- Review Price: £59.00
The name DFI may have only recently come to the forefront of the enthusiast sector but Diamond Flower Inc. is anything but a newcomer to the motherboard scene. This Taiwanese manufacturer has been churning out high value, no-frills boards aimed primarily at OEM customers since 1981. The name was little known and nowhere near as trendy as it has become of late, but those of us with experience of the earlier products recognised the stability and value for money they proffered.
The turnaround in DFI’s brand perception was spawned from the introduction of a single product line, a range of motherboards that captured the imagination of the more adventurous PC user in a way that the legions of adequately performing, low-priced DFI products before it never had. This range of boards sported garish colours that glowed under UV light, and came bundled with the kind of extras that make you stop and take notice, and best of all it had a name that conjured up fun, LANPARTY!
There are currently four LANPARTY series motherboards each featuring a different chipset, but the variety I’m testing today is the 865PE, which as you’ve no doubt gathered is based on the i865PE “Springdale” chipset from Intel.
Of course it takes more than a few fruity colours to make a great motherboard, and as soon as you notice the sheer size of the LANPARTY’s oversized box it becomes apparent that DFI has done things slightly differently.
Within the main outer box you’ll find five smaller boxes nestled neatly together. In one you’ll find a pair of UV reactive rounded cables, one floppy cable and one IDE cable.
Then there’s another box containing a FrontX port replicator. This is a useful, if slightly dated and bland looking way to add or replicate ports in any spare external 5.25in drive bay. Adding to its usefulness is the fact that there’s a four-LED module supplied which mirrors the operation of the four diagnostic LEDs on the motherboard itself.
Being modular in nature you can add, remove and reposition the FrontX modules to suit your needs but the it comes supplied with one IEEE1394 (FireWire) and two USB2.0 ports, microphone and headphone sockets and the diagnostic LED panel.
Moving on to the next box I uncovered one of the bigger surprises, a harness designed to make transporting you PC to and from the local LAN event a breeze. Christened “Transpo”, the harness is designed to accommodate a regular sized ATX case and comes with a sturdy shoulder strap and large, logo-bearing pouch with pockets to store all your essential bits and pieces.
If you’re not already impressed, you can add a LANPARTY sticker and case badge to the list too making for an extremely enticing package, particularly if you can fool yourself into believing you got it all for free, rather than facing the fact that you’ve actually paid for it all in the price of the motherboard. Even so, it still represents great value for money.
Once you’ve fought your way through the extras you eventually get to the motherboard itself. Take a moment to get past the bright tangerine and lime coloured UV reactive sockets and slots and what you’ll find is a fairly conventional and well laid out board with all the main components thoughtfully placed.
There’s a total of three fan headers on offer – although there are only two once you’ve plugged in your CPU fan. There’s also a bank of four diagnostic LEDs and two onboard momentary, push-button switches (EZ Touch) to let you start and reset your system even without your case switches connected.
With five PCI slots and one AGP slot coupled with the usual four DIMM sockets, the configuration is fairly standard. The North Bridge is only passively cooled, albeit with a fairly hefty heatsink, which should be a bonus to the silent PC lobbyists.
Speaking of noise, audio is taken care of by the C-Media CM19739a. To my ears at least, this offered excellent quality 6-channel sound in line with its claims of a >90 dB S/N ratio & Dynamic Range. There’s also C-Media’s Xear 3D Sound Technology to play with, including the 5.1 Virtual SPEAKER SHIFTER and Earphone Plus mode.
Naturally for a product being thrust at LAN gamers, the networking capabilities have been well catered for. The Realtek RTL8110S Gigabit NIC allows for full duplex operation at 10, 100 and 1000 Mbit/sec.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me came when I took a wander through the BIOS. Though not quite up with the big-gun enthusiast motherboards, DFI has managed to cover all the important functionality and even add some of its own. In addition to the ability to bump DIMM voltages to a moderately high but still reasonably safe 2.9v, you can also raise the CPU voltage to a slightly scary 1.975v and the AGP voltage to 1.8v. All this is handled in a section of the BIOS that DFI calls the “Genie BIOS”. In here you’ll also find access to the memory dividers and FSB Overclocking options.
Also in the Genie BIOS settings is one called “Super PATCH” which is the name DFI has given to its memory utilization enhancements. Once enabled, Super PATCH should, in theory, raise the performance of the 865 chipset to that of the faster, more expensive i875 “Canterwood” chipset by lowering the CPU to memory latencies. The proviso is that you can only enable Super PATCH if both your CPU and your memory are running synchronously, which translates to an 800MHz FSB CPU and DDR400 memory.
By far the biggest BIOS advancement for me came in the shape of the CMOS Reloaded function. This allows you to create, save and even rename two separate BIOS configurations and then restore them at will. This is a genuinely useful function for experienced tweakers and inexperienced tinkerers alike and is vastly more convenient than having to keep setting up your BIOS parameters manually after every failed overclock or optimisation. I suppose the only real failing is that the PC needs to be able to POST in order to get to BIOS so you can restore things, but even then you only need clear the CMOS manually using the jumper first. I wouldn’t mind seeing a third EZ Touch style button added for the purpose of clearing the CMOS, just to make life that bit simpler.
It could just be me, but I found I was constantly choosing the wrong option when hurriedly using the CMOS Reloaded function. The “Backup” option saves your current BIOS configuration while the “Load” function loads it. Even as I type it I can see that it should be quite simple to understand, so why did I keep choosing ”Backup” when what I wanted was to do was load a saved configuration? I think maybe naming the two options “Save” and “Restore” would have made more sense, to my warped logic at least.
In testing the LANPARTY 865PE was a bit of an enigma. When I initially set it up it ran beautifully at stock settings, but when I attempted to overclock the FSB from its default 200MHz I couldn’t even reach 210MHz without a hard system lock. To rule out a memory problem I tried each module individually in single channel mode and each was able to hit 245MHz. I then plugged both modules back in the board again and was bemused when I was able to effortlessly make it to 250MHz. While I was trying to figure out what was happening I decided to run a few benchmarks at 250MHz only to find the system was totally unstable. After a quick reboot I tried again, but this time the system locked hard at just 235MHz. Confused I switched to using some different modules, which performed worse until I increased the voltage to 2.9v after which I made it to a stable 245MHz. I know both the memory and CPU are good to at least 260MHz as tested in my AI7 so the exact reason for these stability problems is a bit of a mystery and can only be explained by either a problem in the BIOS settings or in the voltage delivery. Disabling Super PATCH and relaxing the memory timings helped, but the results were still variable.
So, all in all a very accomplished performance from a company so relatively new to this demanding market sector. The question is, what do you do if the layout and performance have whetted your appetite but you’re of an age or a mindset that makes those psychedelic colours unpalatable? Or perhaps you’re tied to the desk and see no value in netting yourself a bunch of bundled accessories likely to do nothing more than lay claim to some of your valuable drawer space.
Well, you’ll be glad to know that there’s some good news. Along with the LANPARTY, DFI also supplied me with its Infinity 865PE motherboard. Even under the closest scrutiny this is essentially identical to the LANPARTY in all but two areas. Firstly, the colours have been toned down considerably and, although the PCB is still red, the PCI, AGP and memory slots are now white, brown and blue/back respectively. The other difference is the omission of the power and reset micro switches which, however useful for the tinkerer, are hardly an essential feature.
Although in testing I wasn’t able to overclock the Infinity to quite the same levels as the LANPARTY, but it came within around 10MHz. This suggests it was a component related “luck of the draw” type scenario rather than any electrical or mechanical design shortcomings.
The Infinity 865PE comes with a more traditional assortment of box fillers including the DFI driver and utility CD, two SATA cables, one IDE cable, one Floppy cable, an I/O Plate, a board layout sticker and a manual.
From the position of well respected but slightly stayed second tier motherboard manufacturer, you have to acknowledge the strides that DFI has taken to get where it is today. The LANPARTY was a brave move from DFI but for the most part one that ought to pay off in the long run. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the LANPARTY board available in the UK, although there is an i875 chipset version for around £115. But it has to be said that the Infinity is a bit of a bargain at £59.32, especially if you don’t want to carry your PC around on your back.
With a quality feature set and a genuine value-added bundle, the LANPARTY has earned its right to sit alongside other quality enthusiast boards, however it hasn’t in my opinion done enough to be considered one of the greats. From its stock performance to its Overclocking potential, everything about it is good rather than great, but compared to previous product this could very well be the springboard to stardom that DFI has needed.
But when you look at the price of the Infinity board, it’s clear that DFI can still make great motherboards without expecting customers to dig too deeply. And, since I can only find the Infinity for sale in the UK at this point in time, I’d have to say it’s the better choice.
Score in detail
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