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NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra Shootout : Chaintech VNF4 Ultra
By Zachary Chan
Category : Mainboard
Published by Vijay Anand on Wednesday, 25th May, 2005

Chaintech VNF4 Ultra (The Good)

The first thing one would notice about the VNF4 Ultra is its shorter PCB depth. While still within ATX specifications, Chaintech has shaved an inch off the PCB. As expected, there were some design changes that needed to happen in order to accommodate its smaller size. DIMM slots were positioned parallel to the board's width at the top and the CPU socket with its retention unit also had to be rotated 90-degrees. The lower part of the board retained a general layout format and didn't really undergo any changes.

The VNF4 Ultra has a short board depth measuring only 8.6 inches.

The VNF4 Ultra still comes with a standard compliment of expansion slots, including two PCIe x1 slots.

Primary IDE and SATA connectors are placed vertically on the middle front of the board, a location which is quite accessible.

Being a Value Edition motherboard, the VNF4 Ultra was 'feature-free' and the only external components that could be seen were the ones that support the nForce4 Ultra's built-in chipset features. Of course, the nForce4 Ultra chipset itself guarantees that the board was still reasonably stocked with features such as SATA II with RAID capabilities, PCI express, Gigabit LAN and multi-channel audio. A Vittesse VSC8201 PHY link-layer ASIC was used to enable Gigabit Ethernet and an AC'97 CODEC supports the host audio controller in the chipset. After seeing how ABIT's top end motherboard only supplied users with a 6-channel audio solution, we were glad that the 'value' VNF4 Ultra made use of a Realtek ALC850 8-channel CODEC.

We did not expect the VNF4 to be loaded with peripherals as well and while the board did come with a slim bundle, Chaintech did provide the necessary cables to get you started with a simple SATA RAID array. We were pleasantly surprised that the board came with an additional CD, which contained some useful system tools such as anti-virus, file and system security software.

Full set of I/O ports grace the rear panel including surround audio. Only digital audio ports are missing.

Chaintech's VNF4 Ultra had the following overclocking parameters accessible within its BIOS:
  • FSB Settings: 200MHz to 400MHz
  • PCIe Frequency: 100MHz to 145MHz
  • RAM Frequency: DDR200, DDR266, DDR333, DDR400
  • CPU Voltage Settings: 0.900V to 1.550V (in 0.025V steps), 1.550V to 1.700V (in 0.050V steps)
  • Memory Voltage Settings: 2.70V to 2.90V (in 0.1V steps)
  • Chipset Voltage Settings: 1.60V to 1.70V (in 0.1V steps)
  • Multiplier Selection: Yes (unlocked CPUs only)

    Chaintech VNF4 Ultra (The Bad)

    Fast becoming a very common feature in motherboards today, diagnostic tools are appearing in various implementations in one form or another. Manufacturers such as MSI have proprietary diagnostics checks via their D-Bracket 2 while most other boards come with 2-digit POST code LEDs onboard. The Chaintech VNF4 Ultra also included a similar diagnostic feature, but the question we had to ask was its usefulness. The board was capable of displaying alphanumeric POST codes. However, Chaintech delivered them as part of the boot screen itself that shows up only briefly during POST. If the system boots normally, you would of course be greeted to a healthy boot-up screen. However, if there is a system failure, the board would most probably not even POST. In this scenario, the codes would not be displayed and if they cannot be displayed, they cannot help users to diagnose problems.

    Both ATX power connectors are located along the rear of the board. Due to the short board depth, this area will be congested with cables on both sides of the CPU socket.
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