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NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra Shootout : DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D
By Zachary Chan
Category : Mainboard
Published by Vijay Anand on Thursday, 26th May, 2005

DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D (The Good)

The DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D came in an unconventional design much like Chaintech's VNF4 Ultra where the DIMM slots and CPU socket were rotated 90-degrees to be aligned along the board's vertical plane. Unlike the Chaintech VNF4 Ultra, the reasoning wasn't due to a smaller PCB design but an incredibly packed motherboard. The nF4 Ultra-D's assortment of components filled the entire board and DFI has to be commended for a very well designed and functional layout with most of its components in all the right places.

The nF4 Ultra-D's vertical layout to better accommodate other components. Notice that there are heatsinks covering each set of MOSFETs.

DIMM slots are grouped by channel with ample spacing between each slot.

The front side of the board includes all primary connectors in an easily accessible layout.

An interesting point to note at this time is that DFI actually uses exactly the same design for their entire LANParty nForce4 family, which has now grown to a total of six models. While this is not an uncommon practice among motherboard manufacturers, DFI does not only retain a general board layout, but also physical components. As such, even models based on the nForce4 and nForce4 Ultra chipsets inherit the dual PCIe x16 slots and SLI jumpers of the higher-end SLI based motherboards. Of course, the non-nForce4 SLI based boards are not able to run in SLI mode and the second PCIe x16 slot is defaulted to operate in x2 mode. All 'Ultra' models however, support DFI's Dual Xpress Graphics (DXG), which allows you to run two graphics cards independently to setup a quad-monitor display system.

Returning back to the nF4 Ultra-D motherboard, this particular design move by DFI has been very well received by enthusiasts because of a well-known 'mod' that could unlock SLI functionality in the nForce4 Ultra chipset using only a 2B pencil. Since the board already has the physical components of dual PCIe x16 slots, working SLI mode jumpers and most importantly the exact same PCB of the SLI model, it was a simple task to turn the more affordable nF4 Ultra-D into a full-fledged SLI board. Note that NVIDIA has been reported to clamp down on the 'Ultra-to-SLI' mod in future chipset batches and have blocks in place to prevent it or at least make it harder to perform. In any case, depending on when your nF4 Ultra-D is manufactured, you may no longer be able to mod it for SLI, but will still be able to take advantage of the DXG capability.

The nF4 Ultra-D expansion slot configuration. From bottom up, two PCI slots, secondary PCIe x16, PCIe x1, primary PCIe x16 and a PCIe x4 slot. The middle mass of jumpers are for SLI mode switching.

Other than the PCI Express highlight, the board did come with a full ensemble of features. VIA's VT6307 was used for IEEE 1394a capability and the board also featured dual Gigabit LAN ports. Since all 20 PCI Express lanes have been used up, the nF4 Ultra-D used a regular PCI based Marvell 88E8001 Gigabit LAN controller. The nF4 Ultra-D also relied on DFI's Karajan component to deliver 8-channel audio with full analog output and coaxial S/PDIF in and out ports available.

Karajan audio riser consists of the audio CODEC, analog jacks and CD-IN.

The rear panel does away with all legacy ports but includes six USB 2.0, FireWire, dual RJ-45, S/PDIF and of course surround audio from the Karajan riser card.

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