 147MHz, 150MHz. That's is. Pretty lackluster here.Next you get your voltage control for the CPU. Again you get limited control. Voltage is settable from CPU default to 0.125v of normal making your maximum setting when using Athlon XP's at 1.85v Next you get AGP voltage. This is settable from 1.5v to 1.7v in 0.1v steps. DDR Voltage is also adjustable. You get the same options like the AGP voltage, 2.5v to 2.7v in 0.1v increments. This does help when running 128-bit mode.Overclocking our board, we found that running 150MHz was impossible. The onboard systems became too unstable and data corruption across the IDE channels was huge. 140MHz was the absolute maximum we could get to run with any stability.
Leadtek K7N420DA - Benchmarks - Test System and SandraBenchmarksTest SystemProcessor
: AMD Athlon XP 1600+Memory
: 2x 256MB DDR-333 Kingmax (512MB)Video Card
: Leadtek GeForce3 Ti500 UltraHard Disk
: Seagate Barracuda ATA-3 UDMA 100 7200RPM Drivers
: nVidia Detonator v28.32Software Used
: SiSoft Sandra 2002, 3DMark2000, 3DMark2001SE, PCMark 2002 Pro, SysMark 2002, Winstone 2001, Quake III Arena, Aquanox, Jedi Knight II, Max Payne, DronezMark, Star Trek Voyager Elite Force.Synthetic System BenchmarksSandra 2002
Sisoft Sandra (the S
iagnostic and R
ssistant) 2002 is a synthetic windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems. We use this to test the three primary systems: CPU Raw Performance, CPU Multimedia Execution Performance and Memory Bandwidth. This is all synthetic but still shows what can be accomplished.
The first two tests are simple. As expected, these two should almost be identical. If not, then there is a serious optimization path problem between the CPU and the Northbridge.The Memory Bandwidth, on the other hand, is a totally different story. The Leadtek Motherboard, despite having a maximum theoretical throughput of 4.2GB/s, barely breaks it past 1.4GB/s. Compared to the DDR-333 KT333 chipset, you can see that nVidia has done a terrible job on the memory performance. It gets even worse when we used integrated graphics.
Leadtek K7N420DA - Benchmarks - System ProductivityReal World System ProductivitySysMark 2002
SysMark 2002 is a simulated system performance benchmark using real installed applications, thus making it a real word benchmark. SysMark 2002 incorporates the following Internet Content Creation and Office Productivity applications: Office Productivity includes Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Microsoft Access 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred v.5, WinZip 8.0 and McAfee Virus Scan 5.13. Internet Content Generation includes Adobe Photoshop 6.01, Adobe Premiere 6.0, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 7.1, Macromedia Dreamweaver 4 and Macromedia Flash 5.
While we expected to see the nForce perform better in the Business part, the nForce is certainly a disappointment in that area. Testing shows that it's not Leadtek's fault but rather poor design on the nForce chipset as the MSI nForce board also suffered the same problems. In the Internet Content Creation part we see that the disappointment of the nForce continues. With its less than stellar memory controller it is getting left far behind.Winstone Business
Business Winstone tests your computer's word processing, spreadsheet and presentation application ability using Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Both Content Creation and Business Winstone 2001 give you great examples of real-world performance.
Again, the nForce boards show they have not been fully optimized. This is poor quality on nVidia's part.Winstone Content Creation
Content Creation tests your computer's ability to create and manipulate images, webpages etc using real-world programs such as Photoshop and Dreamweaver, then gives you an overall score.
Again very disappointing, even for nVidia. We come to expect more from nVidia. Lets pray the next chipset holds more towards better performance.
Leadtek K7N420DA - Benchmarks - MadOnionSynthetic 3D and System Benchmarks3DMark2000
3DMark2000 is a synthetic Direct3D benchmark that is compatible with DirectX 7. It takes full advantage of the Geforce2, ATi Radeon and DirectX 7 enhancements. 3DMark2000 has become one of the world's most used benchmark utilities.
Here we see the Leadtek board falter compared to KT266A and KT333. Poor memory performance accounts for this.3DMark2001 SE
3DMark2001 SE is the latest installment in 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.
Same trend in 2001 as in 2000. The poor memory performance of the nForce makes the Leadtek take the back seat to the VIA Athlon masters.PCMark2002 Pro
PCMark2002 is a completely new, 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. PCMark2002 consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark2002 also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.
Here we see that PCMark2002 shows just how bad the memory performance really is. It gets even worse when using the onboard GF2MX video controller.
Leadtek K7N420DA - Benchmarks - OpenGLReal-World OpenGL BenchmarksQuake III Arena
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 range of different products.
Here we get the real-world 3D picture of the Leadtek board based on the nForce chipset compared to the other AMD platform leaders. Using external graphics does give reasonable performance, but using the onboard graphics is totally out of the question.Star Trek Voyager
Star Trek Voyager is a real-world OpenGL benchmark. Based on the Quake III Arena engine, this game is a OpenGL master utilizing DirectX 8. We also apply the new Opt3D patch to allow for the use of Hardware T&L's use as well as new optimizations for AMD Athlon XP and Pentium 4 SSE2.
Again, the nForce powered Leadtek motherboard falls well behind the pack.This is getting to be a very bad habit.Jedi Knight II
Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is a newly released OpenGL game that many have been waiting for. It has much improved graphics over its predecessor. It fully supports advanced shaders as well as very high texture resolutions and effects. There is one demo included in the multi-player section that is good for benchmarking use. In order to enable the benchmarking mode, you have to make a shortcut to the jk2mp.exe program located in the GameData folder of Jedi Knight 2. You have to put the switch "+set sv_cheats1" (no quotes) at the end of the line in the Target Area so that it looks like this: "C:Star Wars JK II Jedi OutcastGameDatajk2mp.exe" +set sv_cheats 1. The demo file used is jk2ffa.
Jedi Knight II really shows just how much the Leadtek board falls behind. Jedi Knight II is 3D accelerator dependent and those accelerators depend on good memory throughput.
Leadtek K7N420DA - Benchmarks - Direct3DReal-World Direct3D BenchmarksMax Payne
Max Payne is a new generation DirectX 7/8 game. This game is based on Hardware T&L advancements as well as many other features of the Intel Pentium 4 and Athlon XP.
Max Payne is a very intense game that stresses the entire system. If there is a slow spot in any part this game, it finds it. nForce once again lets the Leadtek motherboard down.Aquanox
Aquanox is one of the latest installments to our benchmark software. This game is based heavily on DirectX 8 and 8.1 advancements and is designed to stress video cards to their ultimate limit. In all, the best D3D benchmark to date.
Aquanox is one of the best games to date for benchmarking. This game is totally punishing on the entire system. Like Max Payne, if even one of the critical spots has a problem, it takes the entire system down.DroneZmark
DronezMark is a benchmarking demo program based on the DroneZ 3D engine. Thus, this demo runs on DX8.1 commands and is optimized for Pentium 4 SSE2 and AMD Athlon 3DNow Professional technologies.
At the end of our benchmark software tests we see that the nForce has gained no ground.
Leadtek K7N420DA - ConclusionConclusion
Leadtek's design of the K7N420-DA does show that they are interested in entering the motherboard arena. However, equipping their flagship with the nVidia nForce chipset is total suicide for this. nForce has proven in the past to be a dismal failure and this one is no exception. The onboard video system is less than optimized, and even an SiS 650 video compared to this is much more appealing.The 128-bit memory controller adds no real advantage over the DDR-266 controller that VIA has built into their KT266A chipset. The overclocking of the nForce boards are well below standard and achieving high FSB speeds with this chipset is not possible. This is in large part due to the 128-bit memory controller being very fussy with the memory timings. One missed cycle and it's crash time!Leadtek needs to take a good, hard look at their next motherboard for the PC arena, as this one failed to impress us.- Pros
StableOnboard Graphics- Cons
Graphics are slow128-bit memory controller give no advantagePoor overclockingNo RAID or USB 2.0 controllers.Rating - 6.5/10