Today we continue our Mother Memory Lane series, shifting our focus back to the beginning of the last decade, to a time when AMD had the upper hand against Intel in terms of raw performance. Our AMD series of articles kicks off with the classic Socket A (462), a CPU socket and platform which many us will recall with fondness, not least because it also involved some memorably overclockable processors. Let’s take a look at the chipsets, the processors and motherboards that defined the era, plus a few of the outstanding scores that were submitted to HWBOT.
AMD Socket A: Overview
Unlike previous Motherboard Memory Lane articles which focused on a specific platform and a specific chipset, today we’re looking at a platform from AMD which in fact spanned several different chipset designs from companies such as VIA Technologies, Nvidia, SIS and AMD themselves. From an overclocking perspective we can see Nvidia’s nForce chipset series as being the most popular, in particular the Nvidia nForce 2 Ultra 400. The VIA KT400 and KT600 may well have been the most popular in terms of units shipped globally, but it lacked the necessary performance features that overclockers craved. AMD’s 760 series was considerably less popular with SIS featuring heavily in the budget motherboard segment.
AMD’s Socket A used a zero insertion force pin grid array design with 462 pins (hence the alternative Socket 462 naming). It supported a range of K7 architecture AMD processors and core designs that spanned the period from 1999 to 2005. It supported several AMD models that included Duron, Sempron, Athlon, Athlon XP and Athlon XP-M. The AMD Athlon XP series arrived in 2001 and was an immediate hit with enthusiasts, offering superior performance than Intel equivalents, coupled with reasonably competitive prices. The Athlon XP series is regarded by many as AMD’s greatest historical moment in terms of sheer popularity with enthusiasts.
The AMD Socket A platform was one of first platforms to use double data rate memory, or DDR as we refer to it today. The platform supported Front Side Bus (FSB) speeds of 100MHz initially, with subsequent chipset supporting 133MHz, 166MHz and 200MHz. In terms of overclocking, the platform allowed users to adjust both FSB and multiplier to determine CPU clock speed. Users could also adjust AGP and PCI clock speeds to improve system stability.
Socket A motherboards supported a broad number of chipset designs that included the VIA KT400 and Nvidia nForce Ultra 400 series, both popular choices with motherboard manufacturers. Both of these chipsets use 400 in their nomenclature to indicate that they supported faster 200MHz FSB options and DDR-400 memory speeds. The nForce Ultra 400 was most popular with overclockers due to its ability reach higher clock speeds with independent CPU, memory and AGP overclocking . It featured an integrated GPU, the GeForce4 MX, supported up to 3GB of DDR-400 memory and an AGP 8X interface, the predecessor to today’s PCIe graphics card interface.
Most Popular AMD Socket A Motherboards
In today’s motherboard segment ASUS, GIGABYTE, MSI and ASRock hold sway with BIOSTAR, EVGA and some smaller vendors still managing to survive. In the Socket A era, we find the enthusiast segment to be quite different with Abit proving to be the motherboard manufacturer of choice with overclockers on HWBOT. Other vendors such as Epox and DFI are also represented in the top ten alongside ASUS. GIGABYTE, MSI and ASRock do not
- -Abit NF7-S V2.0 – 27.28%
- -Abit NF7 V2.0 – 15.38%
- -Abit – AN7 – 11.05%
- -Epox EP-8RDA3+ – 3.06%
- -ASUS A7N8X-E Deluxe – 2.85%
- -Epox EP-8RDA31 Pro – 2.37%
- -DFI LANparty NFII Ultra B – 2.32%
- -DFI Infinity NFII Ultra – 1.88%
- -ASUS A7N8X-X – 1.57%
- -ASUS A7V600-X – 1.26%
In terms of chipset choices, the majority of motherboards on the above list of use Nvidia nForce series chipsets. The most popular board is the Abit NF7-S V2.0, a board which used the NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 northbridge chipset paired with the the MCP2-T southbridge. Abit dominate the top three on the list which in total represent an incredible 53% of all Socket A submissions on HWBOT. Fourth on the list is Epox, a company now relegated to the annals of history with two boards in the top ten and just over 5% of submissions. DFI and their Infinity and LANparty branded boards were popular with enthusiasts. The company has two boards in the top ten and 4.2% of all submissions. ASUS has three boards in the top ten and 5.68% of the Socket A pie.
This is what ExtremeOvercloking.com had to say about the Abit NF7-S V2.0 in their review article back in April 2003:
“Since these boards support the 400 MHz FSB Bartons, we decided that we would start our testing a 200 FSB. We lowered the multiplier on the CPU so that every time we made an increase in FSB, the CPU would be as close to stock speed as possible. At 200 FSB, we had no problems at all. We could run any test and the NF7-S passed all of them even running Prime 95 overnight.
“We were very impressed with the NF7-S in terms of overclocking. Doing 228 straight out of the box is an amazing feat in itself. We have not tested any other boards for the AMD platform that were able to do this until now. This is definitely the best overclocking nForce 2 motherboard.”
Most Popular AMD Socket A Processor: AMD Athlon XP 2500+
The most popular CPU Socket A processor in terms of submissions is the AMD Athlon XP 2500+, a chip that was used in 4.53% of all Socket A submissions and used at some point by 17.49% of all HWBOT members. The second most popular is the AMD Athlon XP 2600+ which was used in 3.16% of all submissions while third spot goes to the Athlon 2800+ with 3.10%.
All three are based on the AMD’s Barton core which replaced previous Athlon XP models that used Palomino and Thoroughbred designs, all of which come under the general AMD K7 architecture family. Crucially, the K7 family were the first generation of CPUs from AMD that supported the new SSE instruction set.
AMD’s Barton line up is in fact the fifth generation of processors to use the Athlon name. Released in early 2003, these CPUs competed head on with Intel’s Northwood-based Pentium 4 processors which at this point in history had just help Intel regain parity with AMD in terms of performance. Barton core processors tempted enthusiasts with the promise of better performance gains thanks to a larger 512MB L2 cache and the prospect of a higher 200MHz FSB.
The Athlon XP 2500+ processor was a 32-bit CPU that had a default clock speed of 1,833MHz (333MHz x 11) with a default voltage of 1.65v and a TDP of 68 watts. It was manufactured using a 130nm (0.13 micron) copper process. It was not the high end model in the Barton core series which also featured, 2600+, 2800+, 3000+ and 3200+ models. In terms of pricing the Athlon XP 2500+ clearly hit a sweet spot for many enthusiasts, retailing for just under $100 USD.
Abit NF7-S V2.0: Record Scores
We now take a look at some of the highest scores posted using AMD’s Socket A platform and the Abit NF7-S V2.0 motherboard.
Reference clock overclocking may not be the most important benchmark in today’s world, but back in the AMD Socket A era, it was a crucial way to determine a motherboard’s ability to perform well. The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT using an Abit NF7-S V2.0 motherboard came from Bulgarian I.nfraR.ed, arguably the best overclocker on the planet with this particular board. He managed a reference clock of 281.35 MHz, 40.7% percent beyond stock settings.
You can find the submission from I.nfraR.ed here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2270492_i.nfrar.ed_reference_frequency_nf7_s_v2.0_281.35_mhz
Here’s a shot of the rig used by I.nfraR.ed which also used an Athlon XP-M 2600+, a mobile variant of the popular Barton core series that was famous among overclockers due to the incredible thermal efficiency of the chips which allowed for even greater overclocking headroom.
Although raw CPU frequencies are not really treated as true benchmarks today, they remain an important performance metric for most overclockers. The highest CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT using an Abit NF7-S V2.0 motherboard also came from I.nfraR.ed. He pushed an AMD Athlon XP-M 2500+ Barton core chip to a massive 3,713.69MHz, +99.02% beyond stock settings.
You can find the submission from I.nfraR.ed here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2522747_i.nfrar.ed_cpu_frequency_athlon_xp_m_2500_(barton)_3713.69_mhz
Finally we come to the classic SuperPi 32M benchmark, an important benchmark in terms of historical relevance. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT using an Abit NF7-S V2.0 motherboard was submitted by guess who? I.nfraR.ed of course, who again proved his talent with a run of 26min 34sec 773ms using an AMD Athlon XP-M 2500+ clocked at 3,508MHz (+88.00%)
Check out the submission from I.nfraR.ed here: http://hwbot.org/submission/2522873_i.nfrar.ed_superpi___32m_athlon_xp_m_2500_(barton)_26min_34sec_773ms
Thanks for joining us for today’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Return next week when we will focus on the AMD Socket 754 platform and the motherboards, chips and scores that defined that particular era.