BIOS & boot devices
recommend minimum fiddling with the
DK8N BIOS - for three reasons; one positive, one neutral, and . . .
defaults' are for once quite optimal; second, the BIOS offers few
go-faster things to tweak . . .
. and the BIOS reacts sulkily to any setting it
setup errors or conflicts - in our case setting the CPU<>chipset HT link to
1000, or attachment of misconfigured PATA devices - will result in failure to reboot. A cold
boot will usually allow the user to
reset things. A serious setup error such as manually setting memory
timings too aggressively will require switching the thing off at
the mains & clearing the CMOS.
first glance, we were most impressed by the way this BIOS handles
boot-devices & boot-order - we list the order option ROMs are loaded
on page 1 of this review: in principle, you can boot in any order off any
bootable device attached to any PATA, SATA, or USB port, or to any bootable
mice & keyboards are supported by default, & we were equally
impressed at first glance by the way attached USB devices are swiftly
polled at POST & identified by type: mouse, keyboard, hub,
storage-device, & etc.
are detailed settings for USB storage devices: emulation can be set to
floppy, hard disk, or CDROM, with quite sophisticated nuances of emulation
for high-density removable devices like Zip or (we assume, not having one
to hand to test) pen-drives. Our first impression was that USB is handled
the way things should have been lo these many years ago.
in practice we couldn't boot off any USB attached optical device or hard
drive (we tried three makes of hard drive),
despite trying all emulation alternatives: properly formatted hard drives
with an active primary partition would be correctly recognised by name
string & as a bootable device, & could be set to #1 in boot-order; but
could not be read from.
attached optical devices containing bootable media are not even listed
among bootable devices - in contrast to the way any of our four SCSI
optical devices were recognised & could be configured. This is a BIOS
emulation issue - all USB attached devices we tried worked fine in
also had issues with the NFORCE3 PATA implementation: we attached our only
two IDE hard drives to one channel, properly jumpered as master/slave, to
find only one recognised.
swapped channels, tried jumpering either as master/slave or as cable
select; but still had hassles: some of these caused the DK8N to refuse to
common factor in all this was of course that one of the hard drives was
made by Western Digital - notoriously iffy in jumpered master/slave
configurations. Finally we managed to get the WD drive recognised; but
only if attached as the sole device & jumpered cable select.
& boot conclusions
left alone, the DK8N BIOS will work well for most users, with very flexible
handling of bootable PATA, SATA, or PCI-attached devices. One setting
needs to be changed from 'Optimal Defaults' if NUMA operation is required
& if you have the appropriate physical memory configuration (see our NUMA section below); this otherwise configured our system
successfully attached PCI hosts which some users have found problematic (SmartArray
hosts). We successfully attached a set of three bootable hosts to all three PCI buses.
DK8N BIOS, with ACPI v 2.x enabled, Node interleave disabled, & the
correct physical memory configuration, will construct a SRAT (Static Resource Affinity Table)
for NUMA-aware operating systems.
BIOS has a sophisticated scheme for handling USB attached devices; but
appears to have a flawed implementation for USB bootable-device emulation.
informed us they were forced to change from a true AMI BIOS to a NVIDIA
hybrid due to conflicts with MAC settings. This means
valuable failsafe AMI bootblock rescue technique does not work with the
DK8N & you cannot recover from a bad flash. We found this worrying in a
new platform likely to require several BIOS updates to fix bugs & enable full
functionality. We know Iwill's support to be first-rate; but no sane admin
wants to rely upon getting a new EEPROM from Taiwan. It would help
NVIDIA's credibility if this rescue bootblock was re-enabled in their
identified the EEPROM part used in the DK8N as the SST 49LF004B - a 3.3v
4Mbit LPC - this should
(we have not yet tested this) permit use of an IOSS 'BIOS-Saviour'
hardware backup device; model # PMC4
. . PS: The DK8N was originally designed & intended to support some
overclocking features: none are at present implemented. Iwill have
informed us they are working to enable CPU frequency 'clocking - tho' this
would infer also enabling manual control over the ratio between CPUs &
'System Utility' is used in uniprocessor NVIDIA-based motherboards to
monitor voltages, temperatures, & etc; & also to allow in-OS
overclocking. In our DK8N, this utility was useless; tho' for the
terminally brave it
did offer these tweaks:
Windows 32-bit, NUMA, & SATA 'RAID'
installed several builds of Windows XP Pro 32-bit, plus 32-bit Server
2003, Enterprise. We also installed several builds of 64-bit operating
systems - detailed in a future part of this review.
the NFORCE3 integrates USB2, we would not recommend trying to install any
XP Pro 32-bit version prior to SP1: if your install CD is pre-SP1 we would
recommend you slipstreamed this or a later service pack into the
installation files, then burned yourself a bootable slipstreamed SP1 or
SP2 XP Pro
to the fun 'n games right now . . . .
yes, you can enable NUMA operation in the
DK8N using 32-bit Windows & therefore be able to measure & use any
performance advantage in your usual applications.
used to need an evaluation copy or be rich
enough to own a license for the Enterprise or Data Centre Editions of Server
2003; but now anyone with a DK8N & Windows XP Pro SP2 can have a look
into this interesting technology: please note that the 32-bit versions of
XP Pro SP2 & Server 2003 Enterprise or Data Centre editions still have
profoundly different kernels - as our later benchmarks show.
(non uniform memory access) is where memory is logically arranged
a rough 'n ready description of a node is a region of memory in which every byte has the same distance from each CPU.
DK8N's BIOS, with the extensions in ACPI version 2.x enabled &
node interleaving disabled, constructs a SRAT (Static Resource Affinity
describing the NUMA topology of the system, & communicates this
to a NUMA-aware operating system. This in turn: " . . . uses this table to apply NUMA awareness to application processes, thread default affinity settings, thread scheduling, and memory management features. Additionally, the topology information is made available to applications using a set of NUMA application programming interfaces."
quote from a Microsoft blurb
for Server 2003 Enterprise
terms, when we use a NUMA-aware version of Windows on the
DK8N, memory is arranged into two nodes.
Each in theory is equally fast of access to both CPUs.
A multithreaded application properly made to exploit NUMA topology
would keep two copies of its data - one to each node; that data
will then be accessed as required by the CPU
which can get at it fastest: a really NUMA-optimised application
would have different areas of memory accessed simultaneously.
All this is
obviously extravagant in memory-use; but; then, what are all those
eight memory-slots on the DK8N for? It also begs the point as to
which, if any, 32-bit Windows applications we commonly use might take advantage of this . . . .
world speed advantage NUMA is likely to give a SMP system is simply
when running two or more single-threaded processes at the same time
under a multitasking operating system.
displays at least one difference: XP
Pro SP1 32-bit
. . . . and Server
2003, Enterprise 32-bit
. . both these 'scores' are from SiSoftSandra Pro SP2 2004.8.9.131;
memory timings are at default; XP Pro has Node & Bank Interleaving set
to 'Auto' - Server 2003 has Node Interleaving disabled. All other
settings, all hardware, & all third-party drivers are identical.
perfectly possible to tweak memory settings to improve these 'scores' in
XP 32-bit; but deeper examination show these to lessen the Opteron
platform's best feature - its remarkably low latency. In any event, a
quick glance round other reviews on the web shows an untweaked DK8N using
low-latency DDR with
its NFORCE3 Pro/250 to have a decent memory-bandwidth advantage in non-NUMA
Win32 mode over motherboards using AMD's reference chipset - an estimate
might be somewhere around 10~15%.
32-bit installation practicalities
Thanks to NVIDIA &
Iwill, Windows XP
Pro SP1/SP2 & Server 2003 install without hassle -
probing for hardware takes a fair while longer than on simpler
motherboards; but Windows untangles the buses & bridges & their
attached widgets happily enough.
didn't need to hit F5 [select kernel] at the beginning of an install;
& an ACPI multiprocessor kernel was installed whether ACPI v 1.x or
2.x was enabled in the DK8N's BIOS . . . but
please note you need to enable ACPI v 2.x in the DK8N BIOS for XP Pro SP2
& Server 2003
Enterprise or Data Centre Editions to correctly install as NUMA aware.
install XP SP1, then wish to run the SP2 patch & have a crack at
enabling NUMA, all you need to do after patching is to edit in Notepad the
file 'boot.ini' you will find in the root of your boot-drive. This will
probably read (something like - ignore the stuff in brackets):
Windows Professional" /noexecute /fastdetect
add the 'pae' switch, so it reads:
Windows Professional" /noexecute /fastdetect /pae
for an apology:
This reviewer doesn't use
firmware ATA 'RAID' - & certainly not in a
motherboard with all those 64-bit PCI slots waiting to be filled as the
Demon Silicon intends: with multi-channel SCSI hardware RAID-hosts.
DK8N's SATA 'RAID'
intend to use either firmware 'RAID' option - NVRAID or Sil3114 - you will
need to first enable the RAID option for that controller in the BIOS: by
default Sil3114 'RAID' is BIOS-enabled, NVRAID disabled. A point we feel we
should make about the onboard Silicon Graphics Sil3114 SATA
controller is that the user should decide early whether it is to be used
as a 'RAID' controller or a 4-channel SATA controller - this choice is set
in the DK8N BIOS.
enable NVRAID, enter the BIOS, go to: Chipset/Southbridge/Configuration
NVRAID ROM - then choose 'enable. Important:
by default 'Third Master' & 'Fourth Master' are enabled - these are
the PATA channels & if you want to use ordinary IDE/ATAPI devices on
these channels you must select 'disabled' to both.
those using the onboard NFORCE &/or Sil3114 'RAID' controllers, &
wishing to install to drives attached to them, then configured in the
desired arrays, will need to have prepared the appropriate driver-floppy
or floppies & hit F6 at the beginning of an OS install - just the same
those who use any other SCSI & RAID hosts unsupported by Windows
default installation drivers.
To make up a
NVRAID floppy, simply copy over the contents of the 'IDE' folder
from your NFORCE XP drivers. On installation, you will get a message
that 'nvraid.cat' is missing - you can ignore this.
A feature of NVRAID is you can
configure devices attached to NFORCE PATA, SATA, or both to arrays; but
see the warning above should you wish to keep PATA for (say)
Sil3114 is BIOS-set as a 4-channel SATA controller, then installed with appropriate Win32
drivers, we found it impossible to later change this device to the 'RAID'
alternative. Though the choice of option ROM could of course be remade in the DK8N BIOS,
& though Windows XP Pro would recognise a 'new' RAID controller, Windows
blue-screened if an attempt was made to install the
drives attached to the NFORCE PATA channels work & are recognised as normal, & will have the
default MS drivers installed . .
. but if you then install the NFORCE IDE drivers, you cannot simply
roll back to the original MS drivers - Windows will blue-screen if
you try. See our troubleshooting
page for an answer.
When in a new install of Windows, if the Sil3114 was enabled as a 'RAID' controller in
the DK8N BIOS, Device Manager will show something like this:
obvious difference is that SP1 doesn't recognise either AMD
8131 HT IOAPIC (driver on the Iwill CD or here) - otherwise this is a most impressive
install into such a complex motherboard with so many onboard &
integrated features. The NFORCE PATA channels (the second Primary,
& second Secondary - reading downwards) work fine at this point
using default MS drivers.
Drivers are best
installed in a specific order: after the 8131 (if required), install
the Sil3114 SATA or SATA 'RAID' drivers as appropriate for the
settings in your BIOS. Then find & install the Realtek ALC655
driver - we strongly recommend you use at least version 3.61, which
we found here
(earlier versions such as the 3.52 on the Iwill site did not properly enable the centre channel of
our 5+1 system).
a reboot, install all or your choice of components from the
NFORCE XP driver package from your install CD, after having
checked for an official update on the Iwill DK8N
download page, the version on our Iwill 'Power Installer' CD
Driver 'Remixes' - some kind
folk have cobbled together their versions of the NFORCE
driver suite, often containing (much) more recent
versions of some or all component drivers than the
official releases. One 27MB set produced by
'Rolle2K' & found here
*Audio driver version 4.42 (WHQL)
*Audio utility version 4.44
*Win2K ethernet driver version 4.40
*WinXP ethernet driver version 4.40
*Ethernet NRM driver version 4.42 (WHQL)
*Network management tools version 4.42
*GART driver version 4.40
*Memory controller driver version 4.40
*SMBus driver version 4.40
*Installer version 4.46
*Win2K IDE 2.6 driver version 4.46 (WHQL) with updated uninstaller files
*WinXP IDE 2.6 driver version 4.46 (WHQL) with updated uninstaller files
note that none of these components have been officially
validated to work with the DK8N [or indeed in an SMP
system]. We, being brave, tried the SMBus driver 4.40
& the XP IDE Driver 2.6/4.46 to try to solve
specific issues we found when testing the DK8N: neither
did any good - in fact the DK8N was definitely less
driver version 4.35 (WHQL)
Audio utility version 4.35
WinXP ethernet driver version 4.35
WinXP ethernet NRM driver version 4.35
Network management tools version 4.35
GART driver version 4.36
Memory controller driver version 3.38 (WHQL) with updated
SMBus driver version 4.04 (WHQL) with updated uninstaller
Installer version 4.38
WinXP IDE 2.6 driver version 4.35
this point you need to decide whether you really want or need
the NFORCE IDE drivers, because the way
back is tricky
have to install this package twice to get the option of
installing the FORCEWARE utilities for configuring the
integrated firewall - manual
here. This firewall install also offers the option of installing
Apache - if you do so in SP2 you will get the following
take a more detailed look at this firewall when considering the
actual performance & stability of the various NFORCE integrated
widgets: unless you know what you're doing we'd recommend
not installing Apache in the first place.
As for the
onboard sound, the NVIDIA NVSOUND package does quite a lot more than
(quite nicely) the Realtek Sound Manager utility found with v3.61+
but if you prefer the simpler Realtek utility you can reinstall it -
the NFORCE skin & its tasktray icon will be replaced by Realtek
is a real tribute to all concerned that installing 32-bit XP Pro or
Server 2003 onto such a complex, new, & highly integrated
platform is so hassle-free . . . but if
you use IDE/ATAPI CD or DVD-burning devices we would recommend not
installing the current NFORCE IDE drivers from the NFORCE
enabled to install a 32-bit NUMA-aware version of Windows right now
gives DK8N users a foretaste today of one of the performance advantages of
64-bit consumer-level operating systems in the near~ish future - all
while using their normal range of applications.
might be an irresistible selling-point for the DK8N . . . if, that
is, NUMA improves the performance of today's 32-bit Windows &
your day to day applications .