Scan 3XS Taipan review
Scan was the first system integrator to show us SLI in a working system, with its stunning Athlon 64-based White Cobra. This time, it’s first to deliver a system based on nVidia’s new nForce4 platform for LGA775 Intel processors.
Given the feature-rich nForce4 for Athlon chipset, it’s no surprise that this Intel version is packed with luxuries. For starters, there’s gigabit Ethernet with ActiveArmour hardware firewall, a Serial ATA2-compatible RAID controller, plus support for up to 10 USB 2 ports. But the most notable feature is support for SLI. With the 16 PCI Express lanes evenly split, each graphics card has a theoretical 2GB/sec bandwidth in both directions.
The south bridge is impressive, but the major work for nVidia was making a new north bridge to replace AMD’s CPU-integrated memory controller. This supports a front side bus of up to 1,033MHz (quad-pumped), overclockable to 1,200MHz. Then there’s DASP 3 (Dynamic Adaptive Speculative Pre-processor), which is claimed to be ‘the industry’s most sophisticated and complex prefetcher’, and QuickSync, which minimises latency when moving data from the FSB clock domain to the memory clock domain, even if these are asynchronous. Significantly, the chipset is also capable of taking Intel’s dual-core processors off the shelf. Beware, though, that this is dependent on individual motherboards, and we weren’t able to test this on the Scan’s pre-production board.
For this system, Scan has teamed the new platform with the equally new Pentium 4 660. Clocked at 3.6GHz, its 2MB Level 2 cache helps it to almost match the performance of the model 570 clocked at 3.8GHz. Production models of the Taipan will come with 2GB of ultra-fast Corsair XMS2 DDR2 RAM, specially made for nForce4 SLI Intel Edition motherboards. It’s clocked at 675MHz and is so cutting edge that Scan couldn’t get hold of any in time for our review, but expect it to bump up our application benchmark score of 1.93 by a notch. This isn’t as fast as we’d hoped, but this motherboard is one of only three reference boards currently in existence and still has a few gremlins.
It’s also worth noting that while our system used Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 hard disks, Scan will offer a choice of Western Digital Raptor, Maxtor DiamondMax 10 or Seagate 7800.2 hard disks, improving the performance even further. These will take full advantage of the four Serial ATA ports to set up a RAID5 array, which stripes both data and parity information across at least three drives, giving a theoretical boost over RAID0.
The board itself has a typical layout, with two PCI Express and two PCI slots. There are two IDE connectors for legacy connections and four Serial ATA ports from the nForce4 controller.
One major omission from our nVidia reference board, though, was fan headers. As such, the system came without any case fans. In a salutary lesson to the dangers of overheating, the Taipan suffered numerous stability issues. Installing a rear exhaust settled things down, and Scan assures us that the system will come with a pair of 120mm fans, which should be ample.
In testing, our 3D benchmarks cowered in the face of the dual 512MB GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics cards with their combined 1GB of memory. Every game we threw at this machine was playable at 1,600 x 1,200 with 4x AA and 8x AF. Doom 3 broke the 60fps barrier, while Far Cry scored 58fps. Half-Life 2 was even faster at 76fps. So, if you want a machine that will play this summer’s games at high resolutions with maximum detail, look no further.