Rock Solid, Overclocked, and FAST
Oct 20, 2003 (Updated Oct 20, 2003)
Review by Guy Techie
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Fast CPU and memory performance, lots of IDE channels for a total of 10 drives!
Cons:Super slow RAID 0 performance, can't boot from SATA drives, static/noise in built-in sound
The Bottom Line: Rock solid, and overclockable. A solid "YES!"
With my last nForce2 motherboard battered and deep fried, I went back to my Gigabyte GA-7VRXP KT333 motherboard. Of course, I just couldn't live without the nForce2 chipset, and so, I went searching for another one to replace the over-done Asus A7N8X Deluxe - one of the much hyped nForce2 Ultra boards out there. After some searching, I found the Gigabyte GA-7N400 Pro2 nForce2 Ultra to cost less, and in fact, have MORE IDE/RAID options than the Asus A7N8X Deluxe.
Recommend this product?
For one thing, it comes with 2 more ATA channels, in what Gigabyte calls GigaRAID. It can be used as extra IDE channels, or as a RAID (0, 1, 0 1, and JBOD). However, as I found out later, it very slow in RAID 0 (12 MB/sec !!!), and only the SATA RAID will work at full speed. No amount of updated drivers will help. :(
Also, if you were looking to stripe together a pair of Western Digital Raptors together (the fastest hard drive EVER currently) for even boot times, bad news there, too. You're not able to boot via SATA drives, as indicated here: http://forum.oc-forums.com/vb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=238435 . Double :(
And one last negative aspect... the static and noise appearant in the built-in 5.1 surround sound, as indicated here: http://forum.oc-forums.com/vb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=238729 . Even with the most updated drivers (as of writing), there is still some noise, thought it is surpressed even further. The noise appears much louder when you scroll on IE windows, or move windows around. Although you can add in a PCI sound card to eliminate this, it is a pitty we cannot use the built-in 5.1 surround sound, as it does come with a digital output bracket. Oh, and I almost forgot... the sound solution Gigabyte took did not use the nVidia's own Soundstorm, which comes with the real-time AC3 encoder.
Enough for the bad. What about the goods?
Well, for one thing, the nForce2 Ultra chipset will not let us down. I was able to overclock my 333 MHz FSB AMD Athlon XP 2500 Barton with a 400 MHz FSB to make it perform at 3200 levels. This using stock voltages on the CPU, memory, and AGP video card! The BIOS is very easy to use and setup. However, most of the advance features such as AGP clock speeds are hidden until you hit CTRL-F1 on the main menu of the BIOS.
And just like in my 2500 Barton review, the benchmarks speaks for itself.
SiSoft Sandra 2003
Dhrystone ALU: 8234 MIPS
Whetstone FPU: 3303 MFLOPS
SiSoft Sandra 2003
Integer aEMMX/aSSE: 12225 it/s
Floating-Point aSSE: 13050 it/s
SiSoft Sandra 2003
RAM Int Buffered: 3063 MB/s
RAM Float Buffered: 2893 MB/s
YES! I broke the theoretical limit of 2GB/sec of my previous motherboard/CPU combos! And at nearly 3GB/sec, too! Intel's 850E chipset (with RDRAM) running at PC4200 CL2 got Int of 3381 MB/s and Float of 3389 MB/sec. Whoa. It sure whooped me, but not by much.
In comparison with another nForce2 motherboard, which is only running PC2700 memory, their numbers are Int 2566 MB/s, Float 2893 MB/s. Yikes!
As you can see, the Gigabyte GA-7N400 Pro2 is a serious contender. The dings I give it is not as serious as it sounds. The buzzing from the built-in sound card is bareable using the newest drivers. If you do not use the RAID fuction on the GigaRAID channels, the slowdown (12 MB/sec) flaw won't affect you. And of course, if you have PATA drives to boot from, the non-booting SATA channels would not apply to you, either.
What the target is for this board is for serious overclockers. The only drawback in that is the vCore voltage selections. With only 5, 7, and 10% settings, it is hard to fine-tune the voltage. However, the memory and AGP voltages can be set in .1 increments. Also, the AGP has it's own frequency clock lock. As for the PCI lock, there doesn't seem to be a setting for it, but even at high FSB speeds, none of my PCI cards have complained.
The board is actually pretty easy to install. It is a bit larger than the usual ATX formfactor motherboard, but not so much to the point where you'll need a special ATX case. A cheap mid-sized ATX tower will do. Unlike most mobos that only have 3 DDR slots for memory, the 7N400 Pro2 has 4! This allows you to use all four slots and keep the dual channel mode, giving you extra bandwidth for your memory intensive applications.
The northbridge has a fan. While some people don't like that (more noise, more dust), it's actually quite (but DUST!), and will turn off when not needed - when the temperature of the chipset isn't toasty (oh... less dust!). And as the HSF for the northbridge boldly states: it does have 8x AGP. And with 5 PCI slots, as well as built-in goodies such as the 5.1 surround sound, USB 2.0, and Firewire (with their respective brackets), you have much more options for future upgrades (oh, for...I dunno... TV Tuner, 56k modem, whatever!).
In the end, I give it a 3/5 stars, only because the dings are still serious enough to ding it hard. However, it is a solid mobo with more IDE device capabilities than most motherboards. (4 PATA 2 SATA = 10 total drives!) If you don't need RAID, you can use this board for a dedicated home file server (lots of storage!), printer server, and maybe even as a media center.
Amount Paid (US$): 115
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