Gigabyte offers many different motherbaords for AMD’s Athlon 64 processor, based on both NVIDIA’s nForce3 and VIA’s K8T800 chipsets. However, only a couple have the number of features that the GA-K8VNXP boasts. Read this review to see if this motherboard is for you!
Some companies seem pleased to focus on motherboards and video cards or even just one component, but there is also a group of companies that seem to want to do a little bit of everything. Gigabyte Technology definitely belongs to the latter group. Gigabyte offers a wide range of products, from various motherboards based on competing Intel and AMD chipsets and video cards based on competing ATI and NVIDIA chips to notebook PCs and LCDs.
Knowing this probably makes it not at all surprising that Gigabyte offers a wide selection of motherboards for AMD’s 64-bit processors. Gigabyte certainly did not want to be left behind in this market. We were lucky enough to get our hands on one of Gigabyte’s most feature-packed offerings for the Athlon 64 – the GA-K8VNXP. This mainboard is based on VIA’s K8T800 chipset, and it is loaded with features, such as IDE and SATA RAID, IEEE1394b support, gigabit ethernet, and six-channel audio. The features really would not mean much to many consumers if the mainboard does not perform well when compared to its peers. That is why we will be checking out how the GA-K8VNXP’s performance compares to Leadtek nForce2 and nForce3 solutions.
Specifications & Features
This is only a taste of what this board offers. To get your fill of specs for this board, check out Gigabyte’s GA-K8VNXP detailed spec list.
- CPU: Socket 754 for AMD athlon 64 processor
- Chipset: VIA K8T800 (with VIA VT8237 South Bridge)
- Expansion slots: 1 x AGP 8X, 5 x PCI, 1 x DPS (for the included Dual Power Supply add-on board)
- Audio: Realtek ALC658 Audio AC’97 Codec
- System Bus: Hyper-Transport Bus
- Form Factor: ATX form factor – 30.5 x 24.4 cm
- BIOS: Award, 2 x 4Mb flash ROM
- Dual Power System (DPS K8) – provides 6-phase power circuit
- DualBIOS – Gigabyte patented DualBIOS enables quick BIOS recovery
- Dual LAN – Gigabit LAN controller + 10/100 ethernet controller
- Dual RAID
- Serial ATA interface with RAID 0 and 1 functionality
- GigaRAID Controller provides ATA133 IDE RAID, supporting RAID levels 0, 1, and 0+1 and JBOD configuration
- Hardware for external SATA drive support
- CPU Overheat Protection
- Supports CPU Vcore, AGP, and DIMM voltage adjustments via BIOS
- Supports FSB adjusments via BIOS
- Supports AGP 8X interface
- Integrated ALC658 6-channel audio with Universal Audio Jack (UAJ)
- Eight USB 2.0/1.1 ports
- Three IEEE1394 ports
- GA-K8VNXP motherboard
- CD for motherboard drivers and utilities
- User´s manual
- Quick PC Installation Guide
- GigaRAID manual
- GC-SATA Card with SATA cable and power cable – used for external SATA drives
- 3 x Ultra ATA 100/133 IDE cable
- 1x Floppy drive cable
- 1 x Serial ATA cable
- 1 x Serial ATA power cable
- USB + IEEE1394 back panel bracket
- Audio Combo Kit: SURROUND Kit + SPDIF Out Kit
- I/O shield
- DPS K8
- Motherboard settings label and case badge
Manuals and Mobo Settings Sticker
Plenty of Cables and I/O Shield
DPS K8, External SATA Connector, and
Audio and USB 2.0/IEEE1394 Connectors
Before I took this board out of the box, I was a little worried that the number of features included would have caused the engineers at Gigabyte to make some compromises with the layout to fit everything on the PCB. As it turns out, this worry was unnecessary because very little about the layout of this mainboard made me wonder what those engineers were thinking. It is very well laid out. I only had two minor issues with this mainboard’s layout. The first is where the 12 volt power connector was placed. It is near the CPU socket and the K8T800 chip. This could easily cause the 12V power cable to be in an awkward place when it is plugged in. The other minor issue I had was that the floppy drive connector and ATX power connector are adjacent to each other, which could cause a little bit of a jam in that area.
However, this one little thing that could be a negative aspect of this layout actually turned out to be a positive one once I realized that having the floppy connector located there prevents the ugly, air-blocking floppy cable from being strewn across the motherboard. In other words, when the motherboard is installed, the floppy connector ends up being close to where the floppy drive usually is in a mid-tower case. What is even better is that the IDE1 and IDE2 connectors are placed equally well! This will allow most people to easily keep IDE cables out of the way, unless they choose to use the K8VNXP’s IDE RAID functionality, because those connectors were placed a bit farther away.
Another great aspect of the GA-K8VNXP’s layout is that nearly all of the connectors for USB, IEEE1394, etc. are located on the bottom (when the board is installed) of the board. This makes them easy to find and work with.
Gigabyte definitely deserves props for the layout of this mainboard. I am convinced that the layout was designed with the end-user experience in mind. I think a few other companies should follow Gigabyte’s lead in this often overlooked aspect of motherboard design.
In order to give the GA-K8VNXP a workout, I put it and the components listed below together to make a nice test system for this mainboard.
- Chieftech X-Sonic Mid-Tower Case (review)
- SilverStone 400W SST-ST400 PSU (review)
- AMD Athlon 64 3200+
- Zalman CNPS7000A-Cu HSF (review)
- Corsair TWINX1024-3200LLPRO (review coming soon!)
- Reference GeForce FX 5950 Ultra
- Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 80GB Serial ATA 7200RPM Hard Drive w/8MB Buffer
- Pioneer DVD-ROM
- Sony floppy drive
Before installation I was a little worried that the large Zalman CPU cooler would prevent me from being able to install the DPS K8 unit. Fortunately, this was not a problem. Also, I did initially try to install the two DIMMS in slots 2 and 3, but the PC would not boot with this setup. This was unfortunate becauase the hefty CPU cooler could have presented another problem. Once again it worked out, though. I am not exactly thrilled that the DIMM in slot 1 is actually touching the copper heatsink on the CNPS-7000A, but it does not seem to be causing any problems with the system. I expect that most people looking at this mainboard will have smaller HSF units, thus eliminating these worries.
As with the great layout, Gigabyte was thinking about the consumer when the connectors were chosen for this board. Whatever could be color-coded was color-coded, and that’s no exaggeration. Even the front panel connectors were color-coded. However, Gigabyte did not stop there. With a relatively large plus sign on each appropriate pin, the polarity was clearly marked on each colored set of pins on the front panel connectors. This attention to detail made connecting the front panel pins easier than I ever thought it could be.
Gigabyte did not stop there, though. The AGP slot uses the much friendlier pin-type design for the retaining mechanism, as opposed to the usual clip-type design that can make it very hard to remove a video card that has a large cooling unit on it. As I mentioned in the layout section, the placement of the FDD, IDE1, and IDE2 connectors made it easy to keep the cables out of the way of the case’s main airflow path.
After I was done assembling the test system, I installed 32-bit Windows XP Pro (and Service Pack 1) on it without any problems. Unfortunately, I experienced some problems during the driver installation, but I am not sure what they were related to. The first problem was a random reset during boot-up after I installed the VIA 4-in-1 drivers. However, this did not seem to cause any problems and has not happened since. The other issue I saw was a Windows system error that I was unable to track down, but as with the other issue I have only seen it once since installing everything. Both of these issues were a little disconcerting, but the fact that they only showed up once each is somewhat redeeming.
Here’s what the system looked like with everything in it:
The peformance numbers below can help two groups of people – those deciding if moving from an nForce2 (or older) system to one based on the Athlon 64 would be worth it and those who have already decided to make the move to the A64 but need to know which chipset, NVIDIA’s nForce3 or VIA’s K8T800, would be right for them.
The following elements of the three test systems were the same:
- GeForce FX 5950 Ultra
- Corsair TWINX1024-3200LLPRO (2x512MB DDR-SDRAM)
- Operation System: Windows XP with Service Pack 1
- Chipset Drivers: nForce Systems – 3.13, VIA system – 4.48
- Graphics Card Driver: Forceware 53.03
- DirectX Version: 9.0b
|Athlon 64 Test Systems:|| nForce2 Comparison Test System:|
To complete these benchmarks, I used FutureMark’s PCMark04 (v 1.0.0) and 3DMark03 (v 3.2.0), SiSoftware’s Sandra 2004 (v 2004.10.9.89), AquaMark3, Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo, and Gun Metal.
One thing to keep in mind when looking at these benchmarks is that AMD’s performance rating has been adjusted such that an Athlon 64 3200+ runs at 2.0 GHz, whereas an Athlon XP 3200+ runs at 2.2 GHz. This means that the Athlon 64 should be able to perform as well as or better than XPs with the same rating. One of the main differences in the Athlon 64 architecture is the on-die memory controller, which should allow the Athlon 64 to perform markedly better in numerous tests, especially synthetic memory benchmarks.
PCMark04 (version 1.0.0)
As with the nForce2 system, the HDD test would not complete on the GA-K8VNXP. According to FutureMark’s website, the test failing under certain configurations is a known issue. I do not know why it worked on the nForce3 system, but it did. Maybe it has something to do with NVIDIA’s IDE driver. The results among the A64 platforms are really too close to declare a leader in this benchmark. The GA-K8VNXP leads in PCMark and CPU scores, but the K8N takes the lead in Memory and Graphics tests.
SiSoftware Sandra (version 2004.10.9.89)
Once again, the Athlon 64 platforms are basically even. Each time one beats the other, it is usually by only about 2%.
3DMark03 (version 3.2.0)
The Leadtek K8N Pro seems to perform slightly better than Gigabyte’s GA-K8VNXP in 3DMark03.
The default benchmark in AquaMark3, which is the only one that can be run on an unlicensed version, is the only one that provides GFX and CPU scores. It is the “official” AquaMark3 benchmark. The following scores were reported for the three test systems:
- Gigabyte GA-K8VNXP
- GFX – 5,872
- CPU – 9,202
- Leadtek WinFast K8N Pro
- GFX – 5,835
- CPU – 9,230
- Leadtek nForce2 Ultra 400
- GFX – 5,956
- CPU – 7,398
Interestingly, even though the K8N earned better marks in PCMark04’s Graphics benchmark, the GA-K8VNXP takes the lead in the AquaMark3 GFX score. This is another indication of how close the performance levels of these two platforms really are.
Gun Metal Benchmark 1
Because Gun Metal relies heavily on the graphics board, there is not a big advantage for any system here.
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
I ran the UT2K3 benchmark with the benchmarking utility from BensCustomCases.com, and a custom script file that sets up the maps with 12 bots and maximum detail. I thought this would be a good test of the overall system.
Although, the margins are nothing to brag about, the Gigabyte GA-K8VNXP performs better than the Leadtek K8N Pro in every one of these UT2K3 benchmarks. Both systems perform considerably better than the nForce2 system in nearly every benchmark run.
Gigabyte offers the basic adjustments for overclocking the GA-K8VNXP. Fortunately, all of the adjustments are made in the BIOS, so no messing with hard-to-reach jumpers when overclocking this mainboard! The picture below shows all of the clock frequency and voltage control that the user has with this motherboard. There are certainly more voltage adjustment options than clock adjustment options, but these are enough options to allow for some basic overclocking.
Using PriceGrabber, I was able to find this motherboard at several merchants for about $175-180. I was a little surprised by this price. I did not realize that these new motherboards were being sold at such a high price point. A similar nForce3 motherboard from Gigabyte was actually more expensive at newegg.com, so it would probably be unfair to say that this is isolated to motherboards based on VIA’s chipset. While there are motherboards available for the Athlon 64 at about half the price of the GA-K8VNXP, they do not offer near the level of features that the GA-K8VNXP does. However, it would be nice to get rounded cables and some other niceties for $175!
Offering both IDE and SATA RAID, this motherboard provides a lot of flexibility and many different options to fulfill people’s storage needs. Gigabyte even includes hardware for hooking up external Serial ATA hard drives! This may seem unnecessary with USB 2.0 and IEEE1394 external drives performing fairly well; however, it does offer even more flexibility than motherboards without this option included. The GA-K8VNXP also offers flexibility in the power department. When it is plugged in, the Dual Power System (DPS K8) delivers a six-phase power circuit for increased stability and a level of redundancy not seen on many, if any, other motherboards.
With its DualBIOS, the GA-K8VNXP should help prevent or seriously reduce downtime in the event of a BIOS flashing or virus problem. This is because the backup BIOS will be used in the event of a failed boot from the main BIOS. This is a feature that Gigabyte has been adding to many of its motherboards for a long time now, and it is yet another way this motherboard was designed with the end-user in mind. The other things that make this an user-friendly board are its great layout and plethora of color-coded connectors.
Overall, my experience with Gigabyte’s GA-K8VNXP has been great! The price may be a little steep for some people’s budgets, but for those who want a lot of flexibility and features, the price will probably be worth it.
For its flexibility, good performance, and great selection of features, I am awarding the Gigabyte GA-K8VNXP a 9 out of 10 and the Bjorn3D Seal of Approval!