The AMD Experience, A Review

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The AMD Experience, A Review

Postby Peanya » Sun Oct 31, 2004 11:11 pm

Originally, this article was going to be a simple review of the AMD 64 90nm and the Abit AV8. And although this article mostly is about the experience of the new AMD64, it’s more of an insight and opinion of where computers are today, and where they should be headed.

As most of you know, I’ve been tinkering with computers for about five years now. And although my first 2 computers were Intel based, I’ve been mostly building AMD systems since the Athlon socket A came out. My last system was an Intel, and I built it more out of curiosity, than thinking it was better than AMD. And in my experience, the P4 and AMD XP were very closely matched. Curiosity is what killed the cat, and I’m the cat; especially when it comes to all these glowing reviews of the AMD64. I’ve been reading up on it for ages it seems. And my curiosity is finally answered, as this article will indicate.

Before I talk about the specific hardware, I want to discuss my opinions AMD’s statement “Tomorrow’s Technology Today. For several years, computers have been based on the same basic layout. You had your CPU connected to everything in the computer by the Front Side Bus. The memory had to share the bandwidth with the video, sound, modem/network, optical, and disk drives. Over the years, the speed of CPU’s has grown exponentially, while the bus speeds have taken little steps. AMD looked forward to this issue, and not only made the Hypertransport system bus, but also removed the burden of the system memory. On top of that, they’ve implemented the memory controller into the CPU, thus simplifying board design, and reducing memory latency. Although there have been many articles claiming the AMD architecture doesn’t need the memory bandwidth Intel does, clearly the performance increase of the AMD64 shows this to not be true.

Hypertransport is both ways, allowing for vastly greater bandwidth than the PCI bus, but also gives it flexibility for the future. Theoretically, AMD can change the memory type, add dual cores, and make many other changes to the CPU without having to change out the chip(set) of the board. Granted, a memory change would require a new board, but chipset manufacturers wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time reworking a whole new board. Only the memory part would need modified (and possibly the power stages as well)

Intel is keeping to the same outdated approach of the front side bus. PCI Express and DDR-II, while not faster currently than what’s available compared to DDR and AGP8X, should soon overburden the FSB. Although they do a splendid job of making CPU’s and chipsets (and even a better job of marketing!), they are being very conservative when it comes do making radical changes. It’s almost as if it’s a knee-jerk style philosophy of advancing technology. Instead of making a more efficient CPU, they make BTX for example. Of course Intel won’t stay still for long on this matter, new cores are being taped out to make them more competitive. However I believe they will still use the FSB to connect everything. I hope I am wrong on this!

On top of all of this, we have AMD’s Cool and Quiet technology. Although this has been used in notebook computers, I feel it is getting more and more important in any type of computer today. The power usage can drop way down, depending on the model you choose, and what the programs demand. A 2.2Ghz can drop down to 1.8GHz in normal operation and will cut the power usage (and heat output) considerably. If I weren’t an overclocker myself, this would be one very big feature for me. I don’t feel AMD markets this feature as much as they should. If you read up on it, you’ll see why I like it so much.

I’ll have to admit I was a tad weary of whether the AMD 64 would be a success for them before it came out. I’m sure AMD was also. From what I’ve read, they bet the farm so to speak, on this. And although 64-bit computing still seems a ways off, it also has the future potential to make these CPU’s very future-ready. For now, I’m discussing the 32-bit aspect of this.

Well enough of the mashed potatoes, let’s get down to the good stuff! First up, the Abit AV8. I know I’ve been an Abit fan for a long time, but don’t think I’m strictly biased to them. I’ve tried other boards from other manufacturers in the past, and never was as happy as I was with Abit. I spent a lot of time deciding on which motherboard to choose. I was very close to getting the MSI board, but the horror stories I heard about this were far too common for my tastes. The biggest issues I’ve heard with my choice were minor in comparison: inaccurate temp reports, reboot issues with a specific type of PSU (the brand I’m using EEK!) and non-working AGP/PCI locks on the older version boards. The latter was due to VIA however, not Abit. One thing I will say is that they have been doing RMA’s to correct this, which is commendable.

Image

My first impression of the board was a little mixed. It is a little heavier than most boards I’ve held, which is a good thing. The layout, for the most part, is ptetty good. My biggest gripes is the ATX connector placement and the memory controller positioning. For people using air-cooling, the ATX connector can be very tricky to get the wires around so they don't impede air flow. Since I will be using this in my Koolance case, this isn’t a worry for me at all. Now the biggest, fatal flaw is the memory controllers; channel one and 2 are right next to each others, versus alternate DIMM slots. This means that the memory will get very hot unless it's actively cooled. I've since added a fan and ductwork to mine and it does a very effective job. Another minor dislike is the passively cooled Northbridge. It gets a bit warm to the touch, but not nearly as hot as the passively cooled NB on the Asus A7N8X was. The passive heat sink did do an adequate job, even up to 250MHz. Upon closer inspection, I noticed a few things:

Image Image

As you can tell by looking at the pictures above, the OC strips help feed the board plenty of power. I’ve learned from my audio days that beefier power rails really help. Also by the memory slots was more power components dedicated to the memory. Well my expectations are quite high for this board.

Image

This is the brand new AMD 64 socket 939 3200 I will be putting in this system. Unlike the previous socket 939’s, it’s based on the Winchester core, which is made on a 90 nanometer process vs. the 130 nanometer process. This means potentially less power consumption and less heat output. Intel’s 90nm process has had the opposite effect, so this was a concern initially, until I read some reports showing the AMD 90nm chips were running the same temps. This can be attributed to the smaller area of the die. A quick look at AMD’s latest thermal documentation shows this running at 1.4v and all three models(3000, 3200 & 3500) share the same exact specs. The only difference is the multiplier and how much they step down when the Cool and Quiet feature is utilized. For an overclocker like myself, this is a sweet thing to hear. The older AMD XP had different thermal specifications for different speeds; this is why some XP2500’s just wouldn’t go up to 3200 speeds easily.

Setup did go with hitches. Oh come on now, you were expecting me to say the opposite, weren’t you? The CPU has just come out, and therefore a BIOS update was needed in order to get the board to POST. That means I had to get an older CPU to make the board boot so I could update the BIOS. I would like to thank www.newegg.com for the help in this matter. I also had to order a new CPU waterblock that would fit. The new one barely did too; it touches the capacitors but doesn’t put pressure on them. I also had a DVD drive that would not let the board POST if it were connected. I’m not sure if the drive died, or if there is an issue with this drive and the board. I’ll post back later on this.

My test setup: Abit AV8, AMD 64 939 90nm, Antec True 480 PSU, Nvidia GeForce 6800GT, OCZ PC4000 EL (2x 512MB), Soundblaster Live!, WD Raptor 36GB, Lite-On CD-RW, Koolance watercooled case. WinXP home SP2 and Nvidia 66.81 drivers.
Everything is the same as my P4 system except the board, CPU, and new CPU cooler. I’ve also removed the chipset cooler for the time being.
The Install of WinXP home went smoothly, much faster than I expected. Only one thing caught me off guard, which was the “built inâ€
Last edited by Peanya on Sat Dec 11, 2004 11:47 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Sabrewings » Sun Oct 31, 2004 11:20 pm

Awesome Peanya!

You've sold me on the CPU, but I'm waiting for the AN8 (or whatever ABIT will call their NForce 4 board) to come out and be fully reviewed and tested before leaping in.

Thanks for doing the review.
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Postby Peanya » Sun Oct 31, 2004 11:23 pm

You're saying it didn't put you to sleep? :lol:
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Postby dallascisco » Mon Nov 01, 2004 3:18 am

Peanya wrote:You're saying it didn't put you to sleep? :lol:


Almost, but not quite :D

J/k, good job dude
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Postby snap355 » Mon Nov 01, 2004 9:19 am

Good article on the board :)
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Postby danny the bum » Mon Nov 01, 2004 4:50 pm

Hey good job. I'll definately be getting a cpu similar to yours. However, I may go for the DFI NF4 board. :twisted: (it looks very promising) I'll have to wait and see though.
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Postby Peanya » Thu Nov 04, 2004 11:21 pm

Update: It seems the memory voltage runs higher than set in the BIOS. I don't know if this is cause of the PSU going a little over, or just a "feature" of the board. I have it set at 2.55 and it's reading 2.65. But at 240MHz, I'm getting better performance than before. I'll try 2.5GHz soon. My temps are still suprisingly low (not a complaint!). I'm kind of glad that I do have this water cooled, the adaptor for the ATX plug is large, and really would be a hassle if I was using an air cooled setup.
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Postby nascarfool.com » Fri Nov 05, 2004 5:13 am

Very nice job Peanya. :wink:
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Postby Ryn » Fri Nov 05, 2004 8:49 pm

nice article Peanya :D
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Postby Rabidwerewolf » Fri Nov 05, 2004 10:33 pm

Very nicely done Peanya. Very informative, and no my eyes did not droop the slightest bit. :P :lol:
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