Summary: Traditionally, DFI has catered to the OEM and value segments. Just recently however they've launched a new line of boards targeted specifically for the high-end consumer: LANPARTY. Today we're taking a look at their 875P-based LANPARTY PRO875. This motherboard comes with all kinds of accessories: a front panel drive bay, round IDE and floppy cables, and tons more! DFI even provides bus speeds up to 400MHz in 1MHz increments. But is all this enough to stand out from the competition? Find out in our review!
Typically when you think of an enthusiast motherboard, brands like ABIT, Epox, and ASUS come to mind. Each of these players has been in the business for awhile and has established their own niche of loyal patrons. ABIT and Epox in particular have made a name for themselves building overclocker boards. These products are typically all business; you won’t find any useless bells and whistles here.
ABIT in particular is largely responsible for the jumperless motherboards we have today. ABIT was also one of the first manufacturers to implement IDE RAID controllers on all of its high-end motherboards.
Now DFI is looking to enter the enthusiast segment as well, and they’re coming with products that should have the big boys take notice.
We know what you’re probably thinking: “DFI making an enthusiast motherboard? What is this guy smoking?” In all honesty, we were skeptical ourselves until we opened the LANPARTY PRO875’s packaging. DFI has been in the motherboard business for over two decades, but they’re largely known as a value motherboard manufacturer that deals with OEMs, not the retail market. Offering motherboards loaded with goodies and more bus speeds than you will possibly ever need is not what they’re known for (the last motherboard we reviewed from them still utilized jumpers!). But with the LANPARTY PRO875, DFI has delivered just that.
As its name implies, DFI starts the LANPARTY PRO875 off with Intel’s recently released 875P “Canterwood” chipset. 875P brings support of Intel’s latest Pentium 4 CPUs with 800MHz front-side bus support, a dual-channel DDR400 interface that is capable of feeding the CPU with up to 6.4GB/sec of bandwidth, Serial ATA, up to 4GB of memory, and 8 USB 2.0 ports are just a few noteworthy items among its long list of features.
To appeal to those oh so picky hardware enthusiasts (us), DFI has included all kinds of high tech goodness on the LANPARTY PRO875 board itself and has stuffed the retail packaging with an incredible amount of added bonuses. For instance, DFI includes two rounded IDE cables and a rounded floppy cable. Yes, that’s right, we said a round floppy cable! Enthusiasts prefer rounded cables because their thinner shape allows for more efficient case airflow. Round cables can also be tucked away neatly, making component installation a breeze. Typically these cables sell for $8-$10 each, so the round cables are a $30 value by themselves. Oddly enough they’re even UV-sensitive, allowing them to illuminate under a black light. DFI even labels the connectors making them extremely newbie friendly.
DFI also includes Serial ATA data cables and one Serial ATA power cable, a SPDIF bracket, a FRONTX front panel (with USB header), and even a handy carrying case for transporting your PC in.
Lets take a look at the hardware.
SIDEBAR: DFI LANPARTY PRO875 Product Webpage
As we mentioned in the opening, the LANPARTY PRO875 is based on Intel’s 875P chipset. Specifically, DFI utilizes the 875P MCH/ICH5R combination.
One optional component that can be mated with the 875P MCH is Intel’s Communications Streaming Architecture, or CSA. CSA provides a dedicated link between the 875P MCH and the available onboard Intel Gigabit Ethernet controller. CSA mates both components up with a 2Gbps link, allowing the Ethernet controller to reach its full potential without bogging down the components within the rest of the system. The LANPARTY PRO875 fully supports the 875P MCH with CSA for optimal performance.
On the South Bridge we have Intel’s ICH5R chip. ICH5 brings native Serial ATA support to the Intel platform, an upcoming disk technology Intel has been advocating for years. The obligatory 5.1 channel audio is also there, while Intel increases the number of native USB 2.0 ports supported to eight (from six in ICH4). The “R” in ICH5R denotes the chip’s support for Serial ATA RAID, specifically RAID Level 0 (striping). Support is limited to just two drives (one per Serial ATA channel) and with RAID 0’s lack of redundancy; the implementation is rather limited, focusing entirely on performance. DFI realizes this, so they’ve also included an external RAID controller from HighPoint Technologies.
In addition to the ICH5R, the LANPARTY PRO875 also supports up to four additional hard drives via HighPoint’s 372N RAID controller. The 372N supports RAID Levels 1, 0, and 0+1, and even though the DFI website doesn’t mention it, JBOD (spanning). The real unique feature that 372N supports however is RAID Level 1.5.
The FRONTX front panel is designed to fit in any 5.25” drive bay in the front of your case. Unlike traditional front panels, FRONTX is completely modular, allowing you, the end user to choose which devices you want to connect to your PC for increased flexibility. The slot holders are easily removed, in fact almost too easy, just lift the plastic sheath off the rail and you’re done. DFI includes a microphone input and headphone output as well as a 2-port USB header to get you started. You can also order S-Video, RCA, PS/2, and other ports off the FRONTX website for additional connectivity options.
Onboard audio is powered by C-Media’s CMI9739A AC’97 CODEC, giving end user’s 5.1 channel audio support. To be honest though, this is one of the weaker audio controllers we’ve seen integrated on a Canterwood motherboard. If you haven’t invested in a mid, to high-end set of speakers and don’t plan on listening to anything more than low bit-rate MP3s the audio provided will be more than enough for your needs however.
SIDEBAR: DFI’s LANPARTY Webpage
If you’re still not convinced that DFI has an enthusiast board on their hands with the LANPARTY PRO875, one look at the board itself should convince you otherwise. Gone is the tan PCB you typically see on a value product. DFI has instead implemented a black PCB with orange UV-sensitive DIMM sockets, AGP and PCI slots. When combined with the UV-sensitive rounded cables, you’ve got one really sharp-looking system.
For diagnosing problems on boot up, DFI includes a bank of diagnostic LEDs on the lower portion of the LANPARTY PRO875 board. On the opposite side of the board (between PCI slots five and six) is a power LED. This 1-2 combination makes troubleshooting the board significantly easier. If the power LED doesn’t shine, you know you’ve got a dead motherboard. Meanwhile, installation problems can be identified via the diagnostic LED display, simply look up the LED combination in the LANPARTY PRO875 manual to determine the source of the problem. A memory LED is also located near the top of the motherboard.
The board layout of the LANPARTY PRO875 isn’t without a few nitpicks. For instance, the 875P North Bridge is angled towards the CPU interface in order to shorten the trace lengths between both components. Unfortunately, DFI has placed the North Bridge heatsink directly over the 875P chip, resulting in very little room to work with when installing a new processor. If DFI had angled the North Bridge heatsink 45 degrees in relation to the chipset, the edge of the heatsink would be parallel with the CPU interface, freeing up more room for CPU heatsink installation.
We’re also a little disappointed in the location of the floppy and IDE connectors that are tied to the RAID controller. The floppy connector is on the bottom of the motherboard, so those of you with full-size towers like the SuperMicro SC750 may not have enough cable for a board like the LANPARTY, at best it will be a very tight fit. Motherboard manufacturers typically place the floppy cable near the primary IDE connectors so why DFI chose this location is definitely a mystery to us.
As far as the secondary set of IDE connectors goes, it’s not unusual to see a motherboard manufacturer place the RAID connectors below the primary connections that are tied to the motherboard’s chipset. But placing them on the bottom right corner of the board is far from ideal, especially when they’re mounted perpendicular to the right edge of the motherboard; this requires even more cable length.
Another oddity is the location of the third fan header – directly across from the IDE RAID connectors below the fifth PCI slot. At that spot we fail to see what device could reach it. Traditionally fan headers are placed on the left and/or right side of the motherboard. Typically you place your intake fan to the right of the motherboard, near your hard drives, while the exhaust fan is on the left side, sitting near the motherboard back plate. Unfortunately you’ll have a hard time reaching the third fan header from either of these locations.
One positive feature that we especially like is that the memory sockets are spaced high enough for end users to install the graphics card and system memory independent of each other. We’ve run into countless motherboards that space these components too closely, requiring the memory to be installed before the graphics card. We also give a big thumbs-up to the onboard power and reset switches.
Finally, DFI got the location of the ATX power connectors right as well. Both are positioned so that power cables won’t constrict airflow around the CPU.
SIDEBAR: Is it just us or does the LANPARTY webpage use a little too much Macromedia Flash?
In the eyes of the enthusiast, your BIOS implementation can make or break your motherboard. We’ve all seen our fair share of motherboard manufacturers do everything right in terms of feature set, board layout, and ultimately, performance, only to see it all backfire among enthusiasts because the BIOS only supports a handful of bus speeds! Coming from a player like DFI (who tends to be known for motherboards targeted for the OEM and value markets), we’re pretty sure you skeptics are expecting DFI to under perform in this area.
Well, we’ve got a surprise for you the LANPARTY PRO offers bus speeds up to 400MHz in 1MHz increments! That’s an effective bus speed of 1.6GHz folks. DFI does fall a little bit short in the voltage department however. CPU voltages range from 1.5V-1.85V, which is good. Unfortunately, those increments are in 0.05V increments. Most motherboards now offer 0.025V increments, giving end users a little more flexibility when it comes to voltage tweaking.
Memory voltage settings are 2.6V and 2.7V, while memory settings of 1.5V and 1.6V are available. Again, this is just a little bit shy of what the competition offers in their BIOS menus. Likewise, you can lock your AGP frequency at 66MHz, but that’s it. Some enthusiast motherboards will also give you options of 72MHz and 80MHz if you want to boost your AGP performance a bit.
The rest of the LANPARTY PRO875 BIOS is fairly standard fare. You’ve got your advanced chipset features menu for adjusting memory timings – an area we feel you will probably spend the majority of your time – as well as your obligatory menus for health monitoring and setting up your IDE, floppy, and USB devices. Overall the LANPARTY PRO875 BIOS does an excellent job of covering the basic bus speeds, but could use a little work in the other areas. Of course, this can all be remedied with a BIOS update if DFI chooses to do so. We confirmed all of our settings with the 530 BIOS dated 5/30.
With our unlocked Pentium 4 chip, we were able to crank the LANPARTY PRO875 board up to 254MHz. Beyond that frequency we could run many games and applications, but couldn’t maintain the stability we’d like to see to call it reliable.
3DMark03 – Wings of Fury
3DMark03 – Battle of Proxycon
3DMark03 – Troll’s Lair
3DMark03 – Mother Nature
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
Quake III - High Quality
Comanche 4 demo
Unreal Tournament 2003 - flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 - botmatch
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
Unreal Tournament 2003 - flyby
SiSoft Sandra 2003 Memory Bandwidth
No FireWire: Unfortunately, Intel’s 875P chipset doesn’t offer native Firewire support. However, many motherboard manufacturers have implemented this feature on many of their high-end motherboards via external controllers. Considering that the LANPARTY PRO875 will be competing directly with these deluxe motherboards, this is a pretty significant omission on DFI’s part.
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