Summary: Thinking about picking up a pair of Athlon MP CPUs and setting up a dual processor rig? Tuan has written up a gargantuan roundup of the latest 760MPX board offerings from Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and Tyan. It's everything you ever wanted to know about Athlon SMP...but were afraid to ask.
Flash back to the summer of 2001. The technology industry was rowdy, filled with excitement and anticipation. Rumors surrounded different companies with secret products that were unannounced and about the stakes that one company was about to take.
With the 760 MP release however, there weren’t many motherboard companies jumping on the AMD bandwagon. In fact, the only motherboard company with a real product at the time was Tyan. More frustrating was the fact that the 760 MP chipset was only available on Tyan’s flagship Thunder line with a price tag well over that of most consumers and enthusiasts. Packed to the brim with workstation class features, the Thunder K7 was far beyond the scope of the average single processor motherboard designed to overclock.
This time around, AMD is accompanied by an entire army of motherboard manufacturers producing 760 MPX solutions. Just about all the big players are participating this time around so it’ll be much easier for you to find a dual Athlon motherboard on retail shelves than it was a few months ago. And because there are many more selections to choose from, prices will also be low and they will also fall more rapidly. It’ll be much more difficult for Tyan to ride the wave it has been on this time around while in another respect, it will also be difficult for others to position their boards better than Tyan’s proven product. With that said, let’s take a long at what makes a 760 MPX chipset.
762 Northbridge Specifications
768 Southbridge Specifications
Compared to the older 760 MP chipset, the only thing that has changed moving to 760 MPX is the southbridge and its support for 66MHz PCI slots rather than just 33MHz slots. The 66MHz are also 64-bit and operate at either 3.3 volts (according to PCI specifications) and or 5 volts (for compatibility).
Unfortunately, we’re going to have to cut through the flashing lights of glory and reveal the ugly side of things. Could AMD be back to its old clumsy ways when it produced mediocre processors in the K5/6 days? We hope not, but we can’t help be feel that there are things that AMD needs to think about.
The big boys
We managed to get our hands on four boards from four manufactures: Asus, Gigabyte, MSI and Tyan. There are other boards out there but the other manufacturers couldn’t deliver in time for this article while other companies decided to wait for AMD to supply a fix for the its chipset issues. All the boards we received were packaged with USB controller cards to compensate for the lack of working USB features inside the 768 southbridge. The boxes also came with the usual expected items such as cables and documents.
From the looks of it, Gigabyte’s GA-7DPXDW is the most feature filled motherboard in this roundup. The GA-7DPXDW comes with Promise’s ATA RAID controller, pumping data at 100MB/sec. bursts. It also comes with an Intel 82550 Ethernet controller that’s capable of 10/100Mbit speeds. The Ethernet controller is a good choice as experience with Intel Ethernet controllers have revealed them to be highly efficient, fast, and low on processor utilization.
All the boards are equipped with two 64-bit/66MHz and three 32-bit/33MHz PCI slots. The only entry-level 760 MP solution out there is the Tiger MP from Tyan which features more 64-bit slots but they all operate at only 33MHz. This about the only benefit there is to using a 760 MPX board compared to a 760 MP board. There are actually a few benefits that 760 MP boards have that the 760 MPX should have come with in the first place.
Users of 760 MPX boards will have to use a PS/2 keyboard in order to control basic features of the board like those found in the BIOS. Because USB functionality is upper level hardware, it requires support from an OS or BIOS emulation. Since this is the case, you won’t be able to control a 760 MPX with a USB keyboard even if attached to a USB controller – at least not until Windows or another USB compliant OS is installed.
This is a shame because we’ve already heard of customer complaints about not being able to use USB keyboards. Fortunately, most keyboards out there are still using PS/2 connectors. If you do end up buying a USB keyboard anyway, make sure it comes with a USB to PS/2 adapter. This will allow you to do preliminary setup with you 760 MPX board and then switch to USB once an OS has been installed.
SIDEBAR: Guess how many processors are in that AMD box in the picture.
Asus was one of the first companies to announce a dual Athlon board sometime last year. We finally get to see what it’s like in person and while there are some issues, we’re pleased overall. When you’ve worked with as many Asus products as we have, you eventually come to expect certain features that don’t normally appear on other products from other manufacturers, or that you expect some of the highest quality components around.
The A7M266-D is built to use an ATX12V power supply, so those of you with older ATX power supplies (no matter how much wattage they may output) will have to upgrade to ATX12V units. We had expected Asus to include a 12V drive capable for auxiliary input for older ATX users but there isn’t one on the board. AMD supposedly has an issue with manufacturers that don’t comply to “standards” and with Asus being a premier member of AMD’s new approval and validation plan, we’re not entirely surprised that the A7M266-D is ATX12V only.
One of the Asus-only features that it has been using for a few years now is the iPanel – a drive bay panel that displays temperature information and other useful controls. This is a proprietary module that can be purchased separately from the board and it does not work on other boards. There is an Asus-specific pin-out array on the A7M266-D that is designed specifically for the iPanel. Hopefully other manufacturers will be adding similar features onto their boards as well.
Other notable board features on the board include a mysterious 50-pin solder layout patch for what is presumably a server management add-on. Our revision of the board doesn’t come with this feature implemented so we’ll have to assume that this feature may only be available to special OEM customers.
If you take a close look around the processor sockets, you’ll notice that there are supposed to be 4 holes for each socket that allow special heatsinks to be attached by screws to the motherboard. These 4 holes are not present on the A7M266-D and are instead replaced by empty soldering circles with no apparent application. If anyone is thinking of using the enormous heatsinks on 760 MPX motherboards, be prepared to be disappointed. There’s just not enough room on the board with all complicated maze of components present. Fortunately, reference heatsinks from Taisol install well and work great.
Asus includes its own USB 2.0 card with the A7M266-D to cover for the lack of onboard USB features. The card is a 4-port USB 2.0 card powered by an NEC controller, which also happens to be about the only controller out there that supports USB 2.0. Be warned though. USB isn’t a peer-to-peer connection technology and relies on the host processor to compute many of its functions. This takes a toll on the processor if you’re a heavy USB user – moving the Microsoft USB IntelliMouse takes more than 10% of an Athlon’s processing power.
SIDEBAR: I figured out how to layer drinks using a spoon thanks to Bob. Guinness and Cider anyone?
Inside the BIOS
Asus has always been fond of using Award BIOS and continues to do so with the A7M266-D. For comparison, Tyan has been using Phoenix BIOS on all of its dual Athlon boards and while Phoenix makes simple to use BIOSes, they’re too simple and often lack many features that are found in Award’s BIOSes.
Front-side bus frequencies are controlled either by dip-switches or in-BIOS. If the dip-switches are enabled, the BIOS settings will be locked to “By Jumper” mode. While Asus doesn’t have voltage or multiplier settings, it has a setting called System Performance which has two options: Turbo and Normal. This reminds of older AMD single Athlon chipsets that had certain BIOS toggles that improved system performance by a small percentage if any. The performance difference we saw between Normal and Turbo mode was 0% to negligible improvements.
The A7M266-D also has memory and AGP features inside the BIOS’ Advanced features menu. In this section, you’re able to change things such as CAS latency, and AGP speed. A feature we’re also seeing more often is the ability to enable and disable AGP Fast Writes. Not all AGP cards support fast-writes but all the latest cards from ATI and NVIDIA should be able to utilize AGP fast writes. A lot of the arcane features have to do with memory and or AGP timing and how they interact with each other. For example, you can set latency between AGP and system memory to improve such things as AGP texturing speeds where a graphics card is using system memory to store game textures.
A lot of the features will require deep manual reading as well as some trial and error experience in order to understand what they do and how they affect system performance and stability. In our own experience, we found that enabling Fast Writes was problematic for NVIDIA cards in Windows 2000 Professional and Windows XP Professional (less in XP). Current GeForce4 cards however should work just fine.
SIDEBAR: Bob created his own drink made from Guinness and Smirnoff ICE. Although I haven’t tried it, it looks good.
I was out of cider, but still fiending for a Black Velvet. Smirnoff Ice was a serviceable substitute for the cider, but I have a hard time recommending the concoction. I would have been better off drinking the Guinness straight – ed
Getting to know the board
The A7M266-D came in a nicely designed box that was no fuss and no frills. Inside you get the following:
As far as manuals go, Asus has always written easy to understand manuals that contain lots of diagrams to show you where each feature of the board is located. The A7M266-D manual follows the same layout and style of previous Asus manuals so those who are already familiar should feel right at home.
The Quick Setup guide is kind of an oxymoron for Asus. The guide itself is thicker than the manual itself and is quite complicated. In fact, taking the time to read the “Quick” setup guide will probably slow you down. The point of a quick guide is to make things fast and easy for the end-user; reduce the amount of text and increase the amount of pictures and diagrams. Hopefully the next Asus Quick Setup guide will contain less than 40 pages.
Installation and setup
Setting up the board was an easy affair and everything went smoothly. But just when we thought we had everything setup correctly, the A7M266-D refused to operate properly. It froze on us a few times and on numerous occasions produced video corruption. We proceeded to try the same components on another motherboard (an Iwill XP333-R) and they all worked as expected.
Losing your memory
Memory installation was also somewhat problematic as well as interesting. According to AMD’s 760 MPX specifications, the chipset supports up to 4GB of Registered PC2100 DDR RAM. We obtained 4 PC2100 DDR sticks from Corsair, each weighing in at 1GB to test with the boards. Installing 3 sticks gave us the expected amount of 3GB when booting up the board. However, when we installed the fourth stick of memory, the memory count during boot-up didn’t display any information. When we entered the BIOS, we were greeted with the following:
“Installed Memory: 1MB.” At first we thought the forth stick was faulty but we swapped modules in different combinations and all 4 memory modules worked properly when only 3 were installed. According to other manufacturers, it is possible to install four 1GB modules into a 760 MPX board but only 3.5GB will be available for system use. However, this still does not explain our 1MB phenomenon.
To test unbuffered memory support we chose to use three types of memory modules from Corsair, Crucial and Mushkin. Asus states that only the first 2 DIMM sockets support unbuffered memory but our tests indicate otherwise. We installed three different unbuffered modules into 3 sockets and to our surprise the board worked.
SIDEBAR: All the photos in this article were taken with an Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom which I bought. It’s a 2.1 megapixel SLR type camera that takes fantastic pictures.
Gigabyte is a company that also has been around for a long time in the industry so it’s no surprise that it has put a lot of its past expertise into the GA-7DPXDW. This board has the most features of all the boards in the roundup and it’s impressive considering that Gigabyte is using the same board space as all the other manufacturers. Packed on board are four Ultra ATA connectors each supporting two drives. Two connectors are attached to the Promise controller, which supports RAID levels 0 and 1.
Board layout is neat and tidy but the positions and angle of the IDE connectors may interfere with long PCI cards. Also, 3 of the 4 IDE connectors are colored red, which is rather confusing. The back ports on the board are also rearranged in a different position with the USB and Ethernet ports on the far end of the board. Despite our hopes, the USB connectors still do not operate properly or at all and the ATX back-plane I/O shield has the USB ports covered up.
Unlike the Asus A7M266-D, Gigabyte’s board has the standard 4 holes around each of the sockets but there isn’t a lot of clearance to install a large heatsink such as the 8045 from Alpha. The capacitors that surround the sockets may sometimes get in the way of installing heatsinks with poorly designed clips. We found that heatsinks from Taisol worked most favorably on all the boards featured here.
Above you’ll see the integrated Intel 82550 Ethernet controller as well as the Promise PDC20267 UltraATA/100 RAID controller. Currently, Promise has the smallest footprint for RAID controllers in terms of chip size as well as the number of traces. Other solutions from High Point and CMD don’t quite match the efficiency in design that Promise has.
Gigabyte also bundles a USB 2.0 card using the same NEC controller on all the USB 2.0 cards out there, but this card doesn’t seem to have been designed very efficiently. The traces are unnecessarily long but the good thing is that it features an internal USB connector should you want to connect a front-panel USB device.
The GA-7DPXDW features onboard sound that’s controlled by software and we all know this utilizes processor cycles. It would have been much better to see a C-Media solution like the one featured on Asus’ A7M266-D which has 6 discrete channels of audio and sounds very good considering it’s onboard. The GA-7DPXDW also requires that you have an ATX12V power supply handy but you can also buy drive power to ATX12V 4-pin converters for cheap.
SIDEBAR: It is expected that Serial ATA will show its face more clearly at Computex and from then on, more and more motherboards will feature Serial ATA as add-in options. According to forecasts, Serial ATA will take over the market in the year 2005.
Although one of the sections in the Gigabyte BIOS indicates that it may have customizable voltage settings, there are none. The only useful option to you is the FSB settings which span from 100MHz to 149MHz. The BIOS is also an Award BIOS, which is known for its ease of use and user friendly layout.
Not many other unique features are inside the BIOS. We would have liked enable and disable options for the onboard Promise controller and Intel Ethernet controller. While it’s true that having hardwired jumpers are more reliable than in-BIOS switches, we haven’t ever experienced a situation where one was noticeably more reliable than the other.
As far as tweaking options go, we would have liked more comprehensive options such as multiplier settings, PCI and AGP dividers for FSB Overclocking, and customizable voltage settings for VCORE and memory. Remembering back to our Iwill XP333-R review, we’re starting to miss those expert tweaking features and wished more motherboard manufacturers followed suit.
Available for tweaking other than FSB is the onslaught of AGP settings. There are a few AGP settings that even we aren’t familiar with such as AGP ISA Aliasing and AGP Always Compensate. Some of these features aren’t documented anywhere in the GA-7DPXDW manual which also happens to be ultra thin – both in size and content. You can also adjust memory specific features such as latency and timing by change DDR SDRAM Timing by to User instead of Auto.
Flash the BIOS
Unlike other Gigabyte boards, the GA-7DPXDW does not feature its famous DualBIOS feature that it coined a few years ago. DualBIOS actually implements just that, two separate BIOS chips on the same board containing the same information. Should one of them fry or be incorrectly flashed, you can rest easy knowing that you have a second BIOS to back you up.
Getting to know the board
Gigabyte shipped the board to us in a large unassuming box that contained the following:
The first complaint we have is with the manual – it’s incomplete. We’re not sure whether it’s because the product is still in production or whether that’s how Gigabyte designed it. The manual is lacking a BIOS section as well as detailed board, memory, processor and heatsink installation. Since it also has onboard RAID and Ethernet, we also expected those related products to be discussed in the manual as well, which they were not. The document is a sparse 20-pages thick, but it does say “Initial Release” in the manual.
Are you registered?
Initially the GA-7DPXDW booted twice and then never booted again. We went through the same diagnostics test that we performed on the Asus board with mixed results. We tried using three different video cards ranging from the latest NVIDIA boards to an old TNT1 and a high-end 3DLabs Oxygen board. After many times of not being able to boot we got the board to boot practically by chance, and then it worked from there on. Oddly the board only detected one processor when we used Athlon MP 1900’s.
We also tested the GA-7DPXDW with unbuffered memory modules from Corsair, Crucial and Mushkin, with no success at all. The board wouldn’t even start with one 128MB module in the first socket (or any). This is a drawback if you were intending to use regular PC2100 DDR modules with the GA-7DPXDW. Everything about this board is appealing to those people who would want to use regular PC2100 modules. But we can see the same features being applied in the workstation or server environments as well. It looks like registered modules are the order of the day for the Gigabyte board.
We tested 4GB of registered PC2100 in the GA-7DPXDW without any problems and the board detected the entire 4GB amount. Unbuffered support aside, the board works great with registered memory and in fact, 760 MPX specifications call for registered memory only.
SIDEBAR: My first motherboard that I purchased was a Gigabyte board back in the old Pentium days. Back in those days, EDO RAM was the trend.
MSI is putting a lot more resources into its marketing than it used to a few years back. Notable changes are design in motherboard boxes and accompanying manuals. Everything MSI produces now seems to ship in shiny boxes with equally metallic looking manuals. This trend of catching the attention of shoppers works quite well as MSI boxes easily catch focus.
The board itself is a relatively simple design without extra features like onboard RAID and Ethernet (although another sku with integrated networking features should be available). In the pictures above you’ll notice that MSI has not used the USB port modules because of the 768 B1 southbridge issue. The K7D Master does come with onboard sound but doesn’t use the better C-Media solutions and instead goes with a host processor based software controller like the Gigabyte GA-7DPXDW.
Looking at the physical features of the board, we notice four rather unattractive heatsinks that are scattered wherever the processor VRMs (voltage regulator modules) are located. The two previous boards in this article have better VRM placement than the K7D Master and it seems that MSI always seems to use either heatsinks for its VRMs or large capacitors that look like they can snap off easily. Overall, the processor section of the K7D Master could have been designed better. Perhaps the resources that are being spent on shiny reflective print paper can be spent elsewhere like engineering for example. The board also requires an ATX12V power supply to operate.
From the pictures above you’ll notice that unbuffered DDR is supported in DDR slots 1 and 2. The strange thing is that K7D Master box has a label that says “Registered DDR Only”. Another feature that stands out is a red jumper on the K7D Mater that allows you to change FSB speeds between 100MHz and 133MHz standard. The other boards in this article feature the same thing but there are more jumpers to set whereas the K7D Master only has one. Also, the K7D Master has the least amount of jumpers to configure of all the boards in this article.
MSI also ships a USB 2.0 controller with 5 ports (1 internal port)
SIDEBAR: USB2.0 has a maximum bandwidth of 480Mbit/sec. which is even faster than IEEE-1394 (FireWire). The only drawback is it is host based (using the main CPU’s processing power) while FireWire is peer-to-peer.
Looking deep within
Gigabyte’s BIOS implementation is very good as it has the most configurable setup options of all the BIOSes we’ve examined. Not only does MSI provide FSB adjustment options but available for your tweaking pleasure is clock ratio and CPU VCORE options as well.
FSB settings can be taken up to 150MHz, which is effectively 300MHz in DDR. At this sitting however, the PCI bus is operating at 38MHz, which is 5MHz above the default specifications. Keep in mind that this time around, the FSB speeds are also affecting the 64-bit/66MHz slots which are more sensitive to changes than the slower 32-bit/33MHz slots. It would have been superb if PCI divider options were available in the BIOS as well as it would really complete the Frequency section nicely.
The picture above reveals that MSI also uses the same BIOS code base as Gigabyte’s GA-DPXDW. There are comprehensive AGP switches but the only one we recommend adjusting is AGP Aperture Size, AGP Data Transfer Mode and AGP Fast Write (which is enabled by default unlike the other boards).
While working within the MSI BIOS, the board froze on us once or twice and when this happened, certain key functions weren’t functioning properly. For example, when we tried to exit the BIOS, our Up arrow key was moving down and then the BIOS froze. We’ve seen this happen before in Phoenix BIOSes but never Award; a quick glance at the BIOS chip on the board reveals it to be using Phoenix code.
There have been some outstanding issues that are unresolved in Phoenix’s dual Athlon BIOSes that we’ve seen and they behave oddly on some of Tyan’s boards. Sometimes the BIOS would lose coherence altogether and certain features would be displayed in an incorrect location. We’re not quite sure what’s going on but board manufacturers tell us that it is Phoenix’s code that is misbehaving and not their own.
SIDEBAR: Anyone going to E3 this year? One of the games I’m highly anticipating is a game called Sky Gunner which looks like one of the most innovative games for the PS2.
Getting to know the board
MSI ships the following contents with its K7D Master:
The DLED guide is a small foldout paper that tells you what combinations of LED lights mean what. The picture below, shows that MSI has built in 4 LEDs to help aid a user diagnose the board if something should go wrong.
And thankfully it was there because plenty went wrong while attempting to get the K7D Master to work. It’s becoming quite apparent that AMD 760 MPX boards are very picky with the type of hardware that’s used with the board. We spent well over 2 hours trying to get the board to operate properly without either not booting or hanging while booting.
Memory issues galore
It seems that the K7D Master doesn’t work properly when all four of its memory sockets are populated with 1GB modules which it is suppose to handle. Although it sometimes manages to boot with all four sticks inserted, it successfully boots all the time with just 3. We also tested unbuffered memory modules and all three modules types work flawlessly but only in the first two DIMM sockets. If a third module is installed, the board will fail to boot and will also beep.
With processor tests, all processors were cognized although it had difficulty recognizing a set of 1.2GHz Athlon MPs that were previously working. While we did get the processors to be recognized, we had to go through one huge loop to discover such a solution. For one reason or another, the K7D Master fails to boot when the FSB jumper is set to 133MHz. No matter what processors we install, if the jumper is set on 133MHz, the post card will fail to read any data and the board simply does not boot.
We’re expecting a lot from Tyan because of its past experience with AMD’s 760 MP chipset as it was the only manufacturer to produce 760 MP boards. This time, Tyan is releasing a no-frills board first before releasing any other types. Last time, it had launched with its high-end Thunder K7 board, which featured onboard dual-channel Ultra160 SCSI, onboard video and dual onboard 3COM Ethernet controllers. Designed for the specific rack-mount markets, the Thunder K7 also used angled DIMM sockets to ensure that the board, even though heavily populated, would fit into tight 1U chassis.
Tyan’s Tiger line is more cash-friendly as it doesn’t include all the extra onboard features that its big Thunder brother has. What it does have this time, that the Tiger MP didn’t have before is onboard Ethernet.
The board layout is clean and organized. Tyan populated the board with 6 PCI slots, 4 of which are 32-bit/33MHz slots. There aren’t any large capacitors or any extra heatsinks that shouldn’t be there. The Tiger MPX is also the only board in this article that doesn’t feature onboard sound, nor does it have silk-screen placement for sound. Despite that omission, it looks as though the board we received is the cream of the crop for the Tiger MPX. Tyan may also have a different spin of the board that doesn’t include the onboard 3COM controller for a bit cheaper in price.
Also, it’s a little disappointing to see that Tyan is the only manufacturer to ship a USB 1.0 card. While plenty can be said to justify the cause, justification doesn’t ring well in the ears of the customer. Regardless of whether it’s entirely useful, a feature that is implemented will ultimately give a sense of worth, and a sense of “more” to the end user who is contemplating on which boards to buy because of which features.
Detailed features (or lack thereof)
Zooming into the board a bit closer, we notice that setting FSB speeds is a little trickier than the other boards. Compared to the K7D Master which only requires 1 jumper to be set, the Tiger MPX has a total of 4 jumpers in two different locations that must be set to the same speed for both processors. This is a bit more of a hassle than the rest. This is the benefit of being the games editor vs. a hardware editor. I’m just killing time while waiting for Tuan to send his final draft of this at 3AM…what shall I do besides WarCraft 3? Play tiddlywinks? –ed
This is the benefit of being the games editor vs. a hardware editor. I’m just killing time while waiting for Tuan to send his final draft of this at 3AM…what shall I do besides WarCraft 3? Play tiddlywinks? –ed
Tyan’s BIOS implementations have always been simple and almost void of any tweaking features. Whether this is inherent from the BIOS core or Tyan’s own design is under question, but it would be more competitive for them to offer more tweaking features. It would also definitely help customers who are inclined, to squeeze more performance out of the board.
Compared to Award’s Advanced settings page, the Phoenix BIOS’ Advanced page seems so lonely. There are basic AGP functions and some memory switches like ECC and Cache. There’s not a whole lot to play with, meaning even less to discuss. Other more basic functions are in the parent menu such as Disk Access mode and PS/2 Mouse enable/disable. The rest of the sections in the Tiger MPX BIOS are relatively empty but you do get to play with FSB frequency.
A feature seen in many Tyan boards and many other workstation class boards is the Console Redirect function. This feature allows you to direct the console screens through the serial ports or LAN ports into another system for control. Console Redirect is a server management features not often seen on end-user level boards and most people don’t know how to set it up anyway.
SIDEBAR: I saw an Aston Martin Vantage on the road the other day and boy, did it sure look sweet. My dream car is the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, which I will have one day.
Tyan ships the Tiger MPX with the following items in the box:
Documentation wise, the manual accompanying the Tiger MPX is much better than Gigabyte’s manual and is on par with MSI’s and Asus’ manual in most respects. There are certain things that can be improved upon such as printing quality. The printer used to produce the Tiger MPX’s manual is very poor quality where solid colors look all broken. Overall, the packaging is good and easy to work with.
Poor Athlon MP
The Tiger MPX was tested with the four 1GB PC2100 DDR sticks like the other boards and initially things did go well, but then the board froze during mid-boot and never booted again afterwards until we spent a lot of time playing around with processor and memory combinations. We tested a few processors on the board with no success and so we decided to only go with one processor installed, which didn’t work. We then removed the memory modules and installed only 1 DIMM which was verified to work because we had tested it on another MPX board previously. This too also yielded nothing. We then attempted to test the processor on our Iwill XP333-R but something happened and the processor went up in smoke, killing the board in the process. The heatsink was properly attached and all fans were plugged in.
Taking a closer look underneath the processor (we suspected something) revealed a certain resistor underneath the Athlon MP to be burnt. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this same resistor go up in smoke.
Curious to see if the Tiger MPX could also support unbuffered modules in the 3rd and 4th DIMM slot like the Asus A7M266-D, we tried populating three slots and to our surprise it worked. However, during startup where memory is being counted and tested, the increment rate was very slow, going about 3MB per second.
We installed a total of 640MB of unbuffered memory in three sticks, 2x256MB and 1x128MB, all of which worked in various combinations. We can’t be sure of how long this will last because stability can be affected further down the road in the board’s life. The same thing applies to the A7M266-D
SIDEBAR: Remember I mentioned about drinking Gatorade and how it took away my allergies? Well, it’s been almost 3 months now and I still haven’t had allergy symptoms which I use to have everyday before drinking Gatorade. I think I should write them a letter.
SiSoft ALU and FPU test
SiSoft ALU and FPU test
The ALU and FPU tests are performance tests that stress the integer and floating-point units of a processor. If you don’t already know, float-point computations are those that deal with decimal and irregular numbers while integer computations work with whole numbers.
The new SiSoft Sandra suite for 2002 has extra optimizations in the code that allow it to take special processors features of all the latest offerings from both AMD and Intel. In this case, we’re looking at some of just the integer performance, which is largely very strong and has been since the early days of the Athlon’s life. Mental note: never borrow any cables whatsoever from Tuan –ed
Mental note: never borrow any cables whatsoever from Tuan –ed
The SYSMark suite has always been a favorite among testers because of its broad performance measure that tests everyday work environment conditions with typical application situations such as number crunching, document publications, etc.
All the boards in the roundup are performing neck-to-neck with each other, which isn’t really much of a surprise. The situation with multiprocessor chipsets is that timing is critical and manufacture-specific tweaks that are out of specifications can really put the chipset’s stability out to dry. This is primarily why we’re seeing the same performances stretched across all the boards.
Winstone and Dhrystone performance
The Ziff Davis suite is also an extremely popular analysis tool that has been around since anyone can remember. Initially launched through PC Magazine, the Winstone and Dhrystone tests have becoming a standard in the industry for performance testing.
We don’t see any differences until the SMP inspection test where Tyan proves its experience but only marginally ahead of the pack with Asus following right behind. Asus, being the large and experienced motherboard manufacturer that it is, surely has many tricks up its sleeves, while we’re not quite sure why the MSI and Gigabyte lag behind. It’s also interesting to note that both the MSI K7D Master and Gigabyte GA-7DPXDW are fussy with unbuffered memory while the Asus and Tyan boards have no problems with unbuffered DIMMs. This could indicate a trace route difference between the two boards where one design is shorter and more efficient than the other.
Benchmark Studio is one of the most unique benchmark programs to use because it allows us to test a system based on real world conditions. By this we mean that Benchmark Studio will run with everyday applications and games already installed. This gives us a good taste of how a system will actually perform during use, rather than not having anything installed but the OS on it.
In more true world benchmarks rather than synthetic run-throughs, all the boards perform virtually the same, they all use the same chipset, and are built the same way and follow the same reference design. While one board manufacturer may have a slightly different design, it all comes down to the same 760 MPX chipset and the same memory technology.
It’s that time again; the time to take a step back, look long and hard and make a tough decision. What exactly do you want out of a dual Athlon solution, and under what budge, if any, are you constrained to. If you haven’t dabbled with SMP systems in the past and want to get your feet wet, the 760 MPX would be a good choice to start with but only after considering all the facts and options that exist.
The first issue is AMD’s malfunctioning USB feature inside the 768 southbridge. While it’s true that many SMP buyers aren’t using a lot of USB devices, it brings up the question of whether or not something else is broken but just hasn’t been discovered yet. With the maturing process that it’s going through though, the 760 MPX grows upon what was great about the 760 MP and adds support for 66MHz PCI slots. However, that too can be a disadvantage because now you are unable to install 33MHz PCI cards in those slots and are only left with three or four 33MHz PCI slots left. If you also intend to use the USB cards that come in the box, you’re then left with even less usable slots. At this point, it’s safe to say that if you’re a heavy USB user, a 760 MP solution (Tyan only) is a better solution. You’ll also be able to use all the PCI cards with any other PCI card out there. In all honesty, if you can wait for manufacturers to implement a fixed southbridge, do so, and if not, a 760 MP solution may be better overall.
With that said, here are the standings:
MSI K7D Master
SIDEBAR: Are you running a multi-processor platform? What do you think of dual Athlon setups? Sound off in our comments section
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