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Foxconn's NFPIK8AA motherboard

Dual-core dream?
— 12:00 AM on June 28, 2005

Price (Street)$225

DUAL-CORE PROCESSORS have brought the creamy smoothness of SMP to single-socket systems, and at least in AMD's case, a single Opteron processor with two cores is actually faster than a pair of single-core chips. That dual-core chip also consumes less power, produces less heat, and makes less noise than a comparable dual-Opteron configuration, making it a tempting upgrade for workstation users and SMP enthusiasts who may not need the horsepower of a dual-processor, dual-core system.

The only problem with a single-processor, dual-core workstation is finding a decent motherboard. Uniprocessor Socket 940 boards do exist, but the majority date back to the original 940-pin Athlon 64 FX, so they're stuck with AGP and older core logic chipsets. Running a dual-processor motherboard with only a single CPU socket occupied is always a possibility. However, there's little point in paying for an extra CPU socket unless you plan on popping in a second chip.

Fortunately, Foxconn has a new single-socket Opteron board primed for dual-core processors. The awkwardly-named NFPIK8AA taps NVIDIA's latest nForce Pro chipset to offer eight Serial ATA ports with 300MB/sec transfer rates, dual hardware-accelerated Gigabit Ethernet ports, and more PCI Express lanes than any other motherboard we've tested. Packed to the gills, the NFPIK8AA has all the makings of a perfect dual-core platform for workstations and enthusiasts. Read on to find out if the board lives up to its potential.

The specs
As always, we'll kick things off with a look at the NFPIK8AA's spec sheet—and there's plenty to see.

CPU supportSocket 940-based Opteron and Athlon 64 FX processors
ChipsetnForce Pro 2200 with nForce Pro 2050
InterconnectHyperTransport 16-bit/1GHz
Expansion slots2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x4
2 PCI Express x1
1 32-bit/33MHz
Memory4 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8GB of registered DDR266/333/400 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
8 channels Serial ATA 300MB/sec with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 support
Audio8-channel audio via nForce Pro 2200 and Realtek ALC850 codec
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 parallel
1 serial
USB 2.0 with headers for 6 more
2 RJ45 10/100/1000
Headers for 2 Firewire 1394a via Texas Instruments TSB82AA2
Header for 1 Firewire 1394b via
Texas Instruments TSB81BA3

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog surround out
1 analog rear out
1 analog line in
2 digital S/PDIF output (Coaxial and TOS-Link)
BIOSPhoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speedsHT: 200-300MHz in 1MHz increments
PCI-E: 100-145MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 100, 133, 166, 200MHz
LDT: 1000, 800, 600, 400, 200MHz
VoltagesCPU: auto, 1.050-1.64V in 0.025V increments
DDR: auto, 2.7-2.9V in 0.1V increments
Chipset: auto, 1.6-1.7V in 0.1V increments
: auto, in 0.1V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlNone

Built around a pair of nForce Pro chips, the NFPIK8AA offers an impressive array of integrated features. The nForce Pro 2200 and 2050 aren't a traditional north and south bridge combo, though. Each chip plugs directly into an Opteron processor's non-coherent HyperTransport link, so there's no interconnect between the two. However, only the nForce Pro 2200 has all the trimmings of a modern core logic chipset, including 20 lanes of PCI Express, four Serial ATA RAID ports with 300MB/sec transfer rates, a pair of ATA/133 ports, Gigabit Ethernet with ActiveArmor acceleration, and basic AC'97 audio. The nForce Pro 2050 is best thought of as the 2200's sidekick, adding an additional 20 lanes of PCI Express, four Serial ATA RAID ports, and Gigabit Ethernet to the mix.

Foxconn takes full advantage of the 2200 and 2050's combined Serial ATA and Gigabit Ethernet capabilities, endowing the board with eight Serial ATA ports and a pair of Gigabit Ethernet jacks. nvRAID's ability to span arrays across drives connected to both the 2200 and 2050 makes those eight Serial ATA ports even more useful for monster arrays. Sadly, though, RAID 5 isn't supported.

The NFPIK8AA doesn't quite maximize the nForce Pro duo's PCI Express potential, but it comes pretty close. Up to 40 lanes of PCI Express are available between the nForce Pro 2200 and 2050, and Foxconn spreads 38 of them across a pair of true x16 slots, an x4 slot, and a pair of x1 slots. Only a handful of high-end SLI-capable workstation platforms offer a full 16 lanes of PCI Express to each of a pair x16 slots, putting the NFPIK8AA in elite company.

In addition to its pair of nForce Pro chips, Foxconn equips the NFPIK8AA with an eight-channel Realtek audio codec and a couple of Texas Instruments Firewire chips. One of the TI chips powers a pair of "Firewire 400" 1394a ports, while the second serves up a single "Firewire 800" 1394b port.