EPoX 9NDA3+ Socket 939 (nForce3 Ultra) Motherboard Review

Mike takes a close look at the EPoX 9NDA3+ Socket 939 motherboard today which is based around nVidia's nForce3 Ultra chipset. The motherboard makes use of an AGP port instead of the newer PCI-Express version which makes it a good option for users wanting to keep their old yet workable AGP graphics card and upgrade to the new Socket 939 Athlon 64 platform. Read on as we compare the EPoX 9NDA3+ against other solutions in its league and work out which is best for your needs as a gamer.
Mike Wright
Published Wed, Feb 2 2005 11:00 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:26 PM CDT
Rating: 90%Manufacturer: EPoX

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Introduction

IntroductionThough slow in coming, the Socket 939 motherboards are finally making it to store shelves around the world. While there are newer models coming out utilizing the new PCI-Express video ports, many just aren't ready to take that path yet. Some want to make sure the standard becomes a normal part of computing, others can't yet justify the cost of having to go out and buy a new PCI-E video board when they still have a perfectly serviceable one in their current system. Whatever the reason, the folks at EPoX have put together an Athlon-64 board that still makes use of AGP graphics.For those who have been building for a while, you will certainly recognize the EPoX name. They have long been a friend to the enthusiast community with their motherboards that are designed to take full advantage of a full spectrum of overclocking settings. They also have a reputation of being very stable even under stress, but as always we only say this in passing. A past history is great but we need to see if this new product can keep up the tradition after weighing it's own merits.So kick back and take a trip into the realm of the EPoX 9NDA3+ as we look into its features and its performance numbers.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Specifications

Spec SheetYeah, yeah, I know... this is the dry part but we simply have to have an overall spec sheet to show what the feature set of this particular motherboard looks like. It doesn't do us a bit of good to talk about a mainboard without knowing up front what it is supposed to be capable of. So sit back just a moment and I'll make this as painless as possible.For those with a keen eye, you'll notice that this is nothing more than a copy/paste from the EPoX website. This is just a features list so I'll let their PR guys take the credit for this.CPU Socket:Support Socket-939 based AMD Athlon-64/ Athlon-64 FX up to 3600+ with 2.0GTs Hyper TransportSystem Memory:Four 184-pin DDR SDRAM DIMM socketsSupport single-sided or double-sided 2.5v DDR-333/400 DIMMs with dual channel architecture in 128/256/512Mb technologiesSupport Asynchronous clocking mode between FSB and DIMMSupport up to 4GB system memoryChipset:nVidia nForce3 Ultra AGPsetExpansion Slots:Five PCI connectors compliant with PCI v2.2One 1.5v AGP- 8X/4X connector compliant with AGP v3.0USB:Eight USB connectors compliant with USB2.0 from embedded USB controller (4 connectors at rear panel)PATA IDE:Two IDE ports (up to 4 IDE devices) with UDMA-33, ATA-66/100/133 support from embedded IDE controllerSATA RAID:Two SATA ports from nForce3 Ultra with up to 150MBps bandwidthTwo SATA ports from Marvell 88SR3020 SATA PHYRAID 0,1,0+1,JBOD supportLAN:1Gb Ethernet from onboard Cicada CIS8201 Gigabit Ethernet PHY1394a:Two 1394 ports with up to 400Mbps bandwidth from onboard VIA VT6307 1394 controllerAudio:Selectable 2, 6 or 8-CH audio from onboard Realtek ALC85x AC'97 v2.3 compliant CODECSupport Aux-In, CD-In, S/PDIF-in and S/PDIF-outRear panel audio jacks configuration;For 2-channel mode; stereo Line-out (green), stereo Line-In (blue) and Mic-In (pink)For 6-channel mode; Front stereo-out(green), Rear stereo-out (blue), Center and Sub-woofer (pink)For 8-channel mode; stereo Line-In (blue), Mic-In (pink), Front stereo-out(green), Rear stereo-out (black), Center and Sub-woofer (Orange) and Side stereo-out(gray)Support Front panel audio for Mic-In and stereo Line-out only. (Front panel Line-out electrically shared with rear panel Line-out)Support Auto Jack Sensing for fool-proof audio device installationSupport SPDIF Coaxial outputSupport SPDIF Optical outputI/O:Onboard Winbond W83627THF LPC I/O controllerLegacy peripheral interface for PS/2 keyboard & mouse, FDD, Parallel, Two Serial, Game and IrDA (v1.0 compliant)Support Hardware Monitoring function such as fan speed monitoring and CPU temperature sensingSupport Smart FAN Control and Intelligent Fan speed control for chassis FanBIOS:4Mb Flash EEPROM with Award Plug & Play BIOSSupport ACPI S3 (Suspend To RAM) mode in ACPI compliant O/SSupport EZ Boot for fast bootable device selectionSupport Magic Health for system hardware status report during system boot-upSupport Cool 'N QuietSpecial Features:Support KBPO (Keyboard Power ON) functionSupport Wake-On-LAN by PMESupport USB resume in S3Onboard Post-Port LED displaySupport AGP-Master for protection against improper AGP card insertionPowerBIOS for excellent over clocking features:Support Asynchronous FSB/DIMM timing mode and 1MHz fine tuning on AGP clockSupport BIOS adjustable CPU clock and voltage, AGP voltage, DIMM frequency and voltage settingsPowerful utilities for Windows:USDM (Unified System Diagnostic Manager) for system hardware monitoringMagic Flash for BIOS update without requiring DOS flash utility and bootable disketteMagic Screen for personal bootup screen designUseful software bundle:Symantec Ghost, Norton Personal Firewall and Trend PC-Cillin for system backup and securityForm Factor:305mm x 245mm x 40mm, ATX SizeAccessories:User's manual, IO shieldCD for drivers, utilities and bundle softwareRound IDE & FDD cablesSATA data and power cableGame + COM Bracket cable

EPoX 9NDA3+ - In The Box

In The Box
I can still remember when I bought my very first motherboard several years ago. It came in a pretty standard retail box with a few nondescript markings on it and that was about it. Inside the box you had the board, a very small manual, a floppy disk with your drivers and if you were really lucky, some IDE ribbon cables.It doesn't take more than a second to realize that things have changed a great deal since those humble beginnings. Back in those days your only buyers of this type of component was a system builder. In today's market you have a much broader customer base so companies had to start making their product look better than the other guys. As always, this does nothing more than benefit the end-user.We'll get to the motherboard in a few moments, but in the meantime let's take a little closer look at what we get when we crack the seal of the pretty iridescent packaging, shall we?
Cables, cables and more cables. For those who recall my recent foray into the realm of MSI and ABIT boards, you'll certainly recall that there was a slight problem with the quantity of cables supplied with the retail box. EPoX seems to have seen the light, however, and gives you just about everything you'll need to get underway in the realm of maximum storage. You get a pair of rounded IDE cables, a pair of SATA cables, a single floppy cable and a couple of power converters for use with the SATA drives. The only complaint I can even think of here is that the board supports a total of four SATA drives, but this is a small matter since many drives come with cabling included if you buy them retail.
For those who need every connection filled, EPoX hears your pleas. These add-on panels fit into a vacant PCI slot on the back of your enclosure and give you added functionality for your system. One panel includes two USB 2.0 ports, another has two IEEE1394 Firewire ports and the last one has a serial and joystick port for those who still utilize this method of gaming. All in all a very complete set of additional support that used to be a separate purchase.
The Power Pack is something that EPoX is adding to their performance motherboards of late. While it has a promising name, let's see what is hiding in that plastic resealable bag.
Some of the expected stuff is found here but a few added things too.The expected items include the manual, a quick setup guide, the driver disk and the manufacturer metal tag that can be added to a standard enclosure. But a couple of extra goodies include some RAM sinks and a handy screwdriver tool.
The RAM sinks are small and have a self adhesive tape on the bottom side. While they were included so you can help dissipate heat from the onboard MOSFETS, they are small enough to use almost anywhere.
The screwdriver tool is a nice addition since it is made of a decent quality steel for a change. I've had several similar type tools in the past but they last all of about a minute when you actually try to use it. This one works well and offers two different sized cross tip blades as well as two different sized flat tip blades. It has a pocket tab but is a bit larger than I'd really want to carry around like that. It will easily fit into a tool kit, though.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - The Motherboard

The Motherboard
While EPoX hasn't gone with fancy color schemes, they do have a good deal of experience in motherboard manufacturing and it shows. The layout of peripheral connections and power couplings are easy to work with and offer a minimum of fuss when getting your system set up.
In case you've jumped straight to this page I'll go ahead and mention again that this is a Socket939 motherboard. The socket uses a standard ZIFF style locking mechanism and comes with the mounting bracket as well as the extra support bracket underneath the board. This isn't always a factor, but is a necessary consideration for those looking into alternative cooling methods.There are a few MOSFETS and capacitors in the immediate vicinity of the socket but I had no problems with coolers. Even when using a Thermaltake POLO735 cooler I had plenty of room with no issues of mounting.
Just to the north of the socket you'll find the memory slots. Since we're talking Athlon-64 in Socket939 packaging, we're talking dual channel memory support. To enable this feature, simply install your two matching RAM modules in the same colored slots and you're set. Nothing easier.
Since we're looking at an nForce3 board, we're talking AGP graphics. The 9NDA3+ has a single AGP port and five PCI ports. Considering that nearly everything is built into this particular board you should find yourself with a huge amount of upgradability and expansion possibilities. You will find no little risers that you'll never use, just standard slots that let you go wild with peripherals.
If you happen to have a VIA based motherboard you will have both a Northbridge and a Southbridge chipset installed on the board. The folks at nVidia, however, have managed to consolidate these two components so you only have a single chipset onboard.Since it is doing double duty, heat can sometimes be an issue. To handle this concept, active cooling has been included to make sure things run nice and smooth. The cooler in place is a low profile type so won't be a problem for those long PCI cards. It doesn't rise above the level of the port so you should have no problems at all.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - The Motherboard Continued

The Motherboard Continued
The IDE and FDD ports are situated along the upper edge of the far end of the motherboard. The IDE ports are ideally located for most standard sized enclosures but the FDD port could prove troublesome for those with very tall cases. The included cable is pretty reasonably sized and problems should be minimal but it was a small point that needed to be mentioned.For those (like myself) who have migrated to SATA drives, the ports are also located in a very user-friendly location. Pictured above you can see two of them just above the chipset. The other two are not pictured but are just to the left of the chipset. Being close to the lower portion of the board allows you to easily handle the cable management aspect of custom system building.If you have sharp eyes you probably made note of the 2-digit LED display by the floppy drive port. This is something that EPoX has used for years and it is still a welcome addition to any motherboard. This display shows error codes if you have problems with stability or system lockdowns. Just bounce the displayed error code with the manual and you will have a good starting place for your troubleshooting steps. This is one of those times when dated features are still a good idea.
In case you ever wondered why motherboard manufacturers make add-on PCI panels, just take a look right here. With the amount of connections located on the backplate, it is no wonder we have run out of room. A large block of that space is occupied by the built in audio ports that support upwards of eight channels of sound. Add to this the standard parallel port and four USB ports and we're about to run out of room. Of course, all those ports just mean more functionality for the user.
And speaking of functionality, this is a quick peek at the extra USB and Firewire ports available. Like many other manufactures, EPoX is going with a color-coded layout that makes it a snap to get set up right the first time.
For those wanting to try their hand at Gigabit Ethernet, the EPoX 9NDA3+ uses the Vitesse SimpliPHY Ethernet controller. It automatically detects the network connection and sets itself to 10/100/1000 Kb networking speeds. While I did not perform any overall networking speed tests, I noted Internet speeds comparable to other boards I've used in the past with no degradation of performance or speed.
This is still something that amuses me; a VIA chip mounted on an nVidia motherboard. Since the nForce3 chipset has no native support for Firewire, motherboard makers had to do something to add this feature.Enter the little VIA VT6307 chip that does a very good job handling the IEEE1394 requirements of the power user. This gives you the ability to handle those video editing chores that often have components using this method of connection. Also coming out in the recent past are external hard drives that make very good use if this port.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Benchmarks - Test System Setup & SiSoft Sandra

Test System Setup and MethodologyAs I have pointed out before, most of our readership falls into either the enthusiast or hardcore gamer categories so I will maintain a series of tests with this type of user in mind. Our selection is a mixture of synthetic, gaming and real-world applications that should give us a pretty good idea as to strong and weak points in the motherboard.Before we go further, let's take a quick look at the test system setup and the utilities being used for testing.Test System SetupEPoX 9NDA3+ Motherboard (Supplied by EPoX)AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 Processor (Supplied by 256MB OCZ PC3500 Platinum Memory (Supplied by OCZ)Thermaltake PurePower 480-watt Butterfly (Supplied by Thermaltake)Sapphire X800 XT PE Graphics Card (Supplied by Sapphire)Western Digital 80GB 7,200 RPM SATA Hard DriveTest SuiteSiSoft Sandra 2004 SP2bMadOnion 3DMark2001Futuremark 3DMark03Futuremark PCMark04HD Tach 3 RWCINEBENCH 2003AquaMark 3Quake III ArenaUnreal Tournament 2004 (full version)Doom 3Cool 'n Quiet (a fan speed/power saving feature) was disabled during testing so it wouldn't be a factor in overall results. Memory timings used were 2-3-3-7 on the OCZ memory modules with a 1T Command Rate. Windows was updated to SP1 (I'm still not confident enough in Microsoft to implement SP2, sorry) and all test programs were updated to their latest version with the exception of Quake III Arena. This program was left in its original state so we could continue to use the Demo001 file included with the game.Drivers used for testing consisted of the ATI Catalyst 4.8 for the Sapphire video board and nVidia Unified Driver 4.27. While the drivers are not the most current, they were the same series used on previous motherboard testing so I used these to give us comparable results in our tests. After our formal testing I updated all drivers to their current versions and noted slight gains in all tests but 3DMark 03 and AquaMark 3. The first title scored about 150 points lower and the second title scored an impressive 8000 points higher (1800 points higher in the video scores).SiSoft SandraVersion and / or Patch Used: 2004 SP2bDeveloper Homepage: Homepage: It Here
SiSoft Sandra (System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
Since I am using other utilities and programs to help test for CPU prowess, I only used Sandra for memory benchmarking. Sandra is one of the basic tools for testing this type of performance so it is included in our suite. After all, we're looking for tests that you can run on your own systems to give a direct comparison.Overall scores were very close but the EPoX board did manage to squeak out a victory in the ALU test phase.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Benchmarks - 3DMark2001 SE

3DMark2001 SEVersion and / or Patch Used: Build 330Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: It Here
3DMark2001 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.
It looks as if today's contender will have to settle for middle of the pack on this test. While it didn't manage to quite catch up with the VIA powered ABIT board, it did manage to work its way past the vaunted MSI board powered by the very same nForce3 Ultra chipset.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Benchmarks - 3DMark03

3DMark03Version and / or Patch Used: Build 340Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: It Here
3DMark 03 is the latest version of the highly favored 3DMark series. By combining full DirectX9.0 support with completely new tests and graphics, 3DMark 03 continues the legacy of being industry standard benchmark.Please Note: Due to recent events with the 3DMark 03 series, we are adding results purely for those who are still in favor of 3DMark 03. These results should not be taken too seriously and are only added for interest sakes.
Our results with the 2003 version of this benchmark were pretty much identical to the 2001 version. The EPoX beat out the MSI but fell slightly to the ABIT model.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Benchmarks - PCMark 04

PCMark 04Version and / or Patch Used: Build 120Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: 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 benchmarks.
I'm not really sure what happened in the memory portion of this test, but the CPU portion shows a great deal of promise. Testing again showed the same type results, though, so we'll let the dust settle at the end and make a final call.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Benchmarks - HD Performance

HD Tach 3Version and / or Patch Used: 3010 RWDeveloper Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.comProduct Homepage: It Here
HD Tach has been around for a long time and is excellent when it comes to testing hard drive performance. It is also a very handy program when it comes to testing the controller used on particular motherboards. Tests such as Read, CPU Utilization and Burst are available at a click of the button and give you a good idea of how the hard drive can perform from system to system.
When running the HD Tach utility, I used the Quick Bench test utilizing 8MB zones. The HD Tach test moves data across the entire surface area of the hard drive at intervals and measures the time it takes for the transfer to finish. From these tests it gives us a good deal of information concerning overall hard drive performance.Though really designed to test different hard drives or storage platforms, HD Tach can show us how well a motherboard utilizes the data paths built into its architecture. Our read and random access results are nearly identical across the board but the EPoX board does jump out to the finish line first when it comes to burst speeds. This can come in handy for those larger than normal files like movies and video editing caches.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Benchmarks - CINEBENCH 2003

CINEBENCH 2003Version and / or Patch Used: 2003Developer Homepage: http://www.cinebench.comProduct Homepage:
CINEBENCH 2003 is the free benchmarking tool for Windows and Mac OS based on the powerful 3D software CINEMA 4D R8. The tool is set to deliver accurate benchmarks by testing not only a computer's raw processing speed but also all other areas that affect system performance such as OpenGL, multithreading, multiprocessors and Intel's new HT Technology.
In our last test I mentioned that better data transfer rates can have an effect on video editing. To help prove this point, CINEBENCH shows that the EPoX board either ties or leads in every category of this benchmark. Not too shabby at all!

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Benchmarks - AquaMark 3

AquaMark 3Version and / or Patch Used: UnpatchedDeveloper Homepage: http://www.massive.deProduct Homepage: http://www.aquamark3.comBuy It Here
AquaMark 3 is the latest installment of the AquaMark benchmark suite. This new benchmark is much more powerful and demands much more from both the system and the graphics card. If there is any weakness in the system or 3D components, AquaMark 3 will find them.
As a general rule we have found that nVidia based boards do better in memory and processor tests while VIA based boards do better in gaming. While not a true game, AquaMark 3 does test several aspects that are common with the gaming genre. So it probably comes as a bit of a surprise to see that the EPoX 9NDA3+ manages to take the overall lead in this test.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Benchmarks - Quake III

Quake III ArenaVersion and / or Patch Used: v1.11Timedemo or Level Used: Demo001Developer Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.comProduct Homepage: It Here
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 Arena is getting very old, but is still one of the best ways of testing video and PC systems for any instability and best performance hence the reason we are still using it today.
Yes it is a bit old, but it is still entertaining to see what sort of frames we can pull from the game engine. As far as settings are concerned, we turned everything up to the maximum. While it doesn't do a lot to curb the outrageous frame rates, it does manage to bring them down a little bit.After testing with this old timer we see what is getting to be a familiar scenario; the EPoX board beats out the MSI but falls slightly to the ABIT. Of course, the results have been very close so we'll weigh this in our overall markings.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Benchmarks - Unreal Tournament 2004

Unreal Tournament 2004Version and / or Patch Used: 3270Timedemo or Level Used: ons_dria (download here)Developer Homepage: http://www.atari.comProduct Homepage: It Here
Unreal Tournament 2004 or UT2004 for short is the latest installment to the Unreal Tournament series. The full version of the game is based on DX9 (the demo only uses DX8.1 like UT2003) and has faced quite a big make over and is a lot more intensive then its predecessor.
Unreal Tournament 2004 is a very processor intensive game. While it makes use of the video board, you will always gain more performance when you upgrade the processor in the box. During our tests I set ALL settings to their maximum to place as much stress on the components as possible. The demo used has a good deal of action and has managed to embarrass the 9800 Pro board we used to use for testing.While we have the same general pattern in this game, we see a closer end result to the high-end VIA based motherboard. It does look as if EPoX has been doing their homework and have done a pretty good job addressing the gaming aspect of this nForce3 board.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Benchmarks - Doom 3

Doom 3Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1262Timedemo or Level Used: Demo1Developer Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.comProduct Homepage: http://www.doom3.comBuy It Here
Doom 3 is the latest game to hit our test lab and is one of the most intensive games to date. Using the "Demo1" file included with the game we are able to give a realistic rating on what kind of FPS you will be achieving.For more information on benchmarking Doom 3 we recommend you check out our extensive article regarding it here.
Ah, Doom. For some this is the ultimate in games, but whether you like it or not there is no argument that it contains some of the most demanding graphics to yet hit the general public. With textures larger than ever and detail levels to make even the beefiest of systems scream with abject terror, Doom 3 makes an excellent benchmark for testing systems as a whole and their individual components.I was a bit shocked when I saw the end result here. With the ABIT board eating up the gaming tests, the EPoX managed to come out ahead in the 1024 resolution. It dropped back just a hair in the 1280 resolution test but just a little bit was all.

EPoX 9NDA3+ - Conclusion

ConclusionWhen it comes to Athlon-64 computing, you have two basic choices. You can either go with a Socket 754 system or a Socket 939 variety. Yes, I realize there is also a Socket 940 version out there but since it is created as a server solution it doesn't really play a role when talking about enthusiast rigs. So with two choices you need to consider your options.To break this choice down into its simplest form, Socket 754 gives you a decent budget system while Socket 939 gives you better overall performance and the best vision for future upgradability. So now that we want to go the way of Socket 939 we need to determine what suits our needs.For those like myself who have a very good AGP video board, a motherboard requiring PCI-E doesn't make a lot of sense. This is where motherboards like the EPoX 9NDA3+ come into play. With a good layout and excellent performance numbers, it is easy to recommend this board for your own budding power system. It comes with so many features that you can have an excellent PC without having to add a single PCI peripheral. If you want to add these, though, you're still set with ample room for growth.While not a perfect specimen, it has little to complain about. Having only two SATA cables when it supports four devices is a small concern (very small), and still falling just a bit behind in gaming scores is another. Of course, with the end result coming in so close to the VIA based board tested against, EPoX has done a fine job of tackling the slight shortcomings of this chipset design and making a very competitive product.Pricing is very competitive and was available for US$126 online during the time of writing. This falls toward the lower end of Socket 939 boards currently available that use the AGP graphics.Bottom line... If you've been looking at the Socket 939 platform for your next big upgrade and still have a workable AGP based video board, the EPoX 9NDA3+ is a motherboard that deserves a very close look. With gaming scores that are nearly on par with the VIA chipset boards available and features that leave others in the dust, it has something for everybody and performs admirably as well.- ProsVery good overall performanceHuge feature setPriced at the lower end of the Socket 939 spectrum"Power Pack" is a nice addition- ConsLacking two SATA cablesStill falls just a bit behind VIA chipset based boardsRating - 9 out of 10 and TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Best Features Award!

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