Ah, the moment we've been waiting for. The layout and benchmarks are nice, but let's be honest here, ABIT users are primarily interested in one thing, and that's the boards ability to push their rig to the limit.
The biggest problem with the VIA KT400 chipset is that it lacks a 1/6 PCI divider, effectively leaving bus speeds of 200MHz or higher unattainable. With the release of the nForce2 chipset all of that was supposed to change. Did it? You bet it did! The addition of the 6/3, 6/4, and 6/6 PCI dividers opened up a world that until now was not possible using the popular VIA chipsets.
Let me say up front that all of this was done with STOCK COOLING. I have water cooled this CPU in the past and experienced higher MHz speed from it, but I can tell you that it is right in line, or better, than we expected from this chip running the stock AMD cooler..
Yup, that's 2432MHz from a chip designed to run only 2080MHz. Notice the PR Rating of that CPU score! We had to take the VCore to 1.85 to do it, but that's pretty low considering the speed gain. Not too shabby, and at a 202MHz front side bus to boot! You'd think we would have been happy with that right? Well, no! We suspected that the limiting facter here might not be front side bus, but the chip itself.
What we did is lower the multiplier (thanks the the 5bit FID by ABIT) to 8x and began our trek upward on front side bus to see the limit we would hit....
Yup, that's right, 238MHz front side bus!! Yes, we're relatively pleased with that! It shows 238Mhz but in the BIOS it's 237, with the next available speed of 240MHz. When we attempted to boot at 240MHz front side bus we'd make it about half way into windows and it would crash. oddly, we ran several benchmarks at 237 and didn't have a single lockup.
To achieve this we had to use the 6/4 setting for memory as our memory sticks simply couldn't hang at this high of a speed. While we were using sticks from two of the absolute top memory manufacturers in the industry (PC3200 from Corsair and OCZ), 237Mhz from PC3200 is a pretty tall order!
So does the NF7-S Rev 1.2 overclock well? In a word... Yes.
This board left me feeling nostalgic. I was taken back to the day of my BE6-II by Abit where the sky was the limit as SoftmenuIII made it's first appearance. I can honestly say that with none of the equipment we have in house here at the OCA labs was the motherboard the bottleneck or the stopper. This NF7-S Rev 1.2 was never the limiting factor, and THAT is no easy thing to say about a motherboard.
Does that mean that this is the "Perfect Motherboard"? Nope. There are still a few things that leave a tad unhappy. Like what? Like the fact that there's only two available fan headers on the whole board. Gone is the header we've become used to seeing down near the case connections at the lower right of the motherboard. We're left with just the one for the CPU fan, and one above the ATX slot. While this isn't a HUGE deal, it would have been nice to see another one for good measure.
Edit (added 4/4/03 @ 1:12am EST) We stand corrected. There actualy ARE three fan headers. A 3rd header is located just above the ATX power connector.
Another area of concern is the BIOS issue. While this is resolved, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth that there's peeps out there that bought this board only to smoke the BIOS chip because ABIT (and a whole slew of other manufacturers) didn't heed nVidia's advice and include a 100MHz front side bus reset jumper.
The return of the four heat sink mounting holes is a HUGE blessing! While the top right one is a bit tight, they are still functional as long as you're careful. What sense does it make to have a motherboard capable of pushing even the newest CPU's to their limits if you can't properly cool it to get there? Props to ABIT for including these holes again.
The SATA drive controller. I'm gonna be honest here, I thought this was a wasted feature. I mean, judging by the initial performance of SATA drives, the market simply isn't ready for them, right? Well, I was wrong about that as well. The SATA drive tested not only gave us a lot more room and flexibility in our case, but it smacked down the traditional ATA100 drive as well. Roll in the USB 2.0 capabilities, and the on board IEEE1394, this is pretty much a stellar package.
This one is pretty easy actually, that is, as long as your capable of working with stipulations. My conclusion is to buy this board. Buy one, buy two, whatever, but if you're in the market for an AMD motherboard, this is the one to have. Now the stipulation. Make flashing the BIOS to the NEWEST AVAILABLE your NUMBER ONE job upon the arrival of the board to your PC haven. If you are incapable of doing this, then disregard my "buy" advice and run for the hills away from this board. It rocks, but it NEEDS that BIOS update to offer you not only the performance you're looking for, but for insurance that it won't be rendered useless by a burnt BIOS chip. Abit has version 2.0 on the way but from a strong souce at ABIT the only change is going to be "official" support of the 400MHz front side bus, something this board already easily does.
For LESS than $130 (depending on where you buy it) this board offers everything but the kitchen sink. Even if you forget about the bag full of bells and whistles, the sheer overclockability of this board ranks it among my favorites to date. It's not without it's detractors, but if you can get past them, this should be a board that delivers what you are looking for.
Excellent Overclocking Potential
Fair Price for the Features
Onboard SATA, USB 2.0, and IEEE1394
Excellent On board Sound
BIOS Issues (fixed, but they existed)
Only two Fan Headers
Placement of the ATX Connectors
Even with the cons listed, I can't help but to issue this board an OCA award. I don't like the fact it took ABIT three revisions of the NF7-S to arrive at this, the 1.2, but the bottom line is that they're here and the board is what they claimed it would be. So with that said, I'm proud to stamp this board with The "OCA Essential Hardware" award.
That about wraps it up I believe. if you're interested in getting an ABIT NF7-S I suggest you search for prices here as you'll be hard pressed to find it cheaper anywhere else. Thanks a lot for checking out our review, feel free to head to our forums to discuss this article, or back to the front page to check out the other stories. Thanks to ABIT for not only providing us the review product, but for getting back to us so quickly on the BIOS concerns.
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