NVIDIA's NFORCE3 250Gb - New Motherboards from MSI and EPoX
Introducing the EPoX 8KDA3+ NFORCE3 250Gb Motherboard
Our first impressions of the EP-8KDA3+ was that EPoX wasn't wasting any time dressing this board up. Instead, they opted to stick with a standard green PCB and let the features and performance speak for themselves. The layout of the board was fairly standard as well, with typical component placement, and sadly, typical placement errors as well.
Thanks to the single chip design of the NFORCE3, the board has an uncrowded appearance, with each area having a bit of elbow room. The socket 754 is more centered on the board and has a good amount of space between the cooler frame and surrounding capacitors. We also thought the idea of placing the ATX and 12v power connectors adjacent to each other to be excellent, but their overall placement was not, causing power cabling to drape over the CPU cooler.
The 8KDA3+ is equipped with 6 PCI slots for maximum expandability, followed by a 4x/8xAGP slot. The one drawback to the 6 PCI model is that this puts the AGP slot in line with the DIMM hinges, which can be blocked by longer graphics cards. Speaking of DIMMs, the 8KDA3+ sports a total of 3 slots and can accepts up to 1GB per slot. At the left edge we found a single floppy connector and a bank of 4 SATA ports driven by a Silicon Image Sil-3114 controller with RAID 0,1,and 1+0 support. More so, the NFORCE3 250GB's native SATA ports were located to the right of the AGP slot - interesting placement.
Just below the chipset, which was adorned with a silver colored heatsink, was the board's two IDE connectors. In typical EPoX fashion, a diagnostic LED readout was included to help users who are having difficulty with their hardware. While you should not have a problem, it's always good when you have additional tools available to help when trouble does arise.
EPoX also included additional headers for expanding the board's USB ports to a total of 8. However, we were surprised to see the board offered no support for IEEE1394 whatsoever. The back of the board held no surprises, offering up 2 PS/2, 4 USB, 1 Serial and 1 Parallel connections. We also found 1 Gigabit ready RJ-45, 6 1/8" audio mini jacks as well as an optical connection adjacent to the serial port.
EPoX equipped the EP-8KDA3+ with their own flavor of the Phoenix AwardBIOS. The menus were organized nicely, making it easy to find the settings we were looking for. The BIOS made available all of the common settings we would expect to find in an enthusiast class board, as well as a number of performance options for fine tuning the system.
The main points to focus on are the voltage, memory and CPU settings which help to fine tune performance and increase stability. The board offered a range of AGP voltages from 1.6v-1.8v while the CPU could be adjusted from 1.55v-1.70v in increments of .05v. The memory voltage ranged from 2.5-2.8 in .1v increments and the Chipset adjustment ranged from 1.6v-1.75 in .5v steps.
The CPU clock generator was adjustable from 200-250MHz and the AGP speed could be locked to run at 66MHz. The CAS latency could be adjusted from 2, 2.5 and 3 while the frequency could be set from 100, 133, 166 & 200.
The BIOS of the EPoX EP-8KHDA3+ shows a lot of thought was put into its design. Most of the bases were covered and it should offer the overclocker plenty of settings to really fine tune performance.