NF4 Ultra Shoot-Out: Abit vs. MSI vs. ECS
Summary & Conclusion
Benchmark Summary: Looking back at the benchmark scores, it's clear that picking an nForce 4 Ultra based motherboard strictly on the basis of performance is nearly impossible. All three of the nForce 4 Ultra based motherboards we spotlighted in this article performed at near identical levels in virtually every benchmark. Technically speaking, the Abit Fatal1ty AN8 scored the most first place finishes in our tests, followed by the MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum, and then the ECS KN1 Extreme, but each motherboard's margin of victory was quite small in every benchmark.
Abit Fatal1ty AN8:
The Abit Fatal1ty AN8 is an excellent motherboard for those looking to build a flashy Socket 939, AMD based system. The Fatal1ty AN8 has a relatively complete feature set that should satisfy all but the most demanding enthusiasts, although it does lack the secondary LAN and RAID controllers found on the other two boards we've looked at here. Performance was definitely one of the Fatal1ty AN8's strong points, as it scored the most "first" place victories in our testing. And this board has by far the best BIOS of the bunch. It also overclocked like a champ, which is typical of Abit's enthusiast class motherboards. Further, in our opinion it's the most aesthetically pleasing. The on-board LEDs, and its color scheme give the Fatal1ty AN8 a very unique appearance, and we're also fond of the Fatal1ty AN8's OTES cooling system. Consequently, at roughly $190 though, the Fatal1ty AN8 is by far the most expensive of the board we tested here. In the end, we're giving the Abit Fatal1ty AN8 a solid 8.5 on the Heat Meter.
|•Relatively High Price
•Missing some features found on cheaper boards
ECS KN1 Extreme:
The ECS KN1 Extreme is the first enthusiast class motherboard we've seen from ECS, and on some levels we'd consider this board to be a success. At about $100, the KN1 Extreme is downright cheap considering the board's feature set and bundle. ECS should be commended for making this board available at such an affordable price. But ultimately, the KN1 Extreme is overshadowed by the competition for a couple of reasons. First, the KN1 Extreme is not geared toward overclockers as it's "Extreme" branding would suggest. This is evident in its limited BIOS options. Secondly, while the KN1 Extreme does have dual-LAN capabilities and multiple drive controllers (NVIDIA & SiS), one of the LAN controllers is only 10/100 and shares the PCI bus, and we're partial to the Silicon Image 3114 found on the K8N Neo4 Platinum when compared to the SiS180. Lastly, the board's ALC655 audio codec and its 3 outputs wasn't on the same level of either Abit's or MSI's solutions. We did like the KN1 Extreme's chipset cooler though, and think ECS' inclusion of an exhaust fan over the VRM is another plus. Overall, the ECS KN1 Extreme is definitely a good choice for the money, but hardcore enthusiasts and overclockers will find themselves wanting more when it comes time to tweak their systems. We're giving the ECS KN1 Extreme a 7.5 on the Heat Meter.
•Good Feature Set
•Oversized Chipset Cooler
•Active VRM cooling
•Not "Overclocker Friendly"
MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum:
MSI has taken us on a bit of a roller coaster ride recently. We really liked their nForce 3 based K8N Neo2 Platinum, and ended up giving the board an Editor's Choice away while back, but weren't quite as impressed by their K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI motherboard in a recent round-up, although it did have an excellent feature set. However, the K8N Neo4 Platinum strikes an excellent balance, and should be considered amongst the elite nForce 4 Ultra based motherboards. With a street price of approximately $130, the K8N Neo4 Platinum is very affordable. Considering this motherboard's feature set, overclocking abilities, and bundle, the $130 price tag is easily justified. Performance was also on par with its competition and the K8N Neo4 Platinum is a very capable overclocker. Aesthetically, the K8N Neo4 Platinum may not be as ornate as the Fatal1ty AN8, but it's by no means unattractive. Additionally, we're not about to ding a motherboard excessively just because it's not flashy. We would like to see some form of VRM cooling incorporated into future revisions though. In conclusion, we think the MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum strikes a great balance between price, performance, features, and overclockability. In the final analysis, it stands out as the victor in this round-up, in our humble opinion. We're giving this board a solid 9 on the Heat Meter, and giving it our Editor's Choice award as the best all-around nForce 4 Ultra we've tested to date.
•Excellent Feature Set
•No VRM Cooling