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Gigabyte 8KNXP Ultra 64 - a Workstation Wonder

By: Cameron Johnson | NVIDIA Chipset in Motherboards | Posted: Aug 11, 2004 4:00 am
TweakTown Rating: 7.5%Manufacturer: Gigabyte

Features of the 8KNXP Ultra 64


- Package and Contents



Gigabyte in their tradition of giving a good product package has once again done a fantastic job with the 8KNXP Ultra 64. Inside you get three user manuals, one for the motherboard itself, one for the Silicon Image Serial ATA RAID controller and one for the Adaptec Ultra320 SCSI RAID controller. Then comes the cables, with two serial ATA data and two Serial ATA power adapters with two dives per adapter give you a total of four usable Serial ATA drives out of the box. Along with this comes two IDE and one FDD cable as well as a seven port rounded 68pin SCSI cable. Ideal for your initial setup needs. Inside are two floppy disks, one for the Silicon Image controller for Windows 2000 and XP installs along with a Adaptec Ulta320 SCSI driver disk for installing Windows XP onto a SCSI drive. The driver CD included comes with all the drives needed for the E7210 chipset as well as the onboard peripherals, so no need to hunt around for extra drivers on the net.


- The Motherboard



The 8KXNP Ultra64 is based around the standard ATX format, so no need for a new case likes E-ATX or WTX. This also means that the power connectors remain the same, so power supplies designed for the desktop work perfectly.


The expansion slots are a mixed bag of desktop and server/workstation. One AGP 8x slot is included; however, it isn't a Pro slot, which we are used to seeing on workstation/server boards, which tends to put this motherboard towards the desktop users. There are three standard PCI slots for 33MHz PCI devices as well as two PCI-X slots supporting a maximum of 133MHz PCI-X devices, however, if you need more then three PCI slots, the PCI-X slots support 3.3v PCI 33MHz PCI cards without having to set any jumpers - that's just how versatile the motherboard is. PCI-X allows a maximum of 1.05GB/s shared between the three PCI-X links (the Ultra320 SCSI is on the PCI-X bus) so there is plenty of bandwidth available for all the devices to share. However, this is not where the bottleneck is, which we will come to shortly.


On the location side of things, Gigabyte still insists on placing the 4 pin power connector between the Northbridge heatsink and the I/O panel. We have commented about this many times but it seems that the message isn't getting through, while other enthusiast motherboard makers are getting the message, it still seems Gigabyte hasn't taken the hint. On the rest of the components, they are all in ideal locations.



The heart and soul of the 8KNXP is the E7210 or Canterwood ES chipset. This chipset has come out in order to replace its aging brother, the Granite Bay or E7205 chipset. The E7205 made its claim to fame for Intel as the very first Intel MCH to support Dual Channel memory, while only at 266MHz it provided a synchronous bus for the memory to CPU controller, allowing the memory to run in perfect sync with the FSB. Until the E7210, it still remained the main workstation chipset, meaning that 800MHz FSB Northwood and Prescott processors were not able to run on the Granite Bay, and server/workstation solutions would have to be replaced with desktop motherboards.


The E7210 changes all that. It is essentially an I875P Northbridge, however, ECC memory and parity are supported, unlike the I875P, allowing for error free memory operations at DDR-400 speeds. It also includes an asynchronous bus, allowing faster CPU's to run with slower memory. In addition to this, AGP 8x has been added to replace the 4x standard of the E7205 allowing 2.1GB/s between the AGP and MCH.


The Intel CSA bus also makes its appearance on this chipset, allowing for latency free Gigabit Ethernet to be used for servers and workstations without crowding the PCI or PCI-X buses.


To complement this, the FWE6300ESB ICH5-S Southbridge has been added, the "S" meaning Server. This Southbridge is essentially an ICH4 with added features. This Southbridge incorporates only four USB 2.0 ports into the Northbridge, as well as two Serial ATA ports supporting RAID 0 and 1, however, it isn't an Intel Serial ATA RAID controller but rather an imbedded Adaptec SATA RAID controller. Adaptec products have been given a great reputation in the server and workstation markets, to capitalise on this Intel has asked Adaptec to submit its Serial ATA RAID controller, which is integrated into the Southbridge. Since this Southbridge is aimed at servers, Intel has done away with the need to add a separate PCI-X bridge controller like the other server chipsets do, instead, it has been integrated into the Southbridge, allowing for a total solution all on the one chip. Added to this is an AC'97 Audio controller and all the other major features you expect to find on the Intel ICH series.


While this all sounds good in theory, there is one major drawback - the Intel Hub Architecture bus. Since the primary buses of the Northbridge remain unchanged from the I875P, the link between the ICH and the MCH is still limited to one 266MB/s channel, whereas other server chipsets tend to have multiple channels, or a wider single channel. This 266MB/s must do the entire roll of transferring all the data between the ICH and MCH, when the SCSI controller and SATA controllers are in full swing, it does tend to get overcrowded on the tiny bus.



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