How to Tweak and Configure the nForce2 Chipset
Disclaimer: The author/RME cannot be held responsible for any eventual damages as a consequence of using the information found in this document. The author has done his best to cross-check and verify information presented in this document but there is no liability to guarantee against any eventual damages caused by the user. The user and reader are fully responsible for any eventual damages caused by implementing or misusing information in this document.
It is my understanding that the nForce2-Asus A7N8X-Athlon XP combination is of significant popularity for use in digital audio and recording since the introduction of the chipset in November, 2002. However, there have been issues raised at public digital audio forums on how to configure and tweak this combination for robust digital audio performance. The objective with this document is to shed some light on how to configure the combination as to (1) get access to optimal computer performance and (2) to spread relevant information to avoid compatibility issues that can be both time-consuming and costly for the end-user to rectify.
Any imperfections left in the document are solely the responsibility of the author. Readers who may want to get in dialogue with the author (e.g. to suggest improvements, corrections, etc. should make contact at email@example.com.)
The document is distributed “as is”. The author cannot guarantee any further support to readers than what is presented here.
Much of the audio-related experiences presented in the document stem from users having RME soundcards in combination with the Asus A7N8X. Readers who want to disseminate information on the nForce2 from the RME Forum can read more at rme-audio.forum.
The author is neither an employee of RME nor Nvidia/Asus but rather a passionate musician/studio user of RME products who also happen to find trust in Athlon-based DAW configurations!
Following the introduction of the nForce2 chipset and the launch of the Asus A7N8X motherboard digital audio workstation (DAW) users quickly found interest to utilize this combination in pro audio applications. The combined resources of the nForce2-A7N8X-Athlon XP Thoroughbred/Barton CPUs are verified to work well in a diversified range of audio/recording conditions – if the user invests in compatible brand-named DDR RAM memory, high-quality power supply units (PSUs) and configure the combination properly.
There are certain features with the nForce2-A7N8X-Athlon XP Thoroughbred/Barton combination that makes it attractive to tap the most resources possible via tweaked configurations and/or robust overclocking (O/C) for use in digital audio/recording. Specifically, the PCI bus is locked at a constant bus speed of 33 MHz irrespective settings of the front side bus (FSB) speed and the AGP bus speed is by default set to 66 MHz (though the AGP bus speed can be manually configured independently of the locked PCI bus speed). Most pro audio soundcards and external DSP PCI cards are dependent on a PCI bus speed in compliance with the PCI 2.x specifications, wherefore it is not recommended to O/C in situations where the PCI bus is not locked.
This document explicitly deals with user-based experiences in tweaked configurations and robust O/C of the A7N8X in combination with Athlon XP Thoroughbred/Barton cpus for DAW purposes. Some data from PCI bus stress tests with audio configuration is also presented. Only O/C configurations based on standard/third-party air-cooling features are considered.
The verdict is that the DAW user may want to tap some additional 100-400 MHz of FPU power from the Athlon XP Thoroughbred/Barton, improve memory timings and achieve snappier application response times compared to default settings but without the hassles and risks involved in aggressive O/C actions.
The latest revision as of this writing is version 1.06 of the original revision 1.x motherboards. nForce2 manufacturers have also recently released the nForce 2 ST that will officially support the upcoming 400 MHz FSB Athlon XP Barton CPU and include native SATA support in the Southbridge chipset. The 2.x revision motherboards will not be backward compatible with BIOS versions for revision 1.x motherboards. The revision 2 motherboards are reported to be very O/C friendly, many users state that they can get 200 MHz FSB out of the box without and voltage modifications. Do note that prior to the revision 2.x Asus motherboards it is not likely, with existing BIOS versions, that you will be able to achieve robust 200 MHZ FSB O/C whereas Abit has released a BIOS update that allows for 200 MHz FSB even on pre-version 2.x motherboards.
The A7N8X is equipped with several important features for O/C with the latest BIOS version. The user can e.g. manually adjust Vcore voltage, DDR reference voltage, memory timing, AGP voltage and FSB frequency. Do note that higher voltage settings will not damage your cpu per se – it is rather the higher heat dissipation that follows from higher voltage settings you have to care for.
If you know what you are doing use the modified BIOS version that unveils some hidden functions by Asus (1.003 Uber1) if you want to O/C your Athlon XP Thoroughbred/Barton CPU and get all FPU cream there is for DAW use. Do note that based on user reports the revision 1.04 motherboards with the A2 Northbridge chipset will not run stable above 190 FSB due to “insufficient2” voltage output (rev. 1.0.4 M/B). Later revisions use the A3 Northbridge chipset. If you want to stay on safe ground and feel uncomfortable with O/C, the most reliable BIOS as of date is viewed to be the official 1.003 final version (later versions may be available when you read this). To automatically unlock the multiplier settings you’ll need to upgrade to the BIOS 1.002 version or later if using the new Athlon XP Barton CPU (2500+/2800+/3000+). Note that for rev. 2.0 motherboards you’ll need BIOS version C1003 (2003/04/08) or later as BIOS versions for 1.03, 1.04 and 1.06 motherboards are not interchangeable with rev. 2.0.
When tweaking the BIOS settings the following menus are essential within the “Advanced Chipset Features”:
the latest modified “Uber” BIOS can be found here: 1003
Uber Bios for A7N8X & Deluxe;
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