LANParty NFII Ultra - Mean and Green
In The Limelight
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
Setup and Benchmarking