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Rare Sight: Single Socket F Mainboard

AMD Company maintains strict differentiation of their server solutions. Socket F with 1207 pins that allows implementing several HyperTransport busses is positioned exclusively as a solution for dual- and multi-processor systems. AMD Opteron processors targeted for single-CPU platforms are all manufactured in Socket AM3 form-factor that implies the existence of only one HyperTransport bus in the CPU. As a result, mainboard makers do not offer single-socket solutions with Socket F, but six-core Istanbul processors are currently available only in Socket F form-factor. This is one of the major challenges one would face trying to build a single-processor system on a six-core Opteron.

Luckily, there are exceptions to almost every rule. We were lucky and we managed to find a mainboard equipped with a single Socket F. It was MSI K9NU Speedster.

The manufacturer positions this solution as a platform for single-processor servers and high-performance workstations that is why it also has the functionality suitable for common desktop computers.

To be fair we have to say that this is no new mainboard model. MSI K9NU Speedster was designed back in 2007, but continuity of Opteron processor generations actively promoted by AMD allows using this mainboard even with the newest six-core CPUs without any problems. The only thing you need to ensure that MSI K9NU Speedster will be compatible with the latest CPU is a BIOS update.

MSI K9NU Speedster is based on Nvidia nForce Prefessional 3400 MCP – analogue to a well-known Nvidia nForce 570 SLI chipset. Due to this chipset the board features two PCI Express x16 graphics card slots (although they only support version 1.1), which even allow building a dual-card SLI configuration as 8x+8x.

However, many features of MSI K9NU Speedster still give away its server origin. The first thing that catches your eye is the XGI Z7 chip with 16 MB of video memory integrated onto this board that allows to do without an external graphics card in case you are building a rackmount server, for instance. At the same time, the board has no such common thing as an integrated sound codec. However, MSI K9NU Speedster is equipped with two Gigabit network controllers and a special Renesas H8S/2168V controller for remote system management.

One of the non-typical peculiarities of this mainboard is the availability of eight DIMM slots for DDR2 SDRAM. The board supports only Registered DIMMs with or without ECC. As a result, MSI K9NU Speedster allows installing up to 32 GB of system memory.

I have to say that the use of relatively old Nvidia nForce Professional 3400 MCP chipset launched back in 2006 doesn’t allow MSI K9NU Speedster to really unwrap the potential of contemporary Opteron CPUs. For example, if you install processors that can clock HyperTransport bus at 2.4 GHz, the actual frequency of this bus will be only 1.0 GHz because of the chipset limitations. However, this issue has very little influence on the resulting performance in single-processor systems.

Another disappointment that this mainboard may bring the desktop users is really poor BIOS Setup functionality. The board has none of the traditional BIOS options used for CPU overclocking. That is why you can only use processors installed in MSI K9NU Speedster in their nominal mode. Therefore Opteron processors participating in our today’s test session weren’t overclocked.

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