Recently we took a look at one of the newest players to the chipset market, ULi. While having a new name, ULi is actually the acquisition of ALi by the ULi group. ULi has started to show its cards over the last 3 months, bringing out its first all out attempt at the AMD Athlon 64 market with the M1695, a very innovative chipset when added with the latest in ULi's Southbridge's.In our last review
we took a general look at the chipset itself. We covered the major features of the chip, these being the Triple Graphics Interface, support for Dual Core AMD64, support for Sempron64 as well as older AMD64 CPU's on the 754 platform. ULi's roadmaps at the time also showed us that there would be further innovations such as additional PCI-E graphics ports as well as SLI and possibly Dual SLI setups by adding in different Southbridge's.Today we are taking a look at one of the first retail offerings to pass by our labs from ASRock. Some of you may know who ASRock are, others may not. ASRock is actually a relatively new division of the major ASUS group in Taiwan, manufacturing motherboards for the value and integrated markets. On the other hand, ASUS sticks mostly towards the high-end and midrange markets, this way the cheaper products don't come under the ASUS name, which is all about premium product lines. We are now going to put the ASRock 939Dual-SATAII motherboard under the microscope and see just how well it competes compared to the ULI reference board and nVidia nForce4 Ultra chipset. Let's take a look to see what it has under the hood.
SpecificationsSpecifications of the ASRock 939Dual-SATA2 CPU
Supports AMD Athlon 64 3000+ ~ 4000+ Supports AMD Athlon 64 x2 3800+ ~ 4800+Supports AMD Athlon 64 FX53 ~ FX57Supports AMD Athlon 64 with DDR-2 (Using M2 Riser)Chipset
ULi TGI M1695M1695 NorthbridgeM1567 SouthbridgeHyperTransport at 1.6GB/sSystem Memory
4 DDR SDRAM 186pin DIMM SocketsSupports DDR-266/333/400Mhz64/128Bit Dual ChannelSupports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)Bus Frequency
200Mhz Internal CPU2000MB/s External CPUHyperTransportExpansion Slots
1 PCI Express x161 PCI Express x11 AGP 8x3 PCI1 M2940 Riser SlotConnectivity
2 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives3 Serial ATA ports1 Fast Ethernet PortExpansion Ports
1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port8 USB 2.0 Ports (4 rear accessible, 4 via expansion bracket)2 Serial Ports 1 Parallel Port5 Stereo Audio Ports
Features and OverclockingFeatures of the ASRock 939Dual-SATAII
ASRock for a value motherboard brand does make a very good attempt to layout their motherboards with a cleaner and more high-end layout - possibly a bit of the ASUS touch is rubbing off on the ASRock product. In the value system, you won't find cases full of fans and cooling devices, so a smooth layout is essential.The placement of connectors is a mixed bag. The power connectors are located in the upper left of the board, away from the CPU, which is a good position considering the offset CPU socket and memory modules. The IDE and FDD connectors are located at the bottom of the board, IDE on the bottom right, and the FDD below the expansion slots.Expansion slots are definitely one of the more interesting parts of this motherboard. In terms of primary expansion slots, there is a single PCI Express x16 slot for PCI-E graphics, one PCI-E x1 and three PCI slots make up the PCI development. Between the PCI-E slots and the PCI slots is a single AGP8x connector which is a true AGP8x slot with support for all AGP graphics cards, meaning it actually does run the full 8x AGP specification.ULI's current Southbridge has an AGP controller built in, which means there is no bridging off PCI slots and no PCI bottlenecks when using AGP. To add another beauty to the pack, you can use the AGP and PCI-E graphics at the same time to give multiple monitor support, ideal for the user on a budget indeed or user looking to upgrade to a PCI Express graphics cards at a later time.
Now we get to something extra which is rather interesting and useful for future-proofing the motherboard even further. With AMD's open plans to start the move from Socket 939 to a new socket named M2 (to support a DDR-2 memory controller on the AMD64 processor die) ASRock has moved one step towards this.The yellow style connector is what is known as the M2940 riser slot -a set of jumpers accompanies this and when the jumper blocks are set to the second position, the yellow slot becomes active. When Socket M2 processors become available from AMD, ASRock will release a riser board, with the Socket M2 and DDR-2 memory modules on the card. When inserted, the new M2 CPU will be the primary setup and the (older) onboard 939 setup will be disabled.
ULI's twin chip setup populates the ASRock 939Dual-SATA-II. This is the latest chipset from ULi with support for All AMD K8 CPU's as well as AGP and PCI-E on the same motherboard. Only passive cooling is needed on the Northbridge, as ULI's chip runs a lot cooler than others on the market.
The ULI Southbridge is somewhat behind in terms of media support. The current ULi chip only supports a 10/100 Fast Ethernet controller and a Realtek PHY is used for connection.
Another feature lacked by the ULI Southbridge at the moment is support for SATA-II. ASRock has managed to augment this by adding in a JMicron Single Port PCI-E based SATA-II controller chip which is a good inclusion.Overclocking
In terms of overclocking there isn't much available. There are limited voltage options for CPU and memory. You can't push the CPU past 1.5v and memory past 2.8v. There is no HT or PCI-E voltages, no divider locks of any type - this confirmed to us the state of the board... value orientated. We did manage to push FSB to 219MHz with the current limitations, which is probably the most you can expect from a motherboard which is designed to be value orientated.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and SiSoft SandraTest System SetupProcessor
: AMD Athlon 64 3000+ (Winchester)Memory
: 2x 512MB Corsair DDR-533Hard Disk
: 2x Seagate 7200.8 400GB SATA (Supplied by Seagate
: ASUS X800XT Platinum (Supplied by ASUS
: Microsoft Windows XP SP2Drivers:
ATI Catalyst 5.9 and DX9cWe've used an ASUS Radeon X800XT Platinum PCI Express graphics card to compare the performance of the ASRock motherboard against the ULi reference motherboard and EPoX 9NPA Ultra which is based on nVidia's nForce4 Ultra chipset.We can confirm that the AGP port functions as mentioned - we have a proper AGP controller in use and not bridged PCI ports which results in standard performance results of the AGP port. Since AGP is fading away now, we didn't bother testing AGP performance but it is still good to know you can buy this motherboard and use your current AGP graphics card to its full ability and upgrade to PCI Express later when you are ready.So how can the value orientated ASRock motherboard compete against the higher-end EPoX motherboard based on the nVidia chipset? SiSoft SandraVersion and / or Patch Used:
: 2005 SR2aDeveloper Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.co.ukProduct Homepage: http://sisoftware.jaggedonline.com/index.php?location=home&a=TTA&lang=enBuy It Here
SiSoft Sandra (S
iagnostic and R
ssistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
Since the onboard memory controller on the CPU never changes, we would expect to see identical results.
Benchmarks - PCMarkPCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used:
2005Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/Buy 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 MadOnion.com benchmarks.
With the onboard memory controller of the AMD64, we skipped the memory test and included a HDD test. You can see that ASRock motherboard does have a competitive HDD controller onboard but let's hope we see native SATA-II on the next incarnation from ULi.
Benchmarks - 3DMark Series3DMark03Version and / or Patch Used:
Build 360Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark03/Buy It Here
By combining full DX8 and partial DX9 support with completely new tests and graphics over the previous version, 3DMark03 continues the legacy of being the industry standard 3D benchmark.Please Note: Due to recent events with the 3DMark03 series, we are adding results purely for those who are still in favour of 3DMark03. These results should not be taken too seriously and are only added for interest sakes.
3DMark03 shows that the new ULi board is a great performer. 3DMark05Version and / or Patch Used:
Build 120Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark05/Buy It Here
3DMark05 is the latest version in the popular 3DMark "Gamers Benchmark" series. It includes a complete set of DX9 benchmarks which tests Shader Model 2.0 and higher.For more information on the 3DMark05 benchmark, we recommend you read our preview here
Again 3DMark05 shows the ASRock motherboard ahead of the list.
Benchmarks - Doom 3Doom 3Version and / or Patch Used:
UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used:
Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.com Product 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 dates. With our own custom time demo 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
The first of our real world benchmarks shows the ASRock just in front of the ULi reference board and the nForce 4 Ultra EPoX motherboard.
Benchmarks - Half Life 2Half Life 2Version and / or Patch Used:
UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used:
Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.valvesoftware.com Product Homepage: http://www.half-life2.comBuy It Here
By taking the suspense, challenge and visceral charge of the original, and adding startling new realism and responsiveness, Half-Life 2 opens the door to a world where the player's presence affects everything around him, from the physical environment to the behaviors even the emotions of both friends and enemies.We benchmark Half Life 2 with our own custom timedemos as to avoid possible driver optimizations using the "record demo_name" command and loading the timedemo with the "timedemo demo_name" command - For a full list of the commands, click here
HL2 also shows the ASRock in front.
Benchmarks - Battlefield 2Battlefield 2Version and / or Patch Used:
1.1Timedemo or Level Used:
Guru3D DemoDeveloper Homepage: http://global.dice.se/Product Homepage: http://www.eagames.com/official/battlefield/battlefield2/us/home.jspBuy It Here
Battlefield 2 is the successor to the original multiplayer online game Battlefield 1942. Battlefield 2 takes advantage of the latest DirectX 9.0c optimizations and is best used with DX9 cards from nVidia, ATI and various upcoming makers like XGI.
Finally our last test narrows the gap between ASRock and the competition.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
It is a definite: ULi has made a big comeback and with the past results showing impressive results and the current ASRock motherboard improving on them, it is clear that ULi should not be frowned upon anymore.On the ASRock implementation of the ULi chipset, we have nothing but admiration for the cheap but powerful motherboard. SATA-II addition makes the motherboard a more attractive possibility, PCI Express and AGP ports allow for multi monitor support and future-proofing, upgradeability to Socket M2 will make a huge advantage for the upgrade path.Overall we found the ASRock 939Dual-SATA2 Motherboard to be a great stock performer, but overclocking is something you won't want to do but besides that, it has plenty to offer and a lot going for it at an affordable price as low as $69 USD on Newegg
Fast stock performanceGreat value (very affordable)Upgradeable to Socket M2AGP and PCI-E graphicsTrue AGP supportSATA-II- Cons
Very little overclocking- Latest Pricing Rating - 8.5 out of 10 and TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Best Value Award