Chaintech walked away with an award in our last motherboard group test with the amazing 9CJS ZENITH. The ZNF3-150 Zenith is Chaintechâ€™s Athlon 64 equivalent, well almost, as there have been some changes made to the bundle.
But letâ€™s start with the board itself first and as the name implies this board is based on the nVidia nForce3 chipset.
Chaintech has taken advantage of a unique feature sported by the nForce3 chipset, which is the ability to have three IDE channels. This allows for a total of six drives to be connected. Drive connectivity doesnâ€™t stop there though as Chaintech has fitted a Silicon Image S-ATA controller with support for four S-ATA drives. This means that you could connect up to a total of 10 drives to this board, which is very impressive.
The ZNF3-150 does also come with FireWire as standard and Chaintech has fitted a Gigabit Ethernet controller from Broadcom on the board as well. The onboard sound comes from VIAâ€™s Envy 24 PT chipset that supports high quality 96bit/24kHz audio as well as 7.1-channel output. The extra audio outputs together with an optical S/PDIF and two FireWire connectors are fitted to a small riser card that fits in the bottom slot of the motherboard.
One unusual feature of the ZNF3-150 is what Chaintech calls RadEX or Revolutionary Active Direct Exhaust. This is a heatpipe system for the power regulation with an added fan that blows the hot air out of the case through a small hole in the I/O shield. The only problem is that the current crop of boards have very loud fans, but we have been assured by Chaintech that this issue has been fixed and all boards shipping from Chaintech now should be making a lot less noise.
As with the 9CJS the ZNF3-150 comes with Chaintechâ€™s CBox3, but one change has been made, there is no remote control. This is not a major issue, but it was a cool gadget that added a bit of novelty value to the bundle. The CBox3 offers memory card readers for Compact Flash Type I/II, Memory Stick, Smart Media, MMC and SD cards. It also adds two front mounted USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, Headphone and Mic sockets as well as a small LCD display that shows any system errors that might occur during boot. It does still come with three interchangeable fascias for beige, black and silver cases.
General board layout is reasonable, but with the CBox3 installed cable routing will be a bit messy. The placement of the internal USB 2.0 headers is also odd, as one of them has been placed above the AGP slot. Itâ€™s also worth noting that most of the onboard peripherals can not be disabled in the BIOS or by jumpers, which could cause problems if you have no intention of using some of the boardâ€™s features. There are also way too many jumpers on the board that donâ€™t seem to serve any real purpose. Most of them are for enabling or disabling power on by USB, which allows USB devices to power on the PC. A thumbs up to Chaintech for providing four fan headers on the board though as this should be plenty for any standard case.
The manual is reasonable, but it can get confusing at times as it mixes six different languages in four chapters. But Chaintech has been clever enough to include a quick setup guide that should be enough to get the board up and running.
Chaintech has supplied a wide range of kit in the box that includes two round IDE cables, one round floppy cable, four S-ATA data cables and two S-ATA power splitters with four S-ATA power connectors. There is also an optical S/PDIF cable in the box as well as a novelty Chaintech screwdriver and a syringe with thermal paste.
The software bundle consists of a copy of WinCinema, Norton Antivirus 2003, Image It and ProMagic 6.
Performance scores were impressive and the ZNF3-150 clocked in some of the best overall scores in our benchmarks.
Apart from the issues mentioned this is a quality motherboard with a wide range of features. Itâ€™s also not overpriced at Â£142.07, but it is still the most expensive board on test. You do get some extras for the high price and most of them are actually quite useful, but make sure you need them before you go ahead and spend this much money on a motherboard.
Itâ€™s a close call as to whether this Chaintech or the Gigabyte offers the best combination of features and value, so you really need to ask yourself what features you actually need. Our money would be on the Chaintech.
The ZNF3-150 offers a comprehensive set of features and a quality set of accessories, the price is steep, but you do get what you pay for.