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Iwill DK8N Motherboard review

Part 1 of 3


Specifications, cooling & monitoring, memory

Test System Specification:

Iwill DK8N Rev 0.92 BIOS 21July04

CPUs

2x Opteron 250 2.4GHz CG-stepping

DDR

4x 256MB OCZ Registered/ECC 2-3-2-6 PC3200

Waterblocks

2x Zalman ZM-WB2

Waterpump

Eheim 1048

Radiator/Fans

Swiftech 676/2x Panaflo 120x38mm LIA

Northbridge heatsink

Zalman NB47J

Video-card

Gainward FX5200

Monitor

Eizo 21"

Mouse/Keyboard

MS USB Intellimouse Optical/MS USB Internet Pro

Sound

Onboard Realtek ALC655

Speakers

Videologic 5+1

LAN

Onboard Marvell/NFORCE3 Gigabit

33MHz 32-bit PCI

Symbios 22801 [LSIlogic U40SE] 2-ch ultra wide SE

66MHz 64-bit PCI 

Compaq/HP SmartArray 5304 4-ch U160 1.92

133MHz 64-bit PCI-X

Compaq/HP SmartArray 6402 2-ch U320 3.54

SCSI Hard Disks  - 5 arrays: single 15K rpm drive RAID0; 4-drive RAID1+0; 3-drive RAID5; 9-drive [shared] 8+hotspare RAID5 & 8-drive RAID0

13x fujitsu MAN318xx (9 external); 3x fujitsu MAN337xx (external); 1x fujitsu MAS337xx

SCSI CDRW/CDROM/DVDROM - all ultra narrow; 2 to each channel SYM 22801

Yamaha F1S & Plextor 12/10/32S (external); Plextor TS40i; Pioneer 305S

PATA Hard Disk

Quantum Fireball [boot - all OS' & data on SCSI arrays]

PATA DVD +/- RW

BenQ 822A

System enclosure

Macase ATX fileserver (customised)

External mass storage enclosure

CIDesign tower (customised); 2x Intel SC5xxx 5-drive hotswap cages; 1x 3-drive hotswap cage; redundant PSUs

External USB2 HD/DVD

(in) 'Sohotank' U7 - B2 - 1

UPS'

APC SmartUPS 900; APC BackUPS Pro 650

EPS12V SSI PSU

PC Power & Cooling TurboCool 510AG

32-bit OS'

MS Server 2003 Enterprise; XP Pro SP1 & SP2

32-bit drivers

NFORCE 2.34~8 (SMP); Realtek 1.61; 8131 1.80; NVIDIA 61.77

CPU & chipset cooling  

AMD's retail Opteron package's airsink has been the copper base Ajigo MF043-44 - this follows their design guide *.pdf specification for a 'High Performance Heatsink' extremely closely, & has a respectable C/W of 0.31 or better. An issue for some or many users may be that this fansink has a thin (15mm] variable-speed 70mm Delta fan - some feel this has an unpleasant tone to the noise at full speed - & a quieter 70mm fan with superior static pressure characteristics is difficult to source.

These fansink & frame assemblies, as secured to the motherboard, are over 100mm long, 75mm wide, & just under 60mm high. The DK8N comes with a pair of insulated metal backplates - one shown above fastened to the underside of its frame - which go under the motherboard, screwed to & locating plastic retention frames above (also provided)

The fansinks are easy to install into the frames, which provide a very secure mount with the correct clamping pressure via a cam & spring.  If you think you might later upgrade from this default AMD cooling solution (some alternatives, such as the one below, use different backplates) we suggest you do not peel off & use the self-adhesive pads at the top of the DK8N backplates - once stuck on they're very tough to remove.

It is also worth noting when selecting an enclosure that removing the fansinks from their frames - to, say, replace the heatsink compound - is impossible without clear access from above to both ends. We suggest more than the usual care to remove any unneeded motherboard standoffs or other protrusions on the motherboard tray which might contact the board or backplates.

We chose to use the Zalman WB2 waterblocks - nicely made, though note their inlet/exhaust fittings, for all tube sizes, have the same internal diameter of 7mm (just over 1/4") - this will cause inefficient flow in systems based around larger ID tubing than 6.5~8mm. American users, where common tubing IDs are 3/8" (9.5mm) or greater, may prefer alternative waterblocks less likely to starve the intake side of high pressure pumps.

After careful measurement of the gross length of our video & 32-bit PCI cards (190mm or less), we chose to replace the default heatsink fitted to the NFORCE3 Pro/250 chipset with a Zalman NB47J - the default heatsink appeared adequate, so this was very likely an unnecessary fuss-pot precaution - but we suspect anything Iwill put a heatsink on probably needs it . . . . .

CPU & voltage monitoring

The Iwill MPX2 we tested has a feature called 'Iwill Processor Shelter' - a hardware-level unattended shutdown, set at a danger-level temperature selected by the user - at 95C, say, to shut the whole shooting-match off if a CPU-cooling fan died. At present, the DK8N lacks this valuable feature - relying perhaps on CPU-level thermal tripping when meltdown looms.

We are most disappointed to see the similar 'Hardware Health Configuration' in-BIOS feature quoted in the DK8N manual is not enabled in the current 21st July 04 BIOS. It would be a comfort to control unattended shutdown events, especially when Opterons cost so much . . . .

 . . . an explanation for this may lie in the apparent inaccuracy of in-BIOS monitoring derived from the onboard Winbond 83627THF monitoring IC via the NFORCE3 SMB. 

Since no functional in-OS monitoring utility is provided by Iwill or NVIDIA, it is not possible to get a clear idea of the degree of error. However, temperatures as reported in-BIOS appear suspiciously unchanged in different (measured) ambient temperatures - all reports to date appear to show that all DK8N's report 50~ish C, no matter which model Opterons are installed, nor how they are cooled, nor which country the report comes from. In addition, the +3.3 voltage line is reported as 3.0x - unlikely when using a PC Power & Cooling 510W PSU

We feel these failures to control unattended shutdown events & provide accurate in-OS monitoring are unacceptable in an expensive workstation motherboard: NVIDIA have a 'System Utility' which functions in other NFORCE-based uniprocessor systems - this utility reports nothing of value in the DK8N, with an irritating message that function relies upon vendor-specific optimisations.

Since the Winbond 83627 family of monitoring ICs are well-proven, we feel the problem is likely to lie with the BIOS &/or the NFORCE3 Pro/250's SMBus: it will be interesting to see just how rapidly NVIDIA will help Iwill produce an effective solution to this credibility-level issue.

The usually excellent third-party freeware monitoring utilities such as MotherBoardMonitor & Speedfan do not (cannot, due to false reporting from the DK8N) report correct information with the DK8N: Speedfan sets itself up automatically, while MBM may be set up to use 'Winbond 1' (which does vary in an approximate relation to changing CPU load) - the other  'Winbond 2 Diode' & 'Winbond 3 Diode' sensors do not vary in a believable relation to changing CPU load. Here, 'Sensor 3' is using 'Winbond 1'

Both utilities show improbably low temperatures - these CPUs & the intake to their radiator are in an ambient temperature of around 29C - & some weird voltages. Changing the NVIDIA SMBus driver from the included v4.04 to v4.4 did nothing to correct matters. 

DK8N cooling & monitoring - conclusions:

We chose to use watercooling with our DK8N due to noise & space considerations - you need a very large enclosure to have enough room for an adequately quiet air-cooling solution. Many shudder at the thought of water meeting silicon; if so we recommend reading Joe Citarella's AMD64 & Socket 939/940 fansink reviews at www.overclockers.com - checking the measured noise rating & gross dimensions of the cooling solutions. 

The DK8N has been released to sale without user control over heat-related shutdown events or a working Win32 monitoring utility. We have been unable to find a working third-party solution, despite contact with the helpful author of the Speedfan monitoring utility. Many professional users will see these issues as a disincentive to specify continuous duty workstations based on the DK8N.

DK8N memory & memory settings  

We would suggest the first task of any new DK8N owner is to test their memory using a Memtest bootable CD or floppy: in order to get correct reporting from this excellent free utility you first need to enter the DK8N BIOS & disable 'USB Legacy Support' - so best to use a PS/2 keyboard for this test.

Despite suspecting the DK8N might be picky about memory, for performance reasons we chose OCZ 'PC3200' low-latency 2-3-2-6 DDR - this to our fury had one faulty stick among the four we purchased; though for once a 'lifetime guarantee' meant something -  OCZ replaced the memory within 48 hours. We estimate that using 2-3-2-6 'low latency' memory is worth around 5~7% extra bandwidth over ordinary 2.5-3-3 or 3-3-3 stuff.

We would anyway suggest caution when choosing aggressively timed memory: some of it is specified at 2.7v or more, while the DK8N has no DDR voltage adjustment & is rated for the Jedec norm of 2.5v. Our OCZ stuff is rated at the outer limit of Jedec specs at 2.6v; & it is possible that a full load of eight sticks of this or similar 'low-latency' memory, especially if larger sticks than we used, might run into voltage-drop issues.

The only 'low latency' 400MHz Registered/ECC DDR we know of specified to run at 2.5v is Mushkin stuff: we do not specifically recommend this brand or model, having received poor service from them after being sold expensive faulty memory.

Iwill told us they have so far tested full eight-stick quantities of the following brands & models of Registered/ECC DDR in the DK8N:

 

Apacer 

Micron 

Kingston 

Transend 

Samsung

DDR400/1GB

Infineon HYB25D256400BC-5 78.01058.112

 

 

 

 

DDR400/512MB

SAMSUNG K4H560838E-TCCC AG32L72T8SQC4S

MT 46V64M4-5B C & MT 46V16MB-75A

 

SAMSUNG K4H560838E-TCCC &  MOSEL V5BC2256804SAT5B

 

DDR400/256MB

SAMSUNG K4H560838E-TCCC AG32L72T8SQC4S

 

 

 

 

DDR333 512MB

 

 

SAMSUNG K4H560438E-TCB3 KVR333X72RC25/512

 

 

DDR333/256MB

 

 

SAMSUNG K4H560838F-TCCC

 

 

DDR266/1GB

 

 

 

 

SAMSUNG K4H510638D-TCA2

DDR266/512MB

 

 

 

SAMSUNG K4H560438D-TCB0

 

In-BIOS memory settings allow tweaking of timings, otherwise these are read off the memory's SPD; more importantly, there are various optional ECC settings available. We chose to enable 'DRAM BG Scrub' (BG=background) at 640ns - this does not have much if any performance cost & is a slight extra security-blanket. 

We also experimented with enabling 'chip kill' - this is an aggressive scrub option & adds an extra latency cycle: you will see what if anything this option 'costs' in the benchmarking section of this review - the results surprised us.

For 32-bit Windows [non-NUMA] you can enable node interleaving for maximum performance; for 32-bit & 64-bit NUMA-aware operating systems you need to disable node interleaving. 

DK8N memory - conclusions

If you want to use high-performance memory, keep a close eye on first-hand reports from the usual forums. We found OCZ 2-3-2-6 stuff  to work OK, in a four-stick dual-channel configuration. The Iwill-tested sticks are all low or medium performance memory. 

copyright Stephen Hoar August 2004 for www.burningissues.net - all rights reserved

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