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Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS
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Date: Oct 13, 2005
Section:Motherboards
Author: Matt Beauvais
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The Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS

Foxconn manufactures a wide range of products, ranging from video cards, to connectors, and as we'll explore today, motherboards. Over the years, we've had some experience with Foxconn, and while their products have not always been hardcore-enthusiast friendly, they have produced decent products. Today we'll be sampling Foxconn's WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS, as they aim to bring an affordable, but high quality, SLI solution to the AMD Platform. Higher end motherboards from ASUS and Abit can retail for well over $160, and unfortunately many of us can't afford that. The Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS currently retails for around $125, however, which is a much more reasonable price for someone who wants SLI. Unfortunately money doesn't grow on trees, so we're always eager to look promising products with affordable prices.

While putting the Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS under the microscope, we'll be reporting on its features and benchmarking it using some of today's most commonly used applications and games. For $125, we're not expecting a plethora of special features and overclocking options, however we do expect decent performance at stock speeds, a compete set of BIOS options, and a stable, hassle free experience. All right then; let's take a look at what's included in the package, and the list the motherboard's specifications.

Foxconn NF4SKAA-8EKRS Features and Specifications
The Nitty-Gritty

Dimension:

ATX form factor 12" x 9.6"

Processor Support:

Socket 939 AMD Athlon64 & Athlon64 FX

Chipset:

Nvidia nForce 4 SLI

Memmory Support:

• Four 184-Pin DIMM slots
• Dual Channel DDR 266/333/400
_Unbuffered Non-ECC memory
• 128/256/512/1024Mb ram up to 4GB


Onboard Serial ATA II:

• Supports up to six S-ATA II devices
• Supports 300MB/s data transfer



NVIDIA RAID Technology:

• Supports RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1
_and JBOD
• Cross-controller RAID supports both SATA
_and PATA disk devices within a single array
• Silicon 3132 RAID supports RAID 0, RAID 1

IEEE1394:

• Supports two independent 1394
_units synchronously
• 400Mbps transmission rate

Onboard Gigabit LAN:

• Dual Gigabit LAN
• 1000(-K) Mpbs Ethernet





Onboard Audio:

• Realtek ALC850 audio
• Supports 8-channel audio
• Supports 300MB/s data transfer

• SPDIF output and universal audio jack


BIOS:

• AWARD (Phoenix) BIOS

PCI Express x16 Support:

4GB/sec (8GB/sec concurrent) bandwidth


Expansion Slots:

• One PCI Express x1 slot
• Two PCI Express x16 slots
• Three PCI slots


 

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Taking A Closer Look

Foxconn hasn't gone for any kind of flashy design on their motherboard.  Instead, what you get is a streamlined Socket 939 NF4 motherboard layout, with an actively cooled chipset. The orange PCB with blue and yellow DIMM slots isn't likely to catch anyone's eye, but it's not completely bland either. The layout is functional, and shouldn't be a problem with most computer cases.

Introducing the Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS
Plain and simple

  

As we said, the layout is fairly standard, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The 24-Pin ATX power connector is grouped with both IDE connectors, and the floppy connector is at the top right side of the motherboard, right next to the DIMM slots. There's ample room around the CPU Socket for the stock AMD heatsink, however, you might have trouble fitting in a heatsink bigger than the one provided by AMD, thanks to the capacitors next to the socket. Lower down, Foxconn has included two mechanical PCI Express x16 slots (for SLI of course), one PCI Express x1 slot, and three standard PCI slots. Foxconn has placed four SATA ports to the lower right side of the board. This is a good thing as it allows you to keep your wires clear from the motherboard. Another issue we have with the layout, is the front panel connector is not labeled or color coated as they tend to be with other boards. You'll need the manual to figure out where everything needs to be plugged in.

  

The back I/O panel contains a PS/2 Mouse Connector, PS/2 Keyboard Connector, Parallel(Printer) Port, Serial Port, S/PDIF Coaxial Out Port, S/PDIF Optical, Four USB 2.0 Ports, Dual Gigabit Ethernet port, and Line In / Line Out / Rear / LFE/CEN / Side / Microphone ports for the 7.1 AC97 sound.

The Package
Goodies inside the box

Foxconn has provided everything you need to get the board up and running. You get the a set of two SATA cables, and two ATA133 IDE cables, as well as the needed SLI bridge and the retention bracket. A fairly thick user's manual covers just about everything, except for any kind of troubleshooting help. With four USB 2.0 and two IEEE1394 ports on the board, you should be fine, but it never hurts to have extra. You should consider how you'll be using the computer before deciding if this is going to be a problem. No games or extra software have been included either, to keep costs down Foxconn included only a basic set of accessories.

  

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Bios Features and Test System

To state it simply, the NF4SK8AA-8EKRS's BIOS is not an overclockers paradise. However, it's not exactly void of features either. Using the Award (Phoenix) BIOS, you are given the ability to change the CPU Frequency (200-300MHz), CPU Multiplier, HT Multiplier, and basic DRAM settings. CPU vCore can be raised from +20 mV to +140 mV, and VDIMM voltage ranges from 2.5V to 2.85V. With these overclocking options, you should be able to squeeze a few extra MHz out of your CPU and RAM. How far can you overclock with these features? We'll dwell more into that later on.

BIOS Features and Options
Configuring the configurable

   

  

 


Foxconn also includes some proprietary features in the
NF4SK8AA-8EKRS's BIOS. The Super functions, as they are known, such as SuperBoot, SuperBIOS-Protect and SuperRecovery are designed to help your PC start up faster, protect it from viruses, and adds data protection and HDD recovery function. Those familiar with BIOS tweaking shouldn't have a problem navigating around this board's BIOS, and for those of you that are new to the blue screen of options, just refer to the user manual which has thankfully provided descriptions for each feature. However, if you are new at BIOS tweaking and overclocking, we highly recommend doing some research on BIOS features before playing around with them. You can do some serious damage if something such as the vCore is set to high.

Test system specifications
Building the beast

    Motherboards:

        Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS
        ASUS A8N Deluxe

    Additional Hardware:

        Athlon64 3000+ (Winchester)
        2x256MB Mushkin lvl2 PC3200 (2-2-2-6)
        Radeon X600 PCIe
        Onboard Audio (7.1 AC97)
        120GB/160GB Western Digital Caviar ATA/100 HDs



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SANDRA and World Bench

We'll kick off our round of benchmarking with the widely popular SANDRA (System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) benchmarking tool. For testing we used the CPU Arithmetic benchmark, the CPU Multimedia benchmark, and the Memory benchmark.

SiSoft SANDRA 2005 Scores
Let's get ready to rumble!

  

The Foxconn NF4SK8AA-8EKRS fared well in the CPU Arithmetic benchmark, scoring a few points higher than its closet rival in the database, the 1.8GHz Opteron. With the Memory benchmark, there were no nForce 4 presets on to go by, but you can see how it fares against nForce 3 and a couple of Intel platforms. It's no secret that the multi-threaded Pentium 4 can easily beat the Athlon in the multimedia test.  Against a 1.8GHz Opteron though, our 3000+ Winchester combined with the Foxconn NF4SK8AA-8EKRS comes out slightly ahead.

PC World's World Bench 5.0: Photoshop and Windows Media Encoder 9
Real-World Application Performance 

 

PC World's World Bench 5 is a business and application benchmark designed to provide real world performance comparisons in todays hottest applications. World Bench has the ability to test a wide variety of different applications, and today we'll be looking at how our two boards hold up against the Adobe Photoshop and Windows Media Encoder 9 benchmarks. While testing the performance in Adobe Photoshop, we received identical scores of 412 seconds.

Moving on to the Windows Media Encoder 9 benchmark, the ASUS A8N Deluxe comes out slightly ahead with 479 seconds versus the 481 seconds it took the Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS to complete the test. If there's any knowledge to gain from these two tests, it's that the Foxconn's board is able to handle content creation with the best of them.

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3DMark05 and PCMark05

3DMark05 Performance
CPU score only

 

3DMark05 is a widely used standard in benchmarking. Developed by Futuremark, it's tests are designed to stress your system, and deliver a score which you can compare with others. The 3DMark05 CPU Performance test results are extremely close between the two boards. The Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS gets a CPU score of 3936, while the ASUS A8N Deluxe comes in just above with a score of 3981. It's a small performance difference, and probably won't translate to any real-world performance advantage.

PCMark05 Performance
Memory and CPU testing

 

PCMark05 is another commonly used benchmark developed by Futuremark. PCMark05 has been designed to test different aspects of your PCs performance, and today we'll be looking at the CPU and Memory test scores. The Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS scores 2600 points for the CPU and 3607 points on the memory test. ASUS's A8N Deluxe nets 2607 points in the CPU test and 3632 on the memory test. Again, the scores are very close, and we're wondering how much difference, if any, we'll see when benchmarking todays hottest games, so let's move on.

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Cinebench2003 and LAME MP3

Cinebench is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test which is based on Cinema 4D. The benchmark is multi-threaded, supports multiple processors, and renders a single 3D scene while tracking the length of time the entire process takes.

Cinebench 2003 Performance
Single core CPU performance

 

Our Athlon64 3000+ is a single core CPU and is not capable of executing multi-threaded code, so we'll just be providing single core performance scores here. The Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS records a score of 102.3, while the ASUS A8N Deluxe comes in just a tad slower with 102.7. So far, scores have been nearly identical between these two boards.

LAME MP3 Performance
MP3s in minutes

We choose our benchmarks on the basis of how popular they are and what relevance they have to how people actually use their computers. LAME MP3 is a popular MP3 encoding tool, which we're sure many of you are familiar with. Both the Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS and the ASUS A8N Deluxe present a score of 1 Minute and 33 Seconds (93 Seconds total). These two motherboards continue to run neck-and-neck.

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Unreal Tournament 2004 and FarCry

Unreal Tournament 2004 Performance
nForce 4 Deathmatch

 

The widely popular shooter from last year is still used as a benchmarking staple. With large combat arenas and intelligent bots, you can be sure it's putting some strain on your system. Running the DM-Rankin demo, the ASUS A8N Deluxe comes ahead with 286.39 FPS, but the Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS is not far behind with 285.8 FPS. Switching to a more stressful test, a round of AS-Convoy, the scores are again similar with the ASUS A8N Deluxe benching at 94.6 FPS, and the Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA scoring 93.49FPS. The small performance difference on a more stressful test is a better indication of the board's performance. We run our tests using the lowest quality settings possible in order to minimize the burden on our graphics card. However, this is not how most users choose to game, so it's always important to notice how the board handles a more stressful situation.

Far Cry Performance
Tropical adventure benchmarking

Fighting mercs and mutants while being hunted in a tropical paradise has been a pleasure experience for gamers everywhere since this game's release. FarCry has brought smart AI, amazing graphics, and enormous maps to the gaming scene. It's no wonder that Far Cry is a widely used benchmark. For testing, we used the standard Ubisoft Training and Regulator demos. The Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS gets a respectable score of 169.59 FPS in the training demo, and 140.06 FPS in the regulator demo. The ASUS A8N Deluxe tops the chart again with 170.54 FPS in the training demo, and 141.68 FPS in the regulator demo, but the Foxconn board is right there alongside Asus' offering.

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Half-Life 2 and Doom 3

Half-Life 2 Performance
Battling combine on a budget

With excellent character animation, and a CPU hungry engine, Half-Life 2 is a favorite participant in our motherboard benchmarking marathons. We used two custom made demos, one based in the Sand Traps level, and the other in the Water Hazard level. The Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS managed to get 85.32 FPS in the Sand Traps demo, and 106.27 FPS in the Water Hazard demo. The ASUS once again came out ahead with 89.9 FPS in the Sand Traps demo, and 110.78 in the Water Hazard demo. This is the biggest performance difference we've seen so far between the two boards, but the delta is still not very big at all.

Doom 3 Performance
Not so scary frames per second

 

ID software has once again delivered an engine to stress even today's best hardware. For our Doom 3 tests, we used the standard demo that ID has provided with the game(Demo1), and our own custom demo recorded in the first caverns level. The Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS tops out at 100.9 FPS in the caverns demo, and puts out 66.0FPS using Demo1. The ASUS A8N Deluxe put up 101.1 FPS in the caverns, and 66.0 FPS with ID's standard demo. Through our rounds of testing, the Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS has kept in step with some good company.

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SLI Performance: Doom 3 & 3DMark05

Doom 3 SLI Performance
The more the merrier

Being a SLI capable board, we're obviously interested in how the board will handle two video cards. We used a slightly different setup for this test. The Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS is being tested against MSI's K8N Neo4 SLI, using a pair GeForce 6600s. We've upgraded the CPU to a Athlon 64 4000+ and added an extra 512MB of ram for a total of 1GB. Being an SLI test, we've also upped the resolution to 1600x1200 and enabled 4xAA and 16xAF. Now, let's see what kind of numbers these two boards can put up...

The extremely high image quality settings we used creates some nice eye candy in the Doom 3 engine. With a single card, the Foxconn's board gives us an average of 27.2 FPS. Using two cards though, we get a more playable 49.7 FPS. The performance is almost identical with the K8N Neo 4 getting 27.2 FPS with a single card, and 49.8 FPS with two.

3DMark2005 SLI Performance
The power of 2

 

When benchmarking with 3DMark2005, the performance difference is a little more pronounced, but still small. Like we said earlier, differences can become more apparent when judging by thousands of points, rather than a few dozen FPS. Using just one GeForce 6600 GT, the Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS delivers 3518 points, and a respectable 6394 in SLI mode. The MSI board comes in a little ahead with 3589 points for a single card, and 6421 with two cards.

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Overclocking and Final Thoughts

Overclocking with Foxconn
Small price for large gains

Playing around with the available overclocking options, we were able to raise the reference HT frequency to 265MHz, up from the default 200MHz, while keeping the CPU Multiplier set at 9.  This gave us a peak overclock of 2.385GHz. We had to raise the vDimm to 2.8V, and the vCore to +40mV(which gave us 1.47V according to speedfan). We also had to set the memory speed at 166MHz, and use timings of 2.5-3-3-7, and lowered the HTT multiplier to 3x. Overclocking any further would cause the system to reboot when running some of our games. At 2.385GHz though, the system was able to survive 3 hours of Prime95 stress testing, and 3 hours of a Counter-Strike: Source bot match. We also played through a few levels of Doom 3, Far Cry, the F.E.A.R. Multiplayer demo, and received zero problems.

To give you an idea of the performance gains, we ran a timedemo benchmark of Far Cry's regulator level, and compared them with our earlier results. A 26.59 increase in FPS is certainly a welcomed improvement. Only the stock cooler was used when overclocking our 3000+ Winchester core Athlon. Remember though, even with the same hardware, similar results aren't guaranteed.

Thanks to nVidia's nForce 4 SLI chipset, there are a number of excellent motherboards currently on the market for both the AMD and Intel platforms. SLI support has become crucial as demand has risen for the flexibility it brings. SLI Support, onboard 7.1 channel AC97 sound, and Gigabit Ethernet, combined with an ample amount of SATA and USB ports is a great combination. Foxconn knows this. and Foxconn also knows people don't always have the money for boutique products. Producing a streamlined Socket 939 nForce 4 SLI board for under $130 helps make the prospect of having an SLI system a bit more feasible to the more financially challenged among us. With some enthusiast-class boards reaching the $200 mark, Foxconn has opted for a basic and more affordable solution, giving the performance of the nForce 4 Chipset without some of the extras found on a few more expensive boards.

While you can certainly overclock with the NF4SK8AA-8EKRS, it's not going to be setting any records. However, being able to get our 3000+ to 2.385GHz certainly offered an excellent performance improvement. The bundle Foxconn provided is basic, and included only the cables, disks, and manual you'll need to get everything running.  To put it plainly, the overclocking features and bundle weren't terribly exciting.  However, looking at the NF4SK8AA-8EKRS from the standpoint of performance, a little excitement is warranted when considering the low price tag on this NF4 SLI solution. We have mixed feelings on this product. What it comes down to though, is that SLI is not cheap. While some may argue that if you can afford two video cards, you can afford a more expensive, fully-loaded motherboard, but this simply isn't true for some people. Buying one video card now and waiting until later to add another will be a path well traveled, we suspect. With all things considered, we liked the Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8EKRS. And we feel the board would be a nice fit for those of you who want the option of SLI, but can't afford the extra bells and whistles of some more expensive boards. Despite our lack of enthusiasm for the bundle, the price / performance ratio the Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8ERKS provides is more than enough to earn it a solid 8 out of 10 on our Heat Meter.

_Cheap SLI solution
_Competitive performance
_Decent overclocking ability
_Stable operation

_Less than exciting package
_BIOS is lite on OC features

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