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The forthcoming N68C-S UCC from ASRock is a low-end microATX socket AM2+ motherboard based on the NVIDIA GeForce 7025 chipset, featuring both DDR2 and DDR3 memory sockets, and a CPU core unlocking tool, a feature usually not found on entry-level motherboards.
Even though this motherboard supports DDR3 memories, it isn’t a socket AM3 motherboard, but a socket AM2+ one. The difference between the two is the presence of a separate voltage line for the CPU embedded memory controller on socket AM3 models, a feature not available on this motherboard. We will discuss this in more detail in the “Voltage Regulator” section.
The GeForce 7025 is an old chipset, released three years ago, and we were really surprised to see a manufacturer releasing a new motherboard based on this outdated chip. The main reason why ASRock picked this solution was price, obviously, allowing them to provide an inexpensive motherboard for users that want to build an affordable computer.
As one would expect from an entry-level motherboard, the chipset provides integrated video, “stealing” memory from the system to be used as video memory.
In this review we will be comparing the performance provided by GeForce 7025 with newer solutions from AMD: AMD 785G, AMD 880G, and AMD 890GX. In the table below we compare the main specs of the chipsets we included in our review. The technological disadvantage of the GeForce 7025 is pretty clear.
|Chipset||GeForce 7025||AMD 890GX||AMD 880G||AMD 785G|
|GPU Clock||425 MHz||700 MHz||560 MHz||500 MHz|
|Engine||GeForce 7025||HD 4290||HD 4250||HD 4200|
|South Bridge Chip||nForce 630a **||SB850||SB710 ***||SB710|
|USB 2.0 Ports||10||14||12||12|
|RAID||0, 1, 0+1, 5||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 10||0, 1, 10|
|ATA-133 Ports||1 (2 devices)||1 (2 devices)||1 (2 devices)||1 (2 devices)|
* Two pixel shaders and two vertex shaders.
** GeForce 7025 is a single-chip solution and the south bridge chip is embedded inside the north bridge chip.
*** Some motherboards based on the AMD 880G chipset are paired with the SB850 south bridge chip.
Another thing you must have in mind is that the GeForce 7025 does not support PureVideo, which is the name given by NVIDIA to their set of 2D enhancements, like video de-interlacing (only supported on the GeForce 7050). The chipsets from AMD listed above all have the equivalent of PureVideo, called Avivo.
Before going to our tests, let’s take an in-depth look at the ASRock N68C-S UCC motherboard.
[nextpage title=”The Motherboard”]
In Figure 1, you have an overall look at ASRock N68C-S UCC. Since it is a low-end product, it uses the microATX form factor.
The GeForce 7025 offers one PCI Express x16 lane and three PCI Express x1 lanes, and this motherboard provides one PCI Express x16 slot, one PCI Express x1 slot, and two standard PCI slots. Keep in mind that all these slots are PCI Express 1.0 and not PCI Express 2.0, so they provide half of the bandwidth of competing products based on chipsets that support PCI Express 2.0. In other words, the PCI Express x16 slot available on this motherboard is equivalent of a PCI Express 2.0 x8 slot. But at least you will be able to disable the on-board video and install a “real” video card if you want to.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
AMD CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines the memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
Even though it is not a socket AM3 motherboard, the ASRock N68C-S UCC supports DDR3 memories (blue sockets). It is very important to keep in mind that you have to choose between one or the other. You cannot use DDR2 and DDR3 modules at the same time, and you can install DDR3 memories only if you install a socket AM3 processor on this motherboard. If you install a socket AM2 or AM2+ CPU, it won’t recognize DDR3 memories.
The maximum memory speed you can install will depend on the CPU you have. Current AMD CPUs support DDR2 memories up to 1,066 MHz, but older CPUs can only recognize memories up to 800 MHzm, even if you install DDR2-1066 memories.
At the moment, the integrated memory controller of socket AM3 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz; however, ASRock says, the N68C-S UCC supports DDR3 memories up to 1,600 MHz through overclocking.
The motherboard supports the dual-channel feature, so you should install two identical memory modules (either DDR2 or DDR3), in order to achieve the maximum performance your motherboard can provide.
The reviewed motherboard has two DDR2 (yellow) and two DDR3 (blue) sockets, and at the moment, each memory module can have up to 4 GB, allowing up to 8 GB for this motherboard (since you can’t use DDR2 and DDR3 sockets at the same time).
The first and third sockets are blue and reserved for DDR3 modules, while the second and fourth are yellow and reserved for DDR2 modules.
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]
The GeForce 7025 chipset is a single-chip solution and we’ve already published all the main specs for this chipset on the first page of this review. The nForce 630a south bridge chip that is listed as being part of this chipset doesn’t exist as an external chip, as its functionalities are integrated inside the GeForce 7025 chip.
The reviewed motherboard has four SATA-300 ports supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5. The support for RAID is a nice addition on a chipset that is targeted to the low-end market. These ports, however, are on the same line as the PCI Express x16 slot, so if you decide to install a “real” video card on this motherboard it may block these ports. The ASRock N68C-S UCC also provides one parallel ATA (“IDE”) port.
A floppy disk drive controller is present and is located near the last standard PCI slot.
The N68C-S UCC provides all 10 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard.
Audio is generated by the chipset using a VIA VT1705 codec, which offers 5.1 audio with 192 kHz sampling rate, 24-bit resolution, 100 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its outputs, and 93 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs.
This motherboard doesn’t come with an on-board SPDIF output, and unfortunately, you can’t add one because it doesn’t provide an SPDIF header.
The N68C-S UCC has only three analog audio jacks, so if you install a 5.1 speaker set, you “kill” the line in and mic in jacks.
Another hint that we are dealing with a low-end motherboard comes from the network port, which is a Fast Ethernet model (10/100 Mbps) and not a Gigabit Ethernet model. The network controller is actually embedded in the chipset, using a Realtek RTL8201BL chip to make the interface with the physical layer.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors, a serial port, VGA output, four USB 2.0 ports, a Fast Ethernet port, and shared analog 5.1 audio outputs.
This motherboard comes with only one analog video output, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1440.
A legacy serial port is present on the rear panel, and the motherboard also has a legacy parallel port available through a header labeled “LPT1.” No adapter for this header comes with the board.
Additional features provided by this motherboard include the core unlocking feature (UCC) which allows you to unlock factory-disabled CPU cores on certain AMD CPUs, and the instant boot feature which puts the CPU into hibernation mode when you shut down the system (so when you turn the system back on, it will take only a few seconds to enter Windows).
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The ASRock N68C-S UCC motherboard, being a low-end motherboard, comes with a very simple three-phase voltage regulator. These three phases produce the CPU main voltage (VDD or “Vcore”). On this motherboard the memory controller voltage (VDDNB) is hardwired to the CPU main voltage, making it to be a socket AM2+ motherboard. Socket AM3 motherboards have a separate voltage regulator for the CPU memory controller (i.e., the voltage used by the memory controller is not the same as the voltage used to feed the rest of the CPU). That is why, even though this motherboard has DDR3 memories, it is still a socket AM2+ motherboard and not a socket AM3 model. For more information, read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator Circuit tutorial.
Most of the electrolytic capacitors used in the voltage regulator circuit are from OST, but three of them are Japanese, from Chemi-Con. All other electrolytic capacitors used on this motherboard are from OST. Only one capacitor located on the memory voltage regulator is solid. No cooling solution is used on the voltage regulator.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
Even though the ASRock N68C-S UCC is a low-end motherboard, it has some overclocking options:
- CPU base clock: From 150 MHz to 500 MHz in 1 MHz steps
- PCI Express clock: From 75 MHz to 250 MHz in 1 MHz steps
- Memory voltage: From 1.794 V to 2.201 V (DDR2) or from 1.476 V to 1.883 V (DDR3)
- Chipset voltage: 1.262 V, 1.327 V, 1.358 V, or 1.423 V
This motherboard allows three overclocking profiles, meaning that you can save up to three different custom overclocking configurations. It also allows you to tweak memory timings.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ASRock N68C-S UCC are:
- Socket: AM2+
- Chipset: GeForce 7025, which has the nForce 630a chipset embedded
- Super I/O: Winbond W83627DHG
- Parallel ATA: One ATA-133 port controlled by the chipset
- Serial ATA: Four SATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5)
- External SATA: None
- USB: 10 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): None
- On-board video: Yes, GeForce 7025 engine running at 425 MHz (four processing cores, two pixel shaders and two vertex shaders)
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a VIA VT1705 codec (5.1 audio with 192 kHz sampling rate, 24-bit resolution, 100 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its outputs, and 93 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs)
- On-board LAN: One Fast Ethernet port (10/100 Mbps) controlled by the chipset using a Realtek RTL8201 chip to make the physical layer interface
- Buzzer: No
- Power supply required: ATX12V
- Slots: One PCI Express 1.0 x16 slot, one PCI Express x1 slot and two standard PCI slots
- Memory: Two DDR2-DIMM sockets (up to 8 GB up to DDR2-1066 with appropriate CPU for speeds over DDR2-800) and two DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 8 GB up to DDR3-1600 through overclocking with a socket AM3 CPU)
- Fan connectors: One with four pins (PWM control) for the CPU and two with three pins for auxiliary fans
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: CyberLink Power2Go 6.1 LE OEM, CyberLink MediaShow 4.1 SE OEM, CyberLink PowerDVD 8.0 DTS Trial, CyberLink PowerDirector 8.0 Trial, CyberLink P
owerBackup 2.5 Trial, and Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi MB Trial.
- Extra features: Core unlocking feature (UCC), instant boot, serial port, and parallel port
- More Information: https://www.asrock.com
- MSRP in the US: USD 47.00
[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variables were the motherboard being tested and the addition or removal of a “real” video card (a Sapphire Radeon HD 3450 with a 64-bit memory interface).
- Motherboard BIOS: 1.30
- CPU: AMD Phenom II X2 555 (3.2 GHz, dual-core, 512 KB L2 cache per core, socket AM3)
- CPU Cooler: AMD stock cooler
- Memory: Two 1 GB Crucial CT12864BA1067 modules (DDR3-1066/PC2-8500, CL7, 1.5 V), configured at 1,066 MHz
- Hard Disk Drive: Western Digital Caviar SE16 500 GB (WD5000AAKS, SATA-300, 7,200 rpm, 16 MB buffer)
- Video Card: Sapphire Radeon HD 3450 256 MB with a 64-bit memory interface (on some tests, see text)
- Video Monitor: Samsung Syncmaster 932BW
- Power Supply: OCZ StealthXStream 400 W
- Optical Drive: Lite-On LH-20A1L
Operating System Configuration
- Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
- Video resolution: 1440×900 75 Hz
- NVIDIA chipset driver: 15.37
- NVIDIA video driver: 190.38
- AMD chipset/video driver: 8.700
- Audio driver: v7500F
- 3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0
- Unigine Tropics Benchmark 1.2
- Fallout 3 – Patch 1.7
- Call of Duty 4 – Patch 1.7
We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
[nextpage title=”3DMark06 Professional”]
3DMark06 measures Shader 3.0 (i.e., DirectX 9.0c) performance. We ran this software under its default configuration. For this test we included the result achieved by a 64-bit Sapphire HD 3450 card installed in the motherboard PCI Express x16 slot while disabling the motherboard’s on-board video, so we can observe the performance of a very low-end video card compared to the on-board video of the reviewed motherboard.
The integrated video provided by the GeForce 7025 chipset is disapointing, as you can see. The performance of the AMD 880G chipset is 388% higher, for example. A very low-end 64-bit Radeon HD 3450 achieved a performance 400% higher.
[nextpage title=”Unigine Tropics”]
We ran this benchmarking tool at 1440×900 resolution configuring all image qualities set to their lowest values. Although this program supports DirectX 10 rendering, for some reason this option didn’t work with us, so we used this program to benchmark DirectX 9.0c performance. The results below are in frames per second (FPS).
The truth is that low-end solutions can’t run this simulation at a high frame rate, but the performance from the GeForce 7025 was the worst of all the chipsets included in this comparison – the AMD 880G was 473% faster and a low-end 64-bit Radeon HD 3450 was 513% faster than the integrated video from ASRock N68C-S UCC.
[nextpage title=”Fallout 3″]
Fallout 3 is based on the same engine used by The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and it is a DirectX 9.0c (Shader 3.0) game. We configured the game with “low” image quality settings at 1440×900. To measure performance, we used the FRAPS utility running an outdoor scene at God mode, running through enemy fire, triggering post processing effects, and ending with a big explosion in front of Dupont Circle. The results below are in frames per second (FPS).
Once again the on-board video produced by the GeForce 7025 chipset achieved a very low performance – the on-board video produced by the AMD 880G chipset was 288% faster, and the low-end Radeon HD 3450 was 254% faster.
[nextpage title=”Call of Duty 4″]
Call of Duty 4 is a DirectX 9.0c game implementing high-dynamic range (HDR) and its own physics engine. We ran this game at 1440×900 reducing all image quality settings to their lowest values. We used the internal game benchmarking feature, running a demo provided by NVIDIA called “wetwork.” You may download this demo here, if you want to run your own benchmarks. We ran the demo five times, and the results below are the average number of frames per second (FPS) achieved by each motherboard or video card.
Once again the performance provided by the GeForce 7025 was the worst of the chipsets compared. The performance of both the AMD 880G chipset and the low-end Radeon HD 3450 was 184% higher.
Let’s be honest: this is an outdated motherboard, based on a chipset from three years ago.
If you want to play games, simply forget this product. It is true that this motherboard has a PCI Express x16 slot, allowing you to disable its on-board video and install a “real” video card. However, this slot is a 1.0 and not a 2.0, presenting half of the bandwidth available on other motherboards. Translation: this slot is equivalent of a PCI Express 2.0 slot working at x8.
On the good side, we have price. This will be one of the cheapest socket AM2+ motherboards available on the market, and it supports both DDR2 and DDR3 memories. As explained in our review, the fact that it has DDR3 memory support doesn’t make this motherboard a socket AM3 model, since the voltage used to feed the CPU (VDD) and the in
tegrated memory controller (VDDNB) is the same, while socket AM3 motherboards use separate voltages.
The only application for this motherboard is as an option for building a computer to run only office applications (word processor, spreadsheet, e-mail, web browsing, etc.), while trying to save as much as you can.
It can’t be used to build a home theater PC (HTPC) because it only has an analog video output, lacks SPDIF outputs, and has a low-end audio codec.
This board comes with a core unlocking feature (UCC), a utility that allows you to discover whether your AMD CPU has “hidden” CPU cores, and then to enable any it finds. Sometimes, when demand for a specific CPU is high, AMD gets a better CPU and transforms it into a simpler model, usually getting a quad-core CPU and “transforming” it into a triple-core or a dual-core CPU by disabling the extra core(s). If you are lucky enough to get a CPU from a batch where the manufacturer did this, you will be able to transform your dual- or triple-core CPU into a quad-core one.