Evesham Enforcer review
No sooner had we finished testing the pre-production MSI Neo4 for this month’s motherboard Labs than Evesham produced a complete system around the production version; it arrived with seconds to spare to make it into this issue.
nForce4 is the first chipset to support AMD processors and PCI Express, and the Enforcer comes replete with an Athlon 64 3800+ CPU. Unlike Intel’s newest chipsets, however, it doesn’t have DDR2 memory support: two of the four memory sockets are populated with standard 512MB PC3200 DIMMs.
Such is the level of peripheral integration of the Neo4 that when you pull the side panel off the Enforcer, it appears almost devoid of extras. But look at what the motherboard itself offers: seven-channel audio with attendant analog jacks; optical and coaxial S/PDIF audio out; four USB 2 ports; dual gigabit network adaptors; FireWire, serial and parallel ports. There’s little need for any more in the way of expansion cards. Consequently, the expansion slots contain just the PCI Express graphics card – a Leadtek GeForce 6600 GT with VIVO breakout cable – and a PCI V.92 modem. A modem may seem pointless and dated but can be a lifeline if your broadband service goes down and you need to send and receive urgent email.
At this price you should expect a PC with a capable monitor; the Enforcer delivers the goods. ViewSonic’s TFTs have been impressive of late and the 17in VX715 continues in the same vein. It’s bright, vibrant and viewing angles are wide enough to be forgotten. Fast animation sees some noticeable lag creeping in, but it isn’t immediately obvious. The only downside is its lack of height adjustment; the screen sits 155mm off the desk, which is a touch too high for our taste.
Inside, the Enforcer is exceptionally tidy. This is partially down to the neat cable routing that the Neo4’s layout allows: its main power header and IDE sockets are at the top-right when the board is mounted in a tower case, meaning 100 per cent access to the motherboard with no need for cables to be draped across it. It isn’t entirely down to the motherboard layout though; flap-hidden USB, FireWire and audio ports on the fascia are served from within by exceptionally neatly routed signal wires, and the IDE ribbon cables are narrow circular types rather then the old-style flat affairs, enhancing the tidy internals.
The layout also seems better spaced because the MSI board has its PCI Express 16x slot – the graphics card slot – in an unconventional position between the two PCI Express 1x and four conventional PCI slots. This is a good thing, since it gives your hands that much more space around the card if you want to upgrade to something with a little more horsepower further down the line. Overall there are two PCI Express 1x and two usable conventional PCI slots free.
Mass storage is handled by a fast and capacious 250GB Maxtor DiamondMax10 hard disk, with 16MB cache memory. This drive features NCQ (native command queuing), and nForce4 is the first AMD chipset to fully support it; it gave a definite boost to our multitasking benchmarks, although it’s no match for a full two-disk RAID0 array. It’s reassuring to see a front case fan mounted so that air is drawn freely over the drive casing; modern disks get very hot if left with no forced air cooling. The effectiveness would have increased with a complementary fan drawing air out of the back; for this configuration it isn’t a necessity, but if you add any more drives or devices it should be a consideration. With a fan-cooled south bridge heatsink adding to its acoustic signature, the Enforcer isn’t a silent machine, but its noise level isn’t high enough for us to get overly concerned.