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By: Carl Nelson [03.31.05]
Manufactured by: DFI 

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Board Layout

If you've been reading our latest motherboard reviews, you'll know how disappointed I have been by the budget boards we've been looking at. Let's see if this 'tweak fun' board does any better:

Although this area of the board definitely looks cluttered, that's to be expected with such a robust feature as selectable PCI-E slots, and dual video card support. What I do like is the fact that fan headers and most connectors are found along the bottom of the board. I don't like the placement of the USB headers though; they will interfere with any PCI devices installed, and likely the video card if you choose to use the second slot.

Like every other NF4 board, the chipset is directly in line with the graphics slots. This means a low-profile fan is required, which is normally not prefered since this can add to noise. However DFI is using a special 'magnetic levitation' fan to cut down on noise.

On the left side of this picture, you can see where the power and reset buttons are; unfortunately the first board we received from DFI appears to have been stomped on by the couriers, so it was crushed and parts were missing. I always enjoy this feature though, especially when testing on an open bench.

Although the front panel header is clearly labeled, it is not colour-coded. In my opinion, it should be mandatory for front panel connectors to be colour-coded. It just makes installation so much easier when the motherboard is installed in a case.

Things that I do like: The 'buzzer' can be easily disabled with a jumper; the CMOS jumper is easy to identify; the floppy connector is rotated 90 degrees (tab up!); the chipset fan uses a standard 3 pin header, in case you decide to swap it out.

The top portion of the board is probably what makes the Ultra-D stand out most, besides maybe the colour scheme. With the dimm slots placed at the middle of the board, right at the top, it gives the board a symmetrical look that is probably more aesthetic than anything (which makes perfect sense, since DFI caters to modders with the Lanparty series).

The inclusion of huge heatsinks over the mosfets is an awesome idea, especially the one at the very top, by the dimm slots (we'll get to why in a bit).

The placement of the 24 pin and 4 pin ATX connectors - SUPERB! Folks, this is how it should be done. First of all, they are situated near the edge of the board, so the thick ATX cable isn't reaching across the CPU fan. Secondly, the 4 pin is not only placed by the edge, but it's right beside the 24 pin! This allows for the most clean installation possible; zip-tie the two cables together! I wish all motherboard makers would follow this example.

On the rear panel, we're being re-introduced to "Karajan", DFI's idea of offering a sound solution as noise-free as possible. They got one thing right in moving the Codec off the motherboard, where a lot of noise occurs than can add interference to the signal. However, I wish they would have gone with a better solution other than the crappy AC'97 NFORCE4 controller. The Realtek ALC850 codec itself isn't all that hot either. Later on, we'll find out how much, if any difference Karajan makes compared to other motherboard with similar controller/codec combinations.

Next Page: (Board Layout Cont'd; Bundle)