DFI Lanparty KT400A
DFI recently published their new LANParty motherboard series and offers a KT400A, nForce2 and i875P LANParty board. Carrying idea seems to be offer most comprehensive integration, best bundle and stunning looks. This time we look a bit closer DFI LANPARTY KT400A motherboard.
Via has been leading AMD chipset maker over the few past years but after the nForce2 was introduced its market share has been decreased. NForce2s integrated features and speed have been superior compared to VIAs KT333 and KT400 chipsets and with KT400A VIA is surely trying to beat nVidias lead.
KT400A differs from its predecessor only by its memory controller. VIA didn't introduced dual channel memory controller as expected but instead KT400A offers all new FastStream64 Technology. Faststream Technology is supposed to make KT400A faster than NF2 only with one channel. Via claims that dual channel is waste of recources as without an integrated display adapter memory bus is much too wide compared to EV6 bus between CPU and NB. In addition to FastStream64 Technology KT400A finally supports DDR400 memory modules.
Regarding to specs KT400A is clearly inferior compared to NF2. Old VT8235 southbridge supports most important features such as ATA-133, USB2.0 and 6-channel audio but lacks network, firewire and SATA-features. Good thing is that chipset is supposed to be cheap so it will surely find its way to the low end motherboards and that way interest many customers who are not ready to invest most feature rich and fastest possible motherboard.
Enormous LANParty box holds inside absolutely most versatile and special motherboard that I have ever seen. Starting with big and nice box (it has even a handle) my first moments with a brand new motherboard were like Christmas morning. Besides motherboard I found unbelievable amount of little christmas presents inside the package. In addition to normal bundle (I/O-panel, manuals, driver CD) DFI has packed lots of interesting goodies such as UV-sensitive rounded cables, PC Transpo (which is PC system transport gear), FrontX (fully featured case front panel), SATA cable, SATA power adapter, S/PDIF- and gameport backpanel I/O:s, thermal paste, LANParty sticker, pack of extra jumper caps and Intervideo Win Cinema DVD software. Unbelievable amount of LANParty stuff!
This time I certainly won't complain about a bundle as every bundled product is surely handy on LAN machine. DFI has obviously taken step ahead and provided us most comprehensive and practical bundle which I have ever seen. Next we look a bit closer what we actually have. ( lists are ripped directly from LANParty homepage)
- UV-sensitive illuminated round cables, slots and sockets
- Replaces old, fat and flat cables
- Unique and cool UV-sensitive illuminated colors
- Round-shaped design minimizes the clutter and maximizes the space in your case
- Optimizing the airflow and temperature control of your system
- 2 HDD and 1 FDD cables included
Perhaps most visible feature as UV-sensitive motherboard and cables sure look good on windowed computer case. I could think that if I had to build as good looking system as possible this motherboard would be definitely my first choiche.
- Optimizes links between on-board headers and case front panel
- Simply choose your desired ports and create your own FRONTX system
- Unlimited expansion possibilities: MIC, USB, FireWire, Speaker, anything goes
I really liked FrontX. Reasons are clear because it is fully modifiable and I get rid of needless connectors and therefore extra cable mess. Magnificent device if you already don't have most needed connectors installed your case's front panel.
- A solid and handy PC system transport gear
- Travel with your PC anywhere
- Absolutely perfect for all types of LAN party occasions
- Thermal paste included
- Fits full ATX tower
- Can hold other accessories, such as keyboard, mouse, Cat5 cable and other equipment all together
- Exclusive and oustanding LANParty gamer ID kit (case badge and sticker)
This was the most suprising bundled goodie in my opinion. I found PC Transpo to be really handy device for what is it designed for.
InterVideo WinDVD and WinRip included
- The most popular DVD and MP3 software for free
- Dolby Digital supported
I have recently noticed that Intervideo WinDVD and WinRip software got to be most bundled software these days. Although I like the software it could be nicer to only have one licence, not bunch of them. Little more unique software could be better.
Round Corner PCB
- Provides better durability with a round corner design
- Helps prevent motherboard edges from cracking during accidental bumping
Gigabyte introduced this nice feature some time ago and now DFI offers it on LANParty series. Rounded corners are quite refreshing as they look nice compared to old design but happily there are seldom situations when they are really needed.
Round Corner PCB
Dual LAN Connections
- Enjoy WAN connection while communicating with LAN at the same time via 2 separate LAN ports
- Saves you money and trouble on installing LAN cards
- Perfect for LAN party fun and home networking purposes
Dual LAN is quite familiar serverboard feature and now it is coming to home use too. Many homes have more than one computer and setting up a home network is in order. Sharing an Internet connection usually requires two network adapters and here we have them for free. Only complaints here is that at least one network adapter could have supported fast gigabit LAN.
Dual LAN Connections
Ultra Bright Diagnostic LEDs
- By looking at the LED status and referring to the manual, the diagnostic LED codes can help the user pinpoint where the system is having problems
I was forced turn to this handy feature during the tests as first test processor didn't want to power up and diagnostic LEDs showed me straight that CPU was one to blame. Nice feature indeed.
- Fully support RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and the magical 1.5
- The ultimate RAID 1.5 integrates the advantages of RAID 0 and RAID 1 with only 2 HDDs instead of 4
- Performance improved, data secured and money saved
Most important feature of RAID 1.5 is to offer RAID-0 performance and RAID-1 safety by using only two hard drives. In practise this means that in RAID 1.5 same data is written to both disks (RAID-1) but when reading data it is gathered on both disks (RAID-0). Unfortunately in this review I was unable to test this unique feature but some other hardware sites have tested it and performance have been somewhere between RAID-1 and RAID-0. It remains to be seen if RAID 1.5 become popular or it is just weird and unique feature of LANParty series.
EZ On and EZ Touch
- Custom-designed on-board power and reset switches
- Perfect for PC DIY fans and overclockers
- Start and reset your system without a case
I have liked on-board power and reset switches since Abit introduced them on TH7II. I often use motherboards without case and without switches turning power on is so much annoying that I really wonder why every motherboard don't have these.
on-board power and reset switches
- Automatic online update of the latest BIOS from DFI database
- Real-time service exclusively designed for DFI LANParty series owners
Fully automatic BIOS update sound quite hazardous, doesn't it? Fortunately you can always chooce not to use it and update your bios manually.
- Perfect for optimizing system performance and overclocking desire
- Ultra fine-tune for CPU clock / multiplier / voltage
- Great fine-tune capability for AGP, chipset and DIMM
- CPU fan protection: Automatic system shut down when CPU fan failure detected
- CPU temperature protection: Automatic system shut down when CPU is overheating
In the past DFI has not been overclockers favorite motherboard brand because lack of OC features. With Genie BIOS DFI now offers extensive OC settings. Surely good thing.
It seems that DFI has gathered all greatest and praised features on the same board and even introduced one new and unique feature RAID 1.5.
DFI Lanparty KT400A
I have to say that this motherboad has the looks. Black PCB and yellow slots and sockets are perhaps best looking combo that I have ever seen. Layout is also very good, DIMM slots are far away from AGP slot, IDE connectors are nicely located and Socket A is not too close to the PCBs edge.
AGP & DIMMs & Socket A
Bios flashrom is interestingly located behind PCI slots but Clear CMOS jumper is still easily within reach. On-board power and reset switches are perhaps little too close RAID IDE connectors and in my opinion edge of the PCB would have been better place. As a whole I think motherboard layout is very well designed.
Voltage regulating is located at the left top corner. CPU voltage regulating uses 12V so P4 power connector is needed. ATX power connector is located near voltage regulating as it should be but thinking about air flow and cable mess right top corner would have been better.
Voltage regulating is two phased and the board is fitted with KZG Low ESR Aluminum electrolytic capacitors ( 6x 6,3V 3300uF and 3x 16V 1500uF) Sharp-eyed reader probably notice temperature sensor in the middle of the Socket A (MB sensor is located beyond third PCI slot). I am quite sure that because of CPU temperature protection, motherboard is capable to read Athlon XPs internal heat sensor but I didn't found any way to check it reading on the BIOS or with third-party software on the OS. Four mounting holes are present but nearest capacitors might interfere with large heatsinks like Thermalright SLK-900-U. Passive northbridge cooling is excellent choice as it is usually effective enought and if not, 40x40 fan is very easy to install on big heatsink.
LANParty KT400A is not just style and bundle, there is rich featured motherboard behind. This board is one integration miracle. SATA, 5.1 audio, Firewire etc. they are all present. Taking into consideration that KT400A + VT8235 comination is quite limited when it comes to features it is a little miracle how DFI managed to get all this on the same board. Next list shows most important features.
- 333+MHz FSB (max. 400 MHz)
- AGP 8x
- RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and 1.5
- Serial ATA
- CPU thermal protection
- 6-channel audio
- USB 2.0 (up to 6 ports)
- IEEE 1394a (up to 3)
It should be noticed that motherboard doesn't support newest 400 MHz AthlonXP's. On the next few paragraph we inspect some features little closer.
Nearly every available devices are combatible with this board. Newest display adapter work flawlessly as do oldest 3.3V 2X AGP devices. Firewire devices, digital audio output and input, etc. nearly all is possible. Eight ATA devices and one SATA device same time? yes of course. And finally five PCI slots and one AGP slot surely doesn't diminish expandability.
IDE- ja SATA-ohjaimet
IDE- and SATA controllers
There is surely no lack of IDE connectors as VT8235 southbridge provides us two ATA 133 channels for four IDE drives and HPT372N do the same thing.(and RAID of course) And that is not all because of SATA Marvell 88i8030 which provides us one SATA connector. Only thing that is missing is SATA RAID. Unfortunatelly I couldn't test RAID and SATA performance but on the next graph there is some results concerning HDD performance with one drive (IBM 120GXP 80GB). Results are impressive.
SiSoft Sandra 2003 HDD performance
On the motherboard it is easy to find RealTek RTL8101L and VIA VT6103 chips which are obviously network controllers. Realtek is quite familiar integrated network solution but VIAs VT6103 is much less known. However they both are only 10/100, where DFI has forgetted gigabit ethernet controller?
I drove few tests on both network adapters. Maximum transfer rate was tested using SiSoft Sandra 2003 and CPU load test was performed by transfering big file from machine to machine at the same time as I manually monitored CPU load.
|Transfer rate||CPU load|
|Nvidia MCP 10/100||9692kB/sec||10-20%|
|VIA VT6103 10/100||9692kB/sec||20-30%|
|3Com 3C940 10/100/1000 (P4)||9692kB/sec||4-10%|
Graph clearly shows us that both network adapters transfer data at the normal 100Mbps speed. Realtek generates quite high CPU load compared to VIAs solution or to superior 3Com. It should be also noticed that maximum transfer test also strain hard drive during the test and CPU load is a little bit higher because of that.
CMI9739A audio adapter
I have lately noticed that integrated audio features have been improved noticeable and DFI LANParty KT400A doesn't make an exception. CMI9739A is quite decent audio chip and compared to other integrated audio chips it is doing very well. Features are versatile and I just liked audio quality when listening normal stereo records. Next table shows results of RightMark 5.0 audio analyzer. I used analog output and input on the test.
|Philips Acoustic Edge (dedicated soundcard)||Good||One of the best soundcards when using digital output|
|CMI9739A (integrated)||Average||Listening experience was better that test results|
|Soundmax AD1985 (integrated)||Good||probably best integrated audio device.|
On the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.0 test C-Media achieved average results. Test was conducted by using RCA-cable between line-out and line-in on the each test subject, so quality of line-in influence results quite significately.
I don't have any Firewire compatible devices so just shortly brief you that DFI LANParty KT400A uses VIA VT6306-chip which is quite sufficient. Two Firewire connectors are located on back panel and one is reserved for FrontX front panel
LANParty KT400A BIOS was positive suprise. In addition to normal settings there is quite extensive selection of other settings mainly concerning overclocking. Memory settings are very extinsive just as Genie BIOS settings. Under the Genie BIOS settings I found OC settings which includes unclocking all CPU multipliers (Tbred, Barton), memory multipliers(200 MHz/266 MHz/333 MHz/400 MHz) and comprehensive voltage settings. (quite many "settings" here ;) What really suprised me was VCore as it was adjustable all way up to 2.00 V. Other maximum voltages were 2,8 V for Vdimm and Vdd and 1,8 V for VAGP. However I would have appreciated little higher Vdimm setting.
BIOS settings were generally very good, much better than I had anticipated. Though there has to be at least one weird feature and that is this time DIP switches. After installing CPU you have to set DIPs to proper FSB speed which is 100 MHz, 133 MHz, 166 MHz or 200 MHz. I can understand this somehow, but what I don't understand is that FSB speed generally limits your overclocking settings on BIOS. For example after setting FSB to normal 133 MHz you have only 133-166 MHz range on BIOS but after setting FSB to 166 Mhz you have awesome 166-255 MHz range.
There is one common problem with motherboard that utilizes VIA chipsets, locked PCI/AGP multipliers. Especially integrated devices are very sensitive to high PCI frequencies so overclocking is sometimes harder than one might think. However I was quite hopefully with KT400A because some older KT400 boards achieved very high FSB speeds despite the multiplier problem ( 220 MHz and over). So my expectations were quite a bit higher than actual results. 185 MHz was highest stable FSB and that surely is little low compared to nForce2 boards and VIAs upcoming KT600 Chipset.
|Processor||AMD Athlon XP 2600+(12,5x166 MHz) & 2700+ (13x166 MHz)|
|RAM||Kingston HyperX PC3000 2x256MB|
|Hard Drive||IBM Deskstar 120GXP 80GB|
|Graphics Card||Sapphire Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB|
|Graphics Driver||Catalyst 3.4|
|Chipset Driver nForce2||nVIDIA driver 2.41|
|Chipset Driver KT400A||Hyperion 4.45|
|Chipset Driver i865PE||5.0.1006|
|WinRAR 3.10,||Best compression|
|CDex 1.50||High Quality, 256kbps|
|SiSoft Sandra 2003||Default tests|
|Quake III Arena||Version 1,17, demo001, Highquality|
|Unreal Tournament 2003||Version 2225, HardOCP UT2k3 Benchmark utility v2.1, CPU test|
On graphs there are Asus A7N8X(nForce2) and P4P800(P4 i865PE) as references. Unfortunately A7N8X and LANParty KT400A results are driven on different CPUs because of BIOS failure on A7N8X before I managed to finish all the tests. I would have driven KT400A results on 12.5X multiplier but it didn't work either so we have to get along what we have.
WinRAR 3.10 encoding is highly memory intensive and it seems that KT400A is no match for dual channel boards even on the 166/200 async mode. P4 is winner here.
MP3 encoding need just raw CPU power so little higher clocked 2700+ gave DFI KT400A win on this test. 2,4GHz P4 managed to fight head to head with Athlon XP 2600+.
On PCMark2002 DFI's faster CPU gave it top position but on the memory test A7N8X spurt by. P4P800's memory bandwith is on it's own level. HDD test gave very similar scores as expected.
SiSoft Sandra 2003
KT400A is no match for nForce2 based A7N8X and i865PE based P4P800. Running memory 166/200 Async mode speed up only unbuffered memory test.
Unreal Tournament 2003
On heavy 3D game both reference machines beat KT400A by little margin.
Quake III Arena
Memory intensive Quake III greatly benefit from P4's superior memory bandwith. Asus A7N8X scores are not on the graph due earlier mentioned reason.
|DFI Lanparty KT400A
+ Versatile features
+ Impressive appearance
+ Passive cooling on north bridge
- Average performance
DFI LANParty is marvelous motherboard. Features, external appearance and bundle are just absolute stunning. It is too shame that performance just isn't at level where is supposed to be. Compared to nForce2 boards LANParty KT400A clearly looses when it comes to performance and overclocking.
Because DFI also have LANParty NFII board which fully utilizes faster nForce2 chipset it's very clear that if I had to choose one it would be NFII (althought it is little more expensive). What is quite unfortunate is that LANParty KT400A really is excellent motherboard but not the fastest one.
UPDATED! We received a new BIOS for the board after the review. Performance increased a lot and you can find all the graphs here.