Welcome to the latest edition of our Motherboard Memory Lane series here on HWBOT. Following on from our in-depth look at the iconic AMD Socket A platform last week, we now turn our attention to its successor, AMD Socket 754. The Socket retains a slightly odd position in the annals of technological history as it debuted with wholly new and updated 64-bit architecture processor series, yet quickly became the option of choice for budget PC builds as it was eclipsed by the Socket 939 platform. Let’s take a look at the Socket itself, the chipsets and processors that accompanied it, and of course some the landmark scores and submissions that happened during the Socket 754 era.
AMD Socket 754: Overview
Introduced in September 2003, the AMD Socket 754 platform was marketed as the replacement for the long standing Socket A (or Socket 462 as was also known). It supported a new range of AMD processors based on architectures that include Newcastle, Venice, Clawhammer and Palermo – all of which come under the AMD K8 architectural umbrella, and were sold under Athlon 64 and Sempron brand names. Although Socket 754 motherboards essentially replaced Socket A motherboards, in most regions the two platforms overlapped. It’s successor, Socket 939 arrived in mid 2004 offering processors with a superior features set that essentially relegated Socket 754 to the budget PC space. This made the platform a popular choice with more affordable AMD Sempron processors.
The actual Socket has exactly 754 pin holes and uses the same ZIF (zero insertion force) design that was used with Socket A (and modern Zen architecture CPUs today). The pinholes are arranged in a 29 x 29 grid with a section in the center cut away. The socket used a plastic lever as opposed the the metal one found on Socket A.
As with Socket A, AMD Socket 754 compatible processors were compatible with chipsets from different vendors, most notably VIA Technologies and Nvidia. As with the previous platform, Nvidia once again carved out a position as a provider of enthusiast-grade solutions with VIA again focused on budget and low-end solutions. At launch VIA offered the K8T800, a traditional northbridge / southbridge design (the southbridge was the VT8251) while Nvidia offered the nForce3 Pro150. The Nvidia solution was marketed as a Media and Communications Processor (MCP) and was essentially the first single-chip chipset solution.
The Nvidia option was intially less popular due to its limited 600MHz HyperTransport bus. The VIA K8T800 used the full AMD specification and offered a 800MHz. Nvidia released subsequent versions that addresses this issue. The Nvidia nForce3 250 offered 800MHz HT and was followed by the popular nForce3 250Gb which also included native Gigabit LAN support – the first of its kind to so.
Both VIA and Nvidia Socket 754 chipsets offered AGP 8x support for graphics cards, AC’97 integrated audio and support for both SATA and PATA (IDE) drive connectivity. Both solutions offered up to 8x USB 2.0 ports. In terms of memory support, the memory controller in the AMD K8 platform was moved to the CPU. Neither chipsets supported integrated graphics.
Most Popular AMD Socket 754 Motherboard – the DFI LANparty UT nF3 250Gb
The AMD Socket 754 era is one that where oddly ASUS do not prove to be most popular with overclockers and HWBOT members. In fact ASUS have only one entry in the top ten. We find however that DFI are without doubt the darlings of the era, a company that today focuses on the embedded industry alone. We also see GIGABYTE, MSI, Abit and ASRock competing:
- -DFI LANparty UT nF3 250Gb – 24.62%
- -DFI Infinity NF4X – 19.29%
- -GIGABYTE GA-K8NE – 13.01%
- -MSI K8N Neo Platinum – 5.72%
- -GIGABYTE GA-K8NS – 2.95%
- -ASUS K8N – 2.42%
- -ASRock K8Upgrade-NF3 – 2.21%
- -Abit – NF8 – 2.16%
- -Abit KV8 Pro – 1.83%
- -MSI K8N Neo3 (MS-7135) – 1.80%
DFI have a commanding share of the Socket 754 submission pie with two boards that were used in 43.91% of all submissions on HWBOT. The popularity of DFI motherboards in this era on HWBOT can be explained by the simple fact that the company actively tried to market the motherboards as being overclocker friendly, and indeed they were. The GIGABYTE GA-K8NE also proved to be popular with 13.01% of all submissions while the MSI K8N Neo Platinum also shone with 5.72%. After that the remaining boards represent between 1-3% of submissions. MSI, GIGABYTE and Abit have two boards on the list while ASRock and ASUS have just one.
So how exactly did DFI manage to create such a loyal following among overclockers at this time? According to legend the company hired Oscar Wu, the man credited with the success that Abit had recently enjoyed in the DIY motherboard market. DFI had already established a name for themselves as an OEM manufacturer, but with Oscar placed in charge of the LANparty division, the company started pumping out motherboards that drew the affection of enthusiasts and overclockers around the world.
Based on the Nvidia nForce3 250Gb chipset, the DFI LANparty UT nF3 250Gb was a full-ATX board that arrived in August 2004, a year after the initial launch of the AMD Athlon 64 range, and a few months after the launch of the AMD Socket 939 processor lineup. Aimed at a price sensitive, budget to mid-range segment, the board offered exceptional features that were designed specifically with overclockers in mind. It also arrived with a black PCB and yellow fittings that made it a very distinctive component in any rig.
In September 2014, this is what Anandtech motherboard reviewer Wesley Fink had to say about the DFI LANparty UT nF3 250Gb:
To put it simply, the DFI nF3 250Gb is the best overclocking Athlon 64 board that we have ever tested. The range of options in every area is superb, and no one will feel that they are left short with this DFI board. For best performance, you should use one DIMM, but performance with 2 DIMMs is also impressive, as the DFI is as good or better with 2 dimms than the best of the Athlon 64 boards that we have tested. If you plan to buy a Socket 754 Athlon 64 and overclock it, this is the board to buy.
Most Popular AMD Socket 754 Processor: AMD Sempron 3000+
Let’s take a moment to consider the changes that AMD made with the transition from Socket A to Socket 754. The most important change was the arrival of 64-bit computing but there were other historically relevant changes to consider also. Developed as the K8 ‘Hammer’ architecture the new technology was based largely on the previous K7 design with the following key differences; addition of 64-bit computing capabilities to the existing x86 architecture, moving the memory controller from the chipset to the processor itself and the change from FSB to AMD’s own HyperTransport bus. The new chips also supported SSE2 instructions with subsequent steppings also including SSE3 instructions.
Memory capacities had started creeping towards the inherent 4GB limitation that exists in all 32-bit architectures, a good enough reason for AMD to beat Intel to the punch and launch a 64-bit platform that could use more than 4GB. This was also an important transition from the perspective of the server market. 64-bit computing was front and center of the new platform and the company’s marketing. AMD Athlon XP processors were essentially rebadged as Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX processors to highlight the fact that company was first (i.e. ahead of Intel) in bringing a 64-bit processor to market.
When we look at the most popular Socket 754 processors, we must also consider that these processors were targeting a budget segment. Socket 939 capable processors arrived on the market just months after launch, offering dual-channel memory, a faster HyperTransport link and eventually dual-core CPUs, a prospect that meant for most of its existence Socket 754 was a budget platform.
With this in mind it’s perhaps not so surprising to see the AMD Sempron 3000+ is the most popular CPU of the Socket 754 era. It was used in 7.97% of all submissions, just ahead of the more affordable AMD Sempron 2800+ which was used in 6.61% of all submissions. Both are based on the Palermo K8 architecture and were single core, 64-bit processors manufactured in AMD’s 90nm process. The AMD Sempron 3000+ was available for a just over $100 USD at launch and was completely unlocked making it a popular choice with HWBOT members. It had a base clock of 1,800MHz, a L2 cache of 128kb, supported single channel DDR-200 memory and had a TDP of 59 watts.
DFI LANparty UT nF3 250Gb: Record Scores
We now take a look at some of the highest scores posted on HWBOT using AMD’s Socket 754 platform and the DFI LANparty UT nF3 250Gb motherboard.
Reference clock overclocking may not be the most important benchmark in today’s world, but back in the AMD Socket 754 era, it was a crucial way to determine a motherboard’s ability to perform well. The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT using an DFI LANparty UT nF3 250Gb motherboard came from Austrian overclocker Hampti who managed a reference clock of 440.04 MHz using an AMD Athlon 64 3000+ and single stage cooling.
You can find the submission from Hampti here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/961703_hampti_reference_frequency_lanparty_ut_nf3_250gb_440.04_mhz
Although raw CPU frequencies are not really treated as true benchmarks today, they remain an important performance metric for most overclockers. The highest CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT using an DFI LANparty UT nF3 250Gb motherboard came from Russian overclocker GraduS. He pushed an AMD Mobile Athlon 64 4000+ Newark core chip to a massive 3,828.72MHz which is +47.26% beyond stock settings.
You can find the submission from GraduS here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/990705_gradus_cpu_frequency_mobile_athlon_64_4000_(newark)_3828.72_mhz
Finally we come to the classic SuperPi 32M benchmark, an important benchmark in terms of historical relevance. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT using a Socket 754 motherboard was submitted by ZorchThatCPU from the US with a run of 24min 28sec 875ms using an AMD Mobile Athlon 64 3400+ (Newark) core chip clocked at 3,314MHz (+50.64%).
Check out the submission from ZorchThatCPUhere: http://hwbot.org/submission/2142199_zorchthatcpu_superpi___32m_mobile_athlon_64_3400_(newark)_24min_28sec_875ms
Thanks for joining us for today’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Return next week when we will focus on the AMD Socket 939 platform and the motherboards, chips and scores that defined that particular era.