Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-9 review
There is little disputing that nVidia’s SLI is an exciting technology for gamers and workstation users, but it is overkill for most systems.
The £46 Biostar K8NHA Grand remains an excellent deal, although its Socket 754 processor slot is now being pushed firmly to the bottom end of the market, restricting your choice of processors. The Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-9 is the best Socket 939 Athlon 64 board we have yet seen, with a raft of performance-enhancing features that make it an attractive candidate for anyone building a new PC. Using an Athlon 64 4000+, 1GB of PC3200 DDR RAM and a Western Digital Raptor hard disk, the GA-K8NXP-9 scored a respectable 2.18 in our application benchmarks.
There is no shortage of high-end features either: the nForce4 Ultra chipset utilises Serial ATA II, which allows a theoretical maximum data throughput of 3Gb/sec. You will not find a hard disk that fast for quite some time, but the high-end ethos sets the tone for rest of the board. There is a Silicon Image 3114 RAID chip as well, allowing the board to support up to eight Serial ATA devices with a variety of RAID options.
The nForce4 chipset also boasts cross-compatibility, meaning you can pair Ultra ATA devices with Serial ATA devices in a RAID array. This will bring a theoretical performance hit, but it is a potentially useful feature. Legacy and optical drives are catered for by two Ultra ATA/133 channels.
The backplane sports dual gigabit Ethernet ports, one supported by the nForce4 chipset, and the other courtesy of a Marvell 8053 chip. There is also full, eight-channel audio support powered by Realtek’s 7.1 channel ALC850 chip, and audiophiles will be pleased with the coaxial S/PDIF in and out sockets too. Four USB 2 sockets on the back and a further three USB risers on the board itself give a total of ten USB 2 ports. If you are a media buff, you will like the twin FireWire risers, which power up to three FireWire ports supplied on a backplate. There is even an 802.11b/g wireless PCI card thrown in for good measure. Two PCI Express 1x slots and one PCI Express 16x join the three conventional PCI slots.
The layout of the GA-K8NXP-9 is pleasingly straightforward: you will have to find an outrageous heatsink to start interfering with the capacitors surrounding the CPU socket. The USB, FireWire and SATA risers are grouped together in the bottom corner of the motherboard, so large clusters of wiring will be localised. Most of the risers are in enclosures to make connections straightforward too.
There is more to like on the software side: nVidia’s nTune utility will intelligently overclock your system until it becomes unstable, at which point it will reset the board to the fastest maximum speed. Best of all, it is automatic, changing overclocking from something done just by enthusiasts and experts to a task anyone can do with a click of the mouse.
The Gigabyte is an expensive board compared to the Biostar K8NHA Grand, but it offers both better performance and an impressive array of features to keep power users and system builders happy. In terms of features, the fairest comparisons are to Intel’s much more expensive 925 chipset boards, which cost anything up to £40 more than the GA-K8NXP-9. As such, the GA-K8NXP-9 takes a well-deserved spot on the A List.