Introduction

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Today we'll be taking a look at one of DFI's latest entries for the LGA 775 motherboard market, the DFI LanParty 875P-T. It is a unique, and very interesting, "hybrid" board that mixes Intel's new LGA 775 processor with the previous generation's 875P high performance chipset.

With the release of their LanParty and Infinity series motherboards last year, DFI jumped from relatively unknown OEM board manufacturer to enthusiast market powerhouse among motherboard makers. Delivering great looking and incredible performing boards, DFI has become a major player not only for gaming or overclocking enthusiasts, but every user who demands performance from their system.

With Intel's recent release of the 915 and 925 chipsets, most motherboard makers have switched their attention away from the socket 478 to the LGA 775. In doing so, they have forced end users to make a choice, stick with the older socket 478 and its AGP and DDR 1 based chipsets, or adopt the newer LGA 775 processor, and chipsets that instead rely on PCI-Express and DDR 2. Although the newer technology hasn't nearly hit its stride, everyone fully expects both PCI-Express and DDR 2 memory to show incredible performance improvement over their predecessors. The main issues to this point are price to performance, with the newer technology showing only slight performance gains over the older technology, and availability, both PCI-E video cards and DDR 2 memory are hard to find and extravagantly priced. Given the fact that Intel's newest chipsets are not yet showing vast improvement over the older chipsets, why would anyone (other than those who need to be cutting edge) choose to replace their entire system to adopt this new technology?

A few motherboard makers have released boards that bridge this gap in the 865 chipset, these "budget boards" allow users to upgrade their CPU to the new LGA 775 while continuing to use their AGP and PCI based hardware, but none of these boards really stand out performance wise. With the release of the 875P-T, DFI became the first motherboard maker to mix the high performance 875 chipset with Intels newest processor line, the LGA 775. The DFI 875P-T allows users to realize the full potential of the LGA 775 processor while still using their current AGP video card and DDR 1 memory. This allows users to upgrade incrementally instead of replacing their whole system at once.

Features

 

CPU Support All LGA775 processors
Northbridge Intel® 875P chipset
Memory Support Four 184-pin DDR sockets/ Supports dual channel (128-bit wide) memory up to 4 GB
AGP 1 AGP 8x/4x slot
Southbridge Intel® 82801ER I/O Controller Hub (ICH5R)
Audio RealTek 6-channel audio CODEC
Audio Connectivity S/PDIF-in/out interface
PCI 4 PCI slots
IDE Supports up to UltraDMA 100Mbps hard drives
IDE RAID Not Supported
SATA Supports two SATA (Serial ATA) interfaces which are compliant with SATA 1.0 specification (1.5Gbps interface)
SATA RAID Supports RAID 0 and RAID 1
Networking Marvell 88E8001 Gigabit PCI LAN controller
USB 4 x I/O USB 2.0, 2 connectors for 4 additional external USB 2.0 ports
FireWire Supports two 100/200/400 Mb/sec ports
Other I/O

1 mini-DIN-6 PS/2 mouse port
1 mini-DIN-6 PS/2 keyboard port
2 S/PDIF RCA jacks (S/PDIF-in and S/PDIF-out)
1 DB-25 parallel port
1 DB-9 serial port
1 IEEE 1394 port
1 RJ45 LAN port
4 USB 2.0 ports
Line-in, line-out and mic-in jacks

Voltages
  • CPU 0.8375v - 1.950v in .05 increments
  • DIMM 1.800v - 3.500v
  • Northbridge 1.500v - 1.800v

Layout

 

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DFI arguably makes the best looking boards on the market. Using a jet black PCB, every connector would stand out easily even if DFI didn't use flourescent orange and yellow. Along with the included matching cables, this board should should look absolutely incredible with a cold cathode light or two in your case.

 

Moving on from appearance to the actual layout of the board, you should immediately notice the 875P-T is like every other board DFI has released, well organized and very simple. This is often an understated aspect of motherboards, but also one of the most important for a few reasons. One key to an uncluttered case is a well organized board, and the 875P-T is extremely well organized. While most boards are basically the same in their layout, the variables usually are the 24 pin ATX power connector, the IDE/FDD connectors, and the proximity of components to the processor socket. Something that immediately stands out with this board is that everything is nicely grouped together in a way that maximizes both orginization and air flow. The DIMM slots, ATX connector and IDE connectors are all nicely aligned together along the upper right side of the board.

Upper Right Corner

DFI placed the 24 pin ATX connector in the far upper right corner of the board, the best location possible to allow both easy access from the PSU and to stow extra cable behind the board or empty optical drive bays. Next DFI stacked the IDE/FDD connectors along the edge of the board to minimize cable clutter, though this really shouldn't be an issue with the included rounded IDE/FDD cables. 

Last is probably the most important design feature: The 875P-T leaves ample room around the CPU to accomadate just about any aftermarket heat sink or water cooling apparatus on the market. To me at least, the disappointing aspect of many high end boards has been the layout around the CPU socket. How many times have you purchased a very large aftermarket heatsink like the XP-120, only to see capacitors or the NB chipset cooler get in the way?

CPU/NB

The Intel 82875P northbridge chipset is passively cooled with a large black heatsink, but given the fact that this board is marketed to the enthusiast, I would have preferred to see an active cooling solution. DFI did move the NB chipset slightly down the board, leaving enough room for any CPU cooler.

Northbridge 

To create more space on the board, as well as make for better arrangement, DFI removed one PCI slot, though four should be more than sufficient. By doing this, DFI created extra room between the AGP slot, the NB, and the DIMM slots. This should allow users to easily install and remove components such as system memory or an AGP video card without issue. Another benefit of this extra room is that users should have no problem using an aftermarket video card cooler such as Arctic Cooling's VGA Silencer.

AGP/PCI

In the lower right quarter of the board DFI placed the clear CMOS jumper in an extremely accessible area right beneath the battery, and right above the two included SATA connectors (more on these in a minute). In the bottom right corner, DFI placed a power and reset switch. These are an incredible feature that I wish more board makers would include. While these aren't necessary to the casual user, to the gaming or overclocking enthusiast (or people like myself who test equipment for a living) they are invaluable, allowing you to run the board on an open test bench or in the case without having to hook up all the front panel connections.

I/O panel

DFI chose to include the Marvell 88E8001 Gigabit PCI LAN controller and the Realtek ALC650 audio chip, which offers 6-Channels of dedicated audio, along with the S/PDIF in/output interface. Neither of these are "cutting edge" technology, but both are decent enough components that are more than adequate. Moving on to the I/O port, this board includes four USB 2.0 ports, a IEEE 1394 port, a LAN port, and the standard audio ports. The 875P-T also includes connectors on the board itself which allow 4 more USB 2.0 connections, for a total of eight, and another IEEE 1394 connection, for a total of two.

Layout Thoughts:

One issue I did have with this board's layout was the placement of the 3 pin fan connectors. the CPU fan connector could have been placed closer to the CPU socket, while the centrally located second fan connector (usually used for the PSU fan) seems a little out of place on the board. I think DFI would have been better served using the CPU fan connector for the PSU fan, while moving the second fan connector slightly closer to the CPU socket. Lastly, DFI placed the system fan connector on the very bottom of the board near the center -- right under the bottom PCI slot. To me this is a little cramped, but these are very minor gripes, right?

A more serious issue I had with the 875P-T was the inclusion of only two SATA connectors. Without using a PCI controller card, users are limited in their options either to a single two disk RAID array, or two independent SATA drives. Now with the release of SATA optical drives, this board could suffer a serious bottleneck in the near future.

Other than these two issues, I thought the overall layout of the DFI 875P-T was very clean and well thought out.

The System BIOS

The BIOS is the heart of every motherboard; here is where you can fine tune and tweak your board and installed components for every last ounce of performance. In my opinion there is a fine line between a great BIOS setup and one which overwhelms the user. Generally BIOS tweaks are left to those who know and understand the ramifications of changes made to various settings, but in this day of DIY systems, a BIOS also needs to be simple enough for the new enthusiast to understand and master.

Pheonix Award BIOS

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DFI chose the Pheonix Award BIOS to manage the 875P-T for a full featured, yet simple BIOS menu. Instead of going in depth into the basic menus that are standard on every board, I'll focus on three important menu features of this board. The Advanced Chipset Features menu, The Genie BIOS menu, and The CMOS Reloaded menu.

The Genie BIOS menu

Genie BIOS 

The Genie BIOS screen is probably the first screen overclockers will visit. Here you will find all the settings which affect the CPU and voltages, the lifeline of your board and system as a whole. First, you will notice a feature that is becoming fairly standard on motherboards -- an automatic overclock feature. DFI calls theirs EASY OVERCLOCK. This bsically allows the user an easy way to overclock their system without the hassles of making small adjustments over a wide range of settings. Simply choose from a range of preselected overclock percentages (In this case DFI offers from 2.5% up to 15%), and the BIOS automatically adjusts the setting for you based on the installed components. This feature is great in theory, but on more than one occassion I've had systems refuse to boot or freeze up on me while using this type of program. I was able to use the full range of EASY OVERCLOCK offered in the BIOS without incident when my processor was set to a multiplier of 14 (2.8GHz), but at a multiplier of 18 (3.6) the highest easy overclock setting that would even boot was 10%, and that was after boosting the v-core from 1.40v to 1.55v.

Moving on, the FSB can be adjusted from 100 up to 400, with 200 being default. The CPU multiplier is displayed next, which matters very little unless you are one of the lucky few with a engineering sample CPU (all Intel processors are multiplier locked). Next are the voltage adjustments for your CPU, DIMM, and AGP; you will notice right awat that this board is meant for the enthusiast as the v-core ranges from 0.8375v all the way up to 1.975v! Next, you will see that the DIMM voltage ranges from 2.5v all the way up to 3.2v! The AGP voltage ranges from 1.5v to 1.8v, though I doubt too many people mess with this. The problem with overclocking most boards usually ends up being either the lack of or unstable voltage setting selections. From looking at the selection of voltages on the 875P-T, this shouldn't be an issue.

The Advanced Chipset Features menu

Advanced Chipset Features

 The Advanced Chipset Features menu is where users will adjust settings pertaining to the system memory. A couple of features worth pointing out here are the Tune Memory Timing feature and the Fine Tune Memory Timing feature.  Within the Tune Memory Timing menu you can select User Defined, Fast, or Turbo.

 Tune Memory Timing menu

 CMOS Reloaded

The Fast setting tightens the memory timings automatically, the Turbo setting tightens them even further. A couple of important points here are not to use either setting on an overclocked system, as it will fail to boot, and if you choose to use the Turbo setting, scroll to the bottom of the page and enable the Soft Patch Mode feature, failing to do this will also result in your system failing to boot. Again, unless you plan on running your system at stock speeds, do not enable Fast or Turbo memory settings! Next is the Fine Tune Memory Timing menu. Here, you select either Auto or Enable. Unless you are planning to run your system at stock speeds I recommend you leaving this set to Auto, selecting Enabled led to some system instablity while doing some testing during the overclocking portion of the review.

The last BIOS menu I'll touch on is the CMOS RELOADED screen, DFI's CMOS Reloaded is a nice feature in its own way. CMOS Reloaded basically allows a user to store multiple BIOS configurations and load them as needed with the use of a "hot key". For the beginner it means recovering from an incorrect BIOS setting without clearing the CMOS, or being left with an unbootable system. If clearing the BIOS is required, CMOS Reloaded allows the user to simply load one of up to four stored BIOS configurations

The CMOS Reloaded menu

CMOS Reloaded

For the more advanced user, CMOS Reloaded allows you to store different BIOS configurations for different uses. Think a specific setting might be better for gaming? Simply store it and name it something like "Gaming." Want to have the ultimate overclocking configuration? Simply save it as "O/C." Do you do alot of system testing? Great! Simply name and save seperate configurations that can be loaded at start up. A fantastic feature that works exactly as it should.

All in all the DFI 875P-T's BIOS is outstanding. I think the wide array of voltages settings for the v-core and DIMM alone make this a great BIOS, add in the ability to adjust just about every possible setting of your system, as well as the CMOS Reloaded feature, and this should be a dream board for the enthusiast crowd....but before we can say that, we need to check the most important aspect of this board: the performance.

Testing

For testing purposes I used the following system:

For performance comparison I used the following system:

*All testing was done on a fresh install of Windows XP Professional build 2600 with Service Pack 2 and DirectX 9.0c. All benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running. No overclocking was done on any components unless otherwise noted.

Tests included:

Everest 1.51 :

Everest 1.51 is a professional system information, diagnostics and benchmarking program for Win32 platforms. It extracts details of all components of the PC. It also tests the actual read and write speeds of your memory to give a fairly accurate look of true memory performance.

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ScienceMark 2.0 Beta:

ScienceMark 2.0 is different from other benchmarks, in a sense the benchmark tests a series of different memory bandwidth algorithms. To top it all off the assembly source for these copy routines is available online to help assure the benchmark is not biased towards any one platform in particular.

 

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POV-Ray 3.6.0:

The POVRay benchmark is great for showing the performance levels of various processors and compilers by timing how long it takes for POV-Ray to render a standard image with standard parameters.

 

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FutureMark; 3dmark2005

 

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Massive Development AquaMark3:

The AquaMark3 executes a complete state-of-the-art game engine and generates 3D scenes designed to make the same demands on hardware as a modern game. The utilized game engine, the krass Engine, has been used in Aquanox and AquaNox 2: Revelation as well as in the upcoming RTS Spellforce by Phenomic Game Development. AquaMark3 utilizes recent hardware features of the new DirectX 9 API, such as PixelShader 2.0, while staying fully backward compatible to DirectX 8 and 7 graphics hardware.

 

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SuperPi 1.1e :

SuperPi calculates the number Pi in this raw number crunching benchmark. The benchmark is fairly diverse and allows the user to change the number of digits of Pi that can be calculated. In this benchmark we ran SuperPi to 4 million places.

 

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Far Cry Benchmark Utility ver. 1.4:

 

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Doom 3 TimeDemo 1:

 

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I ran the full range of benchmarks but didn't feel the need to post every result because, as you can see from the results above, there was little difference between the 875P-T and the P4C800-E Deluxe .

Is that a bad thing? I don't believe so, as in my opinion the  P4C800-E Deluxe is one of the best Socket 478 boards made. This simply shows DFI's 875P-T for what it is, a very solid board that allows users to upgrade their system incrementally while maintaining a high performance system.

While these results may not make everyone giddy,  let's see how she overclocks..... 

Overclocking

Overclocking the 875P-T was an incredibly simple process. DFI's EASY OVERCLOCK feature is a very simple and easy to understand program that should satisfy any beginning overclocker. Simply choose an overclock percentage between 2.5 and 15%, and let it rip! A word of caution though, be very careful mixing this feature with the memory features in the Advanced Chipset section. Overtightening the memory while maxing out the CPU can easily cause instability or worse....an unbootable system. For the more advanced user there are numerous tweaking options available with which you can maximize the O/C of your system.

Default Clock

   First I dropped the multiplier on my processor to 14X (2.8GHz), changed the memory timing to "BY SPEED," and started cranking up the FSB until I could no longer get my system to boot. At 270 on the FSB, my board started squealing and the system became very unstable, rebooting and finally refusing to enter Windows. Regardless of where I cranked the voltage to, and I tried everything up to and including 1.60v, I couldn't get Windows to run. The best I could possibly do at a multiplier of 14 was 265 on the FSB -- not too shabby, but nothing spectacular.

2.8 O/C

I increased the multi to 15 and was still running stable at 260 on the FSB. Cranking the CPU multiplier up to 18 (3.6GHz), my max O/C turned out at about 226 on the Front Side bus, still good enough for 4.07GHz! Not too shabby at all.

3.6 O/C

Looking at it objectively, this is a fairly good overclock on any system with stock Intel cooling, however looking at the end result and how everything up to 4GHz was stable, yet anything over 4GHz wasn't . . . I tend to believe that Windows was the issue more than the processor or board.

I would be very interested to see what this system could do with some phase change or high end water cooling, but to be honest, I think that these overclocking for reviews should be conducted on air. In my opinion a review should show you the least you can expect... I believe that all components have different limits, therefore my high end results will be different from others, but by showing you the least you should expect, you can get a realistic idea of what your system should be able to accomplish.

 

Rich's Thoughts

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DFI got their foot in the door with their Lan Party boards and hasn't looked back. I was impressed all the way around with the 875P-T, from its performance at stock speeds to its overclock, this board was rock solid and a great performer.

That DFI chose the 875 chipset for this board is interesting. There are very few differences between the 875 and cheaper 865 chipset (Intel's PAT technology, Integrated Gigabyte Ethernet in the SB), and most tests show a 2-5% performance boost across the board. The main difference is price, with 865 chipset based boards on average $35-40 cheaper than 875 chipset boards. So why did DFI choose the 875 chipset for the 875P-T? After talking with the great folks at DFI I was told that the 875P-T was their initial offering into the "hybrid" board field, and that in fact they intend to release a 865 chipset based board for the LGA 775. Aside from that I was told that DFI feels that the 875 chipset offers better overclocking potential than the 865 chipset, and that along with the PAT and Gigabyte Ethernet would pique consumers interest in this market. I couldn't agree more!

DFI Bundle

Another factor that comes into play with any hardware package is the included bundle. DFI bundles have always been top notch, and the accessories bundled in with the 875P-T are no exception.  Besides the usual manual, driver disk, etc, DFI included flourescent orange rounded IDE and floppy cables,  a sticker and badge set, a transport strap, A UV reactive sleeving kit for wiring, extra jumpers, WinDVD, and the Front X Drive Bay. The Front X drive bay is an odd duck, fitting into one of your case's 5.25 drive bays. The Front X panel has a set of four diagnostic lights for diagnosing system issues. Also included on the panel is a 1394b Firewire port, an optical SPDIF port, and finally an SATA port, for connecting an external SATA device (something that will become very handy in the coming year with SATA taking over on a larger scale). As nice as this panel was, I was a bit shocked and a lot disappointed that there were no USB connectors at all included in the Front X Drive Bay! How useful is something like this actually going to be without a single USB connector?

 more accessories

Seriously, after spending $400 on an X800 Pro or $350 on some top of the line memory, why would you want to drop the whole system because none of it is supported under the 915/925 chipsets? I think these "hybrid" boards offer a great alternative to a complete system upgrade and should have no problem finding a market until the newer 915/925 chipset mature and show real performance gains.

The Legit Bottom Line

If you are wanting to take advantage of the performance improvements offered by Intel's new pinless processors, yet don't quite have the money to invest in a PCI-Express video card or a couple of sticks of DDR 2, I highly recommend the DFI 875P-T. DFI has outdone themselves yet again and definitely cemented themselves in the enthusiast motherboard market.

Retail Box