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DFI's LANParty UT NF4 Ultra-D motherboard

All the little things

ModelLANParty UT NF4 Ultra-D
Price (street)

THE ATHLON 64'S on-die memory controller has largely taken the motherboard out of the system performance equation. When a motherboard does impact performance, that's usually the core logic chipset talking. That chipset also happens to be responsible for most of the board's features. So, with the processor and chipset dictating much of a motherboard's performance and feature set, manufacturers have been forced to innovate in new areas to make their boards stand out in a sea of similar competitors.

Often, the best way to differentiate a motherboard is with the little things. They say it's the little things that kill you, but in this case, the little things can save a motherboard from being bogged down in a quagmire of cookie-cutter mediocrity.

In recent years, DFI's LANParty line has mastered many of the little things that can make a motherboard unique. With great bundles, loads of BIOS options, and other intelligent extras, the LANParty boards have quickly become favorites among enthusiasts. We've been eagerly anticipating the first Socket 939 LANParty boards, and one has finally arrived in the LANParty UT NF4 Ultra-D. Join me as we explore all the little things that make this board stand out.

The specs
As usual, we'll kick things off with a look at the NF4 Ultra-D's spec sheet. Since the board's core logic determines most of its feature set, you might want to thumb through our nForce4 Ultra review for background on the chipset.

Before we go into too much detail on the LANParty UT NF4 Ultra-D, it should be noted that the board is one of a whopping five different LANParty NF4s. DFI also offers the LANParty NF4 SLI-DR, LANParty UT NF4 SLI-DR, LANParty UT NF4 SLI-D, and LANParty UT NF4 Ultra-DR. That's quite a mouthful, but the product names are easy to decipher. As one might expect, SLI and Ultra refer to the nForce4 flavor used. The "R" at the end denotes whether the board features a Silicon Image Sil3114 RAID controller, and the UT, or lack thereof, determines the bundle. All five LANParty NF4 boards appear to share the same PCB and BIOS, though.

CPU supportSocket 939-based Athlon 64 processors
ChipsetNVIDIA nForce4 Ultra
Expansion slots2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x4
1 PCI Express x1
2 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
1 Firewire via VIA VT6307 with headers for 1 more
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via Marvell 88E8001

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog surround out
1 analog rear out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 digital S/PDIF output (RCA)
1 digital S/PDIF input (RCA)
BIOSPhoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speedsCPU: 200-456MHz in 1MHz increments
PCI-E: 100-145MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus dividersDRAM:FSB: 1:2, 3:5, 2:3, 7:10, 3:4, 5:6, 9:10, 1:1
HT:FSB: 1:1, 1.5:1, 2:1, 2.5:1, 3:1, 4:1, 5:1
VoltagesCPU: default, 0.8-1.55V in 0.025V increments
DDR: default, 2.5-4.0V in 0.1V increments
HT: default, 1.2-1.5V in 0.1V increments
Chipset: default, 1.5-1.8V in 0.1V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlCPU, chipset, and system

Although it's based on NVIDIA's nForce4 Ultra rather than nForce4 SLI derivative, the NF4 Ultra-D sports a pair of PCI Express x16 slots for graphics cards. The x16 slots are joined by single x1 and x4 slots, giving the board plenty of PCI Express options. All of that PCI-E comes at the expense of standard PCI slots, though. The NF4 Ultra-D only has two standard PCI slots, which is a little slim considering the lack of readily available PCI Express peripherals.

Two PCI slots would be easier to swallow if the NF4 Ultra-D's on-board audio were a little more impressive. Sadly, the nForce4's basic AC'97 audio implementation lacks hardware acceleration and support for higher sampling rates and resolutions. Such barebones audio capabilities are in stark contrast with the chipset's storage and networking features, which include four ports of Serial ATA RAID with support for Native Command Queuing, Tagged Command Queuing, and 300MB/sec SATA-II transfer rates. The nForce4 also packs an integrated Gigabit Ethernet controller with hardware acceleration for both standard TCP/IP functions and NVIDIA's Network Access Manager firewall software.

Apparently, it just wouldn't do for the NF4 Ultra-D to have only one Gigabit Ethernet option. DFI also includes Marvell's PCI 88E8001 GigE chip. Dual Gigabit Ethernet is certainly a nice feature to have, but it seems a little excessive. I can't help but wonder if more users would be happier with a dual LAN config that paired the nForce4's integrated Gigabit Ethernet with an 802.11g Wi-Fi chip.

Apart from its extra PCI Express x16 slot and second Gigabit Ethernet controller, the NF4 Ultra-D spec sheet is par for the course for an nForce4 Ultra board. Fortunately, the rest of the board is not.