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DFI's LANParty KT400A and NFII Ultra motherboards

Turn the lights down low, these ones glow

ModelLANParty KT400A
LANParty NFII Ultra
Price (street)US$143 (KT400A)
US$171 (NF2 Ultra)

OVER THE PAST few years, motherboard manufacturers have struggled mightily to differentiate their products from the competition. Competing motherboards based on the same chipset tend to have almost identical performance characteristics, and since the majority of peripheral devices are now supported in the south bridge, boards also tend to share a lot of common features.

Fortunately, motherboard manufacturers have found new and exciting ways to make their products unique. Robust overclocking features and the latest integrated peripherals have been popular avenues of differentiation, and bundles have grown from including just the bare essentials to occasionally being a motherboard's biggest selling point. Today, motherboard boxes are almost the size of small briefcases, just so they can accommodate all the extra goodies.

The latest manufacturer to produce a feature-packed, bundle-rich motherboard is DFI, a company known more for products suitable for corporate PC makers than hardcore PC enthusiasts. But corporate types are clearly at the bottom of DFI's priority list with its new LANParty line, which is squarely targeted at PC enthusiasts, case modding fanatics, and gamers who regularly drag their PCs out of the house. Today, we're looking at DFI's LANParty KT400A and NFII Ultra motherboards, which are based on VIA's KT400A and NVIDIA's nForce2 Ultra 400 chipsets, respectively. Does the LANParty line have what it takes to entice late-night, Mountain Dew-guzzling fraggers? Which Socket A LANParty board is the pick of the litter? Keep reading to find out.

The specs
Since we'll be contrasting two LANParty boards today, I've lined up their spec sheets for easy comparison. Despite being based on different chipsets, the two boards actually share a lot as far as specs go. Check it out:

MotherboardLANParty NFII UltraLANParty KT400A
CPU supportSocket 462-based AMD Athlon XP and Duron processors
Form factorATX
ChipsetNVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400VIA KT400A
North bridgenForce2 SPPVIA KT400A
South bridgenForce2 MCP-TVIA VT8235CD
InterconnectHyper Transport  (800MB/s)V-Link (533MB/s)
PCI slots5 32-bit/33MHz
AGP slots1, 4X/8X AGP (1.5V only)
AMR/CNR slotsNone
Memory3 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 3GB of DDR400/333/266 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
Serial ATA1 Serial ATA 150 port via Marvel 88i8030 bridge
RAID2 channels ATA/133 via Highpoint 372N IDE RAID controller
RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 1.5 supported
Legacy ports1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse, Serial and Parallel ports
USB4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
2 additional USB 2.0/1.1 ports via front panel expansion header
Firewire3 internal IEEE 1394 connectors via MCP-T3 internal IEEE 1394 connectors via VT6306
2 ports in front panel connector
Audio6-channel audio via nForce2 MCP/ALC650 codec6-channel audio via VT8235 south bridge/CMI9739A codec
analog front, rear, and center output
front panel mic and headphone jacks
expansion header with digital input/output ports
Ethernet2 10/100 Fast Ethernet via nForce2 MCP-T and RealTek RTL8101L2 10/100 Fast Ethernet via VT8235 and RealTek RTL8101L
Bus speedsFSB: 100-300MHz in 1MHz increments
AGP: 50-100MHz
FSB: 100-255MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 200, 266, 333, or 400MHz
Bus dividersDRAM: 1:1, 1:2, 3:5, 2:3, 4:5, 5:6, 6:5, 5:4, 4:3, 3:1, 5:1, 2:1None
VoltagesCPU: 1.1-2.0V in 0.05V increments
Chipset: 1.6-1.9V in 0.1V increments
AGP: 1.5-1.8V in 0.1V increments
DRAM: 2.5-2.8V in 0.1V increments
CPU: 1.1-2.0V in 0.025V increments
Chipset: 2.5-2.8V in 0.1V increments
AGP: 1.5-1.8V in 0.1V increments
DRAM: 2.5-2.8V in 0.1V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

Clearly, the LANParty KT400A and NFII Ultra boards offer very similar capabilities and features. However, those features and capabilities are often powered by different chips, which should yield layout, BIOS, and performance differences. What makes each LANParty board unique? Let's start with the layouts.