Issues and Conclusion
The performance story on the Epox 9NPA+ motherboard is going to be a boring one — it runs at the same speeds as the other Athlon 64 motherboards we tested it against. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing at all, as the AMD processors are putting out great performance numbers, especially on the gaming front. The Epox 9NPA+ Ultra would make a superb basis for a gaming platform.
The overclocking performance on the board was better than average, but wasn’t able to topple our current kings of overclocking the new DFI NF4 motherboards. There is room for enthusiasts to tinker beyond what I did for this review, so there may still be a lot of potential in the board as the nForce4 Ultra chipset is doing quite well in this area.
The Epox 9NPA+ motherboard offered a healthy amount of features on the board that would keep most PC users satisfied. The feature set is really a base design on the nForce4 platform though; they didn’t include additional SATA channels over the included four that NVIDIA provides, nor did they include upgraded audio over what anyone else is offering. But, if you don’t think you need more than four SATA channels or higher quality on-board audio, the feature set that the 9NPA+ sports might be the perfect match for you.
The layout of the motherboard is unique to most other NF4 designs in that it gives a bit more consideration to cooling the MCP chipset than other manufacturer’s have. By not keeping the heatsink for the MCP pinned under the video card, Epox was able to make the heatsink larger and more effective than the other boards we have tested.
The Epox 9NPA+ BIOS had some surprising ingenuity in it with the inclusion of information on what SPD settings were if you left your memory settings on “Auto”. This allowed us to know settings we wanted to tweak without having to look up the memory specifications online or wait to boot into Windows to look at a CPUID screen. There were adequate overclocking options as well in there that should allow enthusiasts to tweak quite a bit.
At the time of this publication, the Epox 9NPA+ Ultra didn’t have many sellers, but could still be found for around $135. While that definitely isn’t the cheapest NF4 motherboard on the market, most of the others priced below it are not running the Ultra version, but instead the vanilla nForce4. It seems that the $130-150 price is going to be where the NF4 Ultra chipset boards are going to hang around for a while, so you’ll definitely want to compare the Epox board to other options to see what best fits your needs.
The only issues I had with the Epox 9NPA+ motherboard were relatively minor. The heatsink on the north bridge, though well placed, comes very close to contact with the PCIe x16 slot and thus the PCI Express video cards. None of the cards I tested (including the X800 XT, 6800 GT and 6600 GT) had any problems with this placement, but it is something to be aware of.
The lack of a Firewire header on the rear connectors of the motherboard just means you have an extra step before you can utilize the feature, but most other manufacturers are putting one on there, to avoid the headache.
The DIMM slots were maybe just a hair to close together as well and if your memory modules have wider heatsinks they may make contact.
The Epox 9NPA+ Ultra is a fast and overclocker friendly motherboard that has a price most users will be able to accept. There are other competing boards in this price range, but they may not have the same feature set or overclocking friendly BIOS that the Epox board does. So while the board is not our hands down pick for the nForce4 Ultra chipset, it should be considered one of the better options.
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