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Chaintech's Zenith ZNF3-150 motherboard

Bundling up an nForce3

ModelZenith ZNF3-150
Price (street)$159

FOR A WHILE there, the Socket 754 motherboard market looked a little bleak. Although AMD launched the platform with its 754-pin Athlon 64 processors way back in September, it didn't look like motherboard manufacturers were in any hurry to adopt the platform. Honestly, I don't blame them; with only a $400 Athlon 64 3200+ available at launch, the Socket 754 platform was initially a very expensive upgrade, even without the cost of a new motherboard. However, AMD's $200 Athlon 64 3000+ has quickly made the Socket 754 platform an affordable option for PC enthusiasts and gamers alike.

As the Athlon 64 becomes more affordable, now is the perfect time to check out Chaintech's Socket 754 Zenith ZNF3-150. Like Chaintech's early Zenith boards, the ZNF3-150 is loaded with integrated peripherals, bundled extras, and a decent array of overclocking options. However, this latest Zenith is quite a bit cheaper than Chaintech's previous high-end offerings, making the ZNF3-150 especially tempting for anyone looking for an AMD64 bargain.

Has Chaintech kept the peripheral and bundle gravy train flowing, despite the ZNF3-150's more affordable price tag? Can the board's nForce3 chipset, with a little help from NVIDIA's latest Forceware drivers, keep up with VIA's K8T800 chipset? Read on; you might be surprised.

The specs
Before we take a look at the ZNF3-150's layout, let's have a quick peek at the board's specs.

CPU supportSocket 754-based Athlon 64 processors
Form factorATX
ChipsetNVIDIA nForce3 150
InterconnectHyperTransport (3.6GB/s)
PCI slots5 32-bit/33MHz
AGP slots1 4x/8x (1.5V only)
AMR/CNR slotsNone
Memory3 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 2GB of DDR266/333/400 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
3 channels ATA/133
Serial ATA4 Serial ATA channels via Sil3114 SATA RAID controller
RAIDRAID 0, 1, 5, 10 support via Sil3114 SATA RAID controller
Legacy ports1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse, and 1 Serial port
USB2 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
Additional 2 USB ports via CBOX3 drive bay insert
Firewire1  IEEE 1394 Firewire port via VT6306 Firewire controller
Audio7.1-channel audio via VIA Envy24PT audio controller
analog front, rear, surround, and center outputs
analog line and microphone inputs
digital S/PDIF output
CBOX3 front-mounted headphone and microphone ports
Ethernet10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via Broadcom BCM5788
BIOSPhoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speedsCPU: 200-400MHz in 1MHz increments
AGP: 66-100MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus dividersNone
VoltagesCPU: default, 1.45-1.7 in 0.025V increments
AGP: default, 1.6-2.2 in 0.1V increments
DIMM: default, 2.7-2.9 in 0.1V increments
Chipset: default, 1.7-1.9 in 0.1V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

Chaintech loads the ZNF3-150 with a veritable cornucopia of integrated peripherals, features, and even a few extras. There's a lot to cover, and we'll get things rolling with a look at the board's layout.