by Ilya Gavrichenkov
01/31/2007 | 07:47 PM
A few years ago it could be hard to imagine that hardware enthusiasts would pick the core logic set from a third-party developer as the best chipset for Intel processor based systems. The developers of alternative chipset solutions could for a long time compete with the microprocessor giant only thanks to aggressive pricing policy in the budget market segment in the first place. However, things have changed dramatically since then. The owners of contemporary Intel CPUs have almost forgotten about the Taiwanese chipset makers already. There are new forces moving to the forefront now: AMD/ATI and Nvidia companies that strive to expand their influence beyond the graphics card market. Some time ago we introduced to you a solution from Nvidia – nForce 680i SLI chipset (for details see our article called Nvidia nForce 680i SLI Chipset Review). The results of our test session suggest that if the mainboards based on it are laid out in certain way then this chipset may become a worthy competitor to i975X and iP965 as a solution for high-performance system.
Today we have to introduce to you a competitive solution for Intel processors from AMD/ATI – the RD600 chipset also known under the official name of CrossFire Xpress 3200.
I would like to point out right away that we will try not to use the official name of this chipset throughout this article, because we believe that it is not quite justified. The thing is that there was an ATI chipset for AMD processors with the same name, although it had nothing in common with the today’s RD600 and differed greatly from it in terms of supported features and functionality.
Note that it is a pretty funny fact that the chipset for Intel processors comes from ATI Company, which is a part of AMD today. This curious state of things can only be explained by the fact that RD600 was in development since the times when ATI was independent, and AMD just didn’t want to give up an almost completely ready solution. Nevertheless, RD600 is the last chipset from AMD (ATI) for Intel processors. This is also one of the reasons why this chipset will not really become widespread. AMD is not interested in aggressively promoting this solution into the market, especially since the CrossFire technology support can also be implemented successfully in platforms built around Intel core logic sets. At this time there is only one company offering ATI RD600 based mainboards – DFI. However, it doesn’t diminish our interest to this chipset as well as to DFI’s solution. Moreover, the DFI mainboard engineering team did their best to offer us an overclocker solution of the new class that can become a great technology example in this field.
This notorious mainboard - DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G – got into our test lab. So, in the review you are about to read we will talk about the new ATI core logic set for the Intel Core 2 processor family and the mainboard solution from DFI engineers.
Before we go into details about the new DFI mainboard, we should say a few words about the ATI RD600 chipset. The main intrigue about this chipset is that it is the first discrete chipset from ATI supporting Crossfire technology and Intel processors, which has been recommended for high-performance systems. The previous integrated ATI chipsets for Intel platform could boast neither high performance, nor sufficient options for successful overclocking. Therefore, RD600 is definitely a dramatically new solution and hence of extreme interest to us.
Let’s take a closer look at its design:
As you can see from the chart above, ATI RD600 is a dual-chip core logic set. The North Bridge is the RD600 chip, and the South Bridge is the SB600 chip, which we have already mentioned in our review called Chipsets for Socket AM2 Platform: ATI CrossFire Xpress 3200 and Nvidia nForce 590 SLI (now it is called AMD 580X Crossfire) for AMD processors. The chips of the core logic set are connected with one another via the A-Link Xpress II bus, similar to PCI Express x4.
Although the RD600 chipset is officially called Crossfire Xpress 3200, just like the earlier solution for AMD Athlon 64 processors, you shouldn’t be misled by the name. Even though these both chipsets use the same South Bridge doesn’t make them close from the feature standpoint. Even when it comes to implementation of Crossfire technology. The thing is that ATI RD600 North Bridge supports strictly limited number of PCI Express lanes. While its namesake for AMD processors supports 36 PCI Express lanes that allow implementing two fully-fledged PCI Express x16 interfaces in the mainboards based on it, RD600 has only 20 PCI Express lanes. As a result, the new chipset can only support two graphics cards as PCI Express x8 + PCI Express x8. However, we know this narrowing of the graphics bus bandwidth results in insignificant performance reduction. Moreover, there are no chipsets for Intel processors in the market today that could work with Crossfire technology designed as PCI Express x16 + PCI Express x16.
Besides two graphics busses, ATI RD600 chipset also offers an additional PCI Express x2 bus for the third card – physics accelerator, and two PCI Express x1 busses that the mainboard developers can use at their own desire: for example, for network or Serial ATA RAID controllers.
It is quite hard to tell why there are so few PCI Express lanes in RD600. As the previous chipsets from this developer look much more advanced from this prospective, we get the impression that the engineers just were trying to save some money and effort here.
In this respect the functionality of the new North Bridge in terms of system memory support looks quite significant. ATI managed to design dual-channel DDR2 SDRAM controller that has no analogues as of today. It supports truly asynchronous memory clocking that is not connected to FSB frequency in any way. According to the formal specification, ATI RD600 supports DDR2-667 and DDR2-800 SDRAM, however, in reality its functionality goes far beyond that. The chipset allows setting the memory bus frequency to almost any frequency you can think of today, and it will not be in any way tied up to the FSB speed. This feature is very important for overclockers as it allows overclocking the memory independently of the CPU and to avoid looking for specific memory modules if the system features an overclocked processor.
Another important advantage of the ATI RD600 DDR2 SDRAM controller is the support of 1T Command Rate. Although this is not surprising at all these days: nForce 680i SLI also boasts the same feature. However, unlike the Nvidia chipset, ATI RD600 also supports 2T Command Rate and 3T Command Rate, which may sometimes improve the operational stability and increase the overclocking potential of the memory modules.
As for the CPU support, the new ATI core logic set is compatible with any LGA775 processors available in the today’s market. Of course, since very soon we will see Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs designed for 1333MHz Quad Pumped Bus speed, it is very interesting to see how well RD600 will work with them, too. Although there is no official data about it yet, we tend to believe that the chipset is well equipped to deal with the new processors just fine.
Although ATI was initially going to use RD600 with the new SB650 South Bridge, the chipset we are talking about today uses an older South Bridge model – SB600. We have already discussed its functionality in detail in our previous articles: it supports ten USB 2.0 ports, four Serial ATA-300 ports, one Parallel ATA-133 channel, six PCI busses and High Definition Audio (Azalia). The serial ATA controller built into the chipset South Bridge supports RAID 0, 1, 0+1, NCQ and up to 3Gbit/s data transfer rate, but doesn’t support RAID 5.
As ATI’s chipset has limited functionality in terms of expansion busses support and uses older South Bridge model, RD600 doesn’t look that dramatically impressive against the competitors’ background:
Nevertheless, ATI chipset boasts all necessary basic features that can be enhanced with additional onboard controllers if needed. And since RD600 core logic set costs less than the competitors’ solutions, the mainboards based on it should be priced quite affordably even with onboard controllers added to the PCB.
You shouldn’t also be concerned with the low bus bandwidth between the chipset North and South Bridges. The thing is that all high-speed interfaces in the ATI chipsets are placed inside the chipset North Bridge, therefore, the South Bridge doesn’t really need high-speed connection. So, it looks like all the above mentioned drawbacks of ATI RD600 are definitely not fatal.
At this time there is only one ATI RD600 based mainboard in stores. It is DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G.
DFI is known for its overclocking friendly solutions and no doubt that their interest to this chipset is determined by ATI’s promised unprecedented overclocking friendly features of their new chipset. As a result, we are expecting this mainboard to demonstrate new overclocking records. However, let’s first take a look at the official list of features of DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard:
DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G
LGA775 processors: Celeron D, Pentium 4, Pentium D, Pentium 4 XE,
AMD Crossfire Xtreme 3200 (ATI RD600 + ATI SB 600)
Up to 511MHz (with 1MHz increment)
Adjustable processor core voltage, Vdimm, voltage of the chipset
4 DDR2 DIMM slots for dual-channel DDR2-1067/800/667/533 SDRAM
PCI Express x 16 slots
PCI Express x1 slots
PCI expansion slots
USB 2.0 ports
10 (6 – on the rear panel)
2 IEEE1394a ports (1 – on the rear panel, by VIA VT6307 controller)
1 ATA-133 channel (in the chipset)
4 Serial ATA-300 channels (in the chipset, with RAID support)
ATA RAID support
RAID 0, 1, 0+1 in the chipset
8-channel HD codec: Realtek ALC885
Two Gigabit Ethernet controllers (by Marvell 88E8052 and 88E8053)
Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG
ATX, 305x240 mm
It is quite logical that DFI engineers were not quite satisfied with the list of features offered by ATI RD600. Therefore, the mainboard we will be discussing today features a few additional onboard controllers that make it fit for the advanced users’ needs. At the same time, besides the LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G, the manufacturer is also planning to offer a less expensive board model without the additional SATA controller. However, we haven’t yet seen the solution like that in stores.
The mainboard is shipped in a box of traditional DFI size painted red with a cartoon picture on the front side of it. The reverse side of the box is more informative and carries the picture of the mainboard alongside with a list of its major advantages.
The design of the mainboard package is not very impressive, I have to admit that other leading mainboard manufacturers are currently offering much more appealing exterior designs. Nevertheless, inside the box there is a pretty decent set of accessories. Among them are a multi-language user’s manual and vivid quick installation guide, a floppy disk and CD disk with software and drivers, Karajan audio module with the retention kit, round aerodynamic cables for FDD and PATA devices, I/O shield, two brand name yellow SATA cables and a power cable for two SATA HDDs, a LANParty sticker for the front case panel and another large LANParty sticker.
Although the DFI mainboard cannot boast a bundle as rich as the mainboards from ASUS from the same price range, for instance, there is only one serious complaint that we have: too few SATA cables included.
Now that we have discussed the features of the ATI RD600 chipset in detail we can see that it is slightly yielding to the contemporary alternatives from Intel and Nvidia. That is why DFI engineers used a few additional onboard controllers to implement the missing features.
In particular, DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard supports 8 Serial ATA-300 ports only thanks to the onboard promise PDC40719 controller. This controller services four out of eight ports available on the mainboard allowing the use of hard drives with NCQ and up to 3Gbit/s data transfer speed that can be united not only into RAID 0, 1 and 0+1 arrays, but also in RAID 5. However, despite the contemporary features, this controller has one unpleasant peculiarity: it is connected to the chipset South Bridge via the PCI bus that can limit its performance severely.
Nevertheless, this was the only option DFI engineers could use, because the two free PCI Express x1 lanes of the ATI RD600 chipset have already been used for the two Gigabit network controllers that also require high-speed connection to the chipset. LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G uses Marvell 88E8052 and 88E8053 chips for that, and they also allow uniting the network ports into teaming mode if necessary.
Besides the ten USB 2.0 ports serviced by the chipset, the mainboard also offers two IEEE1394 ports. They are implemented via the common PCI controller – VIA VT6307.
The implementation of the sound tract on this mainboard is also pretty interesting. The thing is that just like on other LANParty UT solutions the analogue part of the sound tract has been moved onto a separate daughter card aka Karajan audio module (after the Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan). This module carries one of the latest 8-channel High-Edfinition codecs – Realtek ALC885. Besides all its features this codec is also fully compatible with the Windows Vista Premium requirements.
Other features of the DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard are quite predictable. Most of them are determined by the features of the ATI RD600 chipset. The PCI Express slots layout on the mainboard PCB follows the strict recommendations of the chipset developer. As a result, this mainboard offers three PCI Express x16 slots. The first two are assigned to the graphics cards, and if the system is equipped with two graphics accelerators they will work in PCI Express x8 mode. If the second graphics card slot is empty, the first one will work at its full speed. The bus work modes are switched fully automatically. The third PCI Express x16 slot is connected to the PCI Express x2 bus and serves for graphics cards working as a physics accelerator or for expansion cards with PCI Express interface. The mainboard also features 3 regular PCI slots.
DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G has four DDR2 DIMM slots for the memory. Thanks to supported asynchronous clocking of the memory bus, the mainboard is compatible with a great variety of DDR2 SDRAM modules working at different speeds. The chipset memory controller supports single-channel and dual-channel modes. The memory slots on the mainboard PCB are color-coded accordingly.
Speaking about the main features of the RD600 chipset, ATI stressed the ability to configure its major parameters from Windows with the help of a special utility. When we got our hands on the board built on this chipset, we got a great opportunity to see that ATI’s promises were not unsubstantiated. The board is accompanied with a special AMD System Manager program that brings in the corresponding functionality.
Besides reporting the system status, this utility can change the processor bus frequency, PCI Express bus frequency and memory bus frequency, manage the main system voltages and even set the memory timings without ever entering the BIOS Setup and rebooting the system.
In other words, AMD System Manager can be called an analogue of the Nvidia nTune utility for ATI chipsets.
Also, DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard comes with another utility for system monitoring. It is ITE Smart Guardian.
Besides displaying the temperatures, voltages and fan rotation speeds, this program allows adjusting the parameters determining the connection between fan rotation speeds and temperatures.
Since the mainboard we are talking about today belongs to LANParty UT series, the developers did their best to make their product look attractive in regular daylight as well as in the UV light. Therefore, all slots and connectors on the PCB are bright orange and bright yellow, glowing in the UV light. The PCB textolite is of noble black, which makes the board design very contrasting and hence appealing to the hardware enthusiasts.
However, color perception is very individual, however, there is one thing that is equally important for everyone: the location of the slots and their easy access. All in all, DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G is well put together from this standpoint. All connectors for cables are placed in convenient spots at the front and back sides of the PCB. Chipset SATA ports and FCC connector are turned parallel to the PCB, which allows laying the cables very conveniently inside the system case.
The first graphics PCI Express x16 slot is moved away from the next PCI slot, so that you could use graphics cards with massive cooling solution without sacrificing any of the mainboards expansion options. The only upsetting thing is that the graphics card will inevitably block the DIMM slot latches.
As for the third PCI Express x16 slot, its location is a little confusing. The only thing that can justify the mainboard designers’ decision is that this slot will hardly be ever utilized in the system. As this slot is too close to the left side of the mainboard PCB, you may have hard times trying to install graphics cards with massive cooling solution. Moreover, a large card installed into this slot may hinder access to the Serial ATA connectors of the external Promise controller and to the nearby connectors for additional USB 2.0 ports.
The back panel of DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard features a traditional set of ports and connectors. There are six High Speed USB ports, an IEEE1394 port, two RJ45 network connectors with diagnostic LEDs, coaxial SPDIF In and Out, PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse, and six audio jacks if the Karajan audio module is also installed.
DFI designers have always cared about testers and those users who do not have their systems inside the case. DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G is no exception here. There are two soldered buttons in the lower left corner of the PCB serving as Reset and Power On.
Besides, the testers and overclockers will definitely be happy with the POST controller in the upper left corner of the PCB that quickly detects and recognizes the issues occurring during system boot-up.
One of the most interesting peculiarities of this mainboard that we come across for the first time is the voltage regulator with the digital feedback that uses no electrolytic capacitors. This modules is designed as a six-phase circuitry, it uses high-frequency MOSFET and small ceramic SMT capacitors.
Note that transistors of this type are remarkable for their relatively high operational temperatures, therefore they are covered with an aluminum heatsink. This heatsink may get pretty hot during work if there is no appropriate cooling airflow from the processor fan.
It is a pity that having switched to progressive processor voltage regulator design DFI has given up capacitors with hard-bodied polymeric electrolyte. Although there are no electrolytic capacitors in the processor voltage regulator circuitry, there are quite a few of them on DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G PCB.
The chipset North and South Bridges are cooled down with passive heatsinks, which makes DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G completely fanless.
It is partially explained by the fact that ATI RD600 is manufactured using 90nm process, so the heat dissipation of the chip has been lowered significantly. Nevertheless, passive cooling may not be enough for overclocking when you increase the voltage on the chipset North Bridge. In the nominal operation mode the maximum North Bridge temperature didn’t go beyond 70o C, however during overclocking it heated up to 95o C+, which is a clear indication that more efficient chipset cooling is required.
And this shouldn’t be a problem as DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G offers a lot of connection options for additional fans. There are five corresponding connectors on the PCB, besides the processor fan connector. Also thanks to the ITE IT8718F hardware monitoring controller the mainboard allows managing the rotation speed of three fans depending on the temperature of different system “hot spots”.
DFI mainboards are known among computer users for their outstanding overclocking-friendly features. And these features are granted by the smart product design and thorough BIOS programming, which is done at DFI by some of the industry’s best engineers. From this prospective the BIOS of DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard can be described as a work of art. I am absolutely sure that we haven’t seen anything like that before: BIOS Setup of this mainboard can truly impress even experienced overclockers. It seems that it takes into account all the parameters that may have even the smallest influence on the overclocking potential and performance.
Well, let’s not hold back the discussion of these parameters. Everything that has to do with overclocking has been put into a special section of the BIOS called Genie BIOS Setup.
This section contains two subsections: Performance Options and Northbridge ASIC CFG. You can adjust the memory and system bus frequencies in the Performance Options page:
The FSB frequency in this case can vary from 0 to 511MHz, and the setting for the front side bus strap can be adjusted manually. Note that although 511MHz may not strike you as a really high maximum for the FSB frequency range, the important thing is that it is a working frequency on DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G, unlike many other mainboards out there.
The memory frequency can be adjusted either synchronously (with the FSB:DRAM coefficients set to 2:1, 8:5, 4:3, 1:1, 4:5, 2:3, 2:1), or fully asynchronously with a 3MHz increment. As you know, Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based mainboards have a lot of different dividers to set the memory frequency and their BIOS Setup automatically selects the one that will provide the closest memory frequency value. ATI RD600 however, can clock the memory fully asynchronously. You can set the memory frequency at any value between 133MHz and 658MHz.
The Northbridge ASIC CFG page also contains a lot of interesting options. However, the memory controller settings are of primary interest to us here.
As you can see, the BIOS Setup of our mainboard allows not only managing all primary and secondary memory latencies, but also adjusting the Command Rate parameter, just like nForce 680i SLI.
But the most impressive thing we saw in the BIOS Setup of our DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard was the voltage management system:
CPU VID control
0.44375 - 1.6V
CPU VID Special Add
100 – 121.25%
DDR2 RAM 1.8V Voltage
1.5 – 3.01V
CPU VTT 1.2V Voltage
1.21 – 1.59V
NB Core 1.2V Voltage
1.3 – 2.18V
NB PLL 1.8V Voltage
1.83 – 2.51V
NB PLL 1.2V Voltage
1.21 – 1.46V
NB PCI-E 1.2V Voltage
1.22 – 1.60V
NB Core 1.2V Convert From
1.81 – 2.39V
SB Core 1.2V Voltage
1.23 – 1.59V
2.92 – 3.4V
CPU Core ? GTL Ref Volt
0 – 255
CPU Core ? GTL Ref Volt
0 – 255
North Bridge GTL Ref Volt
0 – 255
First of all you notice the shocking ranges for two major voltages: processor Vcore and Vmem. Thanks to the special “additive” the processor core voltage may be increased to 1.94V and Vmem- to 3.01V. It should definitely be enough even for extreme overclocking, that should be doable on DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G even without the voltmodding.
The options for managing the voltage of the bus and chipset North Bridge are also worth our respect. They should help DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G cope well with the processor overclocking by raising the bus frequency.
GTL Ref Volt options for all processor cores and chipset North Bridge are a unique feature of our mainboard’s BIOS Setup. Adjusting these bytes allows finer tuning the recognition of the logical signal levels at the input buffers of the processor cores and chipset North Bridge during overclocking. The practical experiments showed that processor overclocking by raising the bus frequency benefits from the increase in the corresponding parameters.
Of course, the mainboard also allows reducing the processor clock frequency multiplier and offers options for management of the power-saving and virtualization technologies.
The overclocking-friendly features of the DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G BIOS Setup are so rich that we could keep on discussing them for a long time. However, I suggest that we should take a break and check out other BIOS Setup options as well. I don’t think we need to dwell on the standard set of sections with traditional parameters. However, there is such unique technology as CMOS Reloaded that definitely deserves a separate word.
This technology allows saving a set of BIOS Setup settings in the mainboard Flash-memory and then restoring these settings upon request. DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G allows saving up to 4 profiles like that. There is the whole separate section devoted to CMOS Reloaded management.
Well, let’s return to our discussion of overclocking-friendly features of the DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard and the results we managed to achieve using them. Especially, since the first look at the BIOS Setup is truly inspiring. However, if you think about it a little bit more, you will most probably wonder if all these settings are really necessary. Since today’s mainboards on Intel P965 Express chipset allow achieving 500MHz+ FSB frequencies without any magic – simply by raising the chipset North Bridge voltage. DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard will hardly demonstrate better results, as it doesn’t allow setting the FSB frequency above 511MHz. It seems to me that DFI engineers developed this complicated BIOS for those hardware enthusiasts who like to dig through all those numerous settings for the sake of squeezing extra 1-2 megahertz of speed or hundredths of a percent in the performance tests. We believe that this approach made overclocking extremely complicated. It takes a lot of time, as only by adjusting all those numerous parameters accordingly you can achieve the maximum result. Most voltage settings cannot be set to Auto, for instance, which may scare away less experienced and patient overclockers.
In search for the maximum frequency our own overclocking experiments took the good couple of days. However, as a result of this thorough investigation, we managed to uncover some very interesting phenomena.
First of all it turned out that the strap frequency in the Setup doesn’t really affect the maximum overclocking as well as the system performance. It evidently results from the asynchronous memory controller. Another proof of that is that the mainboard will perform the same way even if you set the memory frequency differently: you can use either frequency divider or set the memory frequency independently – the performance won’t change.
By simply adjusting the processor Vcore and Vmem you can only reach about 400MHz FSB speed. Further overclocking will require at least increasing the North Bridge voltage to 1.2V. To ensure that the mainboard is running stably at 450MHz FSB, this value needs to be set at 1.5V. And for the 500MHz FSB speed, this voltage setting needs to go up to 2V, which is 66% higher than the nominal. In this case the chipset North Bridge gets scarily hot, so you need to install a fan on the chipset North Bridge heatsink if you want to proceed.
Unfortunately, the mainboard cannot reveal its entire potential without you adjusting some of the remaining voltages in the BIOS Setup. Therefore, you really need to fine tune the settings if you intend to go beyond 420-430MHz. In particular the CPU VTT 1.2V Voltage parameter has big influence on the final result, however, if you raise it too much it may hinder overclocking. AT the same time you also need to increase NB PLL 1.8V Voltage, NB PLL 1.2V Voltage. The first one needs to be set at around 2V once you hit 450MHz bus speed. Many overclockers recommend setting NB PLL 1.2V Voltage at 1.38V, and so do we.
NB PCI-E 1.2V Voltage, SB Core 1.2V Voltage and Clockgen Voltage do not affect overclocking that much. However if you increase them just a little bit, it may improve the overall system stability at high FSB frequencies. NB Core 1.2V Convert From parameter also has some effect on the system operational stability during overclocking. Nevertheless, we managed to achieve the best result when it was set to 2.31V.
You should also remember about the GTL Ref Volt settings. The settings offered by DFI in the BIOS Setup may not help reveal the entire frequency potential of this mainboard. Raising these parameters may give you extra stability in case of significantly increased CPU VTT 1.2V Voltage and high FSB speeds.
However, you shouldn’t consider our recommendations an extensive overclocking instruction. These are just a few observations of ours we made when working with our sample of the DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard. We managed to get the maximum FSB frequency with the following settings:
Well, now that we have made our long introduction to overclocking, it is time to discuss the specific obtained results, namely the FSB speeds we achieved. For our tests we put together a system with DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard and Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 processor. We have also used 2GB of Corsair TWIN2X2048-8888C4DF DDR SDRAM, PowerColor X1900 XTX 512MB graphics card and Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD HDD. Since ATI RD600 chipset allows clocking the memory independent of the front side bus frequency, our DDR2 SDRAM memory was always working at 1000MHz with 4-4-4-12-2T timings. The CPU was cooled with Zalman CNPS-9500LED cooler, and we have also installed an additional 80mm fan for proper cooling of the chipset North Bridge heatsink. We tested the system stability with the well-established ORTHOS utility based on Prime95 code. The maximum FSB frequency when DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard remained absolutely stable was 490MHz.
To achieve this result we set all the system voltages exactly as has been shown on the screenshot above. It is important that when the FSB frequency was raised to 511MHz, the board would boot just fine, but we couldn’t get the system to run stably. Any further increase in the voltage settings would have no positive effect at all.
So, DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G failed to outperform the best overclocking-friendly mainboards on Intel P965 Express chipset from the overclocking potential prospective. The board wouldn’t hit the 500MHz bar. Nevertheless, it proved undoubtedly better than the boards on Intel 975X Express chipset, the direct competitor to ATI RD600 9both of them support Crossfire). However, if you intend to overclock the Core 2 Duo E6300 and E6400, this board will not be the best choice.
It is important to point out here that since the memory controller of the ATI RD600 is asynchronous, the chipset doesn’t change any memory latencies when you change the strap. It means that the performance doesn’t drop upon FSB frequency increase during overclocking on DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G, unlike mainboards on other chipsets. The performance during overclocking increases constantly and gradually.
Moreover, there is one more advantage to the asynchronous memory clocking. Overclockers can tweak the memory independently, that may contribute to the performance increase alongside with the CPU overclocking. DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G is pretty good at memory overclocking. To check this out we decided to see how far we could push the frequency of our Corsair TWIN2X2048-8888C4DF test modules. As you remember from our previous articles, we could get these modules to work at 576MHz with 4-4-4-12 timings and 2.4V voltage on ASUS P5B Deluxe mainboard.
When running on DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard, this memory ran even faster having hit 588MHz speed with the same settings. So we can pronounce this mainboard a great platform not only for CPU overclocking but also for DDR2 SDRAM overclocking.
In conclusion to our overclocking experiments discussion I would like to mention that the current BIOS version for DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard dating back to December 22, 2006 is unfortunately, not absolutely flawless. First, the mainboard wouldn’t clear the settings back to defaults in case of over-overclocking. Therefore, if your experiments result into a boot-up failure, the only thing that can help you is clearing the CMOS. Luckily, you don’t need to use the jumper for that: this mainboard can clear the Flash-memory if you press and hold the Reset and Power On buttons simultaneously. Second, the CPU and memory frequencies aren’t displayed correctly in the start up screen. It may be pretty confusing at first. Third, the board doesn’t always start normally. Sometimes it may freeze during POST, but it has nothing to do with the settings. To eliminate this problem all you need to do is shut down and power up the system a few times.
In other words, overclocking with DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G is extremely interesting and unpredictable. This board gives overclockers a bunch of efficient overclocking tools, which only work for maximum success if used the right way. But besides that, they will also be facing numerous unexpected obstacles, which should add certain excitement to the whole thing. I can even compare CPU overclocking on DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G with a great role game, which will get you carried away for days.
Since the DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard we are talking about today is based on ATI RD600 chipset, which we haven’t yet tested in our lab, it will also be interesting to check out the general performance results for this platform. Especially, since we know from our previous experience that ATI chipsets have never actually boasted a high-performance memory controller. Therefore, we decided to compare the performance of our DFI mainboard with that of other boards based on the Nvidia and Intel chipsets available in the market today.
Our test platforms were built using the following hardware:
We tried to put the test systems into similar conditions that is why we had the memory in all systems running at 400MHz with 4-4-4-12 timings. Nevertheless, the settings for the memory controllers were still different in one single parameter. It was Command Rate. The mainboards on Intel chipsets do not allow changing this setting because of the chipset limitations. Therefore, platforms on i975X and iP965 were running at 2T Command Rate. Nvidia nForce 680i SLI allows adjusting this timing, that is why this platform was running at 1T Command Rate.
As we have already mentioned above, ATI RD600 also allows changing this timing. However during our practical tests of the DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G things turned out a little bit more complicated than we expected. If you set Command rate to 1T with all the mainboard settings at defaults, the system wouldn’t boot no matter what memory modules you are using. Therefore, you need to do a few more things in order to get this Command Rate setting running. In our case all we needed to do was to Disable the ADDR/CMD Driving Pre-AMP parameter. However, CS Output Timing and ADDR/CMD Driving strength options can also affect the system stability at 1T Command Rate.
Since the performance of the memory controllers integrated into the chipsets North Bridges has the biggest effect on the performance of mainboards for Intel Core 2 processors, we will commence our testing with the practical memory bandwidth and latency.
Unfortunately, ATI Company failed to develop a memory controller that could compete successfully with the memory controllers of Intel and Nvidia chipsets. ATI RD600 loses to its rivals in the bandwidth measurements and latency tests. So we expect the DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard to yield to solutions based on NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI, Intel P965 Express and Intel 975X Express in most benchmarks.
For example, DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G is about 9-10% slower than the competitors in the popular SuperPi benchmark, which is a pretty frustrating result, in this case.
The situation in 3DMark2001 SE is not so sad. Although the ATI RD600 based mainboard is falling behind the rivals, the lag is only 1-2%.
The contemporary 3DMark06 testing suite also places ATI RD600 in the last position, however, the difference is not dramatic. DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G is quite comparable to the other mainboards in our race.
The situation in the complex PCMark05 benchmarking suite is quite ambiguous. The overall performance index suggests that ATI RD600 based mainboard loses only to the DFI Infinity 975X/G mainboard on i975X chipset. The processor chart demonstrates a slight deviation, but the difference is within 1%. However the memory subsystem test places DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G at the very last place, as we have expected.
The picture in the gaming benchmarks is not so rosy either. DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G falls 4-9% behind the leader on Nvidia nForce 680i SLI. Intel based mainboards are also quite noticeably behind: the lag is about 5%.
The performance in applications once again proves the conclusion we are about to make. Despite all its remarkable configuring features, ATI RD600 still has a pretty weak memory controller. That is why the mainboard built on this core logic set loses to the competitors, and the performance difference is sometimes quite noticeable.
Now that we have completed our detailed investigation of the DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G features and performance, I can say that we were pleased and disappointed at the same time. On the one hand, it is a unique product, because DFI appeared the only mainboard manufacturer to offer an ATI RD600 based solution at this time. And thanks to the DFI engineers’ great effort LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G turned into a real “toy for enthusiasts”. BIOS Setup of this mainboard offers remarkable options for system parameters configuring. It contains extensive settings for front side bus and memory controller adjustment and a huge list of voltages to play with. As a result this mainboard may be extremely helpful for successful overclocking of those CPUs that do not require FSB frequency over 490MHz.
Nevertheless, despite all the potential DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G is not the FSB overclocking leader. Solutions built on P965 chipset are still showing better results. And strange as it might seem, but overclocking on Intel based platforms is much simpler to perform.
However, this mainboard beats the competitors’ solutions not only with richer list of settings and more complicated overclocking procedure. Its indisputable advantage is asynchronous memory bus clocking. As a result, it allows increasing the system performance in many ways thanks to diverse DDR2 SDRAM configuring and tweaking options.
The main drawback of the DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard is its relatively low performance determined by the chipset it is based on. Unfortunately, DFI engineers couldn’t resolve this problem.
But since ATI RD600 supports Crossfire technology its only fully-fledged competitor in the today’s market is Intel i975X Express. And if we compare these two against one another, then the ATI/AMD solution has all the chances to find its fans among overclockers.