DFI LanParty nForce2 Ultra - HotHardware

DFI LanParty nForce2 Ultra

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DFI LANParty nForce2 Ultra
Looks and Performance That Can Kill

By, Tom Laverriere
September 1, 2003

 

DFI LANParty NFII Ultra - Mean and Green
In The Limelight

The Bundle

Right off the bat, it's easy to see that the DFI LANParty motherboard is a little different.  The packaging for this motherboard is superb and rather large as well.  Let's see why this box is twice the size we're used to seeing.

Inside you'll find the motherboard neatly wrapped in an anti-static bag.  Below that there is a quick install manual along with a fairly large LANParty sticker.  Along with the sticker, there's a case badge sporting the LANParty name along with five long top pin jumpers which are always much easier to use than the normal jumper.  Can never have too many of those kicking around.

Below the first row of goodies is where the fun begins.  DFI packaged the extras in four neat boxes, each holding a different surprise.  There are two manuals, one pertaining to the motherboard and the technical side of things and the other covering all its features.  DFI has chosen to throw in Intervideo's WinCinema as part of their software suite.  Two other compact discs accompany the WinCinema disc, a media CD which contains pictures of their LANParty boards and a driver disc, which also contains some nice utilities we'll mention a little later in this review.  To stay with the theme of LAN parties, DFI has included a case transport which will make it extremely easy to tote your machine to the LAN party and back.  Also included are UV reactive rounded IDE and floppy cables, a SATA cable, a game port, a S/PDIF port, and rear bracket with two USB 2.0 ports on it.  Finally, DFI has added in their very own "FrontX" style panel which installs to an empty 5.25" bay and provides your case with front ports for sound, gaming and USB capable devices.   In any event, this bundle is extremely impressive and we were quite pleased with the overall offering.

Software Utilities

One of the utilities included as part of the software, dubbed Hardware Doctor, is pictured above.  This is a nice piece of software, to go along with the on board Windbond Health Monitoring chip,  that monitors all the motherboard's voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds.  It's designed to sound an alarm if any of these readings get out of line.  This Hardware Doctor is highly adjustable and will allow for anyone to find the settings most appropriate for their setup. 

 

Under The Scope: Layout and Features

 

As you can see this is no ordinary motherboard.  DFI has chosen to use a black PCB which contrasts nicely with the UV reactive slots onboard.  Throw some black lights in your case and voila, this motherboard lights up like a Christmas tree.  It's actually quite nice in a dark setting. 

 

The layout of the board is straightforward, although there are a couple of concerns here.  First the Northbridge chip sits extremely close to the CPU socket.  Any oversized, aftermarket heatsinks will have to be chosen carefully, to make sure there will be no interference with the Northbridge's heatsink.  The Northbridge, it is cooled with a passive aluminum heatsink with thermal paste underneath to transfer the heat.  While we'd like to see some active cooling on the Northbridge chip, some may argue it doesn't matter.  For those of us looking for an extreme overclock, every little bit counts.  The three memory slots are located in their usual spot on the motherboard and DIMM's 1 and 3 will activate the dual channel mode this motherboard supports. 

This brings us to the next area of concern for this layout which is the ATX power connector.  To the right of the memory slots are the primary and secondary IDE connectors, the floppy disk connector and the ATX Power connector.  While this may seem like a fine spot for the ATX power connector, once the power is plugged in, it becomes a bit tricky trying to negotiate the wires from the power supply with the IDE and floppy disk cables.  Below the primary and secondary IDE connectors are the RAID IDE connectors.

 

The two RAID connectors are powered by HighPoint's HPT372N controller which supports RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1, RAID 1.5, and JBOD ( Just a Bunch of Disks ).  This allows for up to 4 drives to be connected and has transfer rates up to 133MB/s.  This is definitely an impressive RAID controller and a nice feature to add to an already impressive set.  Sound is powered by the AC'97 controller and supports up to 6 channels.  Another impressive attribute of this board is its dual LAN.  One Ethernet LAN jack is powered by NVIDIA's Southbridge MCP-T chip while the other uses the onboard Realtek RTL8101L controller.  It's nice to see a motherboard manufacturer take advantage of the nForce2 chipset's full capabilities when it comes to dual LAN support.  One of the nicest features on this board, especially for someone in our line of work, are the two onboard Power and Reset buttons.  This is extremely convenient for testing purposes when the board is not yet mounted in a case.  A very nice characteristic that we would like to see become more mainstream on motherboards.  The back I/O panel sports four USB 2.0 ports, line-in, line-out, and mic-in jacks, two RJ-45 jacks and PS/2 ports for mouse and keyboard.  Once powered on, the motherboard sports a variety of diagnostic LED's such as PCI Standby Power LED, DIMM Standby Power LED, four diagnostic LED's which go through a series of on/off combinations during boot up.  The manual outlines all the different combinations and what each one means.  This is also a nice feature, especially when overclocking, to know at what point in the boot up process the motherboard is at in case the boot process fails.  Finally, at the bottom of the motherboard, are three IEEE-1394a connectors.  Sadly, the  only piece missing from DFI's bundle is IEEE-1394a jacks to take advantage of the onboard connectors.  In any event, it's hard to fault DFI at this point since the feature set and attention to detail here is exceptional.

 

The BIOS

 

DFI has chosen the AWARD BIOS to power the NFII Ultra 400 motherboard.  If you're already thinking this is a great board for overclockers, then the BIOS will surely keep you in line with that thinking.  This BIOS provides the most common screens such as Standard and Advanced Bios features and a PC Health Status screen.  In the Advanced Chipset features screen is where it starts to get interesting.  This is where you can set the memory timings on this motherboard. There are three predetermined settings: Optimal, Aggressive, and Turbo.  The fourth Expert setting allows the user to adjust all settings including T(RAS), T(RCD), T(RP), and CAS Latency.  It's always nice to allow for these settings to be tweaked when pushing the board beyond it's intended limits.

 

 

Where you'll have the most fun however, is in the Genie BIOS setting screen.  In here almost every setting you can imagine is adjustable.  The FSB is adjustable in 1MHz increments from 100Mhz all the way to an impressive 300MHz.  The AGP clock is adjustable to Auto or a variety of settings between 50MHz and 100MHz.  The CPU multiplier can be tweaked for those that have an unlocked CPU.  Multiplier options range from 5X to 17X in .5X increments and 18X to 22X in 1X increments.  This is a highly useful setting when finding the sweet spot between memory and CPU performance in any system.  The DDR DRAM Clock is adjustable here with a huge assortment of ratio's such as 2:3, 4:5, and 1:1 to name a few.  By SPD and Auto are two other options included in the DDR DRAM Clock setting.  All voltages are flexible.  The CPU voltage is changeable from 1.100V to 2.000V in .025V increments.  AGP voltage can be modified anywhere from 1.50V to 1.80V in 0.1V increments.  Even the Chipset voltage is adjustable from 1.60V to 1.90V in 0.1V increments.  Finally we have the DRAM Voltage which can be altered from 2.50V to 2.80V in 0.1V increments.  Also located on this screen are the onboard devices that can be enabled or disabled such as the LAN controllers and the RAID controller.  This is exactly the assortment of settings any enthusiast wants to see in a motherboard.  Once again, DFI has left us with a good impression after inspecting the BIOS. 

At this point, the motherboard is itching to get put to the test.  Let's take a look at our setup and get on with the benchmarking goods.

Setup and Benchmarking

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