Impressions and Conclusions

We looked at four of the latest nForce 2 Ultra400 offerings from DFI, Asus, and EPoX. If there is anything to conclude from our testing it would be that all products perform equally and all performed very well. With all products showing no tangible difference in performance, what will influence your decision will be features, warranty & support, and stability.

With this in mind, let’s put these four boards into perspective. Each motherboard has SATA RAID 0 and 1 compatibility, at least 6x USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire port, digital audio out through a coax connection, and 10/100 LAN connectivity. However what each manufacturer does beyond these bare features will determine what you should buy. So let’s take a final look at these Socket A motherboards…

Asus A7N8X-E Deluxe

nForce 2 Socket A Motherboard Round-up - Motherboards 87

The Asus A7N8X-E Deluxe’s big selling point will be the three different LAN connections. With 10/100 MB, gigabit, and 802.11b WiFi, it will feel at home as a the hub of your home network or as a computer on your corporate LAN. The Q-Fan feature is handy if your environment is cool and you want to have a quiet computer (think office setting or as a home theatre PC). Of course, the SoundStorm APU will be a great addition to any environment.

However, this motherboard may not be the best choice for those of you looking to overclock: the capacitors may block installation of larger heatsinks, the 12V connector is absent, there is no chipset voltage control, and there is no additional cooling for the southbridge and fan for the northbridge. However those enthusiasts among you may see this as a positive feature since it allows you to overcome shortcomings by using 3rd party BIOSes and installing some custom cooling.

The Asus A7N8X-E Deluxe comes with a leading 3-year warranty which make it a very enticing investment, especially for those buyers who plan on using it for a long time.

Pros:

  • WiFi 802.11b wireless LAN adapter
  • Triple LAN connectivity (10/100, Gigabit, WiFi)
  • nVIDIA MCP-T southbridge (3Com LAN, SoundStorm)
  • Q-Fan technology
  • 2x IEEE 1394 Firewire connections
  • 3-year warranty
  • Good documentation

Cons:

  • Fewer overclocking features
  • No +12V power connection
  • Large heatsinks may have problems
  • More than a few jumpers

Check out some prices on the Asus A7N8X-E Deluxe!

DFI Infinity NF2 Ultra

nForce 2 Socket A Motherboard Round-up - Motherboards 88

The DFI Infinity NF2 Ultra is a well rounded product and its prime feature is the abundance of overclocking options. It has memory adjustments galore, voltage settings for everything including the chipset, and has the BIOS Reloaded feature to save and restore your configurations quickly. There is a 12V power connection for increased stability and manages to fit larger heatsinks (though it is very tight). In addition to this it has SPDIF-in, 4 SATA connections (instead of the typical 2), RAID 0+1 operation, and 3 IEEE1394 Firewire connections (compare at one or two IEEE1394).

There are some downsides however. The location of the socket may not allow the installation of larger heatsinks for fans depending on the size of your case (16″-17″ will be problematic). In addition to that, the Infinity has a strange zif socket gap that may affect your heatsink mounting, though it did not have problems in my testing. You should also be aware that there are outstanding BIOS issues with the Infinity (maybe a moot point now with the brand new BIOS released for LanParty). Though I personally didn’t experience any problems (my issues lay with the LanParty), it should be something you should research before making a purchasing decision. Our DFI forum is a great source for that kind of information.

Warranty is an issue with this motherboard. As far as I can tell (from digging through many posts in our DFI forum) warranty depends on the retailer you purchased the Infinity at. So if you have problems they are the ones you should contact, not DFI. Each retailer will have a different warranty period so be sure you know what is covered and for how long. This to me is a sore spot for DFI and the Infinity. Without a properly defined warranty and RMA support network, customers will often feel left in the cold when problems creep up.

Pros:

  • Lots of overclocking features
  • CMOS backups via CMOS Reloaded feature
  • nVIDIA MCP-T (3Com LAN, SoundStorm)
  • 4x SATA connections (2 more than typical)
  • 3x IEEE1394 Firewire connections (1 more than typical)
  • SPDIF-in and SPDIF-out (coax)
  • +12V power connection

Cons:

  • Large heatsinks may not fit because of capacitors, socket position, and/or PSU
  • Large CPU fans may not fit because of socket position and PSU
  • Crooked zif socket may cause cooling problems (it didn’t for me)
  • Potential stability issues with BIOS (see our forums)
  • Poor documentation
  • One Firewire port on bracket
  • One LAN connection
  • Manufacturer warranty ambiguous

Check out some prices on the DFI Infinity NF2 Ultra!

DFI LanParty NF2 Ultra B

nForce 2 Socket A Motherboard Round-up - Motherboards 89

The DFI LanParty NF2 Ultra B is the motherboard with the biggest bundle of extras in this review. It comes with a FrontX port replicator, a carrying strap, and rounded cables. In addition to these goodies, the motherboard itself sports UV reactive components that glow when lit properly, 8 USB 2.0 connections, 4 SATA, 3 Firewire, SoundStorm, and dual LAN connections (10/100, and Gigabit). The BIOS is ripe with overclocking features that should keep the enthusiast happy.

However, not all is perfect. Like the Infinity, the zif socket is crooked and does not sit flush with the PCB. This may cause problems with CPU cooling, but I did not observe anything out of the ordinary. The socket is also located near the top edge of the board which may cause problems if you are planning on using larger heatsinks and/or fans.

The biggest issue I found however was the instability I saw when trying to upgrade the BIOS. After inquiring in our forums, I gathered fairly quickly that the problems I experienced are “typical” if BIOS problems are experienced. Granted there are many users who are using the LanParty without problems, there are also many users who can’t seem to get the bugs out (this has been a hot-button for a while). Given this uncertainty, I find it hard to whole-heartedly recommend the LanParty NF2 Ultra B unless you are willing to spend the time to work out potential issues (you may not experience any!). Please see my update to this issue 1 paragraph below (-J.).

Warranty may be an issue for you since it depends on the retailer you bought the DFI LanParty from. As stated previously for the Infinity NF2 Ultra, without a clearly defined warranty support framework, customers may feel alienated when problems occur. I hope that DFI makes some changes and state a warranty policy more clearly so consumers are aware of any risks.

DFI BIOS Update (July 23, 2004):
I just found out that the beta BIOS that fixes some of these problems has officially been released! I know a lot of people have been waiting eagerly for this so please go to DFI’s website and download it there. Thanks to DFI for releasing this fix! Also visit our DFI forums to discuss this.

Pros:

  • Lots of overclocking features
  • CMOS backups via CMOS Reloaded feature
  • nVIDIA MCP-T (3Com LAN, Soundstorm)
  • 4x SATA connections (2 more than typical)
  • 3x IEEE1394 Firewire connections (1 more than typical)
  • 8x USB 2.0 connections (2 more than typical)
  • 10/100 and Gigabit LAN connections
  • SPDIF-in and SPDIF-out (coax)
  • +12V power connection
  • Onboard power and reset buttons
  • Bundled extras (carrying strap, UV reactive parts, FrontX extension, rounded cables)

Cons:

  • Large heatsinks may not fit because of capacitors, socket position, and/or PSU
  • Large CPU fans may not fit because of socket position and PSU
  • Extra goodies increases price (extra two USB, strap, cables, and FrontX = $40-50USD extra vs. Infinity)
  • Extra goodies may have questionable usage
  • Crooked zif socket may cause cooling problems (it didn’t for me)
  • Potential stability issues with older BIOS. Requires an updated BIOS and a flash to correct.
  • Poor documentation
  • Manufacturer warranty ambiguous

Check out some prices on the DFI LanParty NFII Ultra B!

EPoX EP-8RDA3+

nForce 2 Socket A Motherboard Round-up - Motherboards 90

Of all the motherboards seen here today, the EPoX EP-8RDA3+ has the best physical design of them all. The socket is clear of obstructions and all jumpers are easily accessible. However the IDE channels may be too far for a standard 18″ IDE cable to reach from your 5.25″ drive bays. The features are impressive on the EP-8RDA+. There is a host of overclocking features with the highest voltage settings of all the boards reviewed today. It is also the only motherboard that features both coax and optical SPDIF output for flexibility. There is dual 10/100 LAN connections, AC’97 digital audio, 2 SATA connections, 6 USB, and 2 Firewire. Let’s not forget about the nice rounded IDE cables thrown in.

The EP-8RDA3+ would have been perfect if it weren’t for the fact EPoX chose not to use the nVIDIA MCP-T southbridge. Instead they went with their own implementation and the results aren’t as good. Instead of using 3Com, the EP-8RDA3+ uses Realtek LAN controllers. For audio, instead of nVIDIA Soundstorm, there is AC’97 digital audio that is less flexible and subjectively poorer audio quality.

EPoX Warranty Update (July 26, 2004):
After publishing this article, EPoX helped us clarify their warranty information. The EP-8RDA3+ comes with 2 year warranty (opposed to the meagre 1 year reported before). This is sufficient for most users.

Pros:

  • Good motherboard layout (large heatsinks shouldn’t be a problem)
  • Dual 10/100 LAN
  • Coax and optical SPDIF-out
  • Serial and game port bracket included
  • +12V power connection
  • Active cooling on Northbridge
  • Rounded IDE cable
  • Norton Ghost 2003 on the CD
  • Good documentation
  • Price (cheaper than most due to lack of MCP-T)

Cons:

  • No nVIDIA MCP-T (EP-8RDA3+ uses Realtek LAN and AC’97 audio)
  • Only 3 stereo ports (5.1 support only via SPDIF-out or front panel)
  • IDE channels may be too far for 5.25″ bays to reach

Check out some prices on the Epox 8RDA3+!

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