Foxconn WinFast 6150K8MA-8EKRS review
The nForce4 chipset has been a huge success for nVidia, forming the basis of practically every Socket 939 AMD-based system we see. Nonetheless, there was a significant gap for other chipset makers to exploit, as until recently nVidia boldly claimed it wouldn’t bother with integrated graphics.
There are two major reasons for nVidia’s change of strategy. First, the challenge from the competitors. Uniquely in its price range, ATi’s Radeon Xpress X300 chip can team up with a discrete graphics card to provide a three-display setup. Intel is prominent in the integrated graphics market too, with its 945G and 915GM chipsets strong contenders for both desktop systems and notebooks.
The other factor is the growing digital media market. There’s increasing competition here from such board builders as AOpen with its excellent i915GMm-HFS. This Pentium M board gives excellent video-out options (including component out), while being both compact and quiet.
nVidia’s answer comes in three forms: the GeForce 6150 GPU with the nForce 430 MCP (Media and Communications Processor); the 6100 GPU with 430 MCP; and the 6100 GPU with 410 MCP. Compared to the 410 MCP, the 430 offers extras like nVidia’s hardware firewall, Gigabit Ethernet, four SATA connectors and RAID0+1 and RAID5. The 410 still supports RAID0 and RAID1 arrays, but only two SATA connectors.
Anyone expecting stunning 3D performance from nVidia’s integrated GPUs will be disappointed: even the top-end 6150 on test with the Foxconn board could only muster playable frame rates at 800 x 600 in Unreal Tournament 2004. This is no surprise, as there are just two vertex engines and two pixel shaders. Instead, the focus of these GPUs is primarily on video.
As a 6-series GPU, they have hardware-based MPEG2 decoding for DVD playback. When coupled with the PureVideo Windows Media Player plug-in, it aims to take some of the processing load from the CPU, enhance image quality and add support for advanced digital audio. In practice, we saw few differences between this and the DVD playback software that came with our DVD drive. Oversaturated skin tones become significantly more natural, but we saw no noticeable drop in CPU use – we recommend the free 30-day trial from http://store.nvidia.com before purchase.
Foxconn is clearly embracing this home theatre angle, as this board shares the same micro-ATX form factor as AOpen’s i915GM-HFS, making it especially suitable for more discreet and compact systems. It’s fast too: its scores were near-identical to the full-blown nForce4 SLI chipset.
The choice of Socket 939 also gives a lot of flexibility, supporting everything from an £80 Athlon 64 3000+ to a top-end Athlon X2 4800+ currently retailing at around £615. We’d be tempted by a 3800+, costing around £200, as a dual-core media centre makes a lot of sense: you could frequently be running virus checks in the background, while simultaneously recording and streaming video.
Foxconn provides four RAM sockets supporting a maximum of 4GB, plus three PCI slots – handy for dual TV tuners and a sound card, for example, if you prefer to replace the onboard eight-channel AC97 Realtek codec. The single PCI Express 16x slot could be used to upgrade the graphics power further at some point, or can be used as a 1x slot for other peripherals – perhaps a high-definition or dual-digital TV tuner card when they arrive. Some will be disappointed by the lack of dedicated 1x slots, though. Also, video output options on the board itself are limited to the D-SUB VGA connection on the backplane and the S-Video backplate.