NF4 Ultra Shoot-Out: Abit vs. MSI vs. ECS

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Today we're going to take a look at three enthusiast class motherboards based on the NVIDIA nForce 4 Ultra chipset, the Abit Fatal1ty AN8, the MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum, and the ECS KN1 Extreme. All three of these motherboards take the core features inherent to the NVIDIA nForce 4 Ultra, and implement them in their own unique ways. One board is flashy and boastful, another is subdued and loaded up with third-party on-board peripherals, while the other is rather spartan and quite inexpensive. But in the end, they are all subject to our discerning eyes and the same suite of benchmarks. We took all three of these motherboards for a spin, and had some interesting things occur.  Read on to see which one we think deserves a place in your rig, and why. As you'll see, not all nForce 4 Ultra motherboards are created equal...

Specifications of the NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra Chipset
NVIDIA's Mainstream PCI Express Chipset For the A64

NETWORKING
Native Gigabit Ethernet technology

  • The fastest Gigabit Ethernet solution in the market
  • Supports 10/100/1000Base-T Ethernet

Advanced networking features

  • TCP segmentation offloads
  • Jumbo frames
  • Checksum offloads
  • Interrupt moderation
  • Traffic prioritization
  • Remote wake-up
  • Network management for easy set up, configuration, and monitoring

STORAGE
NVIDIA RAID

  • RAID 0 disk striping support for highest system and application performance
  • RAID 1 disk mirroring support for fault tolerance
  • RAID 0 +1 disk striping and mirroring support for highest performance with fault tolerance
  • Disk alert system provides a visual indication so users know exactly which hard drive to replace during an array failure
  • Morphing allow users to change the current state of an array to another using one single step without reboot of the PC
  • Cross-controller RAID uniquely supports both SATA and PATA disk devices within a single array

Serial ATA

  • Support for SATA 3Gb/s, 1.5Gb/s disk controller standards
  • Dual controller architecture providing full 3Gb/s bandwidth to each disk
  • Features 4 integrated SATA 3Gb/s ports  

Fast Ultra ATA-133 Disk Drive Controller

  • 5V-tolerant primary and secondary channels, with support for up to four devices
  • Supports UltraDMA modes 6-0 (UltraDMA 33/66/100/133)
  • Industry-standard PCI bus master IDE register set
  • Separate independent IDE connections for 5V-tolerant primary and secondary interfaces
CONNECTIVITY
PCI Express interface
  • PCI Express high-performance, scalable interconnect. Rapidly being adopted by the PC industry; designed to replace the AGP and PCI interconnects currently in use.
  • x16 PCI Express link has 4 times the total bandwidth of today's AGP 8X interface
  • x16 PCI Express link for high-performance graphics cards featuring the latest graphics processors with Microsoft DirectX 9 Shader Model 3.0 support
  • Additional x1 PCI Express links for other add-in cards
  • VC1 support on all links provide guaranteed bandwidth to CPU for time-sensitive applications

USB 2.0

  • USB 2.0 Enhanced Host Controller Interface (EHCI)/dual and USB 1.1 Open Host Controller Interface (OHCI)
  • Support for up to 10 ports
  • Supports transfer rates at high speed (480 Mbps), full speed (12 Mbps), and low speed (1.2 Mbps)
  • Dynamically configures slower devices for best utilization of bandwidth
  • Allows USB concurrency

 

SECURITY
NVIDIA ActiveArmor Secure Networking Engine

  • Dedicated hardware engine
  • Enhances network security
  • Reduces CPU overhead
  • Powers and accelerates NVIDIA Firewall

NVIDIA Firewall technology

  • Industry's first true hardware-based firewall
  • Unmatched performance and protection
    • Instant-on and tamper resistant
  • Advanced management features through user friendly interface
    • Remote access, configuration, monitoring
    • Command line interface (CLI)
    • Intelligent application management
    • Instant-on and tamper resistant

PCI Interface

  • Integrates a fast PCI-to-PCI bridge running at 33 MHz. Includes an arbiter that supports six external master PCI slots.
  • Features of the PCI interface include:
    • PCI 2.3-compliant, 5 V tolerant
    • Supports six external PCI slots at 33 MHz
    • Supports six bus master arbitration PCI master and slave interfaces
    • Supports both master-initiated and slave-initiated terminations
    • Bidirectional write posting support for concurrency
    • Flexible routing of all four PCI interrupts
    • Supports read ahead: memory read line (MRL) and memory read multiple (MRM)

PERFORMANCE
HyperTransport technology

  • 16 x 16 link running at 1GHz for extremely high throughput (8.0GB/sec)
  • Differential lines with low voltage swings

AUDIO
AC '97 2.3 compliant interface

  • Supports 2, 4, 6, or 8-channel audio
  • Dual AC-Link: supports up to two codecs
  • Dual S/PDIF: supports two simultaneous digital outputs; handles stereo PCM or AC-3 output
  • 16-bit or 20-bit stereo, 48kHz output and 16-bit input streams across AC-Link
  • 24-bit, 96kHz stereo output on the secondary S/PDIF output
  • Supports input, output, and general purpose input/output (GPIO) channels for host-based modems
  • Separate independent functions for audio and modem

MOBILITY

  • Power management
  • Full support for AMD PowerNow! technology
  • ACPI 2.0 compliant
  • Support for ACPI C3 state
  • Low-power 0.15 micron process
  • Maximizing real estate efficiency enabling small form factor designs
    • Single-chip solution
    • Lower latency for higher performance

 


The NVIDIA nForce 4 chipset has a set of features that help differentiate it from competing AMD chipset solutions from VIA and SiS.  We've got the complete list of specifications posted above for your perusal, but we've also covered them in-depth in other recent articles here at HotHardware.com.  In this nForce 4 preview, posted in late October of last year, we highlighted the main features of the chipset and did a quick performance comparison versus the nForce 3 that it supercedes. We have also reviewed the Asus A8N-SLI motherboard which is based on the nForce 4 SLI chipset, and have posted a comprehensive three-board NF4 SLI round-up here. The nForce 4 Ultra which is the focus of this article is essentially the same as the nForce 4 SLI, minus support for NVIDIA's multi-GPU technology. So, if you take the time to check out those articles, they'll give you lots of insight as to what the nForce 4 Ultra chipset is all about.

Tags:  MSI, ECS, MS, shoot, Ultra, F4, Abit, SHO, ULT

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