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Riding The Dfi Train For The First Time

In the halcyon days of Socket 939, DFI earned the reputation for manufacturing the best overclocking motherboards available. The UT LANParty line of motherboards was synonymous with quality and super-high CPU overclocks. Every motherboard in the range was an accomplished overclocker.

Yet DFI's UT LANParty motherboards also made a name for themselves for being complex and difficult to work with. Many were the complaints that their DFIs were "inherently unstable," that their other components (especially RAM) were not compatible with their boards. Even before ever owning my first DFI UT LANParty motherboard, I called their BIOSes "insanity-inducing" in their complexity and comprehensiveness, just based on the photos of the setup screens that I'd seen.

With AMD's decision to consign Socket 939 to oblivion, parts for the platform have become less expensive (if you're diligent enough and if you know where to look). Accordingly, I've acquired a collection of some of the best (by reputation) motherboards S939 had to offer. I therefore have a couple of DFIs, including one, the UT LANParty nF4-Ultra D, which I'm playing with at the moment.

Last year, when I was deciding upon which motherboard to use on my very first custom PC, I almost bought a DFI UT LANParty nF4-series board. To be perfectly honest, I was concerned about all the reports of the boards being "picky" and "unstable;" being a raw novice, I didn't want to get frustrated right at the onset of something new. This is the primary reason why I bought the A8N32-SLI Deluxe. In retrospect, it was the correct decision.

I'm just glad that I've been able to save up money, and find great prices, for a couple of DFI's best for Socket 939. I'd have considered my experience as a S939 overclocker to be terribly incomplete if I never got to play with a DFI UT LANParty motherboard.

After months of having it sit in my closet, I broke the seal on one of my DFIs. My early impressions of the UT LANParty nF4-Ultra D are overwhelmingly positive. I love the black PCB; I've had a preference for this admittedly mere cosmetic detail ever since my very first custom build based on the Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe. And though I originally thought the yellow and orange UV slots were garish in photographs, the color coordination looks much better when holding the motherboard in my hands.

Other than the cosmetic appraisal, though, the UT LANParty nF4-Ultra D stands out in a couple of other ways too. For starters, the CPU socket is located almost dead center on the motherboard. This is unique certainly among AMD motherboards, and I'm hard-pressed to recall any Intel boards sporting a similar CPU socket placement. I cannot claim to know the reason behind this engineering decision (except, perhaps, to centralize the heaviest part of system assembly, that is, the CPU + cooling apparatus), but it's a notable detail. The DIMM slots are also located at the top of the motherboard, arrayed horizontally; the usual location for these are on the right (with the I/O ports and jacks to the left) and laid out vertically. The 24-pin main power cable connector and the 4-pin 12V CPU power connector are placed in the best place possible: At the very edge of the PCB on the right side. This puts them away from the CPU socket area (I've seen a few motherboards with the 24-pin power cable connector right next to the CPU socket!) and therefore eliminated clutter near the all-important CPU socket. Air flow to the CPU cooler is therefore optimized, and cables can also be routed towards the front of the case.

The BIOS, as I'd suspected, is a smorgasbord of settings that could be adjusted. Many of these are rather obscure "sub-timings" for the RAM that are simply not present on most motherboards; even my Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe, which itself has a comprehensive BIOS, does not have many of these adjustments. There are three (three!) different VCore adjustment settings (including a unique "Startup VID" setting that would eliminate the warm-booting problems for an undervolted CPU, as I've seen on the A8N32-SLI Deluxe), as well as the highest VDIMM adjustment potential that I've ever seen (well above 3V when the on-PCB jumper is enabled).

Insanity-inducing, indeed.

I used this motherboard to participate in the Official Order of the Opteron's "Best Clock on Air Cooling" shootout (won superbly by vwgti on a Socket 939 setup, incidentally), and I quickly discovered that it requires a surgeon's touch to coax excellent overclocks from it. It doesn't seem to respond all that well to ham-handed OCing techniques; massive VCore by itself did not extract higher CPU clocks from it. This, incidentally, was the "technique" I used when I got my one-and-only 3.0GHz screenshot with a Jetway 939GT4-SLI.

I've had precious little time with this motherboard, so I haven't yet discovered its actual capabilities and quirks. I've not applied a subtle touch to it, nor have I experimented with the myriad adjustments possible. I haven't even flashed the BIOS once! There are just so many things I haven't tried, so many discoveries waiting to be unearthed.

I waited a good long time for my first ride on the DFI train. I've enjoyed my first brief trips on it, and I can't wait to go far.

As always, your thoughts and comments are most appreciated! Thanks for reading.

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