ASUS A7N8X Deluxe Motherboard ReviewBosco - January 18, 2003
: GF City Computers
Price: $190 USD
The A7N8X Deluxe is Asus's second Nvidia based chipset attempt in making a top performing motherboard using the Nvidia nForce2 SPP chipset. Users will remember the original nForce 420D and 620D that suffered in really low memory performance. Will the nForce2 prove worthy to compete against VIA?
Some people will ask, why not give me the onboard nForce2 IGP graphics? Asus made this board to be a gamer board, and wants its customers to choose video cards that will suit their needs without having the constraint of an onboard system which generally leaves out an AGP slot. The IGP is very nice indeed offering GeForce4 MX420 quality graphics; however the video card being used in this test system outperforms this solution hands down. Another feature is being able to double the RAM throughput using dual channel mode. This feature will allow you to get 6.4GB of memory bandwidth out of PC3200 RAM running at DDR 400! Though this feature is nice, it only comes part of the nForce2 IGP chipset.
UPDATE: January 19, 2003 @ 2340 (GMT-7)
This review will be a general review of the mainboards' features, with little to no emphasis on overclocking.
The board comes with cables such as the FireWire bracket, S-ATA cables, ATX bracket, the usual IDE and floppy cables, a 2nd COM port connector, Quick-Start Guide, and motherboard installation manual which is quite thorough.
The A7N8X has been made to suit just about everyone's case design. I have a regular 17" myself, and this board fits very nicely with the ATX connector being in the right place. Some others may argue with this, but if you have an Enermax PSU with those very long cables, this will be a god send for you. The spacing between the AGP slot and the DIMM slots has become an importance these days. Who wants to install RAM finding out that the AGP card is blocking the DIMM tabs? Not the case here, another good job for Asus. The heatsink on the SPP is a passive solution, meaning no air is passed into the heatsink to dissipate the heat. The heatsink is pretty large at a 50mm x 50mm x 40mm, but I would have preferred an active solution that was used back in the A7V266-E days.
The Asus board has some other nice features, a power LED on the board that tells you when power is being delivered through the 20 pin ATX connector, and a RED AGP LED which tells you if a voltage problem is taking place. This board can only handle 1.5v cards, meaning that your old Voodoo card is not going to work. Trying to get it to work with this board results in the AGP LED coming on until a 4x or 8x AGP card is installed.
This board comes with more features then the cats' meow. As you can see, Asus had to take out the 2nd COM port to add on the connectors for the center/LFE channel (orange), rear channel connector (purple), and SPDIF connector (yellow). Asus has included the 2nd COM port as a header cable that installs into an expansion slot within your chassis.
This chip here is what provides the motherboard with a distinct option only found on new Asus motherboards, a BIOS warning speech engine. Instead of listening to beeps which the BIOS produces if there is a problem with any hardware, the POST reporter will speak out what the problem is. I tested this feature and it does work well, though can be a pain with low speed fans or overclocked memory settings where it will speak every time you boot the computer. If this annoys you, this feature can be disabled in the BIOS which will result with old fashioned BEEP tones.
Since S-ATA is now being included on most DDR400 motherboards, a few companies have been providing solutions for motherboard vendors for the past little while. While Promise is one of the biggest RAID solution providers, Silicon Image has won the rights to use its' chip for Asus, and provides two S-ATA connectors that allow a user to connect two Serial ATA hard drives, and also allow the user to operate the drives in an RAID 0, 1, or 0+1 configuration. This will be very nice when Seagate releases their S-ATA Barracuda ATA-V drives into Canada. This new method of ATA transfer allows a user to achieve 150MBps data rate and 1.5GBps bandwidth. Another feature about S-ATA is that it is hot-swappable. Very nice indeed! To disable the feature, move the jumper from 1-2 to 2-3 and you're done. A note of warning: If you choose to use this feature with Windows XP, it must be enabled prior to installation. Turning this feature on all of a sudden will disrupt the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) and will cause the operating system to crash.
Now we shall get onto the hot stuff, doing some benchmarks.
In this test, the 3DMarks came out very well, 8864 total, with no overclocking. Mind you the GeForce4 Ti's will beat me out in this test, but it's not how you play on your computer, it's how well your computer runs that matters.
As you can see, very nice at a speed of 31.66 fps. This setup was only 5-6 fps slower then Kelvin's GA-7VAXP / XP2400+ / Ti4200 setup.
Tests done with Quake 3 Arena, 1024x768, 32 bit textures, 32 bit color depth, geometric detail = high,
Texture detail = max, texture quality = 32 bit, texture filter = trilinear.
Quake 3 is the old tried and true method of benchmarking video cards. I did this test as I did not have UT2K3 available at the time of testing. The results on DEMO001 were 185.2 fps and DEMO002 ended up at 189.2 fps, the fastest that I have ever seen for Q3 in my life. Beats getting 20-30 fps at 640x480 back in Voodoo2 days!
The PCMark test came out with the following numbers, CPU = 5119, 700-800 points slower then a 2GHz XP2400+, 3837 on the memory score, and 728 on the HDD score.
I stated at the beginning that the nForce2 had the capability to provide a user with up to 6.4GB of memory bandwidth when running a dual channel configuration. Running memory in DDR 266 mode should have provided me with 4.2GB to work with. This wasn't the case. I only got 2073 MBps INT and 1979 FPU. However when you look at the KT333 benchmark in the 3rd row, you can see that running that system with PC2700 only was able to score 2092 MBps INT and 2014 FPU running in DDR333 mode, only 1% faster then the nForce2 running Dual Channel DDR266. Very nice I might say. Again, please remember that this is a synthetic test.
Overclocking this board was a bit of a pain. In my rig I only have a 300w PSU which is pushing the limits on my rails with the hardware that I have. I was able to get the board to boot at 147MHz FSB, but was not able to go any further and it was not even stable at 147MHz.
This board definitely has what it takes to become the top motherboard choice of AMD gamers. Driver installation was smooth for the nForce2 chipset, however to use the drivers required the use of SP1, and you cannot download the nForce2 drivers from Nvidia as it states that Asus uses a different sound system imbedded into the MCP-T chipset. The drivers will install, but you will have no sound as I found out. Uninstalling the Nvidia drivers and re-installing the Asus drivers from the CD will fix that issue. Another sight is that the 1001 G BIOS provided by Asus on the new boards is a tad buggy. Users will find that the onboard sound settings will have to be changed in the BIOS in order to use the sound, and also may have to flash back to 1001 C to get the POST reporter to work as I did. Pirates beware; this board may not be for you if you cannot get SP1 installed. This is needed for the driver tome and for USB 2.0. The sound provided on the A7N8X kicks ass, even if you don't have a fancy DTS Dolby 6 ch system. With my headphones I listened to several MP3's and games in comparison to my older SB Live 5.1 sound card. The ALC650 system beat it in clarity, SNR, and bass. After the sound test, the SB Live found another home in my older P1-MMX computer, not easy to do since Realtek has not been able to compete with Creative in the sound market till now.
Memory speeds are quite fast with this board, and adding Dual Channel DDR support to an Athlon XP is like adding a 100 powershot to a 426 Chrysler HEMI, it beats out any other DDR266/333/400 AMD solution when running in a slower spec eg: DC DDR266 instead of DDR333. I did run the board in single channel mode, but the memory difference wasn't even noticeable, only a 1% hit in SiSoft.
Gamers will also love having three/four network connections available on the board. The combination of having the 2 NIC's running at 100MBps, IEEE 1394 running at 400MBps and 6 USB running at 480MBps allows the users to run any network standard based on cabling minus of the new Gigabit which is offered on the A7V8X-GBL*.
*UPDATE: January 19, 2003 @ 1700 (GMT-7)
The previous motherboard mentioned, the A7V333-X, is incorrect.
Just when I thought when Asus was going downhill due to manufacturing being switched to China from Taiwan, this board has produced the contrary, a great product that will last for ages to come.