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DFI LanParty nForce2 Ultra
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Date: Sep 02, 2003
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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DFI LanParty nForce2 Ultra - Page 1

 

DFI LANParty nForce2 Ultra
Looks and Performance That Can Kill

By, Tom Laverriere
September 1, 2003


Routine, to some people, is perfectly acceptable.  Knowing what's going to happen at certain times of the day, every single day, is what puts them at ease.  Others believe change is good.  They're always trying to find a way to do something different, better, or faster.  These are the people that like not knowing what to expect and, rather, just react to what happens and make spur-of-the-moment decisions.  Is either approach better than the other?  Not necessarily, it all depends on who you ask.  If you asked DFI, the motherboard manufacturer, what they preferred, all they would have to do is show you their new line of enthusiast motherboards, and you'd know exactly which approach they aspire to.  With their new line of LANParty motherboards, DFI has definitely broken from the mold we see other motherboard manufacturers using.  At first glance, it's easy to see the glamour of these new motherboards.  But DFI didn't just stop at looks.

LAN parties are ever increasing in popularity.  It's when a bunch of geeks like you and us here at HotHardware, get together in the same room with our systems, link up and Deathmatch until we drop.  At first it was just a matter of getting your rig to these places, it didn't matter what it looked like.  Now that modding is a huge sideshow to the whole Enthusiast PC community, catching the eyes of your fellow competitors at one of these LAN parties, is just as important to some, as is winning the Deathmatch.  DFI LANParty motherboards will definitely draw plenty of attention as it certainly did ours.  Today in the HotHardware labs, we have one of those boards from DFI, the nForce2 Ultra 400 LANParty motherboard.  Using NVIDIA's latest nForce2 chipset, the nForce2 Ultra 4000, this board is not only "perty", it should pack plenty of punch, when it comes to performance. 

Let's break it in and see if beauty and brawn can come together in perfect unity.

 

DFI LANParty NFII Ultra: Featureset

The Green Monster
Dual Channel DDR that Glows

CPU
AMD Athlon XP 266/333/400MHz FSB

AMD Athlon 200/266MHz FSB
 

Chipset
nVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 and nForce2 MCP-T


Memory
 Supports dual channel memory interface

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


Audio

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
Dual LAN chips - nVIDIA nForce2 MCP-T and ICS1893PHY, Realtek RTL8101L

Integrated IEEE 802.3, 10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX compatible PHY

Integrated power management functions

Full duplex support at both 10 and 100 Mbps

Supports IEEE 802.3u auto-negotiation

Supports wire for management

 

ATA RAID

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


System BIOS
Award BIOS, Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP Plug and Play compatible

Genie BIOS provides: CPU/DRAM overclocking, CPU/AGP/DRAM/Chipset overvoltage

Supports SCSI sequential boot-up

Flash EPROM for easy BIOS upgrades

Supports DMI 2.0 function

4Mbit flash memory

 

Internal I/O Connectors
1 x USB 2.0/1.1 connector for 2 additional USB ports

3 x IEEE 1394a ports

1 x game/MIDI port

1 x Front audio connector for external line-out and mic-in jacks

2 x Audio connectors ( AUX-in and CD-in )

1 x 4-channel audio output connector

1 x S/PDIF-in/out connector

1 x IrDA interface

2 x RAID IDE connectors

1 x Serial ATA connector

2 x UDMA IDE connectors

1 x Floppy Drive connector supports up to 2 2.88MB floppy drives

2 x ATX power supply connectors

1 x Wake-On-LAN connector

CPU, chassis and second fan connectors


Back Panel I/O
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports

2 x RJ45 LAN ports

2 x NS16C550A-compatible DB-9 serial ports

1 x SPP/ECP/EPP DB-25 parallel port

1 x mini-DIN-6 PS/2 mouse port

1 x mini-DIN-6 PS/2 keyboard port

Three audio jacks: line-out, line-in, and mic-in

Serial ATA

Uses Marvell 88i8030 chip

Supports one SATA interface which is compliant with SATA 1.0 specification

 

IEEE 1394

Supports IEEE 1394a at 100/200/400 Mb/s transfer rate

 

System Health Monitoring

Monitors CPU/system temperature

Monitors +-12V/5V/3.3V/VBAT(V)/5VSB(V) voltages

Monitors CPU/chassis fan speed

Read back capability that displays temperature, voltage and fan speed

 

Bundle

1 x Transport carrier

1 x FrontX 5.25" bay for additional ports

2 x UV Reactive rounded IDE cables

1 x UV Reactive rounded Floppy cable

1 x Media CD

1 x Driver CD

1 x Intervideo WinCenema CD

1 x 3.5" High Point RAID driver disk

2 x Multi-language manuals

1 x SATA power adaptor

1 x SATA cable

1 x Rear USB bracket

1 x Rear Game/MIDI bracket

1 x Rear S/PDIF-in/out bracket

1 x Silicone Heatsink Paste

5 x Extra long jumpers

1 x LANParty sticker

1 x LANParty Case Badge

 

 

 

  

Once you get past the looks of the new DFI LANParty NFII Ultra, it's not hard to see that DFI was out to attract true enthusiasts with its impressive array of features.  This board packs just about everything under the sun onto its black PCB, including IDE RAID, SATA, USB 2.0, dual LAN, support for the latest Athlon XP chips with 200MHz FSB, and much more.  DFI has also added plenty of never seen before perks such as fluorescent PCI slots into its total package making this motherboard special on many different levels.  Let's have ourselves a closer look and see if we can show you exactly what we're talking about over here.

Meet the Green Machine: DFI NFII Ultra

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DFI LanParty nForce2 Ultra - Page 2

 

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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DFI LanParty nForce2 Ultra - Page 3

 

DFI LANParty nForce2 Ultra
Looks and Performance That Can Kill

By, Tom Laverriere
September 1, 2003

 

 

We used the latest versions of Comanche and Quake 3 Arena.  Quake 3 may be a little outdated, but still gives a good idea of memory bandwidth performance in a system.  All tests were run at default and overclocked settings.

 

Quake 3 and Comanche 4
OpenGL and Direct 3D Gaming Performance

The gaming benchmarks show the DFI LANParty motherboard outdoing its competitor at both default and overclocked settings this time around.  These scores show that if you're in the market for an nForce2 motherboard whether it be the original nForce2 chipset or the Ultra version, it is best when paired with a CPU that runs synchronously with the memory

 

The DFI LANParty paired with the new nForce2 Ultra chipset seems to be quite a duo here as it once again outperforms its brethren in the Commanche 4 benchmark.  While the gains are minimal and ultimately unnoticeable to the user, it at least shows that the DFI board is in line with the performance we've come to expect from nVIDIA's nForce2 chipset.  Let's take a look at one more 3D gaming environment, Unreal Tournament 2003, and the ratings for the DFI LANParty nForce2 Ultra motherboard.

Unreal Tournament 2003 and The Ratings

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DFI LanParty nForce2 Ultra - Page 4

 

DFI LANParty nForce2 Ultra
Looks and Performance That Can Kill

By, Tom Laverriere
September 1, 2003

 

 

We'll wrap it up with a benchmark round from Unreal Tournament 2003.  We utilized a simple benchmark script that does "Fly By" demos on the Antalus, Asbestos and Citadel levels.  We set the resolution to 640X480, so as to take as much of the workload off the GeForce FX5200 Ultra as possible and place it on CPU and system bandwidth.

Unreal Tournament 2003
DirectX 8 Gaming Performance

 

I

 

The two motherboards are pretty much neck and neck in the Unreal Tournament 2003 benchmark, as each claims a small lead in one level or another.  We think it's safe to say that these boards pretty much perform on par with each other.  However, this next generation nForce2 chipset obviously has a bit more room as far as overclocking goes, since its default settings are set to run at a 200MHz FSB.

 

DFI LANParty NFII Ultra Analysis:
Where do we start, when summing up the DFI LANParty NFII Ultra motherboard?  No matter which aspect you look at, the board is impressive.  Its bundle is loaded with everything you need to get this motherboard connected and into a case with a window, where it belongs.  A handful of other extras like the FrontX panel and the case transport make this package even more attractive. The aesthetics of this board are definitely interesting to say the least.  If LAN parties are what you're seeking, then this is the motherboard you want to be going with, you since it will draw envious onlookers and make the trip hassle free.  With its UV reactive slots and rounded cables to its black PCB, it's sure to impress and we like it because it breaks away from the typical motherboard mold. 

Performance of the LANParty NFII Ultra  is equal to and even slightly better in some instances, than other nForce2 boards we have tested.  Some people may ask, "why bother updgrading to the nForce2 Ultra chipset?  The performace seems to be the same, right?".  For the most part we could answer "Yes" to those questions, but what the nForce2 Ultra chipset gives you is the extra headroom for overclocking.  Additionally, since the Ultra version of the nForce2 chipset is running a default 400MHz FSB, it officially supports the latest 400MHz FSB "Barton" Athlon XP processors.  All this was proven by the final overclocks of both boards, where the DFI NF2 Ultra based board handedly beat out the Abit NF2 standard board.  The feature set and flexibility of options this motherboard brings to the table is perfect, for even the most hardcore enthusiast in the crowd.  Maybe the only small downfall to this package is that it comes in around $143 on various search engines.  However, even at that price this bundle is still a great value.  If you're in the market for an upgrade that can run all of today's software title's and take you into the future, then this motherboard deserves your attention.

 

  • Great overclocker

  • Fast and stable

  • Good value

  • SATA support

  • Variety of IDE RAID configurations

  • Dual LAN

  • Supports 200MHz FSB Athlon chips

  • Dual DDR400 support

  • USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394

  • Case Transport

  • Great looks and unique

  • FrontX Panel

  • Minor layout issues
  • No IEEE-1394a rear bracket
  • Only 1 SATA port

We're giving the DFI LANParty NFII Ultra a HotHardware Heat Meter rating of...

 

Discuss this or any other Hot Hardware Review in the PC Hardware Forum!
 

 

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