The DFI AD73 RAID Motherboard Review
Plain on the Outside, Powerful on the Inside

By, Jeff Bouton
April 18, 2002

Quality and Setup of the DFI AD73 RAID Motherboard
Continued...


A Brief Primer on the "Multiplier":


If overclocking the DFI AD73 RAID motherboard is your plan, then it is important to familiarize yourself with the multiplier setting.  One of the keys to successfully overclocking a system is by unlocking the CPU's mulitplier.  Generally, a "series" of processors are designed with the same core and are "locked" at the factory.  This means that essentially the same chip is used for a range of speeds by simply locking the multiplier to a specific setting.  If the processor is successfully unlocked, then you can enjoy the fullest potential of the core's design, occassionally reaching the high-end of the core's rating without issue.  Once the processor is unlocked, the core frequency of the chip can be adjusted to higher or lower than the factory setting.  What this means is although an AthlonXP 1800+ runs at 1.53GHz. from the factory, it could be set to run as a 1900+ or higher. 

Finding the right balance between bus speed and multiplier setting is key to achieving a stable overclock.  Where a system might have topped out at 145MHz. when adjusting the bus speed alone, with a reduced multiplier setting, the bus may go much higher while keeping the processor running well within tolerances.  For example, take the AthlonXP 1800+ running at 1.53GHz. its internal multiplier is set at 11.5 (11.5 x 133 bus = 1530MHz.)  If the bus speed is increased to 160 this would push the processor speed up to 1.84GHz.(11.5 x 160 bus speed).  However, with an unlocked processor, we could reduced the multiplier setting to 10 which would bring the CPU speed to within tolerances at 1.6GHz. (10 x 160 bus speed), while maintaining a higher bus speed, improving overall system performance.  Of course this is just a scenario, but it does demonstrate how much more success you could have overclocking your system by unlocking your processor. 

The DFI AD73 supports adjustment of the CPU's multiplier setting by implementing a series of dipswitches on the board.  These dipswitches can adjust the multiplier from 5x to 12.5x, offering an ample range of settings.  Although I normally prefer settings be adjusted from within the BIOS, I do prefer this method when it comes to adjusting the multiplier.  This process makes it easy to adjust the setting,  as well as reversing it if the system becomes unstable, without needing to clear the BIOS. 

Unfortunately, the CPU we used for testing is one of a handful of AthlonXP processors whose traces are burned, making unlocking  almost impossible.  However, it didn't stop us from pushing things a little higher with the bus.  So let's take a look at the BIOS and then we'll cover more on overclocking.

 

The BIOS of the DFI AD73 RAID Motherboard:

The DFI AD73 RAID comes with an Award BIOS and has a good amount of settings available for optimizing system performance.  The BIOS provides a wide array of options that one would expect from a "workstation" type motherboard.  The DRAM Clock/Drive Control had an excellent range of settings to maximize the memory performance, while the Frequency/Voltage Control screen provided the bare-minimum for overclocking the system.  The CPU voltage can be adjusted up to 1.85V while the bus speed can be adjusted up to 250MHz.  As we mentioned earlier, the multiplier setting must be set with the dipswitches on the motherboard itself, rather than from within the BIOS..

The BIOS also includes a fairly thorough PC Status screen for monitoring critical voltages and fan speeds.  Alarms can be set to shutdown the system if the CPU fan fails and/or the CPU temperature exceeds the maximum setting.

OK, so we know what ties everything together, but how does this board perform?  Well, let's get to it!

HotHardware Test Systems
AthlonXP All the Way!!

DFI AD73 RAID Motherboard

MSI KT3 Ultra-ARU Motherboard

Shuttle AK35GT2/R Motherboard
AMD AthlonXP 1800+.

256MB Corsair XMS2400 (2-2-5-2)

2 IBM ATA100 7200RPM 42GB HD

nVidia GeForce3 Ti500

Creative 52X CD-ROM

Standard Floppy Drive

Windows XP Professional

DirectX 8.1

VIA 4.38 4-in-1 Drivers

Detonator 28.32

A Few Words About The Benchmarks:
As weve noted in the past, weve seen a wide difference in benchmarking scores across the net.  To help explain the scores we achieve when testing a product, we felt it necessary to explain how we set up a system before running the benchmarks.  With the DFI AD73 RAID motherboard, we started of by setting the BIOS to Load Optimized Defaults.  The memory frequency was manually set to 266MHz.(DDR).  We then set up the Two IBM Deskstar hard drives in a RAID-0 configuration with the Promise controller set for Performance/A-V Editing.  We then installed a fresh copy of Windows XP Professional and followed that up with a download of all Critical Updates in Windows Update.  Next we ran Scandisk and then defragmented the array.  Windows XP has a number of video features that make the interface more visually pleasing, but at a cost of some performance.  In our test system we set the visual quality to "best performance" with both the Windows Desktop Customize option and in the Video drivers.  The results of our benchmarks were compared to a MSI KT3 Ultra ARU and a Shuttle AK35GT2/R motherboard as a point of reference for the DFI AD73 RAID results.

Overclocking the DFI AD73 RAID Motherboard
Get On The Bus!

When we overclock a motherboard, we generally like to do it with an "Unlocked" processor.  Adjusting the multiplier with an unlocked processor, instead of increasing the bus speed, allows us to isolate the cause of a failed overclock to either the motherboard or the processor.  Once an increased bus speed is introduced, a lot of other variables enter the fray.

Unfortunately, the AthlonXP 1800+ that we used for testing cannot be unlocked easily because the traces are burned, preventing us from jumping them.  So with the DFI AD73 RAID motherboard we had to settle for increasing the bus speed only.  Once we got ourselves up and running, we started pushing the bus speed up 1MHz. at a time.

With the limited overclocking features of the BIOS, we didn't expect to get too high with the DFI AD73 RAID and it looks like our instinct was correct.  The maximum bus speed that we could reach stably was a mere 140MHz., any higher and we would see blue screens as Windows XP would load.  Even with some voltage adjustments we couldn't go any higher.  Keep in mind that this was achieved with the most aggressive memory timings and could certainly improve if we backed off a little.  However I am of the opinion that if you need to drop the memory performance down to increase CPU performance, the trade off is not always worth it.  So we settled for the 140MHz. bus speed which increased our processor from the default 1.53GHz. to 1.61GHz., an increase of 5.2%.

Sandra 2002, PCMark2002 and More!