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Appeared on: Tuesday, July 04, 2006
FOXCONN WinFast NF4SK8AA


1. Features - Specs

Foxconn is the registered trade name of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd., a global designer, manufacturer and distributor of advanced computer, communications and consumer electronics components, including motherboards, graphics cards, CPU coolers, barebone systems and chassis for personal computer desktops and servers.

Today, we are going to review the WinFast NF4SK8AA-8KRS SLI x8 mainboard from Foxconn, which is designed for AMD Socket 939 CPUs.

- Features

- Specifications

Processor Socket 939 for AMD Athlon™ 64 and 64 FX processors
Chipset NVIDIA NF4 SLI
Front Side Bus Up to 2000 MT/s HyperTransport™
Memory Dual channel DDR400 x4, support up to 4GB
VGA on Die N/A
Expansion Slots 2 x PCIe x16, 1 x PCIe x1 and 3 x PCI slots
Serial ATA(SATA)/RAID Serial ATA II x 4 with RAID 0,1,0+1,JBOD and cross-controller RAID
IDE ATA133 x 2 (w/ RAID)
Audio Integrated 7.1, Realtek ALC 850 (AC97 interface) - support S/PDIF-out
LAN GbE LAN (PHY Marvell 88E1111)
IEEE-1394 N/A
Back Panel I/O Ports 1 x PS/2 Keyboard & Mouse
1 set 7.1 channel Audio Jack (6 jacks)
1 x COM
1 x Parallel
2 x LAN
4 x USB 2.0
1 x Coax S/PDIF out port
1 x Fiber S/PDIF out port
Internal I/O Connectors 1 x CD IN
1 x Front audio header
3 x USB 2.0 headers, support 6 ports
1 x COM2 header
1 x IrDA header
1 x Speaker header
BIOS Features LPC-4Mb, ACPI 1.0b, APM 1.2, PnP 1.0a, SMBIOS 2.3, USB 2.0, WfM 2.0
Support CD Chipset Drivers, DirectX 9.0, RAID Driver, VGA Driver, USB 2.0 Driver,
Audio Driver, Network Driver, Adobe Reader 6.0, SuperUtilities,
Norton Internet Security
Standards/Manageability USB2.0, WfM 2.0, DMI 2.0, WOL by PME, LPC 1.1 Interface, PC2001
Special Features Wake on ring, LAN, USB, keyboard & mouse, STR (Suspend-to-Ram),
STD (Suspend-to-Disk), SuperRecovery, SuperBoot, SuperBIOS-Protect,
SuperSpeed by BIOS, SuperStep, SuperLogo, SuperUpdate by CD Driver,
overclocking, MediaShield
Form Factor ATX (12" x 9.6")

- Unique Features

Super Technology

SuperBoot
Reduces computer boot time by storing values during first boot and using them during future.
SuperRecovery
A “hidden (hard drive) partition” to store and recover BIOS CMOS setup, partition table, and more. 

SuperBios-protect
Hardware and software double BIOS locking to protect your PC from viruses and BIOS corruption.

SuperSpeed
Jumperless system bus overclocking executed through a dedicated BIOS setting.

SuperLogo
Allows replacement of the standard boot up logo screen with a user-designed graphic or picture.

SuperStep
Windows-based system bus overclocking plus sensor readings and threshold setting.

SuperUpdate
A Windows-based BIOS updating utility.

Humanity Technology

X.G.P Exclusive Graphic power
Exclusive power for graphic card for better graphic performance and for future upgrade usage.
O.C.R One click resume
Push "reset", return to pre-overfrequency status immediately, reduce unnecessary troubles.

BIOS Q.B.U Quick BIOS Update
Easily refresh BIOS after pressing hot key.

M.B.A Multi Boot Agent
Press "ESC" under POST interface,select needed boot equipment in "Boot Menu".

CPU Protection
Automatically cut off power with temperature up to certain degree, more effectively protects motherboard and CPU.

S.F.C Smart FAN Commander
Auto fan speed adjustment, save power consumption and reduce noise pollution.

Smart audio
Smart hi-fi equipment installation guidance, easy configure 5.1 or 7.1 channel sound effects home theater.
BIOS Rescue
BIOS Boot Block protection. Insert the floppy disk and reboot,rescue the crashed BIOS.
Super PAT
Base on Intel PAT, accelerates the speed of access from CPU to memory.
S.C.F Super Clock free
Adjustable CPU Multiplier, perform better FSB, more options for overclocking.

Let's move on and take a closer look...


2. A Closer Look

The Foxconn WinFast NF4SK8AA-8KRS is a well designed motherboard on an orange Printed Circuit Board (PCB). The interface connections are laid out so as to make them easily accessible and the colour coding helps in identifying them.

The 939 socket for the AMD64 CPU...

The FAN of NVIDIA's nForce 4 SLI chipset ...

The WinFast is equipped with two PCI Express slots. The primary slot with 16X bandwidth and the other with 8X, so when you connect two NVIDIA cards in SLI mode, the bandwidth is 8X. The board uses an SLI selector card to enable SLI mode. You should set this card accordingly, depending on whether you want to work in Single VGA mode or in Dual VGA mode.

The memory module slots are colour coded. Simply install two memory modules of the same memory size in the same coloured slots, to enable Dual Channel's symmetry mode support, or use two memory modules of different memory sizes for asymmetric mode.

The IDE connectors and the 24-pin power Connector are shown below.

Below are the four SATA connectors for installing HDDs or CD/DVD drives...

There are also additional USB 2.0 connections on the motherboard:

The 4-pin 12V Power connection:

The three extra fan power connections:

The IrDA Connection:

The board also has provision for two FireWire and an extra two SATA connections, which unfortunately are not populated, possibly to keep the price down but may be available on the more expensive WinFast mainboards.

The Audio connector and the Realtek ALC850 chipset:

Rear panel connections:

- The package

The retail package for the WinFast NF4SK8AA includes the following accessories:

Accessories User's manual
2 x Serial ATA cables
2x power SATA cables
2 x UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
FDD cable
Support CD

nVIDIA nForce Drivers, DirectX 9.0,
Audio Drivers, Adobe Reader 6.0,
SuperUtilities, Norton Internet Security,
MainBoard Manual, RAID Manual

For this review, we populated the WinFast NF4SK8AA-8KRS motherboard with two ASUS Extreme N6600GT graphics cards and compared it with the MSI K8N Diamond, which is also an NVIDIA nForce4 SLI 8X based board.


3. Testbed


Benchmarking Software
3DMark05,03,01
PCMark04, 05
Codecreatures Benchmark Pro
AquaMark3 v3.0
Performance Test V5.0
Half Life 2
Doom 3
F.E.A.R
Need For Speed - Most Wanted


4. Tests - 3D Mark 05

With 3DMark05, Futuremark continues the tradition in its benchmarking software by providing a state-of-the-art Microsoft ® DirectX ® 9 3D performance benchmark.

3DMark05 is an all new 3DMark version making the most of Microsoft's DirectX 9. The previous version 3DMark03, did a nice introduction into this level of technology. However 3DMark03 used DirectX 9 specific features in a limited manner, because fully supporting hardware was rare at the time of its launch. In contrast, 3DMark05 requires DirectX 9 hardware with full support for at least Shader Model 2, and takes shader usage to never before seen levels.

Just like its predecessors, 3DMark05's point system is set so that at the moment of release, the high-end VGA cards available in stores can only score around 5000 3DMarks, whereas the worst card that meets the programs requirements yields a score of 1000.

Game Test 1 -Return to Proxycon

Click to enlargeBeing the sequel to the "Battle of Proxycon" from 3DMark03, in "Return to Proxycon" we're once again set in space and the battle continues as space pirates invade a cargo ship in order to take control of its valuable cargo.

This test, tries to simulate a future first-person shooter game with all the high details that it entails. The dynamic shadows, high-detailed environment and advanced lighting techniques ensure that under normal circumstances, no recent card can run it with decent frame rates.

Game Test 2 - Firefly Forest

Click to enlargeA forest gets filled with magic fireflies in the night. The moon is nearly full, illuminating the forest with a bluish faint light. The magic fireflies have flickering bright green lights that playfully move around the forest.

This scene is a nice example of a smaller scale outdoor scene with rich vegetation. Immediate visibility is not so far, and there is a skybox surrounding the whole scene.

A large number of trees with their branches swinging separately, and dense vegetation being dynamically distributed according to the camera movements, make this test the most demanding of the three.

Game Test 3 - Canyon Flight

Click to enlargeA Jules Verne type airship flies through a canyon guarded by a dangerous sea monster. The airmen defend their ship using heavy cannons, but these seem to have no effect on the huge sea monster. Finally the crew manages a narrow escape using the "last resort" afterburners of the airship.

This scene is fairly complex with large areas of water reflecting the high canyon walls. The water actually is one of the key points of interest in this scene. The water not only does realistic looking reflections and refractions, it has a depth fog, making the sea monster swimming under the airship actually look deep down in the water. The air in this scene also uses a volumetric fog, making distant cliffs of the canyon really look far away.

Neither board really dominates although the WinFast probably manages to produce ever so slightly better framerates overall. And it's likely this slight difference that gives it the better 3DMark05 score.


5. Tests - 3D mark 03

3D Mark is a widely used and accepted benchmark that stresses the DirectX performance of a VGA card. A very strong point of 3DMark is that it's VGA card measuring is does not require any CPU power. So the resulting fps are a good reference a VGA card's rendering performance. For testing the performance of each card we used the 4 game benchmarks 3DMark has.

3Dmark03 also includes sound and CPU tests as well as some other feature tests.

- Game Test 1 - Wings of Fury (DX7)

This test is a combat flight simulator written for older hardware (DirectX 7). Particles are used a lot in this test - smoke and vapor trails, flak and gunfire, and explosions are produced using point sprites and quads.

- Game Test 2 - Battle of Proxycon (DX8)

This test is a simulation of first person shooter game types. 1.1 and 1.4 Vertex shaders are widely used since all character models are skinned using vertex shaders.This makes this test a good vertex shader comparison for VGA cards.

- Game Test 3 - Trolls' Lair (DX8)

This test should be the favorite of all RPG lovers. It is a cut scene of a female warrior facing two malicious trolls. Again the same vertex and pixel processing is used as in game test 2.

This test also uses post-processing effects, such as Depth of Field and Bloom effects which are widely used in today's game cut scene sequences.

- Game Test 4 - Mother Nature (DX9)

Mother nature represents the level of effects and realism that are possible using 2.0 vertex and pixel shaders, plus some other features that DirectX 9 offers.

There's no huge difference in the game framerates, except perhaps in the first game where the WinFast produced 15fps more than the MSI motherboard. However, this was not enough to give it an overall higher 3DMark03 score, where the score for both boards is very close.


6. Tests - Codecreatures Benchmark

CodeCreatures is a synthetic 3D benchmark that is a good reference for VGA performance comparison. This is a high-end 3D benchmark that also requires DirectX 8 hardware, making a good tool for measuring the potential of DirectX 8 game performance.

The Codecreatures benchmark is written with Microsoft's DirectX 8.1 API and incorporates the use of Vertex and PixelShaders popular on next generation 3D accelerators.

The benchmark plays a photo-realistic nature scene and calculates the performance of the graphics adapter by measuring the fps that it can display at 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 resolutions.

Slightly higher framerates for the WinFast motherboard had as a result, a slightly higher overall score.

-Codecreatures number

The codecreatures number is the resulting score of the total benchmarking process and is basically the geometric mean of the three frame rates multiplied by 100.


7. Tests - Aquamark Triscore, 3D Mark 01

Since the majority of today's applications and games are compatible with DirectX 9, the need of benchmark applications that use DX 9 has been brought up. The benchmark uses the 3D engine (Krass engine) of the Aquanox game.

 

Aquamark Triscore

The Aquamark Triscore comprises 3 values: the overall system performance, the performance of the graphics system and the CPU performance. Keep in mind that this is not the total result of the tests, but the result of the whole benchmark process including all 9 chapters.

Slightly higher performance was reported by the WinFast motherboard.

3DMark 2001

3DMark 2001 is the predecessor to 3DMark03. It's mainly a directx8.1 benchmark and the score depends a lot on the CPU power of your computer. However for reference use only we decided it'd be best to just leave it in our benchmark list so you can compare the next generation cards with the possibly outdated you have at home.

The overall performance from the WinFast motherboard is slightly better in this benchmark as well.


8. Tests - Video Stress HL2

Half life 2 is no doubt the most anticipated pc game of all times. Gamers keeping the excellence of Half Life 1 in their mind as well as the remarkable E3 demo preview, have been anxiously waiting for the much delayed release of HL2.

Characters - Advanced facial animation system delivers the most sophisticated in-game characters ever seen. With 40 distinct facial "muscles," human characters convey the full array of human emotion, and respond to the player with fluidity and intelligence.

Physics - From pebbles to water to 2-ton trucks respond as expected, as they obey the laws of mass, friction, gravity, and buoyancy.

Graphics - Source's shader-based renderer, like the one used at Pixar to create movies such as Toy Story® and Monster's, Inc.®, creates the most beautiful and realistic environments ever seen in a video game.

AI - Neither friends nor enemies charge blindly into the fray. They can assess threats, navigate tricky terrain, and fashion weapons from whatever is at hand.

To measure performance we used the Video Stress Test(VST) that is available in the CounterStrike:Source beta available through Steam. We set all the details to the highest level and each time changed the resolution from 800x600 up to 1600x1200.

In Half Life 2 at all the resolutions without AA and AF, the MSI produced more than ten frames higher framerate. However, when the AA and AF were enabled, both boards performed similarly.


9. Tests - Quake 4

In a desperate war for Earth's survival, against an unrelenting alien enemy, the only way to defeat them is to become one of them. Armed with advanced weaponry and vehicles and aided by an elite squad of marines, you take the battle to the heart of the Strogg home planet and become Earth's only hope for victory.

Quake 4 is a First Person Shooter developed by Ravensoft, based on the Doom 3 engine, and the graphics and gameplay certainly reflect that fact. For those who really hated the one-way corridors of Doom 3, new outdoor areas have been added to the game. The feeling however, still remains the same as these areas are quite small-scale, contrary to what other games have to offer.

 

- Benchmark Settings

As Quake 4 includes no default benchmark, we decided to go with another publicly available demo to measure performance. What we chose is a demo from HWSpirit, which involves a small outdoor scene followed by a long indoor combat. As preloading the stage once again failed miserably and the average framerate varied a lot, we ran it twice every time we restarted the game and measured only the second run.

The resolutions we used are 800x600, 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200. We measured performance with and without Anti-aliasing.

In Quake4, the difference in performance between the mobos at resolutions at or above 1280x1024 was minimal.


10. Tests - F.E.A.R.

You aren't a soldier. You are a weapon. A paramilitary force infiltrates a multi billion dollar aerospace compound taking hostages, but issuing no demands.

The government responds by sending in its best special operations teams, only to have them obliterated. Live footage of the massacre is cut short by an unexpected wave of destruction that leaves military leaders stunned and in disbelief.

First Encounter Assault Recon (F.E.A.R.) is one of the new-generation FPS. The graphics are really stunning, the plot behind the whole shooting successfully keeps it interesting and even the A.I. seems to work out well.

F.E.A.R. offers a lot to the First Person Shooter world. The graphics are very clear with excellent textures, great new effects that will stress your graphics card and ragdoll physics that are waiting to be exploited as you progress through the game.

- Benchmark Settings

F.E.A.R. allows you test the video settings on a mini-benchmark involving a lot of weapon firing, explosions and several other effects. After the benchmark is run, you're presented with a screen showing your minimum, average and maximum framerates and also percentages of how often the framerate was below 25fps, between 25 and 40, and finally above 40. For this presentation, we're just sticking to the minimum and average framerates.

The resolutions we used were 800x600, 1024x768, 1280x960 and 1600x1200. We measured performance with high and highest details.

In F.E.A.R. with High Settings, the minimum framerate from the WinFast board was lower than the MSI board. However, the average framerate for the WinFast board was higher.

With the Maximum settings enabled, the WinFast board showed its strength for both minimum and average framerates.


11. Tests - NFS Most Wanted

Wake up to the smell of burnt asphalt as the thrill of illicit street racing permeates the air.

Combining illicit street racing and tuner customization with the intensity of strategic police pursuit that surpasses any Hollywood-style chase scene, Need for Speed Most Wanted will be on every gamer's 'must-have' list this holiday season. Out-race rivals, evade cops and exploit hundreds of miles of open road as gamers make their way up the Blacklist.

To become the most wanted racer, players must build up their street cred and Rap Sheet with gripping, white knuckle, head-to-head races with the top drivers on the streets, as well as pull daring, evasive moves to out-run and out-fox the cops that patrol the open road. Players can manage their heat or utilize a number of strategic tactics to keep the cops off their tails as they leave their rivals behind to suck their exhaust fumes.

- Benchmark Settings

NFS Most Wanted includes no default benchmark. To measure the card's performance, we've chosen to record the framerate at the start of a circuit race with end-game cars. The starting point tends to be one of the most graphically demanding parts because of the smoke coming from spinning wheels added to the rest of the game's visual effects. If a card can pass this step with an acceptable framerate it is guaranteed that it will face no problem with the rest of the game.

The resolutions we used are 800x600, 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200. We measured performance at the lowest and highest possible settings.

In NFS MW, both mobos reported very similar framerates at all tested resolutions, with or without AA and AF enabled.


12. Tests - PassMark

The suite of the PassMark Performance Test contains a number of suites with different tests to measure different aspects of a computer system.

The "PassMark rating" is a weighted average of all the other test results and gives a single overall indication of the computers performance. The bigger the number, the faster the computer. The "PassMark rating" can only be calculated if the results from all other tests are available. The value is calculated as follows.

Test Suite Weighting
Disk 20%
CD / DVD 9%
Memory 18%
3D Graphics 12%
2D Graphics 14%
CPU 27%
Total 100%

According to the PassMark Performance test, the MSI K8N performed slightly better than the WinFast board.


13. Tests - PCMark04/05

PCMark04 and 05 are application-based benchmarks and a premium tool for measuring overall PC performance. It uses portions of real applications instead of including very large applications or using specifically created code. This allows PCMark05 to be a smaller installation as well as to report very accurate results. As far as possible, PCMark05 uses public domain applications whose source code can be freely examined by any user.

Both PCMark04 and PCMark05 include 5 categorized suites for benchmarking your computer. These include System, CPU, Graphics, Memory and a Hard Disk Drive benchmark. In our case, we selected the system test suite which integrates tests included in the other categories.

In PCMark04, the WinFast board produced better performance than the MSI K8N. However, in PCMark05, the MSI K8N was just slightly better.


14. Tests - Overclocking

SuperStep is a convenient utility to help overclock your system. There is no need to delve into the BIOS with this utility, although we believe that the BIOS is still the safest way to go.

The default Core Speed for the AMD64 3500+ is 2200Mhz.

The maximum overclocking speed we managed to achieve was 2420Mhz with the FSB running at 220Mhz. At higher speeds, we had the blue screen of death or the system failed to boot.


15. BIOS Settings - Page 1


WinFast Logo


Bios main Screen


Standard CMOS Features


BIOS Features


CPU Frequency


Advanced BIOS Features


16. BIOS Settings - Page 2


Advanced Chipset Features


DRAM Configuration


Integrated Peripherals


IDE Function Setup


Power Management Setup


PnP/PCI Configurations


PC Health Status


17. Bundled Software - Upgrading the BIOS

The Software CD included in the retail package contains the following:


Main Window


Drivers


Accessories


Manual

SuperUpdate is a very helpful utility which helps locate the appropriate firmware revision for the motherboard and then flashes it.

Just as a precaution, we made a backup of the previous BIOS.

Then, we downloaded the newest BIOS manually from the internet and flashed it.


18. Bundled Software - Overclocking

SuperStep is a utility that allows users to change the frequency of the CPU. It also displays system health - CPU temperature, CPU voltage and PCI/PCI-Express clock.

In the FAN page, you can adjust the warning levels for the fans by changing their rpm settings.

Warning criteria for Voltage...

CPU and System Temperature...

In the clock page, you can adjust the CPU frequency.

By checking the appropriate check boxes, the system will automatically provide warning messages.


19. Final Thoughts

The WinFast NF4SK8AA-8KRS with its orange colored PCB and quality of construction, comes in a rather good retail package with all appropriate cables and manuals included. 8x SLI support, Gigabit LAN, 7.1 CH Audio with one optical/digital connection, IDE/SATA RAID, Dual Channel for the Memory modules, are only some of the board's features. Our only complaints concern the lack of FireWire support, while a second onboard LAN or WLAN would have been a great extra. We liked the monitoring and overclocking utility, which is something that you might not find on even the more expensive motherboards.

When we compared the performance of the NF4SK8AA-8KRS against the MSI K8N Diamond, which is also an 8x SLI board, we saw slightly better performance from the WinFast board. In games for example, the difference between the two was in most cases, no more than a few frames, while in most of the benchmarks, the WinFast motherboard was consistently awarded higher overall scores. In any case, the difference between them certainly wasn't significant.

The price at the time of this review, was US$75.99 from newegg.com, which we think is quite low for such a high performance SLI mainboard.

Pros:

Cons:

Like to be fixed

Features
Performance
BIOS/Overclocking
Value for money


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