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Closer Look

Once again recalling the meaning of the “VE” abbreviation in the name of the Chaintech VNF4 Ultra VE mainboard, our description of the additional functions of the product isn’t going to take much of your time. In fact, the mainboard owes all its capabilities to the chipset. But the chipset is nForce4 Ultra and this says a lot.

As you know from our earlier reviews, the nForce4 Ultra is quite an advanced chipset with almost every function necessary today. Let me list them for you once again in reference to our today’s reviewed mainboard.

First of all we have to point out that Chaintech VNF4 Ultra VE supports modern Socket 939 processors (130nm or 90nm cores) with 1GHz HyperTransport. So, the mainboard supports dual-channel DDR400 SDRAM, which you install into the four DDR DIMM slots. The slots are color-coded, and you install pairs of modules into the same-color slots to enable the dual-channel memory access. Like on the EPoX 9NPA+ Ultra mainboard that we tested earlier (see our article called EPoX 9NPA+ Ultra Mainboard Review: Meet NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra Chipset!), the DIMM slots belonging to the first and second memory channels go alternately.

Your graphics card goes into the single PCI Express x16 slot of the Chaintech mainboard. Being based on the nForce4 Ultra chipset, the mainboard doesn’t support the SLI mode. Three ordinary PCI slots and two PCI Express x1 slots are available for other expansion cards.

The networking capabilities of the Chaintech VNF4 Ultra VE are provided by the chipset and the additional PHY- Vitesse VSC8201RX controller. They provide you with Gigabit Ethernet and the integrated hardware network protection system called ActiveArmor. NVIDIA Firewall 2.0 works correctly on the reviewed mainboard, providing an efficient protection against network attacks at the same time putting a small load on the central processor.

The integrated sound is based on the AC’97 Realtek ALC850 codec that works with NVIDIA’s own driver and configuration utility called nvMixer. We have already discussed the capabilities of this combination, but were rather disappointed with the low quality of this audio solution implementation. We tested the audio capabilities of the Chaintech NVF4 Ultra VE, too, but got the same, very average, results:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:

+0.49, -4.12

Poor

Noise level, dB (A):

-70.6

Average

Dynamic range, dB (A):

73.0

Average

THD, %:

0.022

Good

IMD, %:

0.114

Average

Stereo crosstalk, dB:

-69.5

Good

IMD at 10 kHz, %:

5.062

Very poor

General Performance: Average

As you see, the noise level remains quite high, so some mainboard makers’ decision to abandon AC’97 sound in favor of discrete PCI controllers on their nForce4-based products seems pretty reasonable (we are going to have a review of a mainboard like that very soon).

But let’s get back to the sound implementation on our Chaintech VNF4 Ultra VE now. There are six audio jacks on the rear panel of the Chaintech NVF4 Ultra VE supporting the Universal Audio Jack technology. Unfortunately, the mainboard has no SPDIF outputs, either at the rear panel or as onboard pin-connectors. It doesn’t mean the owner of the Chaintech NVF4 Ultra VE will have to use analog speaker systems only. Theoretically the line output of this mainboard can produce digital signal, if you use a special adapter. We couldn’t test this feature, however, because the adapter isn’t enclosed with the mainboard.

As for the disk subsystem, Chaintech NVF4 Ultra VE – again, using the capabilities of the nForce4 Ultra chipset – supports two Parallel ATA channels (for up to four devices) and four Serial ATA II channels. Thus, you can attach as many as eight hard disk drives to this mainboard. Irrespective of the interface, the drives can all be united into a RAID array of level 0, 1 or 0+1.

Like other solutions of the same kind, the Chaintech NVF4 Ultra VE supports ten USB 2.0 ports. Four of these ports are laid out at the rear panel of the board, and six more are implemented as onboard pin-connectors. To our regret, we didn’t find a USB bracket for the back panel of the system case among the accessories supplied with the mainboard.

Mainboards based on NVIDIA’s earlier chipsets used to be criticized for the quality of their USB ports, so we wanted to check out the performance of the USB 2.0 ports of the Chaintech NVF4 Ultra VE. Using the AIDA32 utility we measured the bandwidth of the USB bus and the CPU load when transferring data to a USB 2.0 OneTouch 250GB external hard disk drive from Maxtor and then compared the numbers with those we got with an i925XE-based system.

Intel 925/915 (ICH6R)

NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra

USB 2.0 Bandwidth (Read), MB/s

25.3

29.1

USB 2.0 CPU Utilizations (Read), %

17

16

USB 2.0 Bandwidth (Write), MB/s

24.9

33.8

USB 2.0 CPU Utilizations (Write), %

16

18

The results of the test are clear enough: the speed of the USB bus of the new nForce4 Ultra chipset exceeds that of the new-generation chipset from Intel. At the same time the CPU utilization is almost the same with both chipsets: the Intel one and the NVIDIA one. Overall, the nForce4 Ultra boasts a better implementation of the USB bus.

That’s all we can say as far as the functionality of Chaintech NVF4 Ultra VE mainboard is concerned. You should agree it has every basic function necessary. The only thing that you can actually complain about is the absence of the FireWire protocol, as Chaintech didn’t want to install an additional onboard chip for some reason. Well, the majority of users don’t have a great need for FireWire ports on the mainboard, so it is quite natural the engineers didn’t install an additional onboard FireWire controller that would have increased the cost of the end product.

 
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