"Nothing endures but change."

This quote by Greek philosopher Heraclitus describes our thoughts about the Biostar PT880 Pro-A7 Combo motherboard. Biostar started operations in 1986 and has a history of providing the latest products at inexpensive price points. More information about the entire line of Biostar's products can be found here.

The PT880 Pro-A7 Combo motherboard is based on the VIA PT880 PRO and VT8237R chipsets. Our initial impression of the Biostar PT880 Pro-A7 Combo upon opening the box was one of piqued interest. The board supports both AGP and PCI Express slots for graphic cards along with support for both DDR and DDR2 memory. The layout of the board is decent, although we disagree with the placement of the 20-pin ATX power connector and IDE connectors. We were also disappointed with the omission of the excellent VIA Envy24PT audio controller and Gigabit Ethernet, but we understood the absence of these features based upon a retail price of US $65.

During our testing and general usage of the Biostar PT880 Pro-A7 Combo, we found the board's stability to be very good at stock settings, although it delivered lower than expected results in the latest synthetic and game benchmarks. However, the board continually generated random lock-ups if we tried to exceed the SPD settings of our DDR memory modules. We did not experience these same issues with our DDR2 memory modules.

While the VIA PT880 PRO chipset was released about a year ago, boards based on this chipset have been slow to market. The VIA PT880 PRO is targeted for the mainstream value market and was originally designed to compete directly against the Intel 915 and 925x chipsets. Unlike the original PT880 PRO specifications, the current iteration does not offer support for a 1066MHz FSB, 667MHz DDR2, or PCI Express X8 operation for the graphics port. The VIA PT880 PRO now supports a maximum 800MHz FSB, 533MHz DDR2, and the PCI Express graphics port only supports X4 operations.

The chart above lists the standard feature set available when utilizing the VIA PT880 PRO and VT8237R chipsets . The PT880 PRO Northbridge enables support for X4 PCI-E and AGP 3.0 (8X) graphics capability, 4GB memory addressability, along with DDR2 400/533 and DDR 266/333/400 memory support. The VT8237R Southbridge enables support for 8 USB 2.0 ports, up to six 32 bit PCI devices , AC97 6-channel audio, 10/100Mb/s Ethernet, 2 SATA 1.5Gb/s ports, and 4 IDE devices. This southbridge design is starting to look very antiquated when compared to recent offerings from NVIDIA, Intel, and ULi.

VIA Velocity Gigabit Ethernet and VIA Gold 8-channel audio are fully supported through the utilization of PCI companion controllers. Unfortunately, Biostar utilizes AC-97 audio via the Realtek ALC-655 and 10/100Mb/s PCI Ethernet via the Realtek 8201CL PHY. Also, while the chipset will technically support up to 4GB of RAM, Biostar's decision to provide two DDR and two DDR2 slots limits the maximum amount of RAM to 2GB.

The VIA PT880 Pro features a high bandwidth Ultra V-Link bus to allow communication between the chipset's North and South bridges at 1GB/s. VIA's DualGFX Express allows running both AGP and PCI-Express graphics cards simultaneously, providing the ability to connect up to four separate displays. In our limited testing of this feature, it did allow multi-monitor support of up to four displays while offering 3D graphics acceleration for both cards. However, during testing only the primary display card offered full 3D graphics acceleration with the secondary display card operating at near or non-accelerated speeds the majority of time.

Now, let's take a closer look at the features and performance that this board offers.

Basic Features
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  • Myrandex - Tuesday, March 21, 2006 - link

    I don't know of any desktop level chipset supporting 6 slots, you are being unrealistic here. 4 is about the most you could hope for.

    4x PCiE is disapointing.

    Jason
    Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Monday, March 20, 2006 - link

    Another crap chipset from a crap vendor. Reply
  • Marlin1975 - Monday, March 20, 2006 - link

    Set the memory to 166MHz before trying to overclock. I found this worked best and got me past 205MHz FSB setting. But at 200Mhz memory (ddr1) it would hold or freeze.

    I have had an Asrock and a Asus PT880 pro board and both worked well. I now have the Asus with an 805 chip. The Asus board has the best sound from all the PT880 pro boards I have seen so far and that is why I gave up the Asrock. Also since the 805 chip starts at 133MHz fsb overclocking seems to work better. That and the 805 would be a better choice to review this type of board based on price. So how about trying the Asus with a 805, or even this biostar with a 805.

    Marlin
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Monday, March 20, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Set the memory to 166MHz before trying to overclock. I found this worked best and got me past 205MHz FSB setting. But at 200Mhz memory (ddr1) it would hold or freeze.


    We tried the 166MHz level and were able to overclock at the 14x multiplier up to a 215FSB but the board was not stable enough to complete our benchmark tests and would generate a ream of errors in MemTest86. We also tried the 15x muliplier with the same results. This issue occurred with two different bios revisions also. We believe either our board or the bios just has an issue with running the CPU at a multiplier other than stock.

    While a Pentium D 805 or a newer Celeron D CPU is the most likely CPU candidate along with an 6600GT or X800 video card for this board we did not have the schedule time to go back and test the other boards with these configurations. In fact, our Intel platforms will be moving away from the 840EE after the next review and to a more recent Pentium D processor along with a change in the GPU choice.

    Thank you for the comments and suggestions.
    Reply
  • hans007 - Monday, March 20, 2006 - link

    i think you guys "the reviewers" made a pretty crappy choice of video cards to benchmark this with.

    this board is clearly meant for someone who is say ... just trying to do a budget upgrade, not someone who can afford a x1900xtx or 7800gtx.

    the benchmark scores make it look like an awful board because of the x4 slot limiting the video bandwidth. i think if you benched it with a more realistic bunch of cards such as say 6600gt, or 6800gs etc, it'd be much closer as those cards are probably not as affected by the x4 slot.
    Reply
  • Visual - Monday, March 20, 2006 - link

    well, we know the regular excuses about this - the card is the same as all other reviews so that results can be comparable, and so the reviewers don't need to actually run tests with other boards (they already have the scores ready)

    also, i can imagine someone using a board like this if they want to stick with their AGP card for the time being, especially if its one of the fastest models. and later they would upgrade to something fast on the PCIe and expect a good performance, so its good that the review shows that isn't the case.

    for people simply going budget, this board doesn't make sense. none of the "combo" features are really needed if you go with a cheap pcie vidcard and a small ddr2 stick.

    i was actually surprised someone bothered to make a board like this - intel moved to ddr2 ages ago and i can hardly see anyone needing ddr mobos by now... and even if they did there are plenty of ddr mobos already. and pcie is the standard for quite some time now... it would've made sense right after the intro of pcie, when someone might've wanted to stick with their expencive 6800gt, but now those agp cards are just not worth keeping for the "slow upgrade" route.
    Reply
  • jm20 - Monday, March 20, 2006 - link

    n the performance area, the Biostar TForce4 U 775 generated abysmal benchmark scores in the gaming and media encoding areas.

    Typo, "Biostar PT880 Pro-A7" is the correct model
    Reply

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