Articles: Mainboards
 

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Closer Look

As you know, the NVIDIA nForce4 chipset doesn’t incorporate a memory controller, since this controller is integrated into the central processor on Athlon 64 platforms. Instead, the developer stuffed the chipset with other controllers making it possible to create a full-featured mainboard with a minimum of additional chips. On the other hand, the manufacturers of top-end mainboards equip their nForce4 Ultra-based products with additional onboard controllers anyway, but the Foxconn WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS isn’t like that and its characteristics are mostly determined by the chipset.

The WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS supports all AMD64 processors for Socket 939. The mainboard has no problems working with Athlon 64 and 64 FX models based on 130nm and 90nm cores. The HyperTransport bus is clocked at 1GHz frequency here. The mainboard features four DIMM slots that support DDR400 SDRAM memory modules working in either single-channel or dual-channel mode. Paired DIMM slots for the dual-channel mode are marked with the same color. It means you must install the modules into two neighboring slots to enjoy the advantages of the dual-channel memory access – we see this layout on a majority of Socket 939 mainboards. The WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS has one PCI Express x16 slot for the graphics card. It doesn’t support the SLI mode and doesn’t allow using two PCI Express graphics cards in any configuration.

The mainboard offers two PCI Express x1 and four PCI slots for your add-on cards. Foxconn preferred to implement more PCI slots (nForce4 Ultra-based mainboards usually come with three PCI connectors), sacrificing the number of PCI Express x1 slots. This solution looks right to us because PCI Express expansion cards aren’t widespread yet, while PCI equipment is everywhere in use, on the contrary.

The NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra chipset ensures that WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS supports Serial ATA and USB interfaces, for networking and audio. It carries four Serial ATA II ports (with Native Command Queuing and a data-transfer rate of up to 3GB/s) and two Parallel ATA-133 ports. Hard disk drives attached to these ports can be united into RAID arrays of level 0, 1 or 0+1 in any configuration. NVIDIA’s exclusive nvRAID utility for monitoring and configuring RAID arrays works correctly on the reviewed mainboard.

The nForce4 Ultra chipset supports ten USB 2.0 ports, and they are usually all implemented on mainboards. The WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS, however, has only eight ports of the kind: four at its back panel and four more as two onboard pin-connectors. You receive one back-panel bracket with two USB 2.0 connectors, while the remaining two onboard ports are supposed to be connected to the front panel of the system case. Modern system cases do usually come with USB connectors on their front.

The sound of the WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS is the same you meet on a majority of mainboards based on the nForce4 Ultra. Giving up the integrated audio engine in its new chipset, NVIDIA focused on AC’97 sound realized with the help of Realtek’s ALC850 codec. This very codec is mounted on the reviewed mainboard from Foxconn. The functionality of the sound engine is implemented through three factors. First of all, there’s a coaxial SPDIF output at the rear panel of the mainboard, and an optical output can be attached using the onboard pin-connector. Secondly, the ALC850 codec supports Universal Audio Jack technology (the function of an audio connector varies depending on the device attached). Lastly, NVIDIA ships a special driver with the mvMixer utility for configuring the applied audio solution.

Here are the results of the tests of the audio implementation of the WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS mainboard:

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

+0.47, -3.19

Average

Noise level, dB (A):

-72.4

Average

Dynamic range, dB (A):

73.5

Average

THD, %:

0.049

Good

IMD, %:

0.084

Good

Stereo crosstalk, dB:

-70.6

Good

IMD at 10 kHz, %:

0.099

Good

General performance: Average

Earlier we complained about the rather mediocre quality of the sound of nForce4 Ultra-based mainboards, and here’s yet another proof of our point. However, we still have to state that the integrated sound of the Foxconn NF4UK8AA-8EKRS is quite good compared with what w saw on some competitor’s solutions based on the same chipset.

Using the nForce4 integrated Gigabit Ethernet controller, the WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS supports this 1Gbps network interface. We have already reported several times about the features of the networking solution that employs the controller integrated into the nForce4 Ultra. All the advantages of this solution, including the hardware Secure Networking Engine and NVIDIA Firewall 2.0, work without problems on the WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS.

The only function available on the reviewed mainboard, which is not implemented in the chipset but is realized through an external chip, is the FireWire interface. The onboard Agere FW3226-100 controller is responsible for the two IEEE1394a ports with a bandwidth of 400Mbps. One port is found on the back panel of the mainboard among other connectors, and the other is an onboard pin-connector (note that there is no FireWire bracket for the back panel of the system case among the accessories that come together with the mainboard).

 
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