Athlon Hit Parade: 10 mobos with the nForce2 Ultra400

Epox EP-8RDA3+

Board revision: 1.1

BIOS version: June 19, 2003

If it weren't for the LANParty NF2-Ultra from DFI, the Epox board would be best in class in terms of equipment. It is really impressive, with maximum equipment levels typical of nForce2.

It offers two network connections, only one of which is in the form of a PHY, the other being a full-blown controller from Realtek (RTL-8101L). This means lower processor loading than you'll find with the Codec solution. The same goes for the FireWire connections. In place of the controller in the MCP-T, a separate, full-blown FireWire chip from Agére is used (FW323). This offers three ports instead of just two.

On the other hand, conventional components are used for the sound system, a CMI-9739A from C-Media. This manufacturer has achieved success primarily through its good-value-for-the-money PCI sound chips. In principle the sound system also provides a digital output, but, unfortunately, no suitable connector module is included.

The board also boasts the SiL3112 - probably the most useful serial ATA controller, because it is not based on the design of an old parallel ATA model. These connectors are all squeezed together along with the floppy drive controller at the bottom end of the board, so when all the components are connected (FireWire, USB 3 and 4, SATA, floppy, IR, IDE) you can hardly tell what's what. Above all, the fact that the floppy connector is usually a long way from the drive causes problems in tower cases, because normal cables are not long enough.

The Ultra ATA round cables included by Epox promise improvements in terms of the usual mess of cables. In fact, they are no longer than conventional ribbon cables, but they offer better flexibility and do not interfere with the ventilation of the system.

As with the Abit, there is no PCI slot available directly below the AGP slot. This space leaves enough room for "hot" graphics cards, or can be used to accommodate an effective cooling system.

The serial connectors are not on the back panel, but have to be led out via a slot adapter (1x serial plus gameport, also included). The reason for this lies in the fact that the layout is also the basis for an nForce2 board with IGP (integrated graphics). Epox provide two monitor outputs here, so nVIDIA's TwinView can also be used with the integrated graphics solutions.

The performance of the 8RDA3+ is as expected; only for the memory timing tests did we have to switch back from the ideal 5-2-2-2 to 7-2-2-2 to ensure stable operation. However, in our experience this does not have a significant effect on overall performance.