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Iwill DK8N Motherboard review


Where's the Opteron going? - Q & A with AMD

While preparing for this review, we asked AMD a few questions about the Opteron now & in the near future:

Q: Is socket 940 here for the long haul? - in practical terms, will upcoming Opterons made using the upcoming 0.09n & 0.065n process-shrinks be produced in the socket 940 package?

If not, with which of the above process-shrinks is the replacement of socket940 likely to coincide?

A: Socket 940 will be available for many years to come. AMD understands the importance of a stable hardware infrastructure for enterprise customers, which is evidenced in AMD's support for a single Socket A infrastructure for this life of its Athlon MP processors. AMD plans to offer similar platform stability for AMD Opteron, both with its current socket 940 infrastructure and with future sockets designed to enable higher performing, more feature-rich infrastructures.

Q: AMD have announced low-voltage 0.13n Opterons in two speed-grades; OSB240/1.4GHz @ 30W TDP, & OSK246/2.0GHz @ 55W TDP: may we ask whether & when these parts will be on retail sale?

If it is not AMD's intention to package low-voltage Opterons for retail sale; why?

Will low-voltage - ie 1.3vcore or less - speed-grades above 2GHz be in full-scale production during 2004?

What will be the fastest 0.13n Opteron speed-grade, within the current 89W TDP, in full-scale production & on retail sale?

A: In February 2004 AMD introduced two line extensions to the AMD Opteron processor family -- the HE line at 55W and the EE line at 30W. The 30W EE processors are not available in retail as these processors are intended for select OEM-only markets. The 55W HE line, however, is available for retail sale (in fact the AMD Opteron processor Models 148HE and 248 HE can both be purchased through www.and.com).

While we can't comment on future full power or low-power Model numbers, we can tell you in 2005 AMD plans to expand the HE line to include multiple 55W products thus offering a range of pricing options for our power conscious customers.

Q: (specifically concerned with use of Opterons in DCC workstations: MPEG2 encoding is a performance-area where the sheer gross GHz of Xeons, combined w/ software optimisations for SSE3, offers that platform a well-known & considerable performance-advantage)


When will Opterons natively support SSE3 extensions?

Will any Opterons produced with the 0.13n process support SSE3?

Will Opterons in the near-ish future [in full-scale production & on retail sale before/during Q1 2005] be available at speed-grades of 3GHz?

A: Initial Xeon "Nocona" benchmarks suggest that the new Xeon 3.6Ghz processor performs lower than the AMD Opteron processor Model 248. And while Intel has introduced several platform level enhancements to its Xeon processor line, including SSE3 extensions, it has not eliminated the front-side bus architecture that contributes to performance bottlenecks in the system. The AMD Opteron processor Model 248, on the other hand, is based on AMD's Direct Connect Architecture that is designed to eliminate system bottlenecks and improve overall system performance.

And while we can't comment on specific model numbers, we can tell you that future versions of the AMD Opteron processor will include SSE3 extensions.

Q: Given the recent announcement by Microsoft that 64-bit Windows Operating Systems for AMD64 & EM64t platforms are likely to be for OEM-only distribution; is it the intention of AMD to bundle some or any retail Opteron packages with distribution media & licence for such an operating system on its release?

If not - ie if the word: 'intention' is inappropriate - we would appreciate a statement from AMD on the idea of such an: 'Opteron-with-OS' bundle.

A: I am still awaiting an answer to this one

(heh)

 

Iwill DK8N: conclusions so far

We have not yet had any stability or reliability issues with our DK8N: any problems were directly caused by iffy components [ie bad memory] or deliberately pushing the boundaries to see what would happen [ie BIOS tweaking]. 

Our two questions at the beginning of this review were:

"Is the DK8N better at the things Opterons already do well than existing AMD-chipset based dual-channel motherboards?" - & - 

"What are the hassles & downside (if any) with being an early adopter of a platform based on a new chipset from a manufacturer with little or no track record in the workstation world" 

- our answer to the first is a resounding yes. Any dual-Opteron system has remarkable performance; but if you take a quick scan of web-reviews of the Iwill DK8X & Tyan Thunder K8W you'll see the DK8N shows consistently higher memory performance; together with the opportunity to easily install a 32-bit NUMA-aware version of Windows & gain a fascinating insight right now into any performance advantage this might allow your existing applications.

 - to the second question; we were surprised by the maturity of Iwill's unique implementation of NVIDIA's brand new NFORCE3 Pro/250 chipset. The integrated USB2, IDE, sound & firewall all work acceptably well; more importantly, they install then work without fuss.

The DK8N's BIOS is flawed: we were disappointed by the non-functional USB device emulation; & were concerned by the loss of AMI's bootblock rescue; above all, the lack of accurate temperature & voltage monitoring, together with no shut-down control, are vital issues needing urgent attention. 

NVIDIA's 32-bit Windows drivers & utilities have three weaknesses for use in a professional workstation where stability, reliability, & compatibility are paramount: 

NFORCE IDE drivers are often incompatible with common burning applications, we recommend using the default Microsoft drivers; 

The firewall configuration utility, while detailed enough to amuse system administrators, has a misleading & inadequate 'wizard' tacked on, unhelpful to the general user;

NVIDIA's 'system utility' needs to be have full DK8N temperature & voltage monitoring enabled - & needs this right now.   

 - having said this: we feel the driver-package was pleasantly complete, unfussy, & gimmick-free, & emphasised the impression of coherency & maturity we gained from the DK8N.

  . . .  as to whether NVIDIA have or can develop the right sort of corporate culture to satisfy typical DK8N customers . . .  it will be interesting to see how many weeks it takes NVIDIA & Iwill to sort out the above issues.

Iwill are already well advanced in the design of a family of future dual-Opteron NFORCE-chipset motherboards using PCIe developments of the Crush4 family. The DK8N is a forerunner of these future motherboards; but is itself an orphan - we have heard no industry rumour of other Opteron motherboards using the NFORCE3 Pro/250 chipset.

The DK8N, if & when the above BIOS-issues are fixed, will be a thoroughly competent advance on existing dual-Opteron motherboards, & should benefit both from NVIDIA's constant updating of their driver suite common to all NFORCE-based motherboards, & from the development effort being put into future NFORCE multiprocessor motherboards.

We are working now to expand & update this review, using a second rev 1.x DK8N to minimise any sample-error. We will also test & analyse those features not covered to date.

Thank you to:

Industry: Matt & Leo at Iwill - unstuffy, open, & helpful: Theresa at AMD - again, remarkably frank & helpful

Colleagues & collaborators: Laurence Carter; Brad Collins; Rod Day; Graham Demaline; Roger Warburton

 - go to page 7 for our DK8N troubleshooting guide -

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

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