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The nForce 4 chipset was announced close to two months ago, but as always when a new product is launched there is a certain delay before it appears in the retail market. The nForce 4 Ultra is the first version of this chipset to arrive and although initially there might be a limited availability of motherboards it shouldn’t be long before volume starts shipping.
However, our first nForce 4 review is not of just a motherboard, but rather a complete PC - the Evesham Axis Nforce R, which doesn’t give much away with its name. You might think that the first nForce 4 Ultra PC to arrive would be a super high-end machine that’s only attainable by the financial elite, but Evesham has actually supplied an affordable and reasonably well specified PC instead.
Of course the word affordable is dependant on how deep your pockets are, but at just over £1,000 I think you’ll agree that the Axis Nforce R is a pretty good investment. For starters the processor is an Athlon 64 3500+, while 1GB of branded PC3200 DDR memory backs the CPU up. The motherboard comes from Gigabyte, which wasn’t what I expected to find, since MSI and Asus were the first board partners to announce products at the nForce 4 press launch.
The GA-K8NXP motherboard seen here is not the full retail version, so if you find this board on Gigabyte's website it will have some extra features. What you do get is integrated Gigabit Ethernet, 7.1-channel high definition audio with S/PDIF in and out, four SATA II ports which support speeds of up to 300MB/sec and FireWire - so there is nothing critical missing. There is also support for RAID and nVidia’s latest version offers the additional feature of a hot spare – this means that you can have an extra drive connected that lays dormant, but if one of the other drives in the RAID array dies, the spare drive will take over.
But the main feature of the nForce 4 chipset is PCI Express and Gigabyte has gone for one x16 slot and two x1 slots – of course had there been a secondary onboard Gigabit Ethernet controller this would have used up one lane, but this feature is missing from the board that Evesham has used. There are also three PCI slots for current add-in cards - it’s highly unlikely that the PCI slot will disappear completely for quite some time.
Evesham hasn’t been stingy in terms of storage space either as you get a 250GB SATA hard drive from Maxtor with 16MB of cache – one of the fastest hard disks you can buy. For backup purposes Evesham has fitted a 16x DVD+/-R DVD writer from Sony which can also write to Dual Layer DVD+R media. There’s also a standard 16x DVD-ROM drive and both optical drives are finished in matching black to go with the case.
The graphics card is the weakest part of this system spec, but a GeForce 6600 GT won’t disappoint, as long as you are aware of its limitations. You should be able to play all the latest games, as long as you don’t turn on FSAA. The graphics card connects to a 17in ViewSonic VX715 TFT display, which looks very stylish and produces a fine image. The monitor can be connected via D-SUB or DVI-D and both types of cable are supplied.