Avant-Garde: Four boards for AMD's Athlon 64 FX

Asus SK8N

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Board Revision: 1.03

BIOS Version: 1004 Beta 1 (October 15, 2003)

The SK8N of Asus is based on nVIDIA's nForce3 150 chipset and is ideally equipped for multimedia applications. It offers six USB ports, two FireWire ports, a usable sound system and a 100-Mbit network interface. Unfortunately, the customer will have to do without gigabit LAN. But Asus did think about Serial ATA interfaces and planted a Promise PDC20378 on the board, which in addition to two SATA 150-standard ports provides a further UltraATA/133 interface. It supports 0, 1 and 0+1 RAID modes, which can be enabled from all connected devices (SATA or UltraATA).

On the layout there is little cause for complaint except for the interfaces for Serial ATA and floppy interface, which are placed too far south; even the heat generation is kept under control by high-quality voltage converters.

As is usual with Asus, options for overclocking almost every aspect of the system are conveniently provided. Front side bus, clock ratios, processor voltage - but not changing the multiplier. This is probably not possible with the retail versions of the CPUs (Gigabyte, on the other hand, offers everything necessary); however, our test machine allowed this convenient overclocking method.

Asus provides as usual its own monitoring utility, PC Probe, which allows important mainboard data such as voltages, fan rpms and temperatures to be conveniently monitored. Also included is a version of LiveUpdate, the BIOS update tool from Asus. More recent versions often appear on the web, so it's worth taking a quick look.

The decision in favor of nForce3 150 was made more for strategic than for logical reasons, since the nVIDIA chipset is having better success in the OEM business and nVIDIA is also AMD's official launch partner. As with the Gigabyte board, the problem with the SK8N is the HyperTransport channel, which is limited to 600 MHz upstream and is supplied by the VIA chipset with 800 MHz. This produces several benchmarks in which the Asus board cannot keep pace with the board from MSI.

However, the problem is familiar - these days, the SK8V package from Asus may begin with K8T800.

The PC Probe utility from Asus is already well-known and provides a good overview of temperatures, important voltages and fan rpms.