for the Bigtime
it arrived: plus memory & waterblocks)
DK8N represents the bigtime for AMD, Iwill, & NVIDIA – to different
degrees, of course; but to each of these companies the DK8N demonstrates a
direction they want to go.
AMD, the DK8N embodies – at last – a third-party chipset
supporting the key 2-way Opteron feature: dedicated memory per CPU, hence
NUMA (non-uniform memory access), a centrepiece of AMD’s
previous AthlonMP multiprocessor platform ran into performance limitations
almost entirely due to the lack of third-party chipset development; in
stark contrast to the uniprocessor AthlonXP platform. This last kept competitive with the PIV opposition because a constant stream
of new third-party chipsets not only included or integrated today’s toys
– AGP 8x, USB2, firewire, SATA & so on – but also extracted more
& more memory bandwidth by running at higher FSBs & through
competitive development & optimisations.
contrast, the AMD’s ‘reference chipsets’ – the MP & MPX –
were based on first-generation uniprocessor counterparts, & the
platform’s performance eventually ran into chipset-determined limits.
For quite a while AMD’s 8xxx ‘reference chipset’ has been the only
option for dedicated-memory Opteron motherboards such as the Tyan Thunder
K8W & Iwill DK8X; tho’ of course there is the single-channel VIA chipset
MSI K8T & a single-channel adaptation of the AMD 8111 in the Tyan Tiger K8W.
asked AMD a few pointed questions, to which they kindly provided
reasonably frank replies: you’ll find these at the end of this part of
Iwill, the DK8N is a
big opportunity to shine in the workstation world: they are taking on the considerable task of making this
first-generation NFORCE3 multiprocessor motherboard work properly, to the
high standards of reliability & stability this market demands. If the
DK8N works out, future Iwill products based on PCIe developments of the NFORCE
Crush4 chipset family will have a head start on any competitors, moving
Iwill further towards the front of workstation motherboard manufacturers.
To NVIDIA, the
DK8N is one end of a long road; their silicon starting on add-in cards in
the bedrooms of kids playing PC-games, & now – they hope – at the
core of serious professional workstations inside the workplace. It will be
interesting to see if NVIDIA can meet the high standards this market will
demand of their new integrated solution & its software: performance,
stability, compatibility & support.
is the DK8N for?
DK8N is explicitly aimed by Iwill at the DCC workstation market; these
professionals already know - more or less - why & how their
working tasks will benefit from using Opterons, & are aware of
PCI-bus performance provided by AMD's 8131 PCI-X tunnel, needed for
the high-ish end RAID-hosts & the like commonly fitted to
serious workstations. Other well
known components are the TI Firewire controller, the Marvell PHY, the Sil3114 SATA
& SATA 'RAID' controller, & the Realtek ALC655 codec.
is meant to be special about the DK8N?
is very clear from the specification on Iwill's site that the DK8N
has just about everything you could think of (bar SCSI)
onboard; what is less clear is their aim of an unusually coherent
integration of all these functions.
professionals are only too aware of the contrast between their x86
workstations & the Apple alternative: however powerful the
components of a modern 'PC' may be, at the hardware level it is
still only too obviously an extended evolutionary cludge based on an
antediluvian ancestor: the IBM PC.
too often specifying, installing , & maintaining the thing feels
like being lost in a wilderness of drivers.
DK8N has drivers all right; but they are nearly all in one coherent
NFORCE package; the idea being that this coherent software reflects
& emphasises an underlying coherence in the hardware.
DK8N's NFORCE3 Pro/250 chipset provides the necessary Hypertransport
links to the Opterons & to the AMD 8131; plus an AGP tunnel,
PATA, SATA (which may each or both be combined under the
control of firmware 'NVRAID'), USB2, & Gbit LAN (with
an integrated hardware firewall) from its MAC bridged to the
onboard Marvell PHY.
The big unknown
- & what we focus on in this first part of our review - is how
well all the functional components of this new multiprocessor solution are integrated by
Iwill & NVIDIA in hardware & software.
do we judge the DK8N?
the market it is aimed at, the question: "Why
the Iwill DK8N better at the things Opterons already do well than existing
AMD-chipset based dual-channel motherboards?"
- & -
are the hassles & downside (if any) of 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"
these questions in mind, this first part of our DK8N review looks
first at the practical issues of specification, configuration &
installation. We then evaluate how well the Iwill DK8N
emphasises the specific strengths of Opteron 32-bit performance, in both
NUMA & non-NUMA aware 32-bit Windows versions.
parts will attempt to answer, with reference to the DK8N's real
should we change to Opterons?"
- & when - & how - do we go 64-bit?"
12” x 13” DK8N
is large; more to the point, the secondary CPU is near the
front edge of the board & quite high up. Since Opterons use
physically substantial cooling-solutions, the user must be careful
about the dimensions & layout of any enclosure they intend to
use. We would advise selection of enclosures where the required
12” x 13” for an EATX motherboard is completely free of any intrusion.
with a drive bay or cage at the same height as this CPU or its
heatsink will either need to be very deep indeed, or exceptionally
wide: as an example, our DK8N is installed in a deep (420mm/16.5”)
& wide (280mm/11”) Macase fileserver enclosure: you can see
just how tight the clearances are for the forward waterblock - &
remember a waterblock needs much less elbow-room than an air-cooling
solution capable of coping with upwards of 75W per CPU.
has three types of PCI slot; running from the top down they are numbered:
Slot 5: 32-bit/33MHz;
Slots 3 & 4: PCI-X, jumperable to 133MHz if only
one is used, else 100MHz if both are used; Slots 1 &
jumperable to 33 or 66MHz.
order of the slots is 5, then PCI-X, then 64-bit. The Sil 3114 option ROM
loads as the first '66MHz' device - immediately after any bootable PCI-X
cards, & also after any devices connected to NFORCE PATA & SATA.
Fortunately, the server-level BIOS allows any boot-order desired among
the PATA & floppy sockets - which as you see are sensibly
arranged so they can be used with full-length PCI-cards installed -
are the 4x SATA sockets from the onboard Silicon Image Sil3114 'RAID'
controller. Use of at least two of these could be problematic if four full-length
cards are installed.
additional SATA sockets controlled by the NFORCE3 are above & between
the NFORCE heatsink & the AGP 8x slot. This AGP slot is specified for
a maximum of 1.5v, & the board could be damaged by using (older)
video-accelerators demanding more than this. If both the AGP card &
any PCI-card in slot 5 are less than 190mm/7.5" in gross length, you may choose
to replace the passive heatsink over the NFORCE3 Pro/250 chipset with a
larger solution - we fitted a Zalman NB47J.
memory-slots, each accepting up to a 2GB stick of Registered/ECC '2100,'
'2700,' or '3200' DDR, are arranged for proper NUMA operation - each CPU
controls four adjacent slots. You will need a minimum of four sticks,
installed in pairs as pictured above, to permit the enabling of
maximum performance use the fastest DDR your Opterons support - current CO
& CG steppings support up to 400MHz 'PC3200' Registered/ECC; while the
earlier B3 stepping officially supported only up to 333MHz 'PC2700' stuff.
EPS12V power-sockets are sensibly arranged along the board-edges: we used
a PC Power & Cooling 510AG full EPS12V SSI supply - their 510EX also
has EPS12V connectors; Iwill have tested & validated the good-quality
[& slightly quieter] Enhance 0246 EPS12V PSU.
fitted, the DK8N's IO shield has little metal to go round all those
sockets . . . . .
USB sockets are USB2 (with headers for two more onboard) off the NFORCE3;
the audio output phono jacks are correctly colour-coded for a 5+1
audio is provided by an onboard Realtek ALC655, to which the NFORCE3
interfaces, with its software providing a front-end - again there are
pinouts for a front-panel, along with an additional header for the S/PDIF
seen above. Backplane phono inputs for MIC & LIN are accompanied by a CD
(no AUX) input socket on the motherboard.
LAN comes from an onboard Marvell PHY, bridged to the NFORCE3's MAC,
which in this implementation adds an integrated 'hardware firewall'
feature. Firewire is provided onboard by the well-proven Texas Instruments
again with a header for an additional port.
had to be sacrificed to fit all this in - the socket for COM2:
scientist/engineer users will be glad to hear there are again pinouts for
this onboard. These serial & printer ports, plus the floppy, run off the usual Winbond
IC. The array is
completed by PS/2 keyboard/mouse sockets.
4-ch Sil3114 SATA & EPS12V 8-pin socket
the trend in high end motherboards for platoons of
mosfets huddled together for protection against the heat under big passive
heatsinks, the DK8N uses tiny mosfets adjacent the VRMs - they are
the minute silver rectangles.
On production boards, the top fan
header is for CPU# 0 (lower header will be removed)
DK8N is a large motherboard with one heatsink mounted near its front
edge - suitable enclosures will have approx 300mm/12" clear
between the backplane & the back extremity of any component
mounted in any low-mounted drive-cage.
It is well
made of good-quality components; as with the MPX2, Iwill have spent
a deal of care over the power arrangements.
video-accelerators with bulky coolers will likely lose the only
32-bit PCI slot. This may cause unwanted compromises with the other
If a suitable
front panel is fitted; the DK8N may have a total of 6x USB2 out,
plus 2x Firewire; sound inputs & outputs may also be routed to a
front panel, as may S/PDIF.