ECS NFORCE4-A939 MINI REVIEW
Very inexpensive as a Fry's bundle and works exactly as it should. This board is a reasonable value for the price. For being "free" with CPU makes it a worthwhile board. Limit of 250MHz system clock.
The point of this "mini review" is to give people an idea of what they can expect when purchasing one of these since most reviewers tend to ignore "bottom feeder" motherboards such as this one. I went to Fry's Electronics on Black Friday to pick up this deal - AMD Athlon 64 x2 3800+ retail box with ECS NFORCE4-A939 motherboard for $279.99 plus tax. Considering the CPU by itself runs $322 at Newegg without a motherboard makes this a hot deal. Most boards perform like any other board with the same chipset so I'm not going to do any benchmarks or anything since you won't learn anything new. Also, the x2 3800+ CPU is just that. Plenty of benchmarks to be found elsewhere.
1X PCIe 16X
2X PCIe 1X
Coaxial SPDIF output
3 sets of USB headers plus 4 ports in rear, total 10 ports.
Phoenix/Award BIOS v1.0C
The board is a bit above basic. No firewire, no 7.1 audio, but most other things people need/want.
This is my first socket 939 board and my first board using the Nforce4 chipset so I don't know how standard it is, but this board has more USB ports than just about any other board. I'm accustomed to having 4 on the rear ATX ports plus 4 more (two sets of headers) somewhere on the board. This board has three sets of headers, plus they're right at the bottom of the board - better than some boards with the headers somewhere in the middle.
Overall the layout of the board is pretty nice with the exception (if anybody still uses it) of the FDD port at the bottom below the last PCI slot. The power and IDE connectors are in the "proper" place on the right edge of the board. The SATA connectors are below the IDE connectors, between the CMOS battery and the chipset. The ATX 12v 4pin connector is right behind the PS/2 ports and right on the edge of the motherboard meaning no cables stretching over the CPU.
The chipset fan is pretty noisy and spins at 6000RPM. The good news is that it just clears the PCIe 16x slot so if your video card doesn't have anything sticking out the back of it, you can replace the HSF with a large passive heatsink. Note that this heatsink is held on by wire hooks like those found on some Pentium 4 boards that look like the end of a paper clip sticking through the board. I want to mention this because it seems as if most of the chipset heatsinks are held on by push pins with springs and this one is different.
The CPU socket is far enough away from the top edge of the board and away from the chipset HSF (with PCIe 16x slot below the chipset HSF). This makes for a lot of room to fit large HSFs. I still have a Zalman 7700AlCu cooler that I never used because I couldn't fit it on my other boards. This board looks as if there's plenty of room.
The board can be used with a 20 pin ATX power supply. Indeed there's a sticker over the extra 4 pins that has to be removed to use a "proper" 24 pin power supply.
The BIOS is the typical Phoenix/Award type that many boards use. It has all the "typical" settings and doesn't explicitly try to hide settings like some boards I've seen. I thought the previous ECS board I used, the NFORCE3-A had a lot of "enthusiast" options for an ECS but this one has even better voltage settings. Too bad it is too limited in FSB to make use of those settings.
- clock speed from 200-250MHz in 1MHz increments
- HT Frequency from 1-5x (default 4X)
- Memclock settings of 100/133/166/200MHz
- NO 1T/2T timing setting, manual states will be automatic 1T if only one pair DIMMs in dual channel
- CAS latency 2/2.5/3
- CPU voltage from default to +375mV in 25mV increments
- DDR voltage defaults to 2.63v and goes from 2.55v to 3.11v
Yes you read this right. The Vcore will go to 0.375v above default in small increments, meaning a 1.35v CPU can be pushed to 1.725v!!! Not something you'd want to do on an everyday basis. Somewhat more useful is memory voltage to 3.11v, good for running RAM at full 1:1 speeds and low latencies on an overclock.
Something else of note is that the BIOS rev 1.0C did not properly recognize the CPU. Not the first time I've gotten a combo at Fry's that didn't "match." There are newer BIOS revisions that properly names the CPU. I don't know if it makes a difference since UBCD utilities worked fine. The processor string at POST says:
AMD Hammer Family processor - Model Unknown
I was easily able to get 2.5GHz using the highest 250MHz system bus setting and reducing the memory down to the 166MHz setting. With those two changes alone the CPU was able to run Prime for a few hours, plus the memory will pass Memtest+ (both from UBCD). This makes for an unbelievable bargain at under $300.
The retail box CPU fan ran at 3100RPM. It is the same identical heatsink that came with my Sempron 2600+ but with a different fan. It isn't very quiet, yet also not super noisy. Even after a few hours of Prime the heatsink was just warm to the touch and not even close to being hot. BIOS reported 49șC after the bout with Prime.
Very inexpensive as a Fry's bundle and works exactly as it should. This board is a reasonable value for the price. For being "free" with CPU makes it a worthwhile board. Limit of 250MHz system clock still allows for 2.5GHz.
With this low of a system clock limit, reaching 2.5GHz with a willing 2GHz CPU was as easy as lowering RAM to 5/6 ratio (166MHz) and raising the system clock to the 250MHz limit.
Unless you are an extreme overclocker, this board is a reasonable choice. For quiet freaks the placement of the Nforce4 chipset allows for easy replacement using a large passive heatsink.
If you are wanting a budget Nforce4 motherboard and do not need frills, this is a great choice.
NOTE: Two people have reported problems with their system locking up randomly using this board and CPU combination. I haven't verified the problem but just beware that it may exist.
vDIMM in increments of 0.08v (as earlier, just not mentioned)
Finally got in my PCIe 6600GT and am testing with it, plus my new G.Skill 2GB CAS 2 dual channel RAM.
BIOS updated to 1.1a
CPU is now recognized
FSB up to 400MHz 1MHz increments
FSB between 201-210MHz have 0.5MHz increments
Memclock adds 216/233/250Mhz (between 133-166 would be more useful IMO)
Now allows manual adjustments to 1T/2T Memory Timing
My combo will POST at 270MHz but not at 275MHz system bus, even with +75mV and I'm not going to risk more at this point. So, my CPU is running 2.7GHz, RAM at 360MHz dual channel CAS 2 (133MHz setting, HT at 4X, vcore at +50mV and Windows booted right up. I forgot to set it to boot from CD after the last time I cleared BIOS. Memory won't run 450MHz at CAS 2 at any voltage but will run that speed with CAS 2.5 at default voltage. Hmmm, bandwidth or tight latencies??? Well, CPU wasn't Prime stable even though it could boot WinXP. Prime errors immediately unless vcore set to +100mV, then it just takes a minute or two to error instead of immediately. 2.6GHz works at +50mV and memory set to 166 CAS 2.5. Set back down to 2.5GHz and CPU works at default voltage, RAM works at CAS 2 166. Back where I started, except with 2GB RAM at CAS 2. Though 251MHz and up do work, they don't work well. Perhaps I'm limited by my CPU and RAM or perhaps it's the board. I do know that the BIOS doesn't have settings to boost chipset voltage, perhaps a contributing factor. In a few days I shall receive my Abit K8N and 3200+ and perhaps narrow down the problem.
NOTE: Now three people have reported problems with their system locking up randomly using this board and CPU combination. It's an ongoing process, but latest indications are that somehow the board will cause lockups if USB 2.0 devices (external HDD, flash drives) are plugged in. Lockups don't happen immediately but only after anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.