Chaintech ZNF3-150 ZENITH Motherboard Review

Admin - 2007-02-19 17:25:39 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: March 3, 2004
Chaintech
Price: $165 USD

Introduction:
Usually when we review a product at OCC, we’ll take one item, and put it up against similar products. Today we are going to try something a little different with our first AMD64 motherboard review. One reason for this, is that I simply don’t have another AMD64 motherboard to use, and the second reason for this is I wanted to give a real life scenario look at the motherboard.

Now that you are probably saying, “what the hell is he talking about ‘real life scenario’?” Most people that I know don’t go out and build a whole new computer, instead, they’ll buy a part here and a part there and upgrade as they have time and/or money. This is the angle we are going to use today in our review of Chaintech’s latest motherboard, the ZNF3-150 ZENITH.

For this review, I’ll be using the video card, memory, hard disk, and other components from my AMD Athlon XP 1800+ system and seeing how much of a difference the upgrade to an AMD Athlon 64 3000+ on Chaintech’s ZNF3-150 ZENITH motherboard will be. Of course the comparison numbers should be higher on the AMD64 3000+ system, and that’s the point; to show how much higher. For those who want to see a comparison of the ZNF3-150 to another AMD64 motherboard, stay tuned for our next motherboard review, as it will have the ZNF3-150 used as a comparison.

 

Specifications:
The following are the specifications for the ZNF3-150 as provided by Chaintech.

Form Factor
  • ATX (305mm x 244mm)
CPU
  • Supports the new generation of AMD Socket754 Athlon 64 CPU
  • Processor interface via 6.4GB/s Hyper Transport bus
Chipset
  • NVIDIA nForce3 150
Main Memory
  • Three 184 pin DDR DIMMs up to 2GB
  • Supports DDR266/333/400 modules
Expansion Slots
  • One AGP slot for both 4X/8X AGP
  • Five 32-Bit PCI slots (v2.2 compatible)
  • One CMR(Chaintech Multimedia Riser) for Chaintech Multimedia Card (CMC7.1)
Audio Subsystem
  • 24bit resolution audio format support
  • 7.1 Channel speaker audio supports
  • Sampling rates up to 96KHz
  • Multi-channel AC-link supported alternatively
  • Support S/PDIF out
Video Subsystem
  • Video 4X/8X AGP
UltraDMA IDE Ports
  • Build-in nForce3 150 supports 3 ATA66/100/133 IDE ports
FDD
  • One FDD connector supports up to 2.88MB
Embedded USB Controller
  • Build-in nForce3 150 supports total 6 USB2.0 ports with High-Speed Device@480 Mb/s Transfer Rate
Embedded system monitoring
  • 2 temperature sensing for CPU and system
  • 3 Fan speed monitoring (CPU, system and Chipset)
Boot-Block Flash ROM
  • Award system BIOS support PnP, APM, DMI, ACPI, & Multi-device booting features
Software
  • Driver CD
  • Value Pack 2003
Other Feature

Rear panel I/O ports

  • One PS2 Mouse and Keyboard port
  • Two USB ports and one RJ45 connector
  • Two 9-pin D-Sub male Serial ports
  • One 25-pin D-Sub female Parallel port
  • Audio I/O jacks (Line-in, Line-out and Mic-in)

On-board Gigabit Ethernet

  • On-board Broadcom GbE Controller supports 10/100/1000Base-T Gigabit LAN

On-board SATA RAID Controller

  • On-board Sli3114 SATA RAID Controller supports 4 Serial ATA devices for the highest data transfer rates (1.5Gbps burst) with RAID 0/1/10 solution

On-board VIA VT6306 IEEE1394 Host Controller

  • On-board VIA VT6306 IEEE1394 Host Controller supports 3 IEEE1394 ports with Serial bus data rates of 100, 200 and 400Mbps.
  • IEEE P1394a compliant and IEEE Std. 1394-1995

On board connector for external device

  • Four 3x1 pin fan connectors
  • 2x1 pin fan connector with housing for Chaintech RadEX
  • Two 5x2 pin USB connectors for front 2 USB ports & 6 in 1 Card Reader on CBOX3
  • 3x1 pin wake on LAN connector with housing
  • 3x1 pin wake on Modem connector with housing
  • Two 4x1 pin CD-in connectors with housing on CMC7.1
  • 4x1 pin Aux-in connector with housing on CMC7.1
  • 5x2 pin Segment display connector for 2-digits Debug LED on CBOX3
  • 8x1 pin IEEE1394 connector with housing for front IEEE1394 port on CBOX3
  • 9x2 pin front panel connector
  • 5x2 pin front side audio connector
  • 20 pin ATX Power connector
  • 4 pin ATX 12V Power connector

Closer Look:
When the UPS delivered the motherboard’s box to my house, I was amazed at the size of the box. I opened the brown box expecting to find a ton of bubble wrap or styrofoam peanuts, but to my surprise there were actually very little of each. Inside the big brown box was a huge shinny box inside of which was Chaintech’s motherboard. - The shine is caused by the reflection and angle of the room and camera lights, it's not really as multicolored as it looks.

Opening Chaintech’s box I soon found out why such a huge box was used. There was a ton of stuff in here. I expected motherboard, user guide, and a few of the common motherboard accessories. Boy was I wrong. Chaintech includes just about everything except for the kitchen sink.

Included in the package is:

As you can see, there is a lot a bit of stuff there. Lots of stuff = good thing. :p

Closer Look (Cont.)

On of the most noticeable features of the ZNF3-150 is the RadEX system. What the heck is RadEX you ask? Well, it's an acronym of course!

Revolutionary: CHAINTECH is the pioneer among the rest of motherboard makers to design the first onboard thermal solution - RadEX!
Active: Heat dissipation begins from the power source, RadEX actively diverts the high temperature away from the hot spots instantly!
Direct: CHAINTECH migrates Super Conductive Heatpipe Technology from space applications into motherboard cooling! It is an ideal, fast, the direct heat conducting method that guarantees you an everlasting stability!
EXhaust: RadEX draws the hot air straight out of your system and completely eliminates overheating!

The RadEX system uses a Heat Pipe (similar to what’s seen on many of Zalman’s heat sinks and cooling devices.) to keep eight voltage regulators around the Ziff socket cool. The idea behind this is to allow for better overclocking by keeping the chips cool and helping stabilize the voltage regulators.

When I first glanced at the motherboard, I thought that the north bridge had a nice little fan/fan guard on it. It wasn’t till I actually looked closer at the board that there was no fan on the north bridge. Instead a passive heat sink was used. Though that it was pretty odd that a fan would be used on the RadEX system to cool the voltage regulators, but not on the north bridge. - Though since many of the functions that were once done by the north bridge have been integrated into the CPU with the AMD64 processors, I guess the north bridge isn't doing to much to warrant active cooling.

Closer Look (Cont.)

Speaking of odd, did you happen to notice where the north bridge chipset was in the first place? Right next to the PCI slots, this is where you would usually find the south bridge chipset. You can forget using a Zalman or Swiftech north bridge coolers on this motherboard if you make use of PCI slots 1-3, and you can bet that water cooling the north bridge would also be out of the question.

Aside from the odd placement of the north bridge controller, I can't really complain about the rest of the boards layout. Chaintech did a nice job of placing things in nice, easy locations.

Along the front of the motherboard (front of the motherboard being the side that would usually be closest to the front of the case) are the three IDE connectors, floppy disk connector, and ATX power connector. The four SATA connectors and system BIOS chip are along the bottom front of the motherboard (bottom as in closest to the bottom of a tower case). As mentioned earlier, the north bridge chip is located next to PCI slot 2 and the CMOS battery is beside it. The three memory slots are located in the upper front of the motherboard, and the CPU ZIF socket lays between the memory slots and the rear I/O ports.

Closer Look (Cont.) The BIOS
The ZNF3-150 uses the Phoenix AwardBIOS, and has some very nice looking Overclocking settings. From the looks of things, I’m going to enjoy this board, however there is one thing that worries me... In the package with the motherboard was a letter from Chaintech that states, “We are aware of some problems related to the current BIOS and Overclocking, and are working to resolve this issue.” Doesn’t sound good, but they also don’t go into detail on what exactly the problems are. I’m sure we’ll find out later in the testing.

As you can see, from the main BIOS screen, there are 8 sections that can be entered. They are:

In addition to those sections, you asl have the options to:

Standard BIOS Features
This is where you get to set all of the IDE information, as well as the BIOS time and date. Selecting an IDE device, will allow you to either auto detect it, or manually specify information for it.

Advanced BIOS Features
This is the section that contains a lot more of the BIOS features. You can adjust the boot order, Num Lock status, enable/disable the CPU cache, allow for virus warning, and adjust several other options, including the Hard Disk Boot Priority.

 

Advanced Chipset Features
Here we have the ability to adjust most of the AGP settings, as well as the LDT settings. LDT stands for Lightning Data Transport, which is actually the “code name” for the HyperTransport technology, which is the AMD replacement of the PCI bus. More information on LDT and the HyperTransport technology (HTT) can be found in our AMD64 processor explanation. The Flash BIOS protection option, is a nice little addition, as it prevents the BIOS from being flashed or changed wile this is enabled.

A Closer Look: The BIOS

Integrated Peripherals
There are three subsections to this menu:

Power Management Setup
Nothing out of the ordinary here. This section allows you to control the various ACPI settings, the state the system is at after power failure, and several "Power On By" settings which allow you to turn the system on via a click or press of a button.

PnP/PCI Configurations
This section is for IRQ and DMA settings. You can also reset the ESCD from this screen.

PC Health Status
As you might guess, you can see various system temps and other information here. You also have the ability to set a “Shutdown Temperature”. Most BIOSs also include a “Shutdown on CPU Fan fail” and and “Alarm Temperature” temperature setting, I've always found both of those settings to be pointless, and they are not available in this BIOS. - Just remember to set the “Shutdown Temperature” setting, so if your CPU fan does happen to quit working, you wont fry your AMD64.

Frequency/Voltage Control
This is the fun part of the BIOS where you will find all of the nice overclocking options. “The CPU Overclock in Mhz” allows you to set the CPU overclocking speed in increments of 1 from 200 to 400. This acts a lot like the FSB, but remember, with the AMD64, there is no longer any such thing as the FSB.

“AGP Overclock in Mhz” allows you to overclock the AGP port much like the CPU setting. It allows changes in increments of 1 and values range from 66 to 100. You also have the ability to adjust the various voltage settings from this menu (after enabling “Voltage Fine Tune”).

Voltages available are as follows:

The DIMM Configuration sub menu of the Frequency/Voltage Control section allows you to adjust your various memory settings, such as CAS. Well, at least that is what this section is suppose to allow. Do you remember earlier when I said that there was a letter included that stated there were some problems with overclocking this system? Well, I contacted Chaintech to find out exactly what they meant by that. Come to find out that just about all of the settings in here do not work on anything other than the defaults. But the good news is, as I'm told they are working on resolving this issue.

The "Max Memclock" setting will allow you to set a limit on how fast of a speed your memory is run at. Sadly, this is one of those options that doesn't work right now.

PXE BIOS
In addition to the on board NIC being 10/100/1000MB/s, it is also PXE-compatible, which with the proper software and hardware can make the NIC a bootable device and allow you to remotely manage the system, or install an operating system from the network.

Testing:
As I stated earlier, the testing portion of this will consist of my old AMD Athlon XP 1800+ system, and then the parts transferred to the Chaintech motherboard using an AMD64 3000+.

When I first started the benchmarking, I was going to test the AMD64 system using Windows XP Pro (SP1a) as well as the recently released Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems Beta Trial; Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems is the AMD64 version of Windows XP 64-Bit. However, due to problems associated with the beta OS and several of the benchmarking applications, testing using Windows XP 64-Bit was all but impossible in most cases. Because of these problems, testing was done only with Windows XP Pro (SP1a).

All of the video and gaming benchmarks/test will be using the nVidia ForceWare 53.03 Drivers and Microsoft DirectX 9.0b unless otherwise noted. The 53.03 drivers are the “latest and greatest” drivers provided by nVidia, at the time I started working on this review. - I'd like to point out that just because they are the latest drivers, does not mean they are best for benchmarking, however since most people tend to go with whatever driver is the latest, I decided I would use this driver.

Components used in each system are:

These components are far from “top of the line” and will not produce any outstanding results in any benchmark, however it's all that I have available right now. Got to go with what you were given in life, right? I do have some higher end memory and a few SATA drive headed my way that will be used for future testing. For any video card manufacturers that happen to be reading this, I wouldn't mind a new video card, and hey, I'm not picky. I'll use ATI or nVidia. :p Anyway, on to the testing...



Benchmark: DirectX Games

To try and accommodate many of the request I had for benchmarking this motherboard, several different games were used in adition to the results listed earlier. - Games were tested using the nVidia 53.03 drivers.





Gun Metal - Benchmark 1
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
Maxmum
35.96
53.35
Minmum
06.72
10.35
Average
12.69
20.36
Higher is better. - Results are reported in frames per seccond.


Gun Metal - Benchmark 2
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
Maxmum
39.53
56.16
Minmum
04.67
07.21
Average
14.49
23.94
Higher is better. - Results are reported in frames per seccond.


To try and accommodate many of the request I had for benchmarking this motherboard, several different games were used in adition to the results listed earlier. - Games were tested using the nVidia 53.03 drivers.





Unreal Tournament 2004 - Beta Demo - Botmatch
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
Minmum
22.60
44.12
Average
44.93
84.77
Maxmum
101.06
185.16
Score 44.88 84.90
Higher is better. - Min, Max, and Ave Results are reported in frames per seccond.

 





Unreal Tournament 2003 v 2225
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
Flyby
125.00
141.03
Botmatch
44.96
76.70
Higher is better. - Results are reported in frames per seccond.

 





SplinterCell v1.2b
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
Maxmum
61.24
80.79
Minmum
16.17
16.13
Average
31.01
32.61
Higher is better. - Results are reported in frames per seccond.

 





Call of Duty
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
"Flyby"
56.2
58.7
Higher is better. - Results are reported in frames per seccond.

 





Final Fantasy XI Vana'diel Bench 2
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
Score
2748
3435
Higher is better.

Benchmark: Synthetic Games

3DMark 03 (v3.4.0) was used as a DX9 test. 3DMark 03 attempted to build on what was started 3DMark 01, but due to controversy concerning “driver optimizations”, it seams to have slipped some in the eyes of many. This isn't to say that 3DMark 03 isn't a popular benchmark, because it is extremely popular.



3DMark 03
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
 
53.03
44.03
53.03
44.03
3DMark 03 Score
1463 1369
1534 1499
Higher is better.


3DMark 01 SE was used as a DX8 test, since this is the DirectX version Windows XP installs by default. 3DMark 01 set itself as one of the most popular benchmarking utilities available. Even though it was not originally designed for DX9 benchmarking, it is still commonly used today. 3DMark 01 SE is the only benchmark we used for DX8 testing, and was used with the nVidia 53.03 and 44.03 drivers.









 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
 
53.03
44.03
53.03
44.03
Score
5755 9517
11668 13233
Dragothic – Game 2 (Low)
115.7 176.6
172.9 210.8
Dragothic – Game 2 (High)
89.1 97.8
103.4 118.9
Higher is better. - Game two results are reported in frames per seccond.


Vulpine GLMark v1.1 is an old benchmark utility designed to test video card based on the OpenGL platform, where as 3DMark test on DirectX. Results for this benchmark are in FPS.





Vulpine GLMark v1.1
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
Maxmum
86.0
235.0
Minmum
36.0
63.0
Average
61.4
128.0
Higher is better. - Results are reported in frames per seccond.

Benchmark: Applications

PCMark 04 is a "application-based benchmark" from the same people that brought us the 3DMark utilities. As you'll see, the video drivers don't make much of a difference in this benchmark, however since it is a program from Futuremark, I wanted to make sure I at least tested with their "approved drivers" as I did with 3DMark01/03.





PCMark 04
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
 
53.03
44.03
53.03
44.03
PCMark 04 Score
2491 2472
3684 3739
Higher is better.


Zif Davis Media WinBench 99 v2.0 (ZDMedia WinBench99)
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
Business Disk WinMark 99
5010
5230
High-End Disk WinMark 99
16700
18200
Business Graphics WinMark 99
563
1100
High-End Graphics WinMark 99 1090 2060
Higher is better.

Benchmark: IDE/USB/Firewire

Benchmarking of the IDE/ATA controller was done with Simpli Software's HDTach (v2.70). - The Primary Slave location with a 40G Seagate 7200 RPM HDD was used for testing.





HDTach - Read
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
Maxmum
44.3
44.2
Minmum
26.0
22.8
Average
37.7
37.8
Higher is better. - Results are reported in MB/s.
HDTach - Write
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
Maxmum
20.4
22.6
Minmum
15.4
15.9
Average
18.8
19.1
Higher is better. - Results are reported in MB/s.
HDTach - Random Access Time
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
Random Access Time
14.8
14.5
Lower is better.- Results are in ms.
HDTach - Read Burst Speed
 
AMD 1800+
AMD 64 3000+
Read Burst Speed
70.7
72.7
Higher is better. - Results are reported in MB/s.

Benchmarking of the USB/IEEE 1394 (that'd be FireWire) ports were also done with Simpli Software's HDTach (v2.70). - For these test, a 80G Maxtor 7200 RPM IDE drive in an external USB2/IEEE 1394 case was used. The 1800+ system had no USB2 or IEEE 1394 ports, so testing was done only with the AMD64 system.

HDTach - Read
 
USB2
IEEE 1394
Maxmum
21.1
34.3
Minmum
17.6
19.3
Average
18.8
31.1
Higher is better. - Results are reported in MB/s.
HDTach - Write
 
USB2
IEEE 1394
Maxmum
15.7
23.5
Minmum
11.3
13.3
Average
13.1
16.8
Higher is better. - Results are reported in MB/s.
HDTach - Random Access Time
 
USB2
IEEE 1394
Random Access Time
18.6
18.1
Lower is better.- Results are in ms.
HDTach - Read Burst Speed
 
USB2
IEEE 1394
Read Burst Speed
24.7
39.2
Higher is better. - Results are reported in MB/s.

Unfortunately, at the time of this review, I do not own a SATA drive to properly test the SATA ports on this motherboard. I have since ordered a couple drives that should be here within the next week, and when they arrive, I will publish the results from the SATA testing.

Benchmark: Audio Sound Test

Testing of the integrated sound/Chaintech Multimedia Card is probably the hardest thing to test. Everyone hears things differently, and what may sound crystal clear to me, may sound fuzzy to someone else (in which case, you probably need to go get a hearing aid :p).

I noticed no difference in the sound quality when going from my Creative SBLive Platinum 5.1 sound card, and the Chaintech Multimedia sound. To try and give the sound systems a fair test, I listened to a wide variety of music (Classic Rock to Metal and regrettably even some rap). I also too the liberty of testing out the sound from the UT2K4 demo, UT2K3, and CoD. As with the music listening test, the gaming test was awesome.

The final testing of the sound system was to determine if the CMC degraded the system performance any. To see how much (if at all) the CMC degraded performance, we benchmarked the system using UT2K4 and UT2K3, with no sound and by using the CMC. If the CMC is going to degraded the system performance any, we would see a noticeable drop in the FPS. To ensure that any drop was indeed caused by the CMC, and not just a hick up in the game, the test were run 5 times, and averaged out. There results are below.

Sound System Test
 
No Sound
CMC
Unreal Tournament 2003 - 2225
52.57
48.58
Unreal Tournament 2004 - Demo
92.02
84.77
Higher is better. - Results are reported in fps.

As you can see, the CMC had very little impact on the games. While a 7.25 fps drop may make some people cringe, it's nothing most people would notice.

Overclocking
While the motherboard did provide some nice looking overclocking features inside the BIOS, the maximum I could get the CPU overclocked was by 300Mhz, which took my 2.0Ghz AMD Athlon 64 3000+ to 2.3Ghz. I know that part of the reason I could not get a further overclock was due to the limit of my PC2700 (333Mhz) memory.

The memory would not go past 191.7/383.4. Had the memory “lock” in the BIOS worked as it was suppose to, the system may have over clocked further. Hopefully, Chaintech (and/or Award PheonixBIOS) will get this little problem resolved.

Another thing that would help in overclocking would be the ability to change the multiplier. While not available in the BIOS, the multiplier can be changed (only lowered) by using ClockGen, a nifty little overclocking program from CPUID, who also happen to make CPU-Z.

Overclocking Results
Overclock
 
Scores
CPU
HTT
Memory
Multiplier
2000 200 333.4 10x
2004.75 222.75 364.5 9x
2100 210 350 10x
2200 220 366.6 10x
2300 230 383.4 10x
 
3DMark 03
AquaMark 3
1528 15756
1539 15776
1540 15761
1547 15766
1553 15769

Software:
Before I wrapped up this review, I did want to take a moment and show you the software related to the Chaintech motherboard. This deals with the DigiDoc software and the CMC's “control center”.

Every time I see “DigiDoc” I keep wanting to think of the Digital Doc multifunction panel. Of course, it's not the same thing. The DigiDoc software is Chaintech's “motherboard monitor”. As you can see from the image, it monitors CPU and System temps, along with the voltages and fan speeds for the CPU and System fans. Since the north bridge on the ZNF3-150 is passively cooled, we have no fan speed.

It wasn't a major problem, but I thought I'd note in case anyone else runs into this problem. When I was installing the DigiDoc software, I encountered this error after trying to run the program: Can't load memacc.vxd or memacc.sys. This problem was resolved by running the repair software option on the DigiDoc from Windows add/remove programs.

The Vinyl Envy Audio software that was packaged with the system is straightforward and easy to use. However I did find one thing odd about it. You've probably noticed the 2 channel - 8 channel icons at the top of the images, now if you look at the images of the speaker configuration you can see what they are calling 6 channel is what most people refer to as 5.1, likewise what they refer to as 8 channel is 7.1. While I guess technically, 5.1 is 6 channel, it would make more sense to have it labeled as what people know, 5.1.

 



Conclusion
Well, even though I haven't seen the ZNF3-150 ran at it's fullest capability yet, I certainly can't complain with what I have seen. I am extremely eager to see what this baby can do when matched up against another nForce 3 or VIA motherboard.

The bundle of things that came with this mother board was amazing. Chaintech sure went out of their way to make sure that you had just about everything you needed to get up and running. Though the software bundle could use a tad bit of work. Maybe some game demos. ;)

The are only two things that I was unhappy with. The first Chaintech is working on fixing, and that would be the overclocking issues related to the BIOS. The other would be the placement of the north bridge.

 

Pros

  • Multilingual user guide
  • 10/100/1000MB/s LAN
  • PXE NIC
  • 3 IDE Connectors (6 IDE Devices)
  • 4 SATA Connectors
  • Integrated Sound / Chaintech Multimedia Card
  • RadEX System
  • CBox 3 Front Panel
  • Included Accessories
  • Software Package
  • Overclocking Options In BIOS

 

Cons

  • Odd Placement Of North Bridge
  • No Active Cooling On North Bridge
  • Problems With BIOS & Overclocking (Being Fixed)
  • No IDE RAID