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Foxconn's WinFast NF4UK8AA motherboard

nForce4 Ultra on the cheap
— 12:00 AM on February 16, 2005

ModelWinFast NF4UK8AA
Price (street)

FOXCONN'S WINFAST NF4UK8AA is the least expensive nForce4 Ultra motherboard on the market. With a street price hovering under $110, the board costs $30-40 less than most other nForce4 Ultras. That's quite a savings when you consider that the $110 price point is largely occupied by nForce4 "4x" motherboards that don't officially support a 1GHz HyperTransport link.

The prospect of a less expensive nForce4 Ultra implementation is certainly tempting, especially when the chipset generally dictate's a motherboard's feature set and performance. Still, enthusiasts look beyond performance benchmarks and spec sheets. We crave intelligent layouts, ample overclocking options, and robust BIOSes filled with tweaking options.

With an nForce4 Ultra at its core, the WinFast NF4UK8AA should have the features and performance that enthusiasts want. Read on to see if Foxconn gets the rest of the board right.

The specs
We'll only be highlighting the NF4UK8AA's more notable specs, so if you're unfamiliar with the nForce4 Ultra chipset's features, you should thumb through our in-depth review of the chipset.

CPU supportSocket 939-based Athlon 64 processors
ChipsetNVIDIA nForce4 Ultra
Expansion slots1 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
4 32-bit/33MHz
Memory4 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 4GB of DDR266/333/400 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
2 channels ATA/133 with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 support
4 channels Serial ATA II with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 support
Audio8-channel audio via nForce4 integrated audio and ALC850 codec
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 serial
1 parallel
USB 2.0 with headers for 4 more
2 Firewire via Agere FW3226-100
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog surround out
1 analog rear out
1 analog line in (shared with surround out)
1 analog mic in
1 digital S/PDIF output (RCA)
BIOSPhoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speedsCPU: 200-300MHz in 1MHz increments
PCI-E: 100-145MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus dividersHT: auto, 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x
VoltagesCPU: default, 1.2-1.8V in 0.025V increments
DDR: default, 2.5-2.8V in 0.1V increments
HT: default, 1.3-1.5V in 0.1V increments
Chipset: default, 1.6-1.8V in 0.1V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlNone

The first pillar of the NF4UK8AA's, and indeed the nForce4 Ultra's, trifecta of must-have features is PCI Express. The nForce4 Ultra chipset has 20 lanes of PCI Express, which is more than enough for the NF4UK8AA's single x16 and dual x1 slots. Peripheral expansion isn't limited to PCI Express, though. Foxconn throws in a quartet of PCI slots that should come in handy as we wait for PCI Express audio, TV tuner, wireless networking, and storage products to become available.

Not that the NF4UK8AA needs extra storage. The nForce4 Ultra's robust, er, array of storage options is its second defining feature. In addition to plenty of "parallel" ATA, the nForce4 Ultra supports up to four Serial ATA II devices, complete with 300MB/sec transfer rates and both Native and Tagged Command Queuing. nForce4 does RAID, too. Multiple RAID 0, 1, and 0+1 arrays can be configured with PATA and SATA drives, and individual RAID volumes can even span PATA and SATA devices.

A hardware-accelerated Gigabit Ethernet MAC rounds out the nForce4's triptych of killer features. The integrated GigE's ActiveArmor acceleration not only helps to offload standard TCP/IP packet handling, but also accelerates the stateful packet inspections performed by NVIDIA's firewall software, now known as the ForceWare Network Access Manager.

The nForce4 Ultra's PCI Express, storage options, and Gigabit Ethernet are a potent trio of features that almost make up for the chipset's appallingly bland integrated audio. No SoundStorm here; not even "Azalia" High Definition Audio. The nForce4 Ultra's AC'97 audio is about as basic as it gets. Foxconn could have augmented the board's audio capabilities by using a 24-bit audio controller like the Envy24PT, but instead they've just slapped on a eight-channel Realtek codec and called it a day.