Summary: Based on the VIA KT400 chipset, DFI's AD77 Infinity is one feature-packed motherboard. Bus speeds in 1MHz increments are available up to 255MHz as is AGP 8X, DDR400, Serial ATA and IDE RAID. But the best part is the board's solid performance and incredibly low price! Read all the details in our review and be sure to answer the quiz questions at the end for a chance to win this motherboard!
Very few motherboard manufacturers are able to compete in the demanding enthusiast market. For a product to be considered ideal, it must first boast stability. Performance is another important characteristic, as is a well-rounded specification sheet. ABIT, ASUS and EPoX have all manufactured boards incorporating a combination of the aforementioned qualities with varying degrees of success.
It is a difficult market to persist in, though. With each additional feature, the price of a motherboard increases. The situation is further complicated by the fact that enthusiasts make up only a small percentage of those looking to purchase motherboards. So, while high-end motherboards may be great for earning accolades, stiff competition makes it difficult for manufacturers to turn worthwhile profits selling expensive boards.
DFI is no stranger to the motherboard manufacturing process, as the company was founded in 1981; however it has previously focused primarily on the OEM market. The last few motherboards to emerge from DFI indicate an interest in attracting enthusiasts looking for more than just the bare essentials. Newly offered features like DDR400 memory support, USB 2.0, IEEE 1394, six-channel audio, and Serial ATA provide a stark contrast to older DFI motherboards that often included onboard audio and in some cases, an integrated Ethernet interface at most.
While DFI’s product index would indicate a conservative history, its rapid adoption of VIA’s KT400 and P4X400 chipsets suggests that the company may be trying something new. VIA doesn’t even list DDR400 memory support as a feature of its chipsets, yet DFI is confident enough with its results to claim compatibility with existing 200MHz memory modules.
Stepping Out – The DFI AD77 Infinity
The latest in DFI’s Athlon XP-compatible lineup contradicts the company’s heritage. That’s not to say the board isn’t stable – in fact, it powered through our entire testing suite without issue. However, the AD77 Infinity does include many features seemingly aimed at the power user.
The most distinguishing feature of the AD77 is its four, 184-pin DDR memory slots. Most manufacturers offer three such slots, and it isn’t uncommon to see an i845 board with two. The AD77 is able to claim support for up to 4GB of DDR memory, though. DFI has even gone so far as to test the board with DDR400 memory and publish its results here. Surprisingly, the AD77 Infinity is stable with DDR400 in three of its four memory slots, according to DFI!
SIDEBAR: DFI’s AD77 Infinity product page
In looking at the AD77 it quickly becomes apparent that DFI has made an effort to include a little bit of everything. Besides the native ATA-133 support offered by VIA’s VT8235 South Bridge, DFI also utilizes HighPoints’s HPT371 to add an extra ATA-133 channel. As a result, the AD77 can accommodate a total of six IDE devices. And as if that weren’t enough, DFI also includes Marvell’s 88i8030 Serial ATA Bridge Chip. Since the bridge translates parallel ATA commands, it doesn’t operate at Serial ATA’s native 150Mb per second, but still serves to add SATA support to the AD77.
DFI goes even further by integrating VIA’s VT6306 IEEE 1394 controller, delivering two Firewire ports through a pair of headers on the motherboard. Of course, the corresponding bracket is also included with the AD77. Since the VT8235 supports six USB 2.0 ports, DFI places four on the board’s back panel and includes a second header featuring the fifth and sixth, should they be needed. The VIA VT6103 PHY interfaces with the South Bridge to offer 10/100 Ethernet connectivity through the AD77’s back plate. The motherboard also claims six-channel audio output through the three 1/8” mini-plug jacks also on the boards back, though this is a software feature.
If you’d prefer to replace the integrated audio and onboard Ethernet with an add-in card, the AD77 features an AGP 8X slot, five PCI slots, and a slot for a CNR card. Additionally, three hardware-monitored fan headers are offered for cooling purposes. DFI includes a few other headers, such as an S/PDIF output, a 4-channel audio output (a hardware implementation), and an infrared connector, though the hardware necessary to take advantage of these features must be purchased separately.
We’ve only got a couple of complaints about DFI’s methods for laying out the AD77. First, the ATX power connector is situated right above the AGP slot. This, of course, isn’t the best place for it, as a thick cable can have a negative effect on the cooling potential of a given heat sink. Considering, the heat generated by an Athlon XP 2800+, we’d prefer to keep the area around the processor interface clear. Diagnostic LEDs are built into the board, which we think is a useful feature, but we’d recommend that DFI include better documentation of the diagnostic codes. Other manufacturers include stickers that identify the various LED combinations, and it would have been helpful to see the same from DFI.
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Although jumpers control the AD77’s main front side bus setting, the board’s BIOS offers a pretty expansive list of options for fine-tuning performance. Depending on the processor you’ve installed, the AD77 gives you the option to overclock the front side bus in 1MHz increments between 100 and 255MHz. There are also several voltage adjustments available, which may or may not help a stubborn processor or memory module achieve stability in an overclocked environment. The memory bus can be set at 2.5 or 2.63V, AGP voltage ranges from 1.5 to 1.8V inclusive, processor voltages between 1.1V and 2V are available in .025V steps, and finally, chipset voltages between 2.5 and 2.8V can be specified.
Memory timings and frequencies play an important role in determining overall system performance. As we saw in our ASUS A7N8X nForce2 review, aggressively timed DDR333 memory can actually outperform DDR400. We’ve seen the same thing with VIA’s KT400 chipset. Even still, DFI has infused the AD77 Infinity with DDR400 support and a host of timing adjustments. CAS latencies, Bank Interleaving, and Command Rates are all customizable, among other memory settings.
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3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
Serious Sam SE (Elephant Atrium) – OpenGL
Quake III v.1.17 Demo001 – OpenGL
Comanche 4 – DirectX 8
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby – DirectX 8
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch – DirectX 8
Jedi Knight II – OpenGL
SiSoft Sandra 2003 Memory Bandwidth
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