Today in our Motherboard Memory Lane series we take on the classic AMD Socket 939 platform. After the heady heyday of the Socket A era, Socket 939 saw AMD build on the 64-bit architecture processors that debut on Socket 754, adding dual channel memory support, improved overclocking and eventually dual-core models. All of which makes it a memorable platform for many overclockers, especially when you thrown in some truly magnificent motherboards from DFI. Come with us as we recall the chipsets and boards that defined the era, plus a few of the scores that were submitted to HWBOT at the time.
AMD Socket 939: Overview
The AMD Socket 939 platform arrived on the market in June 2004, just nine months after the company launched its Socket 754 platform. As with Socket 754, the new platform was designed to support the latest Athlon 64 and Sempron processors, eventually going to support Athlon 64 FX and Athlon 64 X2 models. The actual Socket 939 design was in fact very similar to Socket 940 (just one pin less) which was essentially AMD’s server platform. Socket 940 supported Opteron and Athlon 64 FX chips which required registered DDR memory. In terms of design Socket 939 was launched as consumer grade platform and featured a dual memory controller and support for more affordable and readily available non-registered memory modules.
At launch the new platform arrived with a new range of Athlon 64 processors, and as with the previous Socket 754 platform, two main chipset options; VIA and Nvidia. At launch the VIA K8T800 competed against the Nvidia nForce3 platform. Eventually the most popular choice with overclockers became the Nvidia nForce4 chipset, a single chip solution that evolved to offer a 1GHz HyperTransport support and SLI support, one of the first AMD platforms to do so. While the standard nForce4 Ultra MCP (Media Communications Processor) offered 20 lanes of PCIe the nForce4 SLI packed 38 lanes of PCIe (which had now replaced the aging AGP interface). The nForce4 Ultra chipset also offered 10 USB 2.0 ports, 2x IDE ports and 4x SATA 3Gbps ports, Gigabit LAN and AC’97 2.3 audio.
One reason that Nvidia chipsets were more popular than VIA equivalents in this era was that Nvidia had managed to successfully implement a feature called PCI/AGP lock. Overclocking with AMD K8 processors usually meant raising the FSB/ HT frequency. The problem was that this also affected AGP and PCIe clocks, a fact that could make hard disk drives unstable. PCI/AGP lock was feature that allowed these frequencies to be locked down when overclocking the CPU. This dramatically improved the overclocking experience, especially for extreme overclocking were it became a ‘must have’ feature. Nvidia nForce series chipsets were regarded as having a much more reliable implementation of the PCI/AGP lock feature, a fact that makes Nvidia chipset motherboards by far the most popular on HWBOT in this era. The VIA K8T800 PRO chipset did feature PCI/AGP lock but was found to be inconsistently implemented on many motherboards.
Most Popular AMD Socket 939 Motherboard, the DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D
The Socket 939 era is one which is entirely dominated by DFI, a similar outcome to what we saw on Socket 754. However we do see ASUS reclaim some mind share with HWBOT members with a few boards in the top ten, but in terms of actual submissions DFI are well ahead of all competitors. Epox, oddly enough, are the only other manufacturer on the list with GIGABYTE, MSI, Abit and ASRock all wholly absent.
- -DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D – 29.41%
- -DFI LANParty UT NF4 SLI-DR Expert – 15.42%
- -ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe – 7.74%
- -DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-DR – 7.04%
- -DFI LANparty UT nF4 SLI-D – 3.85%
- -ASUS A8N-E – 3.77%
- -ASUS A8N-SLI Premium – 3.00%
- -DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-DR Venus – 1.94%
- -ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe – 1.88%
- -Epox EP-9NPA+ULTRA – 1.32%
DFI doubtlessly enjoyed their most popular period with overclockers in the AMD Socket 939 era, surpassing the dominant display we witnessed with the Socket 754 era. Oscar Wu was placed in charge of the LANparty division just a few years previously, a move which heralded the start of the company pumping out solid motherboards that offered the best overclocking experience possible. The DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D motherboard (below) was used in 29.41% of all submissions, massive proof of just how popular DFI were with overclockers in the Socket 939 era.
Incredibly DFI have five out of ten motherboards in the top ten above, with these five boards being used in a massive 57.66% of all Socket 939 platform submissions on HWBOT. Although the ROG brand was still a year or two from being created, ASUS managed to see four boards in the top ten. Alas, combined these four boards can muster only 16.39% of the submission pie. Epox have one board, the EP-9NPA+ULTRA with 1.32% of all submissions.
On the topic of DFI nForce4 motherboards, this is what Wesley Fink had to say as he awarded the board a Gold Editor’s Choice award on behalf of Anandtech back in July 2005:
The DFI exhibits above average performance at stock speeds, but it is the best overclocker of bus speeds that we have ever tested – reaching 318×9 with a 4000+ CPU. It was also just behind the Epox in overclocking at stock speeds. The DFI nF4 boards remain to be the only motherboards to fully support high voltage high-speed 2-2-2 memory with memory voltages to 4.0V for OCZ VX and Mushkin Redline memory.
The DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D is the ultimate enthusiast board at a value price with overclocking performance that will never require an apology. DFI’s nForce4 boards have quickly become a legend among enthusiasts.
Most Popular AMD Socket 939 Processor: AMD Athlon 64 3000+ (Venice)
The AMD K8 architecture series arrived in 2003 on the Socket 754 platform. Notable changes from the popular K7 series included the fact that the new platform debuted a 64-bit version of Intel’s x86 instruction set, added SSE2 instructions, used a new HyperTransport bus between chipset and CPU. Crucially, the memory controller was moved from the chipset to the processor itself.
The first chips sold under the new Athlon 64 brand were based on the Clawhammer architecture and arrived using the Socket 754 platform. By the time we get to June 2004 and the arrival of Socket 939, we find the platform launching with several Athlon 64 models based on Clawhammer and Newcastle architectures. These differed from Socket 754 models, adding dual channel memory support and a higher 1GHz HyperTransport bus.
The most popular Socket 939 processor in terms of HWBOT submissions is the Athlon 64 3000+ which was actually in 8.78% of all Socket 939 submissions. This processor arrived later, in April 2015 and was based on the updated Venice architecture which included support for the SSE3 (Streaming SIMD Extensions 3) instruction set. It retailed for around $240 USD at launch, significantly cheaper than the top 3800+ which was closer to $400 USD. The Athlon 64 3000+ was manufactured using AMD’s 90nm process, had a default clock of 1,800MHz, a 512MB L2 cache and a TDP of 67 watts.
Other popular processors in this era include the Athlon 64 3700+ (San Diago) and the Athlon 64 3200+ (Venice) model, both with 6.94% of all submissions. The beauty of these chips from an overclocking perspective is that they were unlocked and highly pushable. The fact that you could take an Athlon 64 3000+ and raise its clock frequency from its default 1.8GHz to 2.4Ghz without too much bother, meant that it was the perfect choice for overclockers. Good old days indeed!
This is what Hexus reviewer Tarinder Sandhu had to say on the topic back in June 2005:
There’s much to like about a processor that hits a 50% overclock with almost default voltage and goes that bit higher with a touch more VCore, especially when it only costs £100 or so in the first place… If you’ve already got a decent S939 motherboard on your hands it would be almost criminal not to try an Athlon 64 3000+ E3-stepping CPU. Sure, it’s not hugely fast at default speeds, but I’d be amazed if 2.5GHz wasn’t a given and 3GHz on the cards with better cooling. There’s just something rather naughty but nice about 50% overclocks with near-default voltage. For once, you can have your cake and eat it! Yum.
LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D: Record Scores
We now take a look at some of the highest scores posted on HWBOT using AMD’s Socket 939 platform and the LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D motherboard.
Reference clock overclocking may not be the most important benchmark in today’s world, but back in the AMD Socket 939 era, it was a crucial way to determine a motherboard’s ability to perform well. The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT using an DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D motherboard came from Romania’s Micutzu who managed a reference clock of 588MHz using an AMD Athlon 64 3000+ clocked at 2,352MHz (588 x4).
Here’s a shot of the LN2 cooled rig from Micutzu:
You can find the submission from Micutzu here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2113111_micutzu_reference_frequency_lanparty_ut_nf4_ultra_d_588_mhz
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 a DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D motherboard came from Frenchman boblemagnifique. He pushed an AMD Athlon 64 FX-57 San Diego core chip to a massive 4,132.23MHz which is an impressive +47.58% beyond stock settings.
You can find the submission fromboblemagnifique here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2466045_boblemagnifique_cpu_frequency_athlon_64_fx_57_(san_diego)_4132.23_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 a DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D motherboard was submitted by I.nfraR.ed from the Bulgaria with a run of 19min 37sec 469ms using an AMD Athlon 64 3800+ Venice chip clocked at 3,705MHz (+54.38%).
Here’s a shot of the LN2 cooled rig from I.nfraR.ed
Check out the submission from I.nfraR.ed here: http://hwbot.org/submission/2539596_i.nfrar.ed_superpi___32m_athlon_64_3800_(venice)_19min_37sec_469ms
Thanks for joining us for today’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Return next week when we will fondly recall the AMD Socket AM2 platform and the motherboards, chips and scores that defined that particular passage of history.