12/26/2006 | 09:11 AM
Today DFI Company is known as a manufacturer of overclocking-friendly mainboards. They have earned this title thanks to their LanParty series of products for AMD processors. Of course, in terms of sales volumes DFI cannot compare with the leading four leading mainboard makers, however their hard work on every product including thorough development of their own unique PCB design, special attention to small things that are very often of crucial importance, rich set of management options and smart pricing policy – all these things couldn’t help driving DFI to success.
As a result, DFI acquired undisputed respect among hardware enthusiasts and its products serve as a kind of reference for those who want to design their own solutions for overclocking fans.
Today we are going to take a closer look at DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G mainboard designed around Nvidia nForce 590 SLI chipset for AM2 AMD processors.
We will discuss the mainboard PCB design, its features and BIOS settings. We will also devote special part of our review to overclocking friendly features on this mainboard and will estimate the mainboards relative performance in typical applications.
DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G is slightly different from the reference design developed for nForce 590 SLI chipset, therefore, we cannot even design where we should start.
The PCB components layout taken from the mainboard user’s manual will be very helpful in explaining the major components location on the PCB:
Click to enlarge
Small aluminum heatsinks like those that are usually placed on top of MOSFET transistors are scattered all over the PCB. In the upper left corner, the usual location, there is only one group that seems to be responsible for the memory power supply:
And another two groups of components protected with small aluminum heatsinks are in the very center of the PCB, next to the PCI-E x16 connectors:
The tallest aluminum heatsink on the PCB is located in the upper right corner, next to the 24-pin and 8-pin power supply connectors:
I suppose that the elements it covers also belong to the mainboard’s power circuitry, namely to the digital processor voltage regulator. These could be the notorious ceramic SMT capacitors, because there is a five-phase power inductor - CPL-5-50 chip from Cooper Electronic - next to them. The size of this heatsink is absolutely justified: it heats up a lot during work.
nForce 590 chipset that is known for its “hot temper” is cooled down absolutely perfectly. SPP (System Performance Processor) and MNCP (Media and Communications Processor) chips are located very close to one another on the mainboard PCB, so they are cooled down in a sort of a tandem. The passive pin heatsink of the SPP is cooled down with the air flow from the active MCP cooler designed as a copper sole with attached ribs. The fan is small, according to the BIOS monitoring tool it rotates at high speed of about 6,200rpm, however, it sounds relatively quiet. Besides, its rotation speed can be controlled depending on the temperature. This combination of passive and active cooling allows keeping the chipset temperature at normal level without aggravating the noise parameters of the mainboard.
Since we have moved to the lower side of the PCB, we should mention the POST-code indicator, Power On and Reset buttons designed specifically for testers, and color coding of the front panel connectors for easy and quick assembly.
Another thing worth mentioning here is the location of the Serial ATA connectors. We have already come across the “lying” IDE connectors on other mainboards, this is really very convenient. However, it is for the first time in my experience that I have come across the “lying” SATA connectors.
The sound on DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G is designed as a separate module and is even named after a well-known conductor. Once you install it the mainboard back panel will look as follows:
DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G doesn’t come with a lot of accessories: round cables for HDD and FDD, a few Serial ATA cables, SLI bridge, the I/O shield, CD-disk with software, user’s manual – nothing excessive, only the essentials.
Now we should put together all the major characteristics of the DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G mainboard to give you a better idea of what it is capable of:
Supports AMD Athlon 64 FX / Athlon 64 X2 / Athlon 64 for Socket AM2
Nvidia nForce 590 SLI MCP
Four 240-pin DDR2 DIMM connectors
2 PCI Express x16 slots
ACPI and OS Directed Power Management
Monitors CPU/system/chipset temperature
Karajan audio module
NVIDIA MCP55PXE integrated with Gigabit MAC
One IDE connector allows connecting up to two UltraDMA
Serial ATA with RAID
Six Serial ATA ports supported by NVIDIA® MCP55PXE
Rear panel I/O ports
1 mini-DIN-6 PS/2 mouse port
2 connectors for 4 additional external USB 2.0/1.1 ports
ATX form factor: 24cm (9.45") x 30.5cm (12")
The features provided by the chipset and additional onboard controllers is just a part of the deal. You have to be able to take advantage of these features and the options offered by the mainboard BIOS are very important in determining the final verdict about the product.
The BIOS of the DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G mainboard is based on Award code, looks pretty common and offers a standard set of options. There are only two new sections there: Genie BIOS Setting and CMOS Reloaded. Let’s start with the first one:
In the Genie BIOS Settings page you can find almost all the settings dealing with the operation of the mainboard, CPU and memory that can ever be of interest to an overclocker. Here you can change the frequency and width of busses between the CPU and the chipset, as well as SPP and MCP. The processor clock frequency multiplier can be reduced below the nominal 4x with 0.5 increment, and the clock generator frequency can be adjusted between 100 and 500MHz with the unusual 2MHz increment. Moreover, you can also see the current voltage of the CPU, HyperTransport bus, South Bridge and memory.
From the Genie BIOS Settings there are links to individual pages with PCI-devices settings, voltages adjustments and memory operating parameters.
Nvidia chipsets have already made us used to a diverse variety of memory settings that can be adjusted , and nForce 590 SLI is no exception here:
The BIOS of DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G mainboard shows the current status of the memory parameters allowing to adjust only selected ones, leaving all other settings at default, which is very convenient.
The PC Health Status page is also pretty interesting, as it allows controlling system temperatures and voltages and adjusting the system fans according to the temperatures.
As for the CMOS Reloaded section, it will be extremely useful for overclockers and hardware enthusiasts ready to experiment. After each successful system restart, the BIOS settings are automatically saved. If some settings were adjusted incorrectly, the system will load the previous saved settings on restart. Moreover, there are four user banks where you can save your BIOS presets for different work modes. Each can be assigned a detailed description and loaded by hitting a selected hot key on system boot-up without even accessing the BIOS Setup.
Despite the great variety of settings, we couldn’t get our AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ processor to work at 290MHz clock generator frequency. We have already proven in one of our previous reviews that it can work stably and reliably at 2.9GHz speed on ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe (NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI) mainboard. This time, the system would load Windows but then would shut down during stability tests or would give us a Blue Screen of death.
After a number of experiments with voltages and cooling we did what we should have done from the start. The processor clock frequency multiplier was set at a lower value in order to reveal the maximum clock generator frequency for the mainboard to work stably. We were surprised to find out that the board wouldn’t start at frequencies over 300MHz, 300MHz and even 290MHz, although it would load the Windows at this speed. 288MHz is the top clock generator frequency for the DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G mainboard to operate stably with our CPU.
It was pretty sad, but on the other hand CPUs with 10x clock multiplier are little by little leaving the stage, and if the multiplier is even higher then DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G will be able to speed them up to their maximum capacity. In our particular case the lagging behind ASUS mainboard is not critical at all, which we have proven later in our test session.
For our tests we assembled the following platform:
We used the chipset driver version 9.35 and the graphics card driver ForceWare 93.71.
Of course, the CPU was overclocked to the maximum that the DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G mainboard allowed. However at 288MHz clock generator frequency we couldn’t set the memory synchronously as DDR2 800, because in this case its frequency would exceed 1150MHz and it would fail the tests. The memory was set as DDR2- 666 with the working frequency of 958MHz and 4-4-4-12-2T timings.
We ran the tests on this system and then we decided to perform identical tests on an ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe mainboard at the maximum CPU speed of 2.9GHz. However this time it was the ASUS mainboard that prepared a surprise for us: the divider setting the memory as DDR2 666 didn’t work.
So, we couldn’t really compare these two mainboards with one another in any way. We couldn’t set the memory as DDR2 800, because its working frequency would be too high, but if we left the memory as DDR2 533 or 400, the lagging because of the lower memory speed would be too high and the overclocked processor wouldn’t be able to make up for it.
However, we did find a way-out here. ASUS mainboard, unlike DFI mainboard, works just fine at frequencies above 300MHz. if we reduce the multiplier but increase the clock generator frequency we will be able to slightly raise the memory speed. The multiplier was dropped down to 9x when ASUS mainboard surprised us again, in a pleasant way this time :) At 9x clock multiplier the divider for DDR2 666 memory setting suddenly got operational - a definite BIOS issue.
As a result, the CPU on ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe worked at 322MHz with 9x clock multiplier, and the memory ran at 966MHz with 4-4-4-12-2T timings, i.e. slightly better parameters than those we had on DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G mainboard.
The tests were run in F.E.A.R. game with default settings using the built-in performance benchmark with graphics and physics set to the maximum. And as for the tests in the game called Faces of War 2, we would like to say a few words about it before we move on to discussing the actual results.
The game Faces of War 2 came out in early fall, although not that many gamers and testers have actually noticed it right away. It is a game about WWII, but not a classical strategy, like the Company of Heroes, where you have to get resources, build troops and send them to battle. It is closer to a tactical game. During the gameplay you control small groups of soldiers or machinery that have to fulfill certain tasks. The graphics and physics in this game are absolutely outstanding.
In fact, even the first version of the game called Soldiers: Heroes of World War II that came out two years ago, was really cool already. The game would load the system so heavily that we had to contact the developers in order to find out if there was a way to record a demo to be later used as a benchmark. They said it wasn’t possible, because all the calculations are real-time ones: the soldier can shoot and hit or miss the target, he may shoot or throw a grenade, etc. however, the new game called Faces of War 2 you are offered a small movie based on the gaming engine before your mission starts where you are told about your task. It means the demo can be recorded and used as a benchmark!
For our testing needs we selected the movie played before the capture of the Walcheren Island mission. This is a real island, it was very well armed and its coastal batteries wouldn’t let Antwerp to function as a port. In the fall of 1944 the allies tried to capture it. We don’t know a lot about those war days and the game is certainly not an exact reproduction of those events, but it was definitely a big battle. This movie is the richest in action and loads the system really heavily: artillery shots, air attacks, explosions, soldiers, etc…
Since the game has now built-in tools to measure the system performance (at least I don’t know of any), we used FRAPS utility to record the fps rates. We ran the tests a few times to see if the results were consistent, and although they differed by tenths and hundredths, we are mostly interested in the integer values obtained.
We selected the tactical game mode, which is a more complex mode than the arcade, and the demo was run a few times. The action in this movie is the same: the landing barges approach the coast – one of them explodes, three aircrafts fly – one of them is hit… However, we noticed, for instance, that the pieces of the hit airplane are always scattered differently and although it falls almost in the same place, it is always a slightly different location nevertheless. In one case it may fall right on top of the artillery device, and in another case it may miss it and the artillery will keep firing. And there was one time when two planes were hit at a time!
In other words, all the actions that ought to happen in this movie are preset, but all the actual events are really being calculated in real time. This is not a once-and-for-all demo, where all the actions have already been precalculated and the system doesn’t have to do much, which is exactly the type of demo we would usually use for our tests. This is an actual calculation of each and every action, real (to the point when it can be considered real in contemporary games) physics, and as a result one of the few real benchmarks out there.
So, let’s take a look at the obtained results:
As you see, the results are almost the same at almost identical processor and memory speed. Besides, the graphics card also contributes a lot to the overall result as it can be a limiting factor with high-quality gaming settings. In order to increase the dependence of the results on the system processor we used a resolution of 1024x768, however, you would definitely want to use the highest gaming quality settings for the best real gaming experience.
DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G mainboard is a very interesting product with great specifications and a few interesting features, however, the limitations we discovered during our processor overclocking experiments wouldn’t let us pronounce it the ultimate overclocking choice. Hopefully these limitations will be eliminated in the new BIOS versions, but if they come from the non-standard PCB layout, then we might need to wait for the new mainboard revision. And what is really suspicious, no new official BIOS versions have been released since August 2006.
Among the obvious advantages of the DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G mainboard we should have mentioned its low price, especially compared with ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe, however, there are very few offers online right now, which means it is not selling widely.
However, the major problem is not even in the mainboard, but in the chipset it is based on. Only dedicated fans of those who do not need the highest performance can prefer AMD processors to Intel Core 2 Duo at this time, and we will not talk about these guys right now. The other remaining group of users is those who cannot spend $200 on a CPU only. So, it is really hard to believe that they will spend the same $200 on a mainboard only with a Sempron or one of the youngest Athlon 64 processors. These CPUs need simpler mainboard solutions, something on nForce 570. And who will be the potential user of the expensive nForce 590 based solutions? Probably the companies who need to make sure they have the top product in their systems, in order to maintain their image.