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LANParty KT400A from DFI
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Date: Jun 11, 2003
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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The "Lan Party" KT400A from DFI - Page 1

 

The "LAN Party" KT400A from DFI
A Different Approach from DFI

By: Jeff Bouton
June 11th, 2003

There is a healthy rivalry brewing between AMD chipset manufacturers VIA and NVIDIA.  These companies have been competing for the top spot in the AMD chipset market for some time now.  When VIA introduced the KT400, NVIDIA stepped up with their nForce2 and have since won the hearts, and dollars, of many users.  Unfortunately for VIA, the KT400 simply could not compete with the performance of the nForce2.  So, motherboard makers seemed quite content adopting NVIDIA's newest chipset.  This in turn sent VIA back to the lab for some changes.  For anyone who has been watching the hardware market for the last few years, this is typical of VIA with virtually every release of a new chipset being followed by a revision ?A? soon thereafter.  While this hardly seems to be an effective trend, to VIA's credit, they usually get it right the second time around.  Now that the KT400A has been released, VIA is aiming to take back some of the market share they relinquished to NVIDIA. 

Another company that has its sights set on market share is DFI.  We?ve been reviewing their hardware for a number of years now, with each product often leaving us with a positive experience.  While they don't generally have a reputation for producing the fastest motherboards on the market, we?ve often felt their stability was excellent.  However, offering bland but stable products alone is not going to bring increasing amounts of revenue year after year.  So, in an effort to garner the attention, and envy, of the enthusiast crowd, DFI created a completely new product line like we?ve never seen from them before.  Dubbed ?LAN Party?, DFI has created a complete package that offers more extras, great looks and top notch performance.  It is obvious that DFI is trying to set themselves apart from the rest of the crowd and our initial impressions are that they may be on to something.
 

Features of the DFI LAN Party KT400A Motherboard
Raising The Bar



 

PROCESSOR
AMD Athlon XP 266/333+MHz FSB (max. 400MHz), AMD Athlon 266MHz FSB

CHIPSET
VIA® KT400A and VT8235CD

SYSTEM MEMORY
Supports up to 3GB memory (unbuffered DIMM)
Uses PC1600 (DDR200), PC2100 (DDR266), PC2700 (DDR333)or PC3200 (DDR400) DDR SDRAM DIMM,
2.5V type
Three 184-pin DDR SDRAM DIMM sockets
L2 cache memory
- Athlon XP / Athlon processor: built-in 256KB Level 2 pipelined burst cache

BIOS
Award BIOS, Windows® 95/98/2000/ME/XP Plug and Play compatible
Genie BIOS provides:
- CPU/DRAM overclocking in 1MHz stepping
- CPU/AGP/DRAM/Chipset overvoltage
4Mbit flash memory

ENERGY EFFICIENT DESIGN
Supports ACPI specification and OS Directed Power Management
Supports ACPI STR (Suspend to RAM) function
Wake-On-Events include:
- Wake-On-Ring (external modem)
- Wake-On-LAN
- RTC timer to power-on the system

DAMAGE FREE INTELLIGENCE
Monitors CPU/system temperature
Monitors 12V/5V/3.3V/CPU/VBAT(V)/5VSB(V)/DDR/AGP voltages
Monitors CPU/chassis fan speed
Automatic chassis fan on/off control - this prevents system overheat and prolongs fan life
Read back capability that displays temperature, voltage and fan speed
CPU Fan Protection function monitors the CPU fan during system boot-up
CPU Temperature Protection function monitors CPU temperature during system boot-up

AUDIO FEATURES
AC'97 2.2 S/PDIF extension compliant codec
Supports Microsoft® DirectSound/DirectSound 3D
AC?97 supported with full duplex, independent sample rate converter for audio recording and playback
6-channel audio output

LAN FEATURES
Uses VIA VT6103 Phy chip
- Integrated IEEE 802.3, 10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX compatible PHY
Uses RealTek RTL8101L fast Ethernet controller
- Integrated IEEE 802.3, 10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX compatible PHY

ATA RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disk)
RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and 1.5
Two independent IDE channels support 4 hard disk drives (UDMA modes 33/66/100/133 or EIDE)
Supports PIO modes 0/1/2/3/4, DMA modes 0/1/2 and UDMA modes 0/1/2/3/4/5/6

PCI IDE INTERFACE
Supports ATA/33, ATA/66, ATA/100 and ATA/133 hard drives
UDMA Modes 3, 4, 5 and 6 Enhanced IDE (data transfer rate up to 133MB/sec.)

SATA IDE INTERFACE
Uses Marvell 88i8030 chip
Supports one SATA (Serial ATA) interface which is compliant with SATA 1.0 specification
(1.5Gbps interface)

IEEE 1394A INTERFACE
Uses VIA VT6306 chip
Supports three 100/200/400 Mb/sec ports

PROCESSOR SOCKET
Socket A
Equipped with a switching voltage regulator that automatically detects 1.100V to 1.850V

ACCELERATED GRAPHICS PORT (A.G.P.)
Supports AGP 8x up to 2132MB/sec. and AGP 4x up to 1066MB/sec. bandwidth for 3D
graphics applications

REAR PANEL I/O PORTS
4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
2 RJ45 LAN ports
2 DB-9 serial ports
1 DB-25 parallel port
1 mini-DIN-6 PS/2 mouse port
1 mini-DIN-6 PS/2 keyboard port
3 audio jacks: line-out, line-in and mic-in

I/O CONNECTORS
1 connector for 2 additional external USB 2.0/1.1 ports
3 connectors for 3 external IEEE 1394a ports
1 connector for 1 external game/MIDI port
1 connector for external line-out and mic-in jacks
2 internal audio connectors (AUX-in and CD-in)
1 4-channel audio output connector
1 S/PDIF-in/out connector
1 connector for IrDA interface
2 RAID IDE connectors
1 connector for serial ATA interface
2 IDE connectors
1 floppy connector
2 ATX power supply connectors
1 Wake-On-LAN connector
3 fan connectors for CPU, chassis and second chassis fans

EXPANSION SLOTS
1 AGP slot that supports 8x/4x AGP
5 PCI slots

PCB
4 layers, ATX form factor
30.5cm (12") x 24.5cm (9.64")


The KT400A Chipset

The DFI LAN Party KT400A motherboard obviously is built around VIA's KT400A chipset.  The KT400A comes in two flavors, one with the VT8237 Southbridge, which is still in development, and the other with the VT8235CE Southbridge.  The main difference between the two Southbridges is that the VT8237 will support SATA natively as well as 8 USB ports, while the VT8335CE on the other hand, doesn't support SATA and offers a total of 6 USB ports.

On the surface, the KT400A Northbridge is not all that different from the KT400 with the most notable alteration being support for a 400MHz memory bus.  This was essentially VIA's response to the nForce2's DualDDR Memory Architecture.  While the nForce2 is a DualDDR capable chipset with separate memory controllers, VIA took a different approach by adding their FastStream64 Technology.  FastStream64 uses a series of prefetch buffers to reduce latency which should have a direct affect on memory performance.  In the end, the memory can offer bandwidth of up to 3.2GB per second at 400MHz. and VIA claims their single memory controller solution is as fast as NVIDIA's Dual-Channel solution.

Before we get into the mix with performance testing of the "LAN Party" KT400A motherboard, there are a lot of other things to see first.  The "LAN Party" comes with one the most impressive packages we've ever seen, so let's take a look at what comes in the box and then we'll take a closer look at the board itself.

 
 

The Bundle and The Board

 

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The "Lan Party" KT400A from DFI - Page 2

 

The "LAN Party" KT400A from DFI
A Different Approach from DFI

By: Jeff Bouton
June 11th, 2003

Features of the DFI LAN Party KT400A Motherboard Continued...
They've Got it All


One way DFI is attempting to get your attention is with a completely redesigned package both inside and out.  The box we received for review seemed more like a small suit case than a motherboard box, leaving us anxious to delve deeper.  Inside the package we removed the KT400A "LAN Party" motherboard and located the manuals and accompanying software.  Aside from a detailed User's Manual and Features Guide, we found an excellent Quick Installation Guide.  The Quick Installation Guide was a clear, oversized booklet that covered the entire installation process of the motherboard and accessories, although the BIOS section was rather brief.  Complimenting the printed materials was a Setup/Drivers CD, a floppy disk with RAID drivers and a copy of Intervideo's WinCinema which includes full versions of WinDVD and WinRip.  Last but not least, a large "LAN Party" case decal and a case badge were included as well.  Next we moved on to the first of 4 other smaller boxes in the package.

The first box we opened was labeled "Accessories" and contained some of the more critical items users may need.  We found a single SATA data cable and SATA power adapter to connect a standard power cable to a SATA drive.  We also found an I/O shield, DB-15 joystick bracket and S/PDIF bracket which connects to the onboard audio controller to provide S/PDIF In/Out functionality.  There was a small bag of 5 additional jumpers and a packet of thermal paste too.  The second box was labeled "Round Cables" which contained 2 80-PIN round IDE cables and one round Floppy Cable.


The third box was labeled "FrontX" which is a device for relocating USB, FireWire, MIC and Headphone ports to the front of the case, using a 5 1/4" bay.  We've reviewed an older version of the FrontX before and found it to be useful, routing a lot of the features from the rear of the case to the front.  The downside was the FrontX required a lot of cabling to run through the case to get the job done.  This particular model, however, is designed to connect to the headers on the motherboard itself which is a far more efficient design.  This model came with one FireWire connector, 2 USB ports, and two separate 1/8" audio ports which connects to the "front audio" header on the motherboard.  What we really like about the FrontX is that it is fully customizable and additional ports can be purchased separately for your specific needs.  Visit www.frontx.com for more details.  Lastly, we opened the fourth box labeled "PC Transpo" which contained a case harness for making it easy to carry your new "LAN Party" PC to the LAN Party.

As we said earlier, the DFI LAN Party KT400A ships with one of the most comprehensive motherboard packages we've ever seen.  DFI has really gone out of their way to make the LAN party experience a good one.  We were thrilled to see the attention to detail, including all of the necessary hardware the user could ever need to access all of the motherboards features.  Instead of focusing on out dated video game CDs and shareware, DFI gives you things you want to use and left the frivolous things out.

 
Quality and Setup of the DFI "LAN Party" KT400A
Nothing Left to Desire

The DFI "LAN Party" KT400A motherboard is one of those products that the more you look at it the more you like it.  Some of that impression has to do with its black PCB and green components that are designed to glow brightly under the proper lighting.  But the real substance lies with the board's overall construction and layout.  For the most part, the layout is intelligent and clean.  Virtually every jumper and connector on the board has clear labeling, a finer point that seems to have become less popular with manufacturers these days.  In fact, unless you have a question about a specific component, most will be able to install this board by referencing the component labels alone.

Driving the system's components is the VIA KT400A Northbridge and the VT8235CE Southbridge.  Since the VT8237 is still in development, DFI needed another way to offer SATA support.  Their solution was a Marvell 88i8030 chip which is compliant with the SATA 1.0 specification and is capable of a peak 1.5Gbps.  The board offers a single SATA connection as well as 2 RAID capable IDE ports driven by a High Point HPT372N chip.  The High Point chip is RAID 1.5 compliant which offers the ability to set up a RAID 0+1 with only two drives.  Unfortunately the system is not set up to offer RAID with SATA.  DFI did a nice job of positioning the IDE , RAID IDE, SATA and Floppy connectors on the edge of the board which will help keep the cabling from interfering with proper airflow.

The "LAN Party" comes with a total of 5 PCI slots and 1 AGP slot, allowing more than enough room for expansion.  We were pleased to see that DFI left a lot of room between the AGP slot and the 3 DIMM Slots so the video card doesn't have to be removed when swapping memory modules.  To the right of the IDE connectors, behind the DIMM Slots, is a series of 4 dipswitches for setting the bus speed.  This doesn't lock the bus speed entirely, but it does lock it within a range.  When the bus is set for a specific speed,100,133,166 or 200MHz, a range of bus speeds becomes available in the BIOS based on the selected dipswitch setting.

At the rear of the board are the ATX power connectors.  This model supports all legacy connections as well as 4 USB 2.0 and 2 10/100Mbps Ethernet ports.  One Ethernet port is powered by a VIA VT6103 Phy chip while the other uses a RealTek RTL8101L fast Ethernet controller.  With the growing popularity of Gigabit Ethernet, we were a little disappointed to see the "LAN Party" was limited to 10/100Mbps, although it is not a huge strike against it.  To the far right is the audio connectors driven by the AC'97 Codec, offering 6-channel output.  The board also has headers for two additional USB 2.0 ports and an IEEE 1394 port, both of which can be connected to the FrontX unit.

It seems that DFI has all of the bases covered with the "LAN Party" KT400A motherboard.  The board offers a lot of options and room for expansion, although the board has virtually everything a system needs integrated already.  Next we'll take a look at the BIOS and see how all of this is tied together.
 

 

The BIOS, HH Test System and Overclocking

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The "Lan Party" KT400A from DFI - Page 3

 

The "LAN Party" KT400A from DFI
A Different Approach from DFI

By: Jeff Bouton
June 11th, 2003

SiSoft Sandra 2003 Professional
The Synthetic View

To give us a clearer picture of how a particular system compares to other popular configurations, we enlisted the help of SiSoft's Sandra 2003 Professional.  Sandra has a comprehensive internal performance database that can be used to gauge a system's overall potential, helping us to get a clearer idea of what a system should be capable of.

 

CPU @ 1.84GHz.
Multimedia @ 1.84MHz.
Memory @ 333MHz.

Hard Drive

 

CPU @ 2.07GHz.
Multimedia @ 2.07MHz.
Memory @ 376MHz.

With the Barton Processors, the CPU tests are a bit deceptive.  If you compare the results you will see that the CPU based scores are on par with that of an Athlon XP 2200+.  This is because the test uses the processors actual speed as a gauge.  The Barton 2500+ does run at 1.8GHz with a bus speed of 333MHz as opposed to the 2200+ running at 266MHz.  The synthetic test is also unable to show the performance benefits of the 512KB of on-die cache compared to the 2200+'s 256KB of on-die cache.  So when looking at the CPU tests, you'll need to read between the lines.  Since our processor runs with a 333MHz bus, that is the speed at which the memory was tested.  The memory results show the improvements of the memory performance with the KT400A when compared to the KT333.  Once we overclocked the system, the memory scores really improved, pushing the KT400A board to the front on the pack.

While SiSoft Sandra is a good tool for us to get an initial impression of a system there are a few other results we like to look at to give us a more balanced picture.

 
Futuremark's 3DMark03 and PCMark 2002
Futuremark's Finest

Next up we have some numbers from PCMark2002Pro and 3DMark03.  PCMark2002Pro has proven it is a good synthetic tool for gauging a system's overall performance.  3DMark03 on the other hand, is turning many people off.  There is a big debate going on as to the validity of the results with certain hardware.  Nonetheless, we've included it in this review since we used the same video card with all tests.  We'll start things off with a run at PCMark2002Pro, focusing on the CPU and Memory results, then we'll follow that up with a run at 3DMark03.  With each test we compared the scores to those of an ASUS A7N8X Deluxe motherboard.

With the CPU results, the KT400A board was outpaced by the nForce2 board by roughly 100 points, a 1.9% difference.  The real surprise came when we compared the two board's memory scores.  The A7N8X Deluxe took a firm lead over the "LAN Party" board, exceeding it close to 10%.  While VIA has made some improvements to their memory controller performance, it appears that the nForce is still on top.

The results from the 3DMark03 test was far closer, although the ASUS board still held the lead by a few points.  Nonetheless, the DFI "LAN Party" KT400A put up respectable scores and we can't draw any conclusions based on synthetic benchmarks alone.  Next we'll run Comanche 4 and Quake 3 to give us a look at some real world gaming potential.

 
Quake 3 and Comanche 4
Gaming Tests

When we start talking about gauging a motherboard's gaming performance, Novalogic's Comanche 4 has proven to be an excellent test because it relies so heavily on the CPU.  Let's see how the DFI "LAN Party" compared to the nForce2 based system when we ran the default benchmark with audio disabled.

With this DirectX benchmark, the DFI board kept things very close, tipping the lead to the ASUS board by less than half of a point. 
 

The Winstones and Final Words

 

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The "Lan Party" KT400A from DFI - Page 4

 

The "LAN Party" KT400A from DFI
A Different Approach from DFI

By: Jeff Bouton
June 11th, 2003

Next we ran Quake 3 at 640x480 with all visual quality settings at their minimums.  Setting the test up this way reduces the influence the video card may have on the test, giving us a good view of the CPU and memory performance.  We also threw in a quick overclocked score for good measure.

At the default clock speeds, the ASUS motherboard held a 4.5% edge over the DFI system, although the "LAN Party" posted a nice 13.3% gain when overclocked.

The DFI "LAN Party" KT400A motherboard put up a good showing so far, although it was continually overshadowed by the ASUS A7N8X Deluxe.  To be honest though, aside from the PCMark2002 memory scores, the DFI board kept it close and we are comparing it to one of the best nForce2 based boards available.  Next we are going to see how the two compared when we ran the popular "Winstone" benchmarking programs.

 
Content Creation 2002 and Business Winstone 2002
Real World Application Testing

When it comes to assessing a system's overall performance, Business Winstone 2002 and Content Creation 2002 have served us well.  Business Winstone focuses on workstation application performance and Content Creation assesses performance using multimedia intensive applications.  Below is a breakdown of the applications each benchmark uses.

 

Business Winstone 2002

  • Lotus Notes® R5

  • Microsoft® FrontPage® 2002 SP-1

  • Microsoft® PowerPoint® 2002 SP-1

  • Microsoft® Excel 2002 SP-1

  • Microsoft® Access 2002 SP-1

  • Microsoft® Word 2002 SP-1

  • Microsoft® Project 2000

  • WinZip® 8.0

  • Norton AntiVirusTM from Symantec

  • Netscape® 6.2.1

Content Creation 2002

  • Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1

  • Adobe Premiere 6.0

  • Macromedia Director 8.5

  • Macromedia Dreamweaver UltraDev 4

  • Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 7.01.00.3055

  • Netscape Navigator 6/6.01

  • Sonic Foundry Sound Forge 5.0c (build 184)

 

Once again we see the KT400A board couldn't quite surpass the nForce2 system.  It's with tests like these that the difference in memory performance becomes evident.  We reported in the PCMark2002 test that the ASUS system posted memory scores 10% faster than the KT400A system.  We saw the same trend with Business Winstone 2002 where the difference was virtually identical.  The margins were less with Content Creation 2002, with close to a 5% difference in the results.  Either way you look at it, the DFI posted good scores and was able to keep up with the very popular nForce2 system which is no small task.


 

As we bring this review to a close, we can't help but feel positive about the DFI "LAN Party" KT400A motherboard.  While the board didn't quite keep up with the nForce2 comparison, it still maintained solid performance through out our testing.  As we said in the opener, no one ever accused DFI of making the fastest motherboards on the market, that much appears to remain unchanged thanks to the KT400A chipset.  We're eager to see what DFI does with their nForce2 based "LAN Party" board which is on the way to the HH labs "as we speak".  To be realistic, however, no user would be able to "feel" the difference in the scores we reported.  Our past experience also shows that DFI makes a stable product, and that seems to remain unchanged as well.  Throughout the entire testing of this product, we didn't have a single glitch, crash or hiccup with this board during normal operation.  So it seems that even though DFI is turning over a new leaf by targeting the enthusiast market, they are still applying the same (or higher) standards as they did in the past.  In fact, aside from the lack of Gigabit Ethernet, we don't have a whole lot of negatives to say about this product.  The feature set for this motherboard is excellent and the added bonus items are useful, well thought out and just plain fun.

The DFI "LAN Party" KT400A motherboard is a quality product, with competitive performance and features for a reasonable price.  We've seen this board selling for as low as $145, and when you factor in all of the additional items included on the box, we think it is money well spent. 


W
e give the DFI "LAN Party" KT400A a Hot Hardware Heat Meter rating of a 9.  You'd be hard pressed to find a better KT400A based motherboard.
 

 

 

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