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Gigabyte 7NNXP NForce2 Motherboard Review

Gigabyte 7NNXP NForce2 Motherboard Review

Supplied by Gigabyte

Gigabyte’s 7NNXP NFORCE2 motherboard pulls away from the competition. The 7NNXP
beat out the the enthusiast’s favorite, the ASUS A7N8X, in 15 out of 19 of Short-Media’s
benchmark tests. Gigabyte continues to produce motherboards that challenge the
leaders for performance. Their NFORCE2 platform brings a few unique additions
including a Dual Power Voltage Regulator Module (DPVRM) and Dual Channel DDR
across four DIMMs. Gigabyte also throws in their patented Dual BIOS and EasyTune4
along with Dual LAN and 6-Channel sound (NVIDIA SoundStorm including Dolby Digital




nForce 2 Ultra400 chipset


  1. Socket A for AMD AthlonXP / Athlon / Duron processor


  1. NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 System Platform Processor (SPP)
  2. Media and Communications Processor – Turbo (MCP-T)
  3. Super I/O: ITE IT8712F chip
  4. Silicon Image sil3112A controller
  5. GigaRAID ATA 133 RAID controller
  6. Intel 82540EM Gigabit LAN chip
  7. Realtek 8100 Ethernet Controller
  8. Realtek ALC650 Audio AC’97 Codec
  9. 2 x 4M bit flash ROM

Front Side

  1. 400/333/266 MHz FSB


  1. Type:Dual Channel DDR400/ 333/ 266- 184pin
  2. Max capacity: Up to 3GB by 4 DIMM slots

Internal I/O

  1. 2 x Serial ATA connector
  2. 4 x UDMA ATA 133/100/66 Bus Master IDE connectors
  3. 1 x FDD connector
  4. 1 x USB 2.0/1.1 connectors(support 2 ports)
  5. 2 x IEEE 1394 connectors ( supports 3 ports)
  6. S/P DIF input/output pin header
  7. 3 x cooling fan pin headers
  8. WOL pin header
  9. CD/AUX in
  10. 1 x Game/Midi connector


  1. 1 x AGP Pro slot (8x/4x-AGP 3.0 compliant, supports 1.5v display
    card only.)
  2. 5 x PCI slots (PCI 2.2 compliant)
  3. 1 x DPS slot

Rear Panel

  1. PS/2 Keyboard / Mouse
  2. 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  3. 2 x RJ45 ports
  4. 2 x COM ports
  5. 1 x LPT
  6. Audio (1 x Line-in / 1 x Line-out / 1 x Mic) connector


  1. CPU FSB / Multiplier / Vcore Voltage adjustable via BIOS
  2. AGP Voltage / Clock adjustable via BIOS
  3. DIMM Voltage / Clock adjustable via BIOS


  1. ATX power connector and ATX 12V connector
  2. Power-off by Windows 98/ Me/ 2000/ XP shut down and switch

Form Factor

  1. ATX form factor
  2. 30.5 x 24.4 cm

H/W Monitoring

  1. System health status auto-detect and report by BIOS
  2. Hardware detecting and reporting for case open, power-in voltage,
    CPU voltage, and fan speed.


  1. 2x4M bit flash ROM, enhanced ACPI feature for PC98/Win98/Win2000/Me/
    CE/XP compliance, Green, PnP, DMI, INT13 (>8.4GB) and Anti-Virus
  2. IDE#1~#4, SCSI, LS120, ZIP and CD-ROM bootable

Other Features

  1. EasyTune™4 (support the function of hardware monitoring only)
  2. Suspend to RAM (STR)
  3. Supports USB KB / MS wake up from S3

Bundle Software

  1. Norton Internet Security™

    1. Norton Anti Virus™
    2. Norton™ Personal Firewall
    3. Norton™ Privacy Control
    4. Norton™ Parental Control
    5. Norton™ Spam Alert

  2. GIGABYTE Windows Utility Manager
  3. Adobe Acrobat Reader
  4. Adobe Acrobat e-Book Reader


  1. nForce2 series system driver
  2. REALTEK audio driver
  3. Intel Pro/1000 CT LAN driver
  4. Realtek LAN driver
  5. Silcon Image Serial ATA driver
  6. GigaRAID IDE RAID driver
  7. USB2.0 driver


The Gigabyte 7NNXP fully supports the 400 FSB AMD Athlon XP processors. What
may be new is Dual Channel DDR 400 FSB support across four memory slots…not
just three. The DPS, previously noted as DPVRM, is an interesting addition seen
only on the Gigabyte this version of NFORCE2 motherboard.

What’s in the box?


The Gigabyte 7NNXP comes with a very extensive set of manuals for the motherboard,
GigaRAID and SATA RAID. Gigabyte produces one of the most well written manuals
around and supplies a hard copy version. This is extremely useful as most manufacturers
provide a cut down version on paper then a more extensive PDF version on the
install disc. Users will appreciate having the wealth of information easily
at hand during setup as most don’t have access to a second PC to refer to a
PDF. Also included is a quick setup guide and the install disc.




The 7NNXP features 6-channel sound based on the NVIDIA Soundstorm package.
Gigabyte is trying to downplay the NVIDIA reference but the sound is nonetheless
based on the NVIDIA sound technology. The backplane alone supports analog outs
for all six speakers but the PCI sound bracket includes optical and coaxial
S/P DIF plus analog outs for the surround, center and low frequency effects
(sub) speakers. This means that the analog ports on the backplane can be used
as mic and line.


A USB bracket provides from two more USB ports for a total of 6 on the backside.


1394 (FireWire) PCI brackets used to only come with one style of connection
and it is good to see that manufacturers including Gigabyte are opting to include
the two styles of connections.


There is a PCI bracket for external SATA drives. It’s an interesting inclusion
and does not mean there are two more SATA headers. The SATA headers on the motherboard
can be connected to the “inside” headers on the bracket allowing for
two external SATA drives to be connected to the system. The immediate application
would be an external SATA RAID array which would most likely be found in professional


Think of this more as a routing card and not to be confused with a device that
provides for additional drives such as a SCSI or IDE controller. Power is passed
through this device by 4-pin molex connections. A 4-pin male to 1 or 2 SATA
power connections will have to be used on the “outside” or a SATA
RAID housing that has its own internal power supply or connections.


A “multi-purpose” 4-pin molex/SATA power cable is included along
with three SATA cables. Four SATA cables would have been better to provide immediate
benefit for the PCI SATA bracket. (Four SATA cables are required)



A backplane guard, three IDE cables, floppy cable and case badge round out
the package.




Touring the board


The horizontal socket orientation allows for easier access to mount a heatsink
but there are no mounting holes for larger heatsinks or watercooling blocks.
Gigabyte would do well to include mounting holes in revision two of the 7NNXP.


There is one capacitor that will prevent a problem for any heatsink larger
than the socket perimeter.


Gigabyte locates the main ATX power connection on the right side of the motherboard
which is the most preferable position. It is too bad that the 4-pin power connection
could not be located nearby. The black floppy connection beside. Most notable
are the four memory DIMMs that are color coded for a reason. This is a Dual
Channel memory configuration and memory must be installed in pairs in either
the red or purple slots for Dual Channel memory to function properly. If one
or three memory modules are installed the Dual Channel feature will not function
but the board will still work. Four memory modules must all be of the same type.


Below the power and floppy connection are IDE 1 and 2.


Left of the memory slots is the North Bridge heatsink.


The 40x40x10mm. fan is held in place by four screws and can easily be replaced
by a generic 40x40x10mm. fan in the event of failure. This is very convenient
when compared to other manufacturers who choose almost impossible to find custom
fans. RMA may be the only choice In event of their fan failure…not so with


On opposite corners of the North Bridge heatsink are two spring loaded pins
which can be removed by compressing the clip on the underside of the motherboard.



The heatsink has the standard “pink goop” thermal compound. It is
best to gently pry the heatsink off as it will not come easily. Be careful when
using a metal screwdriver to pry as damage to the PCB could result.

The heatsink fan turns a furious 5000 RPM delivering 4.85 CFM at a nominal
27 dBA. It isn’t loud but it is a hard worker.


Right next to the North Bridge heatsink is the CPU clock switch. In the default
ON position 133/166/200 FSB CPU clock speeds are available. The only time it
would be switched to OFF would be for 100 FSB and who has a 100 FSB processor?


Back out to the right edge of the motherboard and below the IDE headers are
the two SATA headers controlled by the Silicon


The reason for this chip is simple according to the Silicon Image website;
“By simply incorporating the SiI 3112 through the motherboard or an add-in
card and loading the accompanying driver, any system with a PCI bus interface
may upgrade to the Serial ATA interface. Full support of legacy ATA features
and commands is incorporated into the Serial ATA software and drivers.”


The IDE RAID headers and motherboard ON/OFF/HDD Activity connectors fill out
the bottom right corner. Gigabyte color codes the front panel connectors so
no user has to squint at the tiny PCB print to determine “what goes where”.
A look at the pretty pictures in the manual will also help. (RTFM)


GigaRAID isn’t a new type of controller but a new way of maintaining hard drive
performance for drives connected to the RAID controller. GigaRAID does support
RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1 and JBOD. Unfortunately there is no ability to set
stripe size in the RAID BIOS, however, the GigaRAID RAID MANAGER software does
allow for a host of settings including stripe sizes from 1k to 64k and, believe
it or not, email notification. Very cool.

The GigaRAID chip basically uses its own internal processor to handle RAID
functions instead of looking to the main CPU. This “onboard” processor
function delivers better performance especially during high main CPU utilization
and can provide for increased stability.


The bottom edge finds a front USB header (yellow) for two more USB ports, two
1394 connections, yet another USB header (black) for a total 6 on the backplane
(2 via PCI bracket) and the game port header.


Beside the PCI slots are Gigabyte’s DUAL BIOS chips. If the BIOS becomes corrupted
by a bad flash or virus the backup BIOS chip will take over and a user can re-flash
the main BIOS. DUAL BIOS is an overclocker’s safety net and of great use.


The PCI slots may be lonely these days with the amount of onboard features
motherboards have. Regardless there is five slots available for anything but
remember that the included PCI brackets will effectively render a PCI slot useless
do to the PC case PCI slot being occupied by the bracket.


The red header between the PCI slots is the S/P DIF out connection and the
black header, one slot up, is the surround center connector. These are for the
included PCI S/P DIF bracket.


CD and AUX in are behind the lower part of the backplane and the 4-pin 12-volt
power connector sits by itself on the opposite side of the motherboard from
the main ATX power connection. It would have been nice to have the main ATX
and 4-pin ATX connectors located on the right side of the motherboard.


The backplane supports PS/2 mouse and keyboard, Dual LAN connections, 4 USB
and the 6-channel analog sound outputs. Two of these outputs pull double duty
as Mic and Line connections.


Behind the backplane is something new; the Dual Power System slot (DPS).


Dual Power System

Gigabyte aren’t quite sure what to call this. In the manual this card is refereed
to as the DPVRM (Dual Power Voltage Regulator Module) and on the box and card
it is known as the Dual Power System (DPS). DPVRM would be the more accurate
term as this daughter card does not act as a second PSU but a “6-phase
power circuit design to provide a more solid and durable power supply.”


The 40x40x10mm. fan removes with four screws revealing the heatsink.


The heatsink is removable in the same fashion as the motherboard North Bridge
heatsink and the standard “pink goop” thermal compound is in place.


The heatsink provides thermal dissipation for the 6 mofset chips. If the heatsink
is removed and the thermal compound is damaged then the “pink goop”
needs to be scraped off and the heatsink base completely cleaned. It would be
advisable to apply thermal compound to the mofset chips instead of the entire
heatsink base.


The entire daughter card slips into the slot and will be a little bit “floppy”.
There is some back and forth movement. The cool effect is that the fan lights
up blue when the motherboard is powered on.


The DPS system is a unique approach and it will be a matter of time if it proves
to be a useful addition to Gigabyte’s arsenal of features.



Overall the Gigabyte BIOS is not as extensive as, for example, Chaintech or
ABIT BIOS but this is due to the EasyTune 4 windows based overclocking tool.



AGP 8x setting no longer allows for 2x video cards; only 4x
or auto exists.



The ADVANCED CHIPSET FEATURES menu allows for an overall system
performance setting of OPTIMAL, AGGRESSIVE, TURBO and EXPERT. (Manual) When
set to expert the FSB Frequency ranges from 100 to 300 MHz in 1 MHz increments
and Memory Frequency is available in a variety of percentages of FSB.



AGP frequency can be set from 50 MHz to 100 MHz.





PC HEALTH STATUS has good protection settings plus the SMART FAN
CONTROL which can regulate CPU fan speed dependent on temperature.


FREQUENCY/VOLTAGE CONTROL allows for DIMM and AGP voltage settings
of +0.1 V, +0.2 V and +0.3 V. CPU Ratio is available from 5x – 22.5x. CPU voltage
allows for a range of 1.100V to 1.850V in 0.025V steps.


This isn’t an enthusiast’s BIOS in the true sense. Many may prefer
options such as divider control and higher voltages.

Benchmarks…Gigabyte takes a bite out of ASUS

The Gigabyte 7NNXP test system.

  • AMD 3200+ 400 FSB
  • Gigabyte
    7NNXP motherboard
  • ATI 9700 PRO Video Card
    Catalyst 3.2 drivers (Default settings w/VSYNC disabled)
  • 2 x 256 MB Corsair PC3200 DDR RAM
  • Sony 52x CD
  • 60 GB Maxtor ATA133 Hard Drive
  • Samsung 950p 19″ Monitors
  • USB Keyboard and Logitech USB wireless Optical Mouse
  • Globalwin CAK4-76T HSF
  • AMK SX1000
    modded PC case (window, fans, cables, loom)
  • Enermax 465 Watt FC PSU
  • Windows XP Professional Service Pack 1

The ASUS A7N8X v2 Deluxe test system.

  • AMD 3200+ 400 FSB
  • ASUS
  • ATI 9700 PRO Video Card
    Catalyst 3.2 drivers (Default settings w/VSYNC disabled)
  • 2 x 256 MB Corsair PC3200 DDR RAM
  • Sony 52x CD
  • 60 GB Maxtor ATA133 Hard Drive
  • Samsung 950p 19″ Monitors
  • USB Keyboard and Logitech USB wireless Optical Mouse
  • Globalwin CAK4-76T HSF
  • AMK SX1000
    modded PC case (window, fans, cables, loom)
  • Enermax 465 Watt FC PSU
  • Windows XP Professional Service Pack 1

Programs used

All tests were run at default video card settings with VSYNC disabled. Bios
was optimized for system but not tweaked for any performance settings requiring
specialized knowledge of overclocking. In other words the BIOS settings were
standard as far as anyone can set the time and date, ensure the ram is 2 or
4 way interleave and at CAS 2 and AGP is chosen as the first boot video card
(8x). The BIOS settings were kept as close to conservative or default value
or as otherwise specified. System settings were set to OPTIMAL (GA-7NNXP) and
AGGRESSIVE (ASUS A7N8X). Memory was kept at DDR400 settings for synchronous
timing with the 3200+ 400 FSB processor. Individual performance will vary with
any particular or specific timings or tweaks enabled by you.

1024 MB page file moved to D: partition. Temporary Internet files moved to
K: partition at end of drive. OS installed to C: and programs installed to
E:. All programs were benchmarked at 1024×768@75Hz with the exception of SoftimageXSI
which requires 1280×1024 resolution.

All motherboards were test “right out of the box”. No special
BIOS timings were set except for the time and date, boot order and health monitor
features or as disclosed.

For all tests an AMD 3200+ 400 FSB processor and two sticks of Corsair DDR400
memory were used.





These may result in lesser or greater scores dependent on variations in system
components and settings. Avoid smoking and excessive amounts of alcohol. Wait
at least 12 hours after scuba diving before flying or driving over 1000 feet
above sea level. Void where prohibited by law. No animals, especially my cat,
were harmed in the making of these benchmarks.

3D Mark 2001 SE








Splitting hairs; this could be called dead heat.

Commanche 4


GL Excess


One of the few tests where the ASUS A7N8X took the lead.

Quake III high quality


The Gigabyte 7NNXP is only a stone’s throw from 300 FPS at 640×480.
It’s the closest yet.

Serious Sam


UT2003 Flyby


Sisoft Sandra CPU Arithmetic


It’s a pretty close race with the 7NNXP edging out the A7N8X.

Sisoft Sandra CPU Multimedia


Sisoft Sandra Memory Benchmark


Specviewperf 7.0

SpecviewPerf still grounds itself in the manipulation of 3D graphics
on a business application level rather than on a gaming performance level.


The following two tests are targeted mainly towards CPU performance and will
show if any “flaws” are in board design affecting the ability of the
CPU to crunch through the data. While in render mode the two test programs virtually
bypass ram and GPU.


The Kribi engine is 100% software rendering (a pure CPU benchmark) and makes
heavy use of SSE instructions and SMP. More is better.



Adobe After Effects 5.5

Adobe After Effects is a tool to produce motion
graphics and visual effects for film, video, multimedia and the web. It is primarily
a 2D application using imported graphics or digital footage or self generated
effects. A project was created that was a combination of many video footage
files, resizing and rasterizing effects, text animations and multiple layer
effects. This “average” combination was felt to best demonstrate advantages
and/or disadvantages that a real world user may experience rather than isolating
and benchmarking a particular effect.

There is no official benchmark for After Effects
but tasks can be timed to show specific results. Rendering, or the task of building
and compiling frames, is mainly CPU intensive and After Effects generally bypasses
the video card and relies solely on the processor for speed. The time taken
to render 900 frames basically shows how fast the processor is working on the
given task.


The A7N8X pulls ahead by 7 seconds.

Softimage XSI can simply bring
any computer to its knees. It’s an incredibly powerful 3D animation program
that has the ability to become so complex that single processor systems have
been known to “think” for days when rendering an animation. Softimage works
on somewhat similar principle to After Effects. A faster and more powerful video
card will translate to a smoother interface where complex scenes can be manipulated
in real time. Note that Softimage does not have an interface to real-time preview
a finished frame as unlike After Effects. Users can manipulate objects in a
choice of views from wire frame mode to simulated real-time shading mode. In
order to look at a finished frame a user must render the frame to disk which
bypasses the GPU. A faster processor will result in the faster render. The amount
of RAM is not as great an issue as the user is working frame by frame and the
graphics card is doing the bulk of the work while working within the GUI.

This is a most basic overview and there are specialty
hardware components that can enhance the speed and interactivity of complex
3D scenes and programs. The designers working on the test system use Softimage
on a less complex level to provide enhancements and elements to commercials,
promos and station ID elements. Though their work is quite complex to some it
a far cry from that of special effects in major film productions.

Softimage performs its best on a dual processor
system and by far the recommendation for heavy 3D rendering is a dual processor
AMD system.



Unfortunately the EasyTune4 software failed to function with the GA-7NNXP and
this left the “old fashioned” route of overclocking…bumping and
nudging voltage and FSB settings. There was very little time spent overclocking
the 7NNXP when compared to some of our enthusiasts who spend hours and days
learning the nuances of a motherboard but the following was achieved in a few
short minutes of bumping up the FSB 1 MHz at a time with a CPU voltage setting
of 1.75 V. WCPUID didn’t recognize the 3200+ properly and tests were run at



Only a gain of approximately 500 marks.


The result isn’t impressive as 3200+ processors are able to get up over 2.5
GHz but that takes bumping up AGP and DIMM voltage as well as CPU voltage and
adjustment of the multipliers. A passionate enthusiast would achieve better



The Gigabyte 7NNXP deserves an award for blasting right out of the gate as
a performance leader. At mostly stock settings it beat the aggressively set
ASUS A7N8X. One word; impressive.

  • It is a feature rich board with notable mentions of:
  • Dual LAN, 6-channel and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound which is the best onboard
    sound at the present moment.
  • 400 FSB processor and memory support including theoretical Dual Channel
    DDR support across not only 2 DIMMS but 4 .(Not available with 1 or 3 memory
    modules and memory must be the same.)
  • SATA and IDE RAID with IDE RAID not having to rely upon the main CPU.
  • 6-phase power via the DPS system.
  • Express install makes driver installation a one click adventure. In reality
    it makes a batch program that can be manually adjusted by selecting de-selecting
    drivers from the install list.
  • Manuals that are the way they should be.

There are a few quirks that are worth mentioning.

  • The EasyTune4 windows based overclocking utility was not 100% functional
    with the 7NNXP. While it would display data it would not allow for any overclocking
    functions. This is most likely attributable to parts of the NFORCE2 chipset
    being locked to a windows overclocking utility. Gigabyte makes mention of
    this in the manual.
  • The GigaRAID windows based RAID management system is a handy tool but must
    be used within an operating system environment. Therefore if a boot OS is
    required on a RAID array then a third drive has to be employed to boot the
    system and use the RAID management tool on the 2 other drives (minimum) in
    order to create the array and set stripe size. RAID arrays can be created
    in pre-OS RAID BIOS but there is no access to strip size settings.
  • Yet another manufacturer puts their unique organizational spin on the BIOS
    and overclockers will have to get used to a new layout. True enthusiasts will
    probably want a few more adjustments or greater voltage settings.
  • The DPS power regulator is an interesting idea but isn’t as secure in its
    mounting slot as one may want. It isn’t a problem…just an observation. The
    active cooling fan and heatsink on the 6-phase power daughter card is both
    visually appealing and reassuring to those worried about heat.
  • Gigabyte adds a BIOS tool called Express Recovery and it images the boot
    partition of the hard drive. Its drawback is that the hard drive must only
    be as master on IDE1 and the hard drive must support HPA (Host Protected Area).
    In a lot of cases this may not be true.


Overall the 7NNXP is an impressive performance board right out
of the gate. Any NFORCE2 buyer will be very pleased with even the stock performance.
Gigabyte continues to produce motherboards that are performance and option leaders!


Our thanks to Gigabyte
for their support of this and many other sites.

Scores Breakdown
Attribute Score Comments
Bonus items & software 9 There isn’t much missing except a bundled game.
Design & layout 9 An excellently designed board but the DPS daughter card connection could have been tighter or more secure. The 4-pin 12v connection could have been located by the main ATX connection. The fatal flaw is the lack of mounting holes on the socket and an awkward placement of one capacitor.
Documentation 9.5 Gigabyte includes absolutely excellent hard copy documentation.
Features & options 9.5 Dual Lan, RAID 1.5, SATA, Dual BIOS, GIGARAID, 1394, Dolby Digital 5.1, Optical Sound, Coaxial Sound…want more?
Fine-tuning features 9 The BIOS has many features to play with but could use greater voltage control.
Overclocking features 9 The BIOS has many features to play with but could use greater voltage control.
Performance & stability 9 Right out of the box…zoom! The test system did not fault during any test.
Presentation 8.5 It’s a box with a flap.
Price / value 8.5 Only a little more expensive.
Total score 81/90 90%


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