Today, DMOS looks at the reasonably priced Soyo CK8 Dragon Plus. The good: no gimmicky add-ons, excellent board layout, and solid multimedia and math performance. The bad: nothing to set it apart from the crowd, weak overclocking, and an overworked PCI bus. The low-down: if you're looking for a reliable, moderately priced setup, then this is certainly an option.
Soyo is a company that has been making motherboards since before I got involved in building computers myself. Most of you are more familiar with the "DRAGON" line of boards, much like the one we will be looking at today, but I remember the old models along with those from AOpen, Abit and ASUS which first had any kind of overclocking options. Soyo is certainly not a new company but one instead with vast experience in the realm of "build your own" and OEM boards. The last few years they've catered more to the upper crust of those building systems, creating motherboards with more bells and whistles than you can shake a stick at. Today's tester though is more in line with what I prefer. It's lean, with only the necessary toys soldered onto the PCB. The model I'm putting through the lab is Soyo's CK8 DRAGON Plus.
By choosing to sport nVidia's nForce3 150 chipset, Soyo was hurting by default on the extra goodies. As I said earlier though, this isn't such a big deal to the majority of users. As the first chipset to come out for the new Athlon 64 socket 754 and 940 platform's over a year ago, as well as being a single chip solution, this was a given. Single chip?? In most cases, such as our previous review of the Albatron K8X800 Pro II (using a VIA K8T800 north bridge and VT8237 south bridge), motherboard chipsets tend to prefer a two chip for communication between the processor and the ancillary devices attached to the motherboard. In nVidia's implementation however, they integrated all of the functions into one chip. What makes this more reasonable, is that the Athlon 64 relocates the memory controller onto the processor itself. Normally, that takes up a large amount of the complexity and die space in the north bridge in a typical setup. As it is in VIA's north bridge, it's more or less a glorified AGP controller, and tunnel for information to and from the processor and south bridge. In the case on the CK8 though, (and any other board based on the nForce3 chipset) what is left of the north bridge was just alga mated into the south bridge. This saves on one more bus (an Achilles heel in the VIA design), and also allows for a cleaner board layout.
However, the nForce3 150 is not without its inherent disadvantages. One of these is the fact that they did not follow the HyperTransport bus to its full specifications. Instead, it only uses 600MHz as the bus speed, as opposed to the standard 800MHz, and functions at 8 bits for the upstream communications, as opposed to the 16 bits used in VIA's HT. For downstream (processor to chipset), there is the standard 16 bit pathway present.
What does this mean to the end user? Most likely, not a heck of a lot. We'll look at the benchmarks shortly to see if this is much of a handicap or not. With no Gigabit Ethernet, and with the memory controller not needing to use this pathway either, there should still be sufficient bandwidth present for the PCI and AGP buses. However, nVidia has seen this is a disadvantage from a marketing perspective if nothing else, and corrected it in the recently released nForce3 Pro 250.
Attached onto the nForce3 150 chipset is your usual complement of USB 2.0 ports (6 of them, 4 hooked up to the backplane), 2 parallel IDE channels supporting 4 devices, 2 SATA channels with RAID 0 or 1 functionality (not native however, they do go through the PCI bus), 6 channel AC '97 audio provided by a CMI 9739 codec chip, a full rack of 6 PCI slots for expansion, and a 8x/4x AGP slot.
While there are 3 DIMM slots for PC3200 spec'd memory, Soyo claims the board will only support 2GB worth of RAM. This certainly means the board is less desirable for workstation use, but most home users are still well below that limit. As you can see in the picture of the backplane, there is also the typical PS/2 serial, parallel, and audio ports. Lastly, there is the ubiquitous 10/100 LAN connection. The strange thing I found was that while Soyo claim on their website that the board supports 3 IDE channels (and therefore 6 PATA devices), the third connector was MIA. The port is there, directly above the floppy connector, however there is no actual physical connector soldered on there. Odd ,I say.
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