DFI nForce 2 - IntroductionIntroduction
DFI established its roots in His-Chih City Taiwan in 1981. Since then DFI has had its interests mostly in OEM and cost affective motherboard segments. It has only been in the last 6 months that DFI has waded into the hardcore user's motherboards, and even their first attempts showed DFI still had a long way to go in its dealing with overclocking and end users requirements for hardcore motherboards.As of late, DFI has put their reputation on the line with a bold shove to the overclockers market. Naming these new and adventurous boards the "Lanparty" series, they are set to bring speed, functionality and style to the motherboard sector, while boosting DFI's reputation as a motherboard company not to be reckoned with.We recently looked at one of DFI's new Lanparty boards, the 875P Canterwood Lanparty motherboard. This scored very favorably on our list of boards. Today we take a look at their high-end offering for the AMD Athlon XP range of CPU's based on the nForce2 400 Ultra SPP chipset. So come with us as we have a good look at the newest DFI motherboard to hit the market.
DFI nForce 2 - SpecificationsSpecifications of the DFI NFII LanpartyCPU
Supports AMD Athlon 600Mhz ~ 1.4Ghz Socket A (200FSB)Supports AMD Athlon 1.0Ghz ~ 1.4Ghz Socket A (266FSB)Supports AMD Athlon XP 1600+ ~ 2800+ Socket A (266/333FSB)Supports AMD Athlon XP 3000+ ~ 3200+ Socket A (333/400FSB)Supports AMD Duron 600Mhz ~ 1.6Ghz Socket A (266FSB)Chipset
nVidia nForce2 Ultra nForce 2 Ultra SSP NorthbridgenForce 2 MCP-T SouthbridgeAMD Hypertransport Interconnect @ 800MB/sBus Frequency
100/133/166/200MHz Internal200/266/333/400MHz ExternalAlpha EV6 BusExpansion Slots
1 AGP 4/8x5 PCIExpansion Ports
1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port6 USB 2.0 Ports (4 rear accessible, 4 via expansion bracket)3 Firewire Ports (via expansion bracket)2 Serial Ports 1 Parallel Port3 Stereo Audio Ports 1 Game Port (via expansion bracket)Special Features
BIOS overclocking control of FSB, voltages.Dual 10/100 EthernetAgree FirewireHighpoint HPT372N RAID
DFI nForce 2 - Features - Package and ContentsFeatures of the DFI NFII Lanparty
First thing you will notice is the size of the box. Measuring 375x386x120mm, we first thought when this package arrived, "This must have something good inside". When you first crack open the box, you're greeted with an assortment of extras. Once you manage to get it all out of the box, you get to see the actual motherboard for the first time.After removing the tray holding the motherboard, you get your first look at what DFI have in store for this very attractive motherboard. First off we see the cable set for the motherboard itself. This includes two Firewire port brackets, SPDIF audio bracket, game port bracket and one Serial ATA cable.
First off in the accessories we look at the FrontX. FrontX is DFI's front panel access system for user's access to USB, Firewire and audio ports at the front of your case. This allows the maximum expansion without sacrificing front panel access. The FrontX fits in to a standard 5.25 inch drive bay. As standard, DFI includes two stereo ports for headphones and mic in, one 6 pin Firewire port and two USB ports. DFI allows for future access to extra devices with two mini ports and one full size FrontX port still available for future use.
Next we look at the cables for the motherboard. DFI is amongst the few manufacturers to supply rounded IDE and FDD cables. These cables are extremely long for use in full tower cases. Another neat feature is these cables are UV reactive. This means if you have UV black light in your PC case, these cables will glow green under them, along with the motherboard itself. While this serves no technical advantage, it is definitely a great option for case modders.
Lastly we look at the PC Transpo. Being a Lanparty
product by name also means that it's Lanparty by nature. PC Transpo is a carry strap for your PC. This unit wraps around a standard Midi Tower case with pouches in the sides for your Keyboard, mouse and various other cables you will need to transport to a LAN event - In all a great addition for the hardcore Lan'er.Software wise, DFI provides you with what you will need in order to install your Windows OS. DFI doesn't provide any Linux support out of the box like VIA does with its EPIA boards but drivers for Linux are out there. Instruction wise, the included user manual is very large with Chinese, German and English instructions with very detailed setup information, so even the newest of PC users can setup the NFII Lanparty with ease.
DFI nForce 2 - Features - The Board and OverclockingFeatures of the NFII Lanparty Continued
Now that we have looked at what you get with the motherboard, it's time to take a look at the motherboard itself. DFI uses a standard sized nForce2 PCB in an extreme dark brown tone, which looks good in a window PC. One AGP slot is provided supporting 4x or 8x transfer protocols and 5 PCI slots for your expansion needs. Like the rounded cables, the motherboard itself also has some UV reactive parts. These include the three DIMM slots, the AGP/PCI slots and the IDE and FDD controller ports. On the placement side of the equation, DFI have done a very good job with only a couple flaws. Placement of the IDE and FDD connectors are well out of the way behind the DIMM socket keeping the cables out of the air flow path. Power connectors are 50/50 in placement. The 20 pin ATX connector is placed between the memory and the FDD connector, well out of the path of the cool air supply to the CPU and Northbridge heatsinks. The 4 in connector is slightly in a bad spot if you have short power cables. The 4 pin connector is located behind the I/O backpanel. This means that if the cables for the 4 pin connector are short they may drape across the CPU heatsink.
Now we have covered the placement it's time to have a look at the components. nForce 2 is a hot running chip from the beginning, we would have liked to see an active solution, but DFI have gone for stealth with a tall passive cooling solution installed on the Northbridge. While running hot, it still managed to stay within specs and was able to overclock without any heat issues, this is a tribute to nVidia and DFI with heat management. Under the heatsink is the new nForce2 Ultra 400 SPP Northbridge. This new revision simply adds 400MHz FSB support to the already popular nForce2 SPP controller. The Southbridge is the nForce2 MCP-T version. This is the most advanced Southbridge from nVidia to date. This allows for AC-3 Dolby Digital sound system, Dual Ethernet, Firewire and ATA-133 IDE controller all within a small package.
RAID is now of one of the oldest additions to motherboards, yet still sought after. DFI has added the newest chip from Highpoint to the Lanparty, the HPT372N. This chip allows Dual Parallel ATA IDE ports supporting a maximum of 4 IDE devices. This new chipset also support RAID 15, a new RAID standard for mirroring and striping at the same time. Since the nForce2 MCP-T doesn't have native Serial ATA support, a Marvel Parallel to Serial ATA converter has been placed on the Primary channel to allow one Serial ATA port. When enabled, the Primary IDE channel on the HPT327N controller is disabled and routed to the Serial ATA port.
Since DFI was gracious enough to use the MCP-T version of the nForce2 Southbridge, Firewire ports come built in, all that is needed is a PHY interconnect to allow bridging access. The Agree PHY is used for this function allowing three Firewire ports: two are via an expansion bracket that slots into a backpanel, the other one is front accessible via the FrontX panel.
This is one of the few motherboards we have seen with Dual Ethernet systems. One of the other major features of the MCP-T is two Ethernet controllers, one nVidia and one 3Com. The nVidia Ethernet controller is used with a Realtek PHY connector. The second Ethernet controller isn't the 3Com controller but a PCI driven Realtek RTL8100BL controller, which has proven to be a great PCI solution. This is a great feature of the motherboard as you can use one Ethernet port for dedicated modem access and one for LAN without having to re-configure the port for Broadband or LAN.
Finally, we move onto the audio. The MCP-T also comes with its legendary Dolby Digital APU system. The Realtek ACL655 is used to bridge the Stereo ports to the APU engine. The ACL655 also uses a unique feature that can detect which speakers are plugged into each port; this means if you accidentally plug the front speakers into the center/sub port, the codec will automatically switch the port access over. Overclocking
This is one field that DFI has lacked in throughout their most recent motherboards. This time R&D has done a much better job on the overclocking options.First off we look at the FSB speeds available. DFI has allowed for FSB selections from 100MHz up to 300MHz in 1MHz increments. This is a far better cry from the past DFI motherboards that have only given limited bus speed options.AGP and PCI bus speeds are also user selectable. While you can only change the AGP ratio, it changes the PCI ratio in accordance. You can set your AGP speed from 50MHz up to 100MHz in 1MHz increments. Locking the AGP to 66Mhz will keep the AGP and PCI within specifications and allows for graphics and PCI stability when pushing the CPU and memory components to the limit. Voltages are somewhat limiting but should be enough for a very reasonable overclocking experience. You can set your CPU voltage from default up to 1.85v in 0.025v increments. DRAM voltage can be changed from 2.5v up to 2.7v in 0.1v increments, chipset voltage can be changed from 1.5v up to 1.9v. The chipset voltage is the AGP voltage and I/O voltage of the chipset interface.
DFI nForce 2 - Benchmarks - Test System Setup and Sandra 2003 MAX3Test System SetupProcessor
: AMD Athlon XP 2500+ (333MHz FSB) (Supplied by Altech Computers AustraliaMemory
: 2x 256MB DDR-400 Kingmax (Supplied by Kingmax AustraliaHard Disk
: Western Digital WD80 7200RPM (Supplied by TechbuyGraphics Card
: ATI Radeon 9700 Pro (Supplied by ATIDrivers
: ATI Catalyst 3.6Operating System
: Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP1For your information, we put the DFI motherboard up against Gigabyte's 7NNXP and Shuttle AN35-400 which are both based on the nForce2 Ultra.SiSoft Sandra 2003 MAX3
SiSoft Sandra (the S
iagnostic and R
eporting Assistant) MAX3 is a synthetic windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
The DFI Lanparty falls slightly behind on CPU optimizations but memory timings are slightly better.
DFI nForce 2 - Benchmarks - 3DMark2001SE3DMark2001SE
3DMark 2001 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.
3DMark2001SE shows at lower resolutions all are equal, when the push comes at higher resolutions the Lanparty just falls behind, though not by much.
DFI nForce 2 - Benchmarks - 3DMark033DMark03
3DMark 20003 is the latest instalment in the popular 3DMark series. By combining DirectX 9 support with completely new graphics (including the GeForce FX and ATI Radeon 9800), it continues to provide benchmark results that empower you to make informed hardware assessments.
Again, at lower resolutions the motherboards are neck and neck; however, being more intense, 3DMark03 shows a bigger gap between the two motherboards with DFI falling behind again.
DFI nForce 2 - Benchmarks - PCMark2002PCMark2002
PCMark2002 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. 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.
In the CPU test we see the DFI again falling behind, in the Memory test though, the DFI wins with the extra tweaks and more powerful BIOS.
DFI nForce 2 - Benchmarks - Code CreaturesCode Creatures
Code Creatures is a Synthetic benchmark based on Direct X 8 which gives users the chance to see another highly involved benchmark program. Focusing on 2 elements Grass and Water video cards are stressed to the limit resulting in quite low scoring benchmarks. Users get to see a more intensive side of DirectX 8 thanks to the engine behind Code Creatures.
Here we see the three boards in both instances just about neck and neck.
DFI nForce 2 - Benchmarks - Comanche 4Comanche 4
Comanche 4 is a helicopter simulation using the DirectX 8.1 graphics interface. It is used to test the memory and 3D sub systems of a motherboard and video processor. Any weaknesses will show up through this intensive benchmark.
Comanche 4 gives a slight FPS advantage to the DFI Lanparty.
DFI nForce 2 - Benchmarks - Quake 3 ArenaQuake 3 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 wide range of different products. Quake III is getting very old, but is still the best way of testing video and PC systems for any instabilities and best performance.
Quake 3 gives the win to the Gigabyte board.
DFI nForce 2 - Benchmarks - Jedi Knight IIJedi Knight II
Jedi Knight II, Jedi Outcast is an 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.
Jedi Knight II puts the DFI Lanparty in second place.
DFI nForce 2 - Benchmarks - Unreal Tournament 2003Unreal Tournament 2003
Unreal Tournament 2003 continues the success that Unreal Tournament generated as an online game and benchmark. UT2003 pulls all of its weight on to the 3D and Memory subsystems, pushing graphics reality to the maximum is its game, and you need some serious power to gain playable scores with this game.
In the last of our tests the DFI Lanparty comes in second once again.
DFI nForce 2 - ConclusionConclusion
DFI's past motherboard offerings have been very plain, very little in features and overclocking. This time around, it is not the case. The DFI NFII Lanparty has brought together all that DFI has strived for in its overclockers market.DFI has provided in its NFII Lanparty series a great deal of useful features, especially designed for the avid Lan'er, as the name would suggest. Dual Ethernet comes highly recommended for users who need one connection for their broadband and one for the LAN events without interfering with each others settings, or if you wish, you can dual link into the hubs for 200MB/s transfers, which is harder to setup but possible especially under Windows XP. Addition of Serial ATA gives compatibility with upcoming Serial ATA drives, while it would be nice for Native support, nVidia doesn't support this yet.In all we were pleased with DFI's first real effort into the overclocker's realm with a great product and much promise shown from a company who dealt OEM most of its business life.- Pros
FastDual DDR SupportSerial ATADual EthernetLAN Carry systemFrontX front panel accessRespectable Overclocking- Cons
No active cooling on NorthbridgePlacement of 4 pin power could be betterRating - 9 / 10