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Epox K8T800 vs Leadtek Nforce 3 in AMD Athlon 64 battle

Review The battle of the Titians - not just a pretty face
Mon Dec 15 2003, 11:37
IS AN NVIDIA OR a Via chipset a better choice for supporting the very long awaited Athlon 64 CPU? We attempt to answer that in this review.

While 64 is twice the number of 32, an Athlon 64 in practice is only 10 to 20 per cent better than an Athlon XP. AMD claims that apart from the purist's answer that a 64-bit can address over 4GB of memory, this processor is part of the "cinematic computing" revolution.

Actually, many of us are waiting for AMD64 for Windows, but that won't come until sometime next year.

There's one huge performance limitation with an Athlon 64 3200+ and that is it only has one memory controller channel, although in the future Chimpzilla will try and fix this.

Even Intel has begun to think that AMD's approach is quite efficient and it won't take too long until we see Intel CPUs with memory controller on die.

Unfortunately there are two versions of Athlon 64 -- the one we're using is the Athlon 64 3200+ while the other, rather harder to get, is branded the Athlon 64 FX51. This CPU works at 2.2 GHz, has the same amount of cache memory, and the same FSB and a dual channel memory controller.

Epox 8HDA3+ VIA 8KT800 chipset
Serial ATA is now supplied with most motherboards and many high end boards we've seen this year are powered either with Via's chipset or Silicon Image's SIL3114 that works just fine. The board is equipped with AGP 8X and five PCI slots, two UDMA 133 controllers, floppy connector and six serial ATA ports. One limitation is that it has just two memory slots for DDR 400 and slower memory while Leadtek's Nforce board has three memory banks.

EPoX has equipped this board with LED two digit diagnostic LCD that will report some malfunctions.

The BIOS includes overclocking and monitoring features, CPU, Memory and AGP voltage regulation as well as the option to switch on a 1MHz FSB speed for overclockers. EpoX also gives you monitoring through its USMD Windows tool. Right now it's impossible to change multiplayer speeds but EpoX claims it is working on a new approved AMD BIOS that will do just that.

This board offers two COM ports, parallel, four USBs, analogue audio connectors and SPDIF and the software supports Automatic Jack Sensing connector powered by six channel Realtek ALC65x Audio. LAN support includes Via 10/100 Mbit and 3Com's 3C940.

You also get a bunch of cables including two UDMA flat cables, FDD cable, S-ATA cables, Driver CD, S ATA Disk and raid disk, manual I/O shield and CD with Norton Ghost and anti-viral software.

Leadtek WinFast K8N PRO
I never had a Leadtek motherboard before but was not disappointed with the first one I saw. Leadtek WinFast K8N PRO is powered with Nvidia's Nforce 3 150 chipset -- its first step into the Athlon 64/FX/ Opteron arena.

The board as reviewed didn't come with a cooler retention mechanism so I had to take bits from the Epox board and mount it on the Leadtek to plug in the Akasa cooler that I used for this test. We believe that retail boards comes with this mechanism. Apart from the standard AGP 8X and 5 PCI slots board is equipped with three memory slots, the Nforce motherboard standard from the past. Now it does not matter how many memory modules you have as the CPU is a single channel memory baby - whichever chipset you use, the memory controller is in the CPU.

The board is also equipped with two UDMA 133 connectors and good old floppy, and one more UltraDMA 133 for data security. It also has a UDMA secure channel. Leadtek WinFast K8N PRO uses the Silicon Image sil3114 S which enables four S-ATA device in 0 and 1 RAID mode while Epox supports modes five and 10 as well.

Also includes are two COM ports, a parallel port, four USB ports, analogue audio though a built-in ALC-658 6-channel surround sound via a SPDIF (coaxial) interface as a add in card, and two types of LAN cards - 10/100 Mbit from Nvidia and 1Gbit from Realtek.

Like the EpoX board, this supports CPU and chipset voltage adjustment, memory voltage and AGP voltage adjustments for better system compatibility. The FSB can also be increased in this board but not for multiplayers. A Windows hardware utility, Speed Gear II, lets you monitor your system.

In the box you get the board, manual, two UDMA 133, a floppy cable, 4 S-ATA cables, three Firewire port brackets, an additional USB bracket, the driver CD and the hard disk security key.

Testing, testing
We used

Athlon 64 3200+ clocked at 2000 MHz
Epox 8HDA3+ K8T800 board
Leadtek K8NPRO with Nforce 3 150 chipset
2x256 MB Corsair DDR 433 PC 3500 Memory at CL2
Maxtor 80 GB 2MB cache drive
Liteon 48x24x48 CD RW
Enhance 460W PSU
Akasa Athlon64 cooler in Intel box

We tested the machines for a day each, and followed all driver updates on Nforce 3 and K8T800 platforms and ran some of the other normal tests.

Results
When we first ran the tests, the Epox board had some problems with stability at the CL 2 memory settings and we were forced to test CL2 vs. CL2.5 board at first, obviously allowing Leadtek's Nforce 3 to win in most of the game tests.

Epox sent us its new BIOS which solved this problem and let us set our usual 2-5-2-2 timing with Corsair PC3500 CL2 memory.

The results have changed drastically since many of the test were won by Nforce 3 before. The Epox K8T800 BIOS ran the Athlon 64 at 2010MHz faster then the Athlon 64 CPU spec.

Nforce 3 according to our results seems to be quite a nice performer but was outperformed by the K8T800 many times. Leadtek boards still wins over Epox K8T800 in good old Q3 with a similar thing happening in Serious Sam 2 even after a BIOS update.

Serious Sam actually showed a tiny performance lead with Epox K8T800 at 10x7 - the same thing happened with Aquamark.

3dMark01SE favoured the EpoX while the Nature test gave almost identical results.

The difference in Unreal Tournament 2003 tests was very tight. Sometimes Nvidia chipset on Leadtek board won while sometimes Epox won.

In Pcmark02 Epox 8HDA3+ only wins significantly at memory core while the other tests are almost equal. Sandra 2003 mysteriously shows that memory actually runs better on Nforce 3 while the overall score favours the K8T800. The same thing happened with 3dmark03.

Conclusion It's hard to squeeze a fag packet between the test results, and lots of other factors have to be taken into account.

EpoX offers you more flexibility with overclocking while Leadtek's advantage is security - the other features are very similar.

Both motherboards are top class and you won't regret buying either of them. It's horses for courses.

We still don't know why the Nforce 3 150 didn't use 16bit uplink and 16 bit downlink as the K8T800 did. It's a surprise for us to see Nvidia ultimate leader on Athlon XP market to lose so many designs by formerly loyal companies such as EpoX and ABIT. Everyone is waiting for Nforce 3 250, which may come in January.

Nforce 3 150 is a good performer but motherboard manufacturers didn't show much desire to embrace Nvidia's Athlon 64 offer. Most of them decided to wait for the Nforce 3 250.

VIA has to upgrade its chipset soon as the Nforce 3 250 is just round the corner. µ

Quake 3
640x480
1024x768
Athlon 64 3200+ Epox 8HDA3+ VIA K8T800
343.8
330.9
Athlon 64 3200+ Leadtek Nforce 3 150
347.2
332.7
Aquamark
640x480
1024x768
Athlon 64 3200+ Epox 8HDA3+ VIA K8T800
124.4
110.9
Athlon 64 3200+ Leadtek Nforce 3 150
126.5
110.2
Serious Sam 2
640x480
1024x768
Athlon 64 3200+ Epox 8HDA3+ VIA K8T800
163.6
148.5
Athlon 64 3200+ Leadtek Nforce 3 150
167.5
147.8
3Dmark 2001SE
Nature
1024x768
Athlon 64 3200+ Epox 8HDA3+ VIA K8T800
132.4
20779
Athlon 64 3200+ Leadtek Nforce 3 150
132.3
20124
UT 2003 Fly
640x480
1024x768
Athlon 64 3200+ Epox 8HDA3+ VIA K8T800
277
260.8
Athlon 64 3200+ Leadtek Nforce 3 150
275.9
261.5
UT 2003 Bot
640x480
1024x768
Athlon 64 3200+ Epox 8HDA3+ VIA K8T800
94.5
94.5
Athlon 64 3200+ Leadtek Nforce 3 150
95.1
95
PC Mark 2002
CPU
Memory
HDD
Athlon 64 3200+ Epox 8HDA3+ VIA K8T800
6466
9163
1106
Athlon 64 3200+ Leadtek Nforce 3 150
6465
8509
1163
P4 3.2C
FSB 800 Epox 4PCA3+ 875
6571
4955
N/A
Sandra 2002
Epox K8T800
Leadtek Nforce 3 150
P4 3.2 GHz
CPU
7837
7237
8121
3036/3653
3024/4110
3283
Memory
3026
3061
4842
3032
3059
4861
Multimedia
8614
8627
12083
11257
11284
12899
Composite Figures
3Dmark03
Nature
CPU Test 1
CPU Test 2
Epox K8T800
6510
36.8
83.7
11.5
Leadtek Nforce 3 150
6445
36.2
84.8
11.8

 

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