has been gaining a lot of momentum among enthusiasts over the past eighteen months. Other than stacking their boards with a lot of features, their overclocking ability is right up there among the best. They have been great supporters of AMD, using almost every possible chipset available, and today, we'll be checking out their nForce2 powered 8RDA+ motherboard. Please note that this particular motherboard does not come with the integrated GeForce 4 MX graphics (that would be the 8RGA), but items such as integrated sound, LAN, and lots of expansion capabilities are present.
nVidia shouldn't need any introduction. Thier GeForce GPU family has been pushing the 3D graphics industry for several years now, and in late 2001, there entered the motherboard arena. It wasn't a smooth introduction though, as the original nForce was delayed, and partner support wasn't as strong. Things have gotten better on try number two though, as industry support has doubled, and the nForce2 was a little more punctional in its arrival.
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Not that it means anything at all, but the Epox 8RDA+ ships in a nice matte box with an electrical skeleton draping the box. This design continues onto the manuals inside. The manuals, and the quick start guide, are pretty well written, and explains pretty clearly how to setup your motherboard.
Processor: AMD Athlon, Athlon XP, Duron
Core Logic: nforce2 Platform Processor Chipset
BIOS Award/Phoenix BIOS v6.0
Max. FSB: 333MHz
Memory: 3 x DDR SDRAM PC3200, 3GB max.
Form Factor: ATX
AGP 1, 8x
PCI 6, 32-bit
PS/2 1 mouse, 1 keyboard.
USB 4 onboard, 2 optional. USB 2.0
Network 1 x Realtek RTL8201 PHY
Floppy 2 drives max.
IDE 2 x E/IDE Ultra DMA/133, 4 drives max.
Sound Realtek ALC650E 6-channel full-duplex integrated sound
Option IEEE1394 Firewire interface
Hardware Monitoring Function provided by Winbond
Keyboard Power On (KBPO)
Suspend To RAM (STR)
CPU clock settings are adjustable by BIOS
CPU V-core settings are adjustable by BIOS
Memory voltage settings are adjustable by BIOS
AGP voltage settings are adjustable by BIOS
Wake On Lan (WOL)
P80P Diagnostic LED
Whew! Now that we've dispensed with the obligatory specifications, let's look into the stuff that really matters...
NVIDIA nForce2 Platform Processing Architecture
We covered the nForce2 previously, so I won't go into great detail about it here. I suggest you refer to our nForce2 Preview if you want to get the full story, but I will touch on a few things specific to the Epox 8RDA+.
System Platform Processor (SPP)
Similar to the Northbridges most of us are familiar with, the SPP is nVidia's solution. You'll need a graphics card, as the SPP does not have an integrated graphics core, but it will support up to AGP 8X, allowing for up to 2.1GBs/sec of bandwidth. As more video cards come out, they will all be AGP 8X, though if you have a AGP 4X video card, it'll work just fine.
DDR400 Support is here, and that DDR333 ram you've stockpiled is now a paperweight. Actually, it isn't that dramatic, since the fastest Athlons are still on a 166FSB (333 double pumped), but users of overclocking ram will be able to get more out of it. With dual 64-bit controllers, each handling a bank of DDR400, we're talking about up to 6.4GB/sec of bandwidth. What about older 266FSB Athlons bottlenecking the ram? The CPU bus, DDR, and AGP can operate asynchronously of one another. In other words, everyone has their own line, and doesn't have to wait for the other to complete their task before it's their turn.
Like the original nForce, Hypertransport and its 800MB/sec bandwidth makes it's return. This AMD technology is primarily responsible for communications between the north and southbridges.
The Dynamic Adaptive Speculative Processor (DASP) watches the CPU and predetermines the requests that the CPU may make with the memory. Much like how cache works with your memory, the DASP works much the same way, where if it predicts correctly, the CPU will never have to go to the memory for information, thus speeding things up.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the Epox 8RDA+ lacks the Integrated Graphics Processor (IGP), aka, an integrated GeForce 4 MX.
Rounding out the features of the SSP/IGP is one of the big features, DualDDR. Much like TwinBank of yesteryear, this time around, the goal of DualDDR is to increase memory bandwidth, while at the same time lowering latency. Although DualDDR is effectively a 128-bit interface, you have to remember that we're talking about two 64-bit controllers. nVidia refers to the controllers as "independent, complementary, and intelligent". Basically, both hands are working independently of one another, while still working towards the same end result. Therefore, latency is effectively cut in half. This is also where the DASP we talked about earlier can come into play to complement the controllers.
The Media & Communications Processors (MCP & MCP-T)
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Where the SPP/IGP is the Northbridge, the MCP is nVidia's Southbridge. Like most Southbridges, the MCP will handle all "lower" level I/O functions. Ethernet 10/100 support, USB 2.0, ATA133, and AC'97 Audio are included, but the more impressive features are found in the MCP-T, which the 8RDA+ has, but unfortunently, Epox does not take full advantage of it.
The nForce 2 Audio Processing Unit (APU) is present, and acts as a digital sound processor (DSP). It is capable of true 5.1 stereo surround sound, doing all the Dolby Digital encoding in hardware. Missing here is the Soundstorm certification, so sound quality would not be at the same level as other nForce 2 boards that include it.
There is IEEE 1394a (Firewire) support, and although support is somewhat shrinking, thanks to USB 2.0's emerging popularity, the addition of Firewire may sit well for A/V junkies.
For networking, what is missing is the Physical Layer Device (PHY) to enable the integrated 3Com MAC, but the nForce Ethernet MAC is present.
With the features out of the way, let's take a closer look at the Epox 8RDA itself...
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