Date: May 16, 2007
Author(s): Greg King
If you are planning on buying an Intel motherboard, chances are it has an Intel or NVIDIA chipset. Where does ATI fit in? DFI’s ICFX3200 features the RD600 chipset, and we will see how it compares to other boards we’ve reviewed in the past.
When AMD acquired ATi late last year, the industry was left with a few questions. One of those uncertainties was the future of the then unreleased ATi RD600 chipset for Intel’s monster CPU Core 2 Duo lineup. With ATi being purchased by Intel’s main competitor, no one really expected the ATi (AMD) chipset see the light of day.
To date, there has only been one company to build a board around this chipset and with RD600 touted as a gamer’s chipset, it’s no surprise that DFI picked the chipset up and carried it to market. Before its unfortunate demise, we had a working relationship with All American Computers in Terre Haute, Indiana. It was there that we got our first look at the early samples of the RD600. Back then, it was on an engineering motherboard but it did get us excited for the time it was released for consumers.
With their LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G, DFI is the only motherboard manufacturer that builds boards using this chipset and quite possibly, will remain the only one. Boasting the capability of overclocking the memory and CPU buses asynchronous, the RD600 chipset seems like it was destined for DFI to produce.
It will be interesting to see how the UT ICFX3200-T2R/G performs as ATi doesn’t exactly have a pearly reputation as an enthusiast chipset manufacturer. To put it another way, how will the bastard child of ATi and Intel perform when put up against other enthusiast chipsets readily available now? Throughout the review, as in our past reviews of motherboards, we will be comparing performance numbers between this board and others of similar capabilities.
At the end of the day, we should have an idea of how well the UT ICFX3200-T2R/G stacks up against the competition, as well as see if the RD600 chipset has lived up to the hype that many of us (me included) are guilty of.
Mentioned earlier, the RD600 chipset was designed by ATi for Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs. With AMD purchasing ATi last October, this put ATi in an interesting position. Ultimately the chipset made its way through the channels and by way of DFI’s engineers, wound up on our bench. First up though, lets take a look at the chipset itself and see what it brings to the table.
Of the many features that the DFI UT ICFX3200-T2R/G offers, the most notables are the support for all Core 2 CPUs, independent FSB and memory overclocking capabilities, 1066MHz FSB and 1066MHz DDR2 support and not two, but three x16 PCI-E slots. This is ATi’s answer to Ageia’s PhysX card. A pair of GPUs can be run in CrossFire (x8, x8) while the third slot can by used for physics with a smaller, less powerful ATi GPU. Using the SB600 Southbridge, the UT ICFX3200-T2R/G also provides 3 PCI slots, RAID support and high definition audio thanks to the Realtek ALC885 chip on the Karajan audio module.
In typical DFI fashion, the box is bright and covered with not only information about the ICFX3200 but also a pair of gamers who appear to be straight out of a Gorillaz music video.
The board, as stated in the upper right hand corner supports a variety of RAID configurations made possible by not only the SB600 southbridge, but also by a separate, dedicated Promise chip, providing another 4 SATA II ports and bringing with it, RAID 5 capabilities.
Bundled with the ICFX3200, DFI has included all the require cables, driver disks, There is an I/O plate, a small sticker, SATA to Molex adapters and the manual. While DFI clearly didn’t go to far out of their way to provide a memorable bundle, it is solid and contains everything that one would need to get started.
Moving onto the board, as usual, the layout and design of the ICFX3200 is what we have come to expect from companies like DFI. Aside from the horrible layout of the Infinity 975X/G, the DFI boards that we have worked with have all been top notch in the design area. Using an all black PCB, the ICFX3200 looks incredible and in typical DFI fashion, everything on the board glows. With UV reactive orange and yellow plastic, the ICFX3200 is sure to stand out in any windowed case.
As we talked about earlier, the RD600 chipset gives us the opportunity to use three PCI-E x16 cards at once. Placed in between the x16 slots are three PCI 2.2 slots for those of you who with a discrete sound, NIC, or PhysX card. We also see a small LCD readout at the bottom left of the board. This can be used to diagnose any errors that might occur during the boot sequence.
Just to the right of the CPU area, we have the memory slots. With 4 DIMMs and each set of slots color coded for the dual channel crowd, the ICFX3200 can support up to 8GBs of system DDR2 memory.
In the lower right hand corner of the board, we find the BIOS chip and battery, the USB headers, the copper Southbridge heatsink, and the enthusiast and benchmarker’s best friends, the power and reset buttons. We can also see the four SATA II ports that the Promise RAID chip provides. With these four ports, the total number of drives supported is a staggering 8.
As we just mentioned, the Southbridge is kept cool with the help of a copper heatsink. Held on with a pair of spring mounted push pins, the heatsink not only looks good but should provide adequate cooling for the Southbridge.
Out of everything, the most dominating feature of the board itself if the large copper heatsink intended to keep the RD600 chipset cool. While the heatsink does provide a good amount of surface area for heat dissipation, the flat horizontal piece on top might not have been the best of ideas in this editor’s opinion.
With reports all over the internet about the heat that the RD600 chipset produces, airflow will be impeded with this flat piece sitting on top. The other point of contention that I have with this heatsink is the way that DFI went about attaching it to the motherboard. Using hooks instead of the usual holes and pins, mounting an after market heatsink on the chipset is almost impossible.
One way around this is through Danger Den. They manufacture a water block that can be mounted using the hook method that DFI has used. While this is ideal for those who are using water to chill the chipset, this offers absolutely nothing for those sticking with conventional air cooling.
Running along the right side of the ICFX3200, the SB600 SATA II ports, an IDE port, a 90 degree floppy connector as well as the primary 24 pin power connector can be found. I am a huge fan of the 90 degree floppy connector and with that DFI would have done the same thing with the IDE.
One of the many things that set DFI apart from the competition is their Karajan audio module. Providing high definition 8 channel audio, the Karajan uses the Realtek ALC885 CODEC which makes the ICFX3200 ideal for users that are considering HD-DVD or BluRay as the CODEC supports content protection. Also included on the back of the I/O panel are the standard PS2 ports for a keyboard and mouse, a whopping total of 6 USB 2.0 ports, a firewire port, SPDIF jacks and a pair of gigabit LAN NICs.
Near the bottom of the board, directly above the bottom PCI-E x16 slot is the Promise RAID PDC40719 chip. This not only adds 4 more SATA II ports to the board, but also gives the user the ability to run RAID 5, adding to the versatility of the ICFX3200.
Taking a closer look at the power and reset switches, when pressed at the same time, this is supposed to clear the CMOS. This is convenient for those of us who do not use the board in a case but for those who do use this board in a PC chassis, this process can be done by holding down the power and reset buttons on their case. This is a very simply idea but one that saves a ton of time when overclocking harder than normal.
Looking around the board, we see the voltage regulators at the top of the board. The 6 phase digital power regulators that DFI uses on all of their LANParty boards keep the area around the CPU far more open than it would be if capacitors were still being used. To keep the 6 phase management MOSFETs cooler, DFI has used a heatsink not unlike the one used on the northbridge. While we don’t care for the design of the heatsink, at least this one will be directly in the path of most air coolers.
Located just behind the power module heatsink is the auxiliary 8 pin power connector. While not ideal, in PC cases where the power supply is at the top, this should not be a problem and in fact, will help keep the bulky power cables out of the way.
While we are looking at power connectors, there is an interesting set just above the top 2 PCI-E x16 slots. These are the only two slots suitable for graphics cards and it just so happens that there are 4 pin floppy power connectors to help provide power to the GPUs.
Finally, we examine the area surrounding the CPU. In our Commando review, we were amazed by the open space around the socket and the DFI ICFX3200 is no different. Due in no small part to the digital voltage regulators and the solid caps, the area around the CPU is open enough to allow the installation of even the largest of air coolers.
Prepare to be overwhelmed. Next up, the BIOS.
The one thing that DFI has been known for over the past couple of years has been their enthusiast oriented motherboards. It’s no secret that the way to an enthusiast’s heart is through his/hers hardware’s ability to be overclocked. No overclocking board is worth its weight if it cant be overclocked and one of the biggest keys to a successful overclock is the settings used in the BIOS.
It should be stated here and now that this is the most impressive, tweaker friendly BIOS I have ever worked with. Using a standard Phoenix – Award BIOS, DFI has taken it and unlocked almost every conceivable tweak one could think of. The bulk of the settings involve the northbridge and the memory but outside of that, the BIOS is like any other one available today.
Starting at the main screen, nothing new is offered here. The main menu is the doorway to the ICFX3200’s many options.
Moving into the advanced features, the time, date and various other options can be found here. For me, one of the first things that I do is disable the startup screen and change up the boot sequence. These options can be found here and are similar to any other motherboard BIOS out there.
Moving on, the next screen that we come to is the advanced chipset menu. In here, we can change the chipset options as well as the PCI-E settings. One important piece to work on is the chipset and DFI knows this.
Next are the integrated peripherals. This screen allows us to control the mouse and keyboard options, as well as power on options.
In the power management section, we have the options to control more power settings should we choose to do so. I did not use any settings here other than default.
Here are the plug and play settings, as well as the PCI configurations.
From the PC health screen, we can monitor our fan speeds as well as critical system temperatures. Notice the chipset temperature. This screen was taken shortly after the PC was started up.
In the Genie BIOS menu, this is where the meat of the BIOS can be found. With options to control almost every setting known to mankind, and then some, the ICFX3200’s BIOS is easily the most in depth, tweaker friendly BIOS I have ever worked with. The BIOS gives you the ability to change many different voltage settings and tweak your way into a stable power setting.
Moving onto the one that interests most people, the FSB section. This is also where you can control your PCI-E frequency, the northbridge strap as well as overclock your memory independently of the front side bus.
The most in depth section can be found in the memory screen. Many different memory timing options can be found here. This is definitely something for only the most seasoned of overclockers. In all honesty, prior to this review, I had no clue what most of these settings meant. Its instances like this that we remember why Google’s stock is so high. A simple round of googling provided me with plenty of explanations.
The final screen is the DFI CMOS reloaded. This allows the user to save successful overclock settings and load them at a later time. This is perfect if you have a stable overclock but tweak one thing incorrectly. With CMOS reloaded, you can load the saved setting and be back in business in no time.
Lost? The ICFX3200 BIOS is overwhelming to say the least. The settings that can be changed are vast and can be intimidating for those that do not know what they mean. This is a tweaker’s BIOS here.
Before we get into the tests, I would like to point out that with a GPU installed in the top slot, it will be virtually impossible to change out RAM as the video card’s PCB is just to close to the memory DIMMs. Nothing incredibly different from many other motherboard available today but something that we feel should be pointed out.
In our last motherboard review, we looked at the Asus Commando. In that review we stated that in order to keep relevant results, the same hardware will be used in each review this editor does. Until we see an absolute need to change our benching hardware, we will continue to use the following hardware:
Throughout the review process, we will be using a suite of benchmarks that we have used in the past and feel that these benchmarks, some real world and some synthetic, will provide a fair comparison to each of the motherboards used.
When benchmarking the games, we use FRAPS to get an average frame rate over a set amount of time. The same save game is used on each motherboard and each run is completed three different times. The results are then averaged for a final overall score.
First up is Cinebench. In this benchmark, a picture is rendered once using a single core and if the PC is using a dual core processor, it will then render the same picture using more than one core. While technically a synthetic benchmark, it does give an example across the board, of the CPU performance of each of the motherboards. In Cinebench, there is virtually zero difference between the three chipsets.
The next bench on our list is a favorite of ours here at Techgage. Sciencemark runs an array of scientific calculations and at the end, it gives us a score based on how well the CPU was able to calculate the tests. In our tests, we always run the molecular dynamics and cipher bench tests. The RD600 calls short in Sciencemark but not by much.
n PC Mark ’05, many different tests are run to test out each of the important components in a PC. The benchmark was designed to simulate real world usage patterns and in doing so, it provides a complete performance overview of the entire system. This is still a synthetic benchmark, but is an industry standard and this is why we use it in our tests.
The results are spotty on this one. The RD600 looses to the other chipsets in the HDD and CPU tests, bests out the others significantly in the graphics test, and runs in the middle in the memory and overall tests.
Another favorite is 3D Mark ’06. The benchmark is a graphics and CPU stressing beast and can quite easily bring a PC to its knees. It’s because of this that we use it. Overall, the RD600 is right in the middle of the pack.
In Super Pi, Pi is calculated to a determined value. In our tests, we calculate Pi to 1 million places, 4 million and 8 million. This gives us a decent idea of CPU performance compared to other platforms. When calculating Pi, the RD600 falls behind the P965 and bests the 975X chipsets.
To test the subsystem, HD Tach is used. We test both USB and SATA hard drives. Once again, the ICFX3200 is right in the middle with very little difference between the three boards. In the USB test, the ICFX3200 was significantly slower than the rest.
Now we get to the games. The games we are using are Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and F.E.A.R. As stated earlier, each of these games are benched three different time using the same saved game and the results are averaged.
In Ghost Recon, as in the other benchmarks, the ICFX3200 was right between the two other motherboards. In a real world gaming session though, there is virtually no difference between 48.8 fps and 50.2.
In F.E.A.R., we see the same results as the Ghost Recon. The ICFX3200 has found itself right between the other two boards.
In S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the Commando and the ICFX3200 finished with virtually the same score with the DFI Infinity just one frame per second behind.
When testing CrossFire, we see more of the same. The scores of the Infinity and the ICFX3200 are virtually the same. We did run into problems running CrossFire on the Commando but after exhaustive testing, this turned out to be the fault of the x1900 CrossFire master card and not of the motherboard itself.
Unfortunately, we did not have the time to get the replacement card in and retest the Commando with both cards. I cannot imagine it doing any better for the simple reason that the P965 chipset that it runs does not handle CrossFire properly. One lane will run at x8 while the other is locked at x4.
I must admit, the BIOS settings were a bit much for me at first. It certainly took some book time to catch up to speed with what everything did. We first worked to find the highest FSB that we could achieve. With a small bump in voltage on both the CPU and the northbridge, we were able to get as high as 447MHz with the E6600 multiplier set to 6.
While this isn’t as high as the 475 that we achieved with the Commando, I am confident that there is plenty more in the board but I honestly was overwhelmed by the different options, especially the voltage settings.
With overclocking out of the way, our mood concerning this board is mixed at best. The performance of the ICFX3200 was middle of the road on almost all of the tests but when compared to the Infinity, it overclocked much better and placed against the Commando, the true CrossFire capabilities are certainly a plus. Of the three boards used in the review, the ICFX3200 wins hands down from an enthusiast’s point of view.
The amount of options available and at the disposal of the user is staggering. If overclocking isn’t your bag, there are many more boards available that deserve your consideration. If one thing can be said, the ICFX3200 is not a perfect motherboard. However, while not perfect, it is a very solid board and throughout the testing, remained completely stable.
Something should be said for DFI and their commitment to bringing this chipset to production. While it doesn’t live up to the hype that it once had prior to launch, it comes close and has earned an 8 out of 10.
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