ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2

Written by Michael Larabel in Motherboards on 2 April 2006. Page 1 of 6. Add A Comment

At the beginning of last month we published our preview of the ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2, however, now that Fedora Core 5 was released two weeks ago, and we have in our hands the NVIDIA 1.0-8751 Beta Linux display drivers, we are prepared to deliver the remainder of this article. This portion of the article includes the Linux compatibility, overclocking, and of course, its performance by means of benchmarks. To recap some of the features for the 939SLI32-eSATA2, it is powered by the ULI M1697 + M1695 and is supportive of AMD Socket 939 processors including the Athlon 64 FX and X2 models. Surprisingly, the 939SLI32-eSATA2 provides features that has not previously been seen by ASRock -- who is known for their budget yet innovative manufacturing. Some of these items include a single Gigabit LAN, SLI by means of dual PCI Express x16 slots, IEEE-1394a Firewire, and the other distinct feature is the eSATA 2.0 capabilities. This motherboard is also upgradeable to support AMD's AM2 CPU socket.

With the ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2 boasting the ULI M1697 and M1695 Chipset, which is not a common occurrence to find these two chips paired together, we were interested in seeing its Linux compatibility and performance. This chip combination is the same as what we had found with the ASRock 939Dual-SATA2. When it came to the Linux compatibility with the 939SLI32-eSATA2 and specifically Fedora Core 5, we were satisfied for the most part but there were a few troubling factors with this solution. One of the items for worry was the integrated Gigabit controller. The LAN ASIC was detected on some boots, but would refuse to activate, while at other times the device itself couldn't be found. There was also another key component of the motherboard that had not functioned under Linux and that was NVIDIA's Scalable Link Interface (SLI). While ASRock creates a patch for the Windows drivers to allow SLI to run on the ULI Chipsets, as they are presently not officially certified by NVIDIA, there remains no support for these alternative Chipsets under Linux. Even using the internal Beta Linux drivers from NVIDIA, there was no ULI support for SLI -- that is until ASRock creates a "magical" patch for Linux or is otherwise cracked. NVIDIA's nvidia-xconfig utility would alter the X configuration for SLI, however, upon restarting X, SLI would not initialize. Thus, the only options would be to run a single PCI Express graphics card or to use two PCI Express x16 cards for a multi-headed environment. Meanwhile, the integrated Firewire, along with all of the other components, had operated seamlessly.

Hardware Components
Processor: AMD Athlon 64 3000+ (Winchester)
Motherboard: Tyan Tomcat K8E-SLI (nForce PRO 2200)
ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2 (M1697 + M1695)
Memory: 2 x 1GB OCZ PC-4000
Graphics Card: Gigabyte 6600GT 128MB
Hard Drives: Seagate 200GB SATA NCQ
Optical Drives: Lite-On 16x DVD-ROM
Power Supply: Spire RockeTeer V SP-500W
Software Components
Operating System: Fedora Core 5
Linux Kernel: 2.6.16-1.2080_FC5 (i686)
GCC - GNU Compiler: 4.1.0
Graphics Driver: NVIDIA 1.0-8751
X.Org: 7.0.0

When it came to overclocking the system, its results were certainly surprising. As we had shared in the 939SLI32-eSATA2 Preview, the AMI BIOS certainly was home to quite a few enthusiast features that were lacking with past ASRock motherboards. Some of the improvements included definitive CPU voltage adjustments and more CPU, Chipset, and memory tweaking possibilities. Maxing the CPU voltage for the AMD Athlon 64 3000+ to +1.450V, and increasing the Chipset and memory values to their maximum, we were able to push the motherboard up to 270MHz FSB with the stock multiplier. Dropping the multiplier from x9 to x8, we were able to top the motherboard around 290MHz FSB. The stable configuration in which we executed our same set of tests was with the AMD Athlon 64 at 1.450V, x9 Multiplier, and a 265MHz FSB. Running the CPU at 2.430GHz (270MHz x 9) the system passed memtest86+ v1.65, however, it would face stability problems upon loading GNOME. The memory was run at DDR-530MHz speeds with 2.5-6-6-15 1T timings. Overall, this overclock was certainly surprising as with past ASRock motherboards -- excluding the 939Dual-SATA2 -- the overclocking abilities for both their AMD and Intel products were sub par due to the available BIOS options and other restrictions.

With this being our inaugural Fedora Core 5 motherboard review, there are a few benchmarking changes to note. Enemy Territory and Doom 3 both had operated flawlessly under Fedora Core 5, however, when it came to Quake 4 there have been a few changes with Simply Direct Layer (SDL). With Fedora Core 5 x86_64, the standard SDL packages from the various repositories caused Quake 4 to fail when detecting the SDL libraries, and then once those were resolved, Quake 4 experienced a segmentation fault due to the NVIDIA drivers. Thus, even for our 64-bit motherboard testing we have returned to i386 software. The next change in the benchmarking configuration is SPECViewPerf. When compiling SPECViewPerf for 32-bit or 64-bit Linux using GCC v4.1.0, the package fails to appropriately compile. We hope upon the availability of SPECViewPerf v9.0, these problems will no longer persist -- and at that time this workstation benchmark will return to our FC5 testing selection.

Being compared against the ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2 today is the competitive Tyan Tomcat K8E-SLI S2866. The Tyan Tomcat K8E-SLI is based off NVIDIA's nForce Professional 2200 Chipset. The ASRock motherboard was benchmarked at both its stock and overclocked speeds.

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