Summary: A while back we took a look at the nForce offering from ASUS. This time around we got a hold of a considerbly cheaper version. Based on the 415-D, the A7N266-C comes without onboard video. Combined with a reduced cost, this is one nForce board that competes just nicely.
When the nForce first came out, it arrived to a rather hostile audience. The average hardware tinkerer just does not like that level of integration. Some parts, like network cards, are getting more accepted, but graphics is still a ways from being another chip on the board. When we asked NVIDIA about the possibility of a nForce without video, their first response was no. I guess after considering the costs and lack of interest that plan was reconsidered. Out pops the 415-D a few months later. A fully functioning Dolby Digital decoding chipset, minus the onboard GeForce2 MX.
The nForce 420 and 420-D still have their market though. It seems they are just catching on with OEMs. It was just a matter of time before it garnered acceptance. A board that is so highly integrated is a boon to system builders. A machine that has few parts is exceedingly easy to support and build. Add a CPU, RAM and drives, and you are good to go. Building a nForce system for friends and family is about the easiest thing you can do to save yourself the headache of running and trying to figure out whatís wrong a month down the road. With one driver to replace, many parts of the equation are simplified.
What comes with it?
Enough about the 420-D, the 415-D is the topic of discussion today. The following toys come standard on the ASUS A7N266-C:
SIDEBAR: Truly a good read if you have time during the day.
As we explained when we reviewed the A7N with the 420, the way the nForce chipset works is very interesting. Despite the fact that the board has three RAM slots, the board can only accept five banks of RAM. Banks of RAM are defined by the strips of chips on a stick of RAM, for simplicities sake. If you have a stick of RAM with chips on both sides, it will use two banks on the motherboard. Generally the larger memory modules have chips on both sides Ė 256MB, 512MB, and 1024MB. You must pay attention to how much RAM you buy when assembling your system. Itís a shame that this fact is not better known. This essentially makes the third slot useless, as it can only be filled with a stick RAM that isnít very large. You can only have two double-sided sticks in the system, so make them count. The first slot is one array, and the other two slots count as the second set.
The differences between the A7N266-E and A7N266-C are few in terms of physical layout. A visual comparison yields only two major differences. The 420-D has a heatsink/fan combo, whereas the 415-D has only a heatsink. This reduction in cooling efforts makes sense as the bulk of the heat probably came from the graphics dedicated portion of the chip. The heatsink seems to be fairly large enough to handle whatever heat issues crop up. The second difference arises on the I/O plate. Where there was once a video output, there is nothing. Itís really a rather odd site, as weíve never really seen only on serial port on a computer. Weíre not complaining as the last time a serial device was hooked up to our computers was almost three years ago. Should you require the use of a second serial port, ASUS has your back covered. A second port can be attached internally, at the loss of a PCI slot opening.
As we said before, the two A7N boards are essentially identical except for the chip change. The A7N266-C sports a total of six USB ports. Two reside at the back of the board in their usual spots; the other four require the use of a connector. We were a little stunned when we saw what ASUS had provided. It seems as though the connector that is provided has a reserve power of its own Ė note the capacitors on the riser card. Most other manufacturers merely supply a cable that connects it to the board. While the standard USB port does supply power, not all USB devices are created equal. Some require a bit more juice in order to function. Alas, it seems at this benefit, we also get a loss. The board ships with support for six USB ports, but only enough connectors are given to run four of them. Itís still pretty rare for people to use this many USB devices, but it would have been nice if ASUS had provided for the remaining two ports.
Once again, the two nForce boards are identical. In terms of overclocking features, the A7N266-C is the same as the E revison. The board supports bus speeds ranging from 100MHz-172MHz, youíre sure to find your sweet spot somewhere in there. Although, the board does not feature 1MHz increments, the 2MHz jumps should be just fine for most us.
The A7N has the relatively unused AGP Pro slot. This standard appeared quite a while ago, while companies have yet to start using it, itís nice to know the slot is here and prepared for what the future may bring. The AGP slot also has a safety feature built into it. It prevents the use of older 3.3V AGP cards from damaging the motherboard. A little red LED next to the slot will light up in case this happens, and prevents the motherboard from booting up. Current AGP video cards run on 1.5V
VIA 4in1 version 4.37
256MB Corsair PC2100 DDR SDRAM
NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti 500 reference board
Driver version Detonator 23.11
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
AFREEY 12X DVD-ROM
Windows XP Professional
Desktop Resolution: 1024x768x32
3DMark 2000 ver 1.1 Ė 16-bit, 16-bit textures
We were going to include more benchmarks, but the results were getting to be very dull, so we stopped and said enough is enough. Performance-wise the E and C revisions of this motherboard are close enough to be indiscernible.
3Dmark2000 Ė Directx 7.0
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8.0
The numbers arenít all that remarkable. The scores are for the most part indistinguishable
Serious Sam - OpenGL
Once again, we have fluctuations, but nothing of much concern.
Quake III - High Quality
Results here are nearly identical.
Performance: Just as the A7N266-E was a good performer, the C revision gives us the same desirable results. The removal of the unwanted video has no detrimental affects.
-A. Whitney Brown