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Intel Xeon 3GHz Noccona with ASUS NCL-DS Motherboard

By: Cameron Johnson | Motherboards in IT/Datacenter | Posted: Feb 1, 2005 5:00 am
TweakTown Rating: 9.0%Manufacturer: Intel and ASUS

The ASUS NCL-DS Server Motherboard



Now we get to part two of our review, the ASUS Dual Xeon motherboard. Designed around the E-ATX standard, you are going to find that putting this board into most ATX cases ain't going to work my friends. One of the reasons is the stud layouts. First off the mounting studs for the board are slightly off compared to the ATX standard and second is the CPU.


In order to avoid damage to the motherboard with the amount of weight two copper heatsinks add, the new Noccona CPU mounting system required that the heatsinks actually be screwed into mounting studs on the case itself. So unless you get an ATX case that can somehow fit E-ATX board in there, you may have to mod the case to put studs where the processors are located.


Expansion wise, you definitely have all that you need for a server environment. You have a total of 4 PCI-X slots running in a 64bit array at 133MHz which gives each slot an affective 1.06GB/s I/O. Next you have a PCI Express x8 slot; however, due to the limitations of the chipset and its PCI Express rails, the 8x slot only works in x4 mode but is still more than enough for a server environment. Last but not least you have a legacy 32bit PCI slot for older cards you may want to install into the system.


The layout is quite clean actually, considering there is a lot to pack onto the board. One thing that takes up a lot of room is the CPU voltage regulators. Each CPU has a separate 4 phase voltage supply, making a total of 8 phases onboard. Now I thought this was overkill until you remember that the Noccona is simply a Dual CPU version of the Pentium 4 Prescott core and considering just how power hungry the Prescott is 4 phases is just right.


You may notice that the board has 8 DIMM sockets. Since the EM64T has been added, the Noccona CPU can address memory above 4GB, giving it the same capabilities as the AMD Operon CPU. DDR-2 memory modules are provided on this board to allow a total max of 16GB of memory - in a server environment this will come in handy now the addressing issue has been fixed. The memory controller onboard is a 128bit unit, allowing a maximum of 6.4GB/s using DDR-2 400MHz modules, with the CPU now running a 800Mhz FSB which this means that the CPU and memory will be running synchronously, reducing a lot of the latencies the older 533FSB and 400FSB Xeon's had using asynchronous DDR technology.



Now we look at the fun stuff, the I/O controllers. The Northbridge used is the Intel E7520 MCH. This is the newest instalment of the server chipset for the Xeon CPU. Designed to run with either an 800MHz or a 533MHz FSB, the E7520 can support the latest Noccona CPU or the older Gallatin CPU. PCI Express being Intel's latest baby, it's no surprise that it has been added. A total of 24 PCI Express lanes are avalible for up to 3 PCI Express x8 devices. Added to this are Dual Memory controllers, DDR-2 400MHz memory is supported as well as DDR-333 or DDR-266, allowing for a more legacy setup if you aren't interested in upgrading the memory, however, to use the ASUS board you will have to as only DDR-2 slots are available. In order to connect the MCH to the ICH, Intel has gone with the older Hub Architecture 1.5 for a total of 266MB/s ling between the two; however, being a server, this ICH isn't used very much at all.


Since only IHA is being used as the link, Intel has recommended either the ICH5 series chipset, most likely you will see it with either the I82801F (IGH5R) or the 6300ESB (ICH5-S) Hance Rapids Southbridge. ASUS has used the ICH5R, as it didn't require the PCI-X support that the 6300ESB Southbridge provides.


Now we see Intel and ASUS using PCI Express to their advantage. While PCI Express is the latest interface technology to hit the market, servers still rely on PCI-X as all the current hardware for high-end servers are still built on the X standard. For this Intel has come up with the Intel 6700PXH PCI Express to PCI-X host controller.


This chip is connected to the PCI Express by ax4 connection allowing 2GB/s bandwidth. The 6700PXH connects directly to the MCH, so there are no bottlenecks with going through the ICH. The 6700PXH supports up to two PCI-X 64bit slots at 133MHz and ASUS has added two of these controllers to the system to allow for four PCI-X slots total. The reason two is used rather than using the bus mastering is to allow the maximum amount of bandwidth for each PCI-X device. All these chips apart from the ICH5 are passively cooled with large heatsinks.



The E7520 chip being a server only chipset doesn't incorporate any AGP or PCI Express x16 graphics - simply because graphics aren't that important at all for a server platform. Bandwidth for the added hardware is more important. To this, the ATI Rage XL PCI video controller has been added. This controller is one of the most popular amongst the server environment, as it allows for up to 8MB of local graphics memory, connects through the PCI bus and is extremely cheap. The ASUS NCL-DS uses this chip with 1x 8MB SDRAM module for Windows 2D graphics and it does its simple job just fine.



In the server environment connectivity is as important as speed. With the implementation of the PCI Express bus, it has now become cheaper and easier to add bottleneck free Gigabit Ethernet controllers. Using PCI-X has been the tradition for GbE; however, the controller chips and boards needed to are more expensive. ASUS has put two Broadcom NetXtreme Gigabit Ethernet controllers on the board which are connected to the MCH's PCI Express bus using a x1 link for each chip.



SCSI devices in the server market are still the Hard Disk of choice. SCSI has proven over the last 6 years of its life it still has the ability to transfer data faster and more reliable than that of IDE or SATA (for the moment), simply due to the fact SCSI places the controller for the data transfer on the actual SCSI chip.


When it comes to servers, the most trusted SCSI controller chips come form Adaptec. Adaptec has been in the server peripherals market for over 5 years, specialising in storage controllers like SCSI. ASUS has chosen the Adaptec AIC-7902W PCI-X SCSI controller chip which has support for two Ultra Wide 68 pin SCSI connectors supporting speeds of 320MB/s across the SCSI bus. Using the two ports you can add up to 15 Ultra320, Ultra160 or Ultra SCSI-2 devices. Onboard a standard Min-PCI-X slot is included to add in the Zero Channel RAID (ZCR) AIC-2015 controller chip. This card allows you to use the SCSI devices in RAID 0, 1, 0+1 or RAID 5.


Now we've finished looking at the ASUS server motherboard, let's move onto the testing.


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