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Soyo's SYCK8 Dragon Plus Motherboard
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Date: Jan 29, 2004
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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Soyo's SYCK8 Dragon Plus Motherboard - Page 1

 

Soyo's SY-CK8 Dragon Plus Motherboard
A New Enthusiast Board for the Athlon 64

By: Jeff Bouton
January 29, 2004



If all goes as planned for AMD, 2004 will be the year of the Athlon 64.  They gave us a taste of their new product line in the last quarter of 2003, with a limited supply of Athlon 64 and Opteron processors hitting store shelves.  The performance of their new line was impressive, although limited supplies resulted in high retail costs, keeping some users from make the change.  Once 2004 hit, AMD started moving forward by increasing production and adding two new models to the Athlon 64 product line, namely the Athlon 64 3000+ and 3400+, thereby making a number of options available. 

While the benefits to 64-bit computing are hampered by the lack of a common 64-bit OS, and 64-Bit applications to take advantage of the added capabilities, the performance of these processors running 32-Bit applications have proven to be quite competitive.  When we pit the Athlon 64 versus the best Intel has to offer, the Athlon 64 performed exceptionally well.  This leaves us with a processor that offers solid performance now, with room to grow when 64-bit Windows is released later this year.

When it comes to the chipsets driving the Athlon 64, VIA and NVIDIA are the major players, with VIA enjoying success with the K8T800.  But users should not discount NVIDIA?s nForce3 150, whose single chip design is both efficient and powerful.  Back in October of 2003 we had a look at several K8T800 boards compared to an nForce3 150, and the nForce3 was a front runner in a good portion of the tests.

The latest nForce3 150 motherboard comes to us by way of Soyo and their SY-CK8 Dragon Plus.  Let?s take a look at the product specifications and see what the SY-CK8 Dragon Plus has to offer.
 

Features of the Soyo SY-CK8 Dragon Plus
Features and Functionality



Click to Enlarge

Processor
AMD Socket-754 Athlon 64 Processor

Chipset Description
nVidia nForce 3 150 chipset
Supports 400/800 MHz FSB


Graphics Info
AGP slot supporting up to 8X AGP

Form Factor
ATX

Memory Type
DDR400/333/266

Memory Description
Three 184-pin DDR 2.5V DIMM sockets support up to 2GB (DDR 266/333/400)
PC3200/PC2700/PC2100/PC1600 non-ECC, unbuffered DDR SDRAM memory
Click here for memory speed/CPU FSB compatibility information


Expansion Slots
Six 32-bit Bus Mastering PCI slots (V2.2 compliant)
One Universal 8X AGP slot (supports 8x/4x modes)


IDE Type
UDMA 66/100/133

IDE Description
3 independent channels for six IDE devices
2 channels Serial ATA IDE ports with RAID capability
Supports RAID 0, 1
Supports up to PIO mode 5 & Ultra DMA 100/133
Three PCI bus mastering ATA E-IDE ports


Audio Description
On board CMI 9739 AC97 Codec provides 6 channels audio solution

IO Port Description
PS/2 Mini-DIN mouse & keyboard ports
Two RS-232 serial ports (16550 UART compatible)
One parallel printer port (SPP/EPP/ECP mode)
Audio I/O: LINE-OUT (1), LINE-IN (1), MIC JACK (1)
One FDD port (supports 3 modes, 1.2/1.44/2.88MB FDD)
Provides FIR with optional cable for transceiver
Provides 6 USB 2.0 ports (4* rear, 2 pin headers)
One embedded RJ45 LAN connector (10/100)
IO Connection Description
PS/2 Mini-DIN mouse & keyboard ports
Two USB 2.0 ports
One embedded RJ45 LAN connector (10/100)
Two D-Sub 9-pin male serial ports
One D-Sub 25-pin female printer port
Audio I/O: LINE-OUT x 1, LINE-IN x 1, MIC JACK x 1


BIOS Description
Award PCI BIOS with ACPI function
Supports multiple-boot from E-IDE / SCSI / CD-ROM / FDD / LS120 / ZIP
2 Mbyte Flash ROM
Health Monitoring Description
On board voltage monitors
CPU fan speed monitor
CPU temperature monitoring through thermal sensor
CPU temperature overheating protection
Dimension Description
Four layers, 30.5 cm x 24.5 cm (12" x 9.6")
ATX form factor

Features
nForce 3 150 chipset embedded RAID function, provides serial ATA with RAID 0,1 function
Anti Burn Regulator to prevent system from overheating CPU core voltage, FSB & multiplier adjustable via BIOS
Serial ATA
Adjustable DIMM voltage
Adjustable AGP Voltage
Sharing Options
Supports High-speed USB 2.0 ports
Supports Smart Card Reader Connector
Supports Wake On LAN (WOL) function to simplify network management
Suspend to RAM, Suspend to Disk
Overclocking Capability: CPU, DIMM, and AGP Voltage adjustable, CPU Bus, and AGP Frequency adjustable.


Package Content
Bonus 8-in-1 CD
Norton Anti-Virus 2003
Ghost 2003
Personal Firewall 2003
ActiveShare
VCOM
Acrobat eBook Reader
Acrobat Reader
IMAGEMORE
One (1) 34-pin FDD cable
One (1) 80-pin HDD cable
One (1) S-ATA cable
Thermal paste
I/O back plate
Quick Startup Guide
Driver
Product Categories


The Bundle:

The SY-CK8 boasts a healthy feature set and a bundle that covers all of the essentials.  The retail package includes the standard components for getting the system up and running smoothly.  A simple Quick Start Guide is the only printed material to accompany the board and manages to cover most of the bases, although a BIOS section was completely missing.  A Drivers CD is provided which includes essential Chipset, Video and LAN drivers, although it is always best to download the latest available from the manufacturer?s website just before installing a new piece of hardware. 


Click to Enlarge

Soyo also includes a Bonus 8-in-1 CD which includes copies of Norton Antivirus 2003, Ghost 2003 and Personal Firewall 2003 to name a few.  The package included a single Floppy Disk Cable, 80-pin IDE cable and S-ATA cable for connecting any combination of drives to the motherboard, although we would have preferred to see an additional SATA and/or IDE cable.  Lastly, a custom I/O shield is provided to ensure the motherboards external connectors are easily accessible from the rear of the case.
 

 

The Board and The BIOS

 

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Soyo's SYCK8 Dragon Plus Motherboard - Page 2

 

Soyo's SY-CK8 Dragon Plus Motherboard
A New Enthusiast Board for the Athlon 64

By: Jeff Bouton
January 29, 2004



The Soyo SY-CK8 Dragon Plus Motherboard
A Lot To Offer

The Board:

It is clear from looking at the packaging that this board is not targeted to the high-end enthusiast, but rather the more practical user that wants all the performance and none of the extraneous extras found with higher end models.  With the SY-CK8, performance and features are the main concerns here, along with some good looks.

The overall layout of the SY-CK8 was clean and well planned.  We didn't find a lot of component placement issues commonly reported with other boards, which was refreshing.  We really liked the positioning of the ATX power connector, allowing the cabling from the power supply to steer clear of the CPU.  The supplemental power to the CPU is nestled amongst the capacitors at the rear of the socket, also not having an effect on the CPU cooler's airflow.  3 DIMM slots are provided to accommodate up to 2GBs of DDR 266/333/400 memory. 

The board does come with a fair collection of hard drive options, including 2 SATA and 2 IDE connections.   The RAID controller is powered by the nforce3 150 chipset and supports both RAID 0 and RAID 1.  The Chipset is positioned close to the PCI slots and has a hefty heat sink attached for added heat dissipation.  This should aid in system stability, especially when overclocking the SY-CK8.

The board is equipped with an AGP 8X slot as well as 6 PCI slots for plenty of expandability.  Built with the nForce 3 150 at its core, the SY-CK8 offers up a fair amount of onboard components as well.  An additional USB header is provided to expand upon the boards 4 ports at the rear of the board.  The rear connections have a more traditional appearance, offering 2 serial and 1 LPT port, items considered legacy options that are starting to disappear from a lot of newer motherboards.  There are also the standard 2 PS/2 connections for mouse and keyboard as well at the aforementioned 4 USB ports.  Lastly we find the onboard 10/100 Ethernet port and Audio connectors.  One of the most obvious disadvantage to hamper the SY-CK8 is the inclusion of integrated 10/100 Ethernet.  Most motherboards today have moved to Gigabit as a standard item on their boards, yet the SY-CK8 doesn't offer a second controller capable of this.  While they can't do much about the integrated Ethernet whose speed is dictated by the chipset, Soyo could have opted to add a second controller to the board with Gigabit support.  With the focus being to offer a competitive and affordable Athlon 64 motherboard, it doesn't surprise us that 10/100 was included, but Gigabit would have been a nice touch.


The Bios:

Working behind the scenes to make sure all of the motherboard's components play nicely is the popular Phoenix/AwardBIOS.  While this motherboard is more conservative on the outside compared to higher-end models, underneath we found a capable BIOS menu system with a lot of the advanced features.  From a performance stand point, the board offers a good selection of options to maximize system performance whether running at stock speeds or while overclocked.

For example, the DRAM timings can be configured to run By SPD, where the board gets the settings from a programmed control chip on the RAM, or manually, allowing for custom settings of the CAS timings, memclock and more.  To aid users in overclocking their system, the Soyo Combo Feature holds the key to those options.  This is where the system clock generator can be adjusted, ranging from 200MHz to an optimistic 250MHz.  We also found the VCORE setting which allowed adjustments from .775v to 1.70v in .025 increments.  The DRAM could be set from 2.6, 2.7, 2.8 and 2.9v and the AGP voltage ranged from 1.5, 1.6, 1.7v and 1.8v.  The one thing you will notice is there is no control setting to adjust the "theoretical" multiplier.  AMD has taken a firm stance on this, locking all of their processor from the Athlon XP series up to the Athlon 64.  Only the Athlon 64 FX's multiplier setting will be adjustable from here on in.
 

Overclocking the Soyo SY-CK8 Dragon Plus Motherboard
Turning Up the MHz.

I think by now it is clear to everyone that overclocking the current batch of Athlon 64s is not a terribly exiting experience.  Typical results ran from a mere 10 to 20MHz increase of the clock generator at most.  But that isn't to say it isn't worth the effort, you just need to aim low and take baby steps.  With the SY-CK8, we managed to get up to a stable 216MHz, taking our 2GHz Athlon 64 3200+ up to 2.21GHz.  That's not all that bad, adding a 7.5% increase overall.  We managed to reach this without any voltage adjustments whatsoever, although there was minor flakiness once we booted into Windows.  To help stabilize the system we increased the voltage to our memory to 2.8v and gave a kick to the CPU as well, running it at 1.7v.  With that set, we had no trouble running our benchmarks as you will see in a moment.  Interestingly enough, 217MHz was very unstable, not even allowing us to boot into Windows.

Time For Sandra & Futuremark's Finest

 

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Soyo's SYCK8 Dragon Plus Motherboard - Page 3

 

Soyo's SY-CK8 Dragon Plus Motherboard
A New Enthusiast Board for the Athlon 64

By: Jeff Bouton
January 29, 2004



With all of the issues regarding driver optimizations and 3DMark03, we've come to distrust the results when comparing video card performance.  Nonetheless, when doing a motherboard review, we find it to be a useful test when we isolate benchmarking to the CPU test module. 
 


 

When compared to the VIA based system, the Soyo aced this test nicely with a 32 point lead over the MSI board, equating to roughly 4%.  When we increased the clock generator to 216MHz, we added an additional 6%, totaling 52 points.
 

UT2003 & Comanche 4
Gaming Tests

We also tested the two motherboards with a couple of games.  In this case we ran two popular tests, Comanche 4 and UT 2003.  With Comanche 4, an extremely CPU limited application, we ran the default test with "No Audio" selected.  With UT 2003 we set the application to 640x480x16 to take the video card out of the performance picture, focusing on CPU and memory performance.

Comanche4 returned very similar results with both systems since its performance is tightly linked to the CPU.  The Soyo SY-CK8 held the faster performance overall, most likely due to its slightly more aggressive CPU timings.  When we overclocked the processor to 2.21GHz we managed to add a bit more than 5 FPS, a boost of over 7%.  When we shift our focus to UT2003, the Soyo SY-CK8 bested the MSI K8T Neo by 7.92FPS while tacking on an additional 12.96FPS when overclocked.
 

PC Magazine's Content Creation 2004 and Business Winstone 2004
Real World Application Testing

With our last round of tests we ran both Content Creation Winstone 2004 and Business Winstone 2004.  Each application gauges a system's overall performance with workstation and multimedia applications.  Content Creation 2004 tests multimedia intensive applications, while Business Winstone 2004 compares performance with common workstation applications.  Below is a list of the programs each test uses to calculate its final score.

Content Creation 2004

  • Adobe® Photoshop® 7.0.1

  • Adobe® Premiere® 6.50

  • Macromedia® Director MX 9.0

  • Macromedia® Dreamweaver MX 6.1

  • Microsoft® Windows Media?

  • Encoder 9 Version 9.00.00.2980

  • NewTek's LightWave® 3D 7.5b

  • Steinberg? WaveLab? 4.0f

Business Winstone 2004

  • Microsoft Access 2002

  • Microsoft Excel 2002

  • Microsoft FrontPage 2002

  • Microsoft Outlook 2002

  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2002

  • Microsoft Project 2002

  • Microsoft Word 2002

  • Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition

  • 2003

  • WinZip 8.1

With Content Creation Winstone 2004 the Soyo SY-CK8 Dragon Plus maintained an edge over the K8T800 comparison system, albeit slim.  We did find a slightly wider gain with Business Winstone 2004, with the Soyo Dragon topping the MSI Neo-FISR2 by 1.6 points.

We were generally happy with this motherboard's overall performance, acing every test compared to the VIA K8T800 comparison board.  The onboard features and excellent performance make it a viable option for users looking for an affordable Athlon 64 motherboard.  Component wise, our only real complaint was the lack of Gigabit Ethernet, otherwise, this motherboard has everything you need to build a robust performance machine on a budget.  What is also a plus is that when newer OSs and programs start appearing this year for 64-Bit computing, this motherboard will be able to settle right in and grow with the technology.  However, there is one caveat if this is what you are planning.

In the not too distant future, AMD is going to shift production of their processors so that they are all based on a 939 pin configuration.  This means in the future it will be difficult to upgrade your current 754 PIN processor because there simply will not be any.  It is also worth pointing out that PCI-X is coming soon and early indications are that the added performance should be well worth the wait.

So, in closing, if you are looking to upgrade to the Athlon 64 and want to keep it as affordable as possible, picking up the Soyo SY-CK8 Dragon Plus would be a good choice.  For around $128, the performance and onboard components are quite good and expandability is excellent.  However, if you think there is a chance that you may want to upgrade the processor in the next year, it may be worth holding off until Soyo offers up a model with support for the newer 939 pin array as well as PCI-X, then you'll be sitting pretty.
 

We give the Soyo SY-CK8 Dragon Plus a Hothardware Heat Meter Rating of a 9


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