Summary: Care for a board that can do it all? While not the best in every respect, the ASUS A7N266-E nForce based board is quite a contender. Regardless of what you're looking for, we're sure you're going to like what this board has to offer. So come on down and check it!
To many the nForce should prove to be an interesting board. This is the first time that the consumer can buy a handful of components, and be done assembling a relatively powerful system with a minimum of time invested. Sure the video card maybe a little weak with what is coming out now, but it beats out every other onboard solution on the market. Combine that with the Southbridge, which contains an audio processor that gives the SB Live! a run for its money. If there was ever a time to consider an all-onboard solution, this is it. Weíre sure many of you out there are the sole repositories of computer knowledge for friends and family. How many times have you been asked to troubleshoot? Assemble? Provide answers to seemingly inane questions? With an nForce board, you could build your technically deficient chums a decent computer with very basic support structure. One driver install and youíre done setting the machine up. No tracking down weird conflicts or random drivers. Itís all done with one file. This is the perfect product for a midnight infomercial!
What comes with it?
The A7N266-E nForce board is a good example of how to work this chipset. The board comes with quite a few goodies packed in it. To go with the decent graphics, ASUS bundled two games Ė Messiah and Star Trek New Worlds. Not the most recent of games, but I think I can safely say that Iíve never seen games bundled with a motherboard Ė so technically this would be the best game bundle so far.
SIDEBAR: The network controller on the A7N cannot be disabled, or at least we couldnít find anything.
The way the nForce chipset works is very interesting. Despite the fact that the board has three RAM slots, the board can only accept five banks of RAM. Banks of RAM are defined by the strips of chips on a stick of RAM, for simplicities sake. If you have a stick of RAM with chips on both sides, it will use two banks on the motherboard. Generally the larger memory modules have chips on both sides Ė 256MB, 512MB, and 1024MB. What this boils down to is that you must pay attention to how much RAM you buy when you assemble your system. Itís a shame that this fact is not better known. This pretty much makes the third slot useless, as it can only be filled with a stick RAM that isnít very large. You can only have two double-sided sticks in the system, so make them count. The first slot is one array, and the other two slots count as the second set.
If youíve read anything about the onboard video on the nForce boards, itís nothing to write home about. The performance rivals that of a GeForce2 MX. We originally checked out the performance of the graphics in our nForce preview, itís pretty safe to say not much has changed since then. Weíre pretty sure that the majority of you out there arenít going to be buying this board for its graphics capabilities Ė youíre all going to be taking advantage of the AGP port, right? On a slight tangent, for those of you still deciding on what board to get, you might want to wait a little longer. NVIDIA announced that it would be releasing a chipset called the 415-D - all the Dolby Digital goodness sans the onboard video. This reduces the number of onboard items, while at the same time cutting the cost of the board by an unknown amount. Weíre going to guess that the board will arrive at a price slightly above a $100, seeing as boards based on the 420-D go for approximately $150.
The clean design that this board has pleases us to no end. Clearance around the CPU is ample, and will allow just for about any sort of cooler. Weíre exceedingly happy to note that there are no capacitors in the way of the heatsink clips. There are quite a few boards out on the market that place the socket within a hair of a capacitor. For those whose fingers arenít dainty little lotus petals, putting on a heatink can become a nightmare.
As is the trend these days, the A7N sports a total of six USB ports. Two reside at the back of the board in their usual spots; the other four require the use of a connector. We were a little stunned when we saw what ASUS had provided. It seems as though the connector that is provided has a reserve power of its own Ė note the capacitors on the riser card. Most other manufacturers merely supply a cable that connects it to the board. While the standard USB port does supply power, not all USB devices are created equal. Some require a bit more juice in order to function.
In terms of overclocking features, the A7N266 is no slouch. With the ability to crank the system all the way from 100MHz-172MHz youíre sure to find your sweet spot somewhere in there. Although, the board does not feature 1MHz increments, the 2MHz jumps should be just fine for most us. Losing sleep over the possibility of gaining another 10MHz with fine-tuning just isnít worth it, considering the performance gained would amount to under one percentage point.
The A7N has the relatively unused AGP Pro slot. This standard appeared quite a while ago, while companies have yet to start using it, itís nice to know the slot is here and prepared for what the future may bring. The AGP slot also has a safety feature built into it. It prevents the use of older 3.3V AGP cards from damaging the motherboard. A little red LED next to the slot will light up in case this happens, and prevents the motherboard from booting up. Current AGP video cards run on 1.5V
MSI K7T266 Pro-RU
VIA 4in1 version 4.37
256MB Corsair PC2100 DDR SDRAM
NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti 500 reference board
Driver version Detonator 23.11
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
AFREEY 12X DVD-ROM
Windows XP Professional
Desktop Resolution: 1024x768x32
3DMark2000 ver 1.1 Ė 16-bit, 16-bit textures
3Dmark2000 Ė Directx 7.0
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8.0
This scrappy little nForce board is essentially going punch for punch in 3DMark. No board came out on top by any reasonable margin, they are all pretty much neck and neck, except for the MSI KT266A board.
3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
Serious Sam - OpenGL
The ASUS A7N drops behind by a little bit in some of the tests but it manages a good finish once the resolution is turned up a few notches.
-Lewis Carrol from Alice in Wonderland
Quake III - High Quality
The Quake scores are pretty much identical between the boards.
- Bill Clinton
Return To Castle Wolfenstein MP Test
The scores here are pretty close, with the A7N sticking with the pack.
- Elaine Boosler
Once again the nForce doesnít quite beat everything out there, but it sure isnít lagging behind here.
- Malcolm Rogers
Performance: Looking at this board from performance perspective, weíre going to have to say that we like what we see. It goes toe to toe with the KT266A and comes out slugging. The graphs basically show no clear victor. For NVIDIAís first foray into the motherboard chipset business, they slammed a homer.
Fan connectors We were a little disappointed by the lack of fan headers. Aside from the CPU fan connector, there was only one extra header. While many fans do connect the power supply cables, it never hurts to have a few onboard options.
- Mark Twain