IntroductionIntroductionHow many AMD Athlon 64 users remember Socket 754? Probably about 70% of the AMD 64 crew wouldn't know of or fully remember Socket 754. It's ironic due to the fact this is where AMD Athlon 64 started and the new Socket 939 come as a result of Intel's overpowering DDR memory controller. Socket 754 was where AMD Athlon 64 launched the Clawhammer architecture using a 3200+ core with 1MB L2 cache. Unfortunately, AMD's short sightedness not to include a dual channel memory controller in the original designs pushed Socket 754 towards the backburner rather quickly. While this did lead to faster AMD64 chips with Dual Channel DDR, it did leave a bit of a sour taste in the users who just brought their AMD64's and being left behind with little support for the architecture that was considered aging, only six months after its introduction. Socket 754 has now made a comeback for AMD in the form of the budget line of Sempron processors. Sempron on the K8 architecture features the on-chip single channel memory controller supporting DDR-400 and beyond in the latest revision cores, SSE2 and now x86-64 and SSE3 in the latest Sempron CPU's nicknamed the Sempron64. Until now, motherboards for the Socket 754 have been very budget orientated with little features or ability to boost the overall system performance - that is until EPoX got its claws into the high-speed budget market. Today we look at the first motherboard to support nVidia's SLI dual graphics technology on the Socket 754 platform, and hopefully not the last. So come and check out the EPoX 8NPA SLI and see what it has to provide for the forgotten socket.
SpecificationsSpecifications of the EPoX 8NPA SLICPUSupports AMD Athlon 64 3000+ ~ 3700+ Socket 754Supports AMD Sempron 2800+ ~ 3500+ Socket 754ChipsetnVidia nForce 4 SLInForce4 SLI MCP2000MT/s HyperTransport to CPU Internal NorthbridgeSystem Memory2 DDR SDRAM 186pin DIMM SocketsSupports DDR-266/333/400Mhz64bit Single ChannelSupports up to 2GB Total Memory (2x 1GB)Bus Frequency200Mhz Internal2 GHz ExternalHyper Transport InterconnectExpansion Slots2 PCI Express x162 PCI Express x12 PCIConnectivity2 Parallel ATA port supporting 4 IDE Drives4 Serial ATA ports1 Gigabit Ethernet PortExpansion Ports1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port8 USB 2.0 Ports 1 Serial Ports 1 Parallel Port3 Stereo Audio Ports1 SPDIF RCA Input
Package and ContentsPackage and Contents
The MotherboardThe Motherboard
BIOS and OverclockingBIOS and Overclocking Being a budget based board, we weren't holding any hopes for a great deal of overclocking options, however, we were greatly surprised to find that EPoX is supporting overclockers even on the Sempron level of the K8 architecture. The standard blue AWARD BIOS 6.0 is used to power the basic functions of the board. Once in BIOS you are greeted with a very standard and familiar setup. EPoX places its overclocking features under the "Power BIOS Feature" menu. From here all the overclocking options can be selected to the user's desire.First off there is no auto overclocking on the EPoX 8NPA SLI. This is something we would like to see EPoX introduce, as auto clocking as we like to call it is now starting to take off as a viable alternative to manually setting the overclock parameters.First on the list is the CPU frequency. Contrary to popular belief, AMD K8 CPU's "DO" have a front side bus, this is what the CPU die uses to connect to the memory controller built onto the CPU die with. This frequency is a standard 200MHz across the board, from there, the LDT or Hypertransport multiplier is used in order to get the link speed from the CPU to the external Northbridge. On the EPoX board, you can change the internal FSB frequency from 200MHz up to a maximum of 450MHz in 1MHz increments. While the end speed is simply not possible with today's CPU's, it's nice to see a wide selection provided.Next frequency adjustable setting is the PCIE clock. This gives you control of the PCI Express frequency. Settings range from 100MHz up to a max of 145MHz in 1MHz increments. For best stability, leave the PCIE clock at 100MHz, as PCI Express buses are extremely sensitive to speed changes, even 110MHz causes system crashes, a great feature to lock this EPoX has done.Next is the CPU Ratio control. AMD allows you to change your multiplier from your CPU default to a lower setting. You can't go up (only Athlon FX can do this) but you can lower the multiplier in order to raise the FSB without increasing CPU clock to insane and impossible clock speeds.Now we get to voltage settings, the all important part of the Overclocking setup.CPU voltage can be adjusted from the CPU default up to a maximum of 0.025v above standard in 0.005v increments. Next comes the DIMM voltage, and EPoX has given a good range here. DIMM voltage ranges from 2.5v up to 3.2v in 0.1v increments. This is an extremely generous range. Finally is the chipset voltage which can be adjusted from 1.5v up to a max of 1.8v in 0.1v increments.With all these settings using our AMD Sempron 64 3000+, we managed to clock the CPU to a maximum of 2.12Ghz with CPU voltage at max, memory voltage at 2.9v, LDT link speed at 3x. Overall this was a good clock from 1.8GHz to 2.1GHz; however, using a budget CPU does limit ones overclocking ability.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and SandraTest System SetupProcessor: AMD Sempron 64 3000+ (1.8GHz)Memory: 2x 512MB Corsair DDR-533Hard Disk: 2x Seagate 7200.9 RAID 0 (Supplied by Seagate)Graphics Card: 2x nVidia GeForce 6600GT in SLIOperating System: Microsoft Windows XP SP2Drivers: nVidia ForceWare 81.98 and DX9c There is nothing to compare this motherboard to as it is a one of a kind setup. So for our testing in this review we are going to compare this system using a single GeForce 6600GT and two 6600GT in SLI.The reason we choose this graphics card is that if you are going to buy an AMD Sempron processor, you aren't going to be able to really afford two 7800GTX cards.We will attempt to update this review when we find out the SLI ability of the 7300 series cards, as these would be a great option in SLI for the budget gamer system.SiSoft SandraVersion and / or Patch Used: 2005 SR3Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.co.ukProduct Homepage: http://sisoftware.jaggedonline.com/index.php?location=home&a=TTA&lang=enBuy It Here
Benchmarks - PCMarkPCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used: 1.1.0Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/Buy It Here
Benchmarks - 3DMark Series3DMark05Version and / or Patch Used: Build 120Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark05/Buy It Here
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
Benchmarks - F.E.A.R.F.E.A.R.Version and / or Patch Used: UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used: Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.vugames.com Product Homepage: http://www.whatisfear.com/us/Buy It Here
Final ThoughtsFinal ThoughtsIt is no doubt that SLI is the gamers choice for ultra fast gaming with the ability to run AA and AF and still keep the frame rate above the jitter level that we are so used to on single graphics cards. SLI though has meant that in the past you would be paying through the nose for it, but not any longer. We looked at a Socket 939 based Albatron motherboard that offered SLI for Athlon 64 on a reasonable budget, and today EPoX has gone that one step further and put SLI within reach of users of the Sempron based CPU's. It will be a great basis for a cheap platform which offers a pretty reasonable gaming system.Sempron using the K8 architecture shows AMD has moved its budget line on to an architecture that doesn't penalise a CPU for having half the cache - sure you aren't going to get the same speed as a similarly clock CPU with more cache, but unlike the Intel offerings, you aren't likely to suffer as much of a performance hit. And now with SLI available for this CPU, it shows what can be done with some thought and ingenuity.Overall the EPoX 8NPA SLI is lacking features like additional RAID controllers, twin Gigabit LAN and Firewire, but in all honesty, if you want all this and can afford it, a 3000+ AMD Athlon 64 processor based on the 939 package is more in your field of view but for budget SLI with the cheaper Sempron, you cannot go past the EPoX 8NPA SLI motherboard.- ProsFastOnly SLI Socket 754 motherboard availableSupports all SLI based nVidia graphics cardsnVidia Gigabit LAN used unlike many other motherboardsSATA and PATA RAID bridging- ConsPlacement of power connectors could have been done with more thoughtFDD connector in a bad spotSLI uses two x8 slots rather than two x16, but we can live with that- Latest Pricing Rating - 8.5 out of 10 and TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Best Value Award
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