Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/144



Cheetah - The swiftest animal on land.  Their living is threatened by demolition of the environment.

As Intel demolishes the Socket-7 environment with their Celeron/EX on the low end and their Deschutes/BX combos on the high end, a manufacturer needs to stay swift in order to outrun the competition in this industry.   Simply cranking out TX motherboards or even Socket-7 AGP boards doesn't cut it anymore, users demand more and they are not willing to pay the outrageous prices for a Slot-1 motherboard, what else is a manufacturer to do but meet these demands on the low end with a high end Socket-7 motherboard.

The above factoid can be found on the box and User's Manual of Iwill's newest AGP Socket-7 motherboard, the XA100.  What sets the XA100 apart from the competition is the chipset the board was built around, Acer Lab's (ALi) Aladdin V, a Super7 (Socket-7 + AGP + 100MHz Front Side Bus) chipset.


Anand Tech Report Card Rating
96/A

Motherboard Specifications

CPU Interface Socket-7
Chipset ALi Aladdin V
L2 Cache 512KB
Form Factor ATX
Bus Speeds 60 / 66 / 75 / 83 / 100 MHz
Clock Multipliers 2.0x - 5.5x
Voltages Supported 1.8v / 2.1v / 2.2v / 2.7v / 2.8v / 2.9v / 3.2v / 3.5v
Memory Slots 3 168pin DIMM Slots (EDO/SDRAM)
Expansion Slots 1 AGP Slot
4 PCI Slots
3 ISA Slots (1 Shared / 3 Full Length)
BIOS AMI BIOS

 


The Good

Why follow the rest of the pack when you can set your own trends?  This seemed to be Iwill's intention with the XA100, at a first glance the eye catching box the board arrived in depicted a pack of 3 Cheetahs (the animals, not the hard drives ;)...) against an African sunset backdrop, a highly unusual image for a motherboard, however if Iwill's intention was to be different they definitely accomplished it.  Lifting up the top of the motherboard box doesn't reveal a cluttered assortment of cables and documentation, instead you see a cardboard pop-up bearing the logo: "Iwill -- Make Things Happen."

This cover contains information on how to obtain technical support, the Iwill homepage address (listed about 4 times total), as well as some other interesting information about the company itself.   Removing this cover thankfully doesn't reveal another one, instead you find the manual on top of the XA100, underneath which lies a box containing the proper HDD/FDD cables necessary to get your system up and running. 

Looking at the board itself produces a unique sight, the arctic gray color that is found on the PCI slots, IDE/FDC connectors, and the CPU socket is a very rare occurrence, although it does add a pleasing appearance to the motherboard.  The ATX form factor Super7 board features a healthy 4 PCI, 3 ISA, and 1 AGP expansion slot layout complimenting the 3 DIMM slots for memory expansion.   Courtesy of the Aladdin V chipset the XA100 can cache above 64MB of RAM, more specifically, a full 128MB cacheable memory area is possible with only 512KB of L2 cache.   One of the unique qualities the Aladdin V chipset boasts is the internal L2 cache the chipset features, more specifically the M1541 chip has an integrated 16K x 10-bit Tag RAM as well as 16K x 2 L2 cache SRAM, both of which decrease cost and increase performance at the same time.  For this reason you can expect an Aladdin V board to be cheaper than an equivalently equipped VIA MVP3 Super7 board.  

The board itself looks like some of the newer BX motherboards in terms of size and layout, the XA100 closely resembles the ASUS P2B with the exception of the presence of a Socket-7 CPU interface.  The upper left hand corner of the motherboard is home to an extremely tiny and out of the way green power LED indicator, a feature that can be found on most Tyan motherboards.  Closer to the Socket-7 IC (Integrated Circuit) you'll find a sparse population of small to mid-sized Vendell capacitors, including some between the ATX Power Supply Connector and the CPU Socket in order to decrease fluctuations in the voltage supplied to your CPU and therefore increase stability.  The voltage regulators on the XA100 don't feature heatsinks on them, however this failed to pose a problem during the reliability tests AnandTech conducted.  Closer to the AGP slot you'll find the 456-pin M1541 Aladdin V chipset which makes the 100MHz Front Side Bus possible on the XA100.

Tapping the power of the Aladdin V chipset is done through the use of an Epox-like single jumper configuration setup.  A single jumper controls the clock multiplier settings while another controls the Front Side Bus speed selection, allowing you to choose from a list ranging from 60 - 100MHz, all of which operated in an extremely stable manner.  Whatever problems plagued the Aladdin V chipset previously seemed to have been solved as Iwill proved to the world that they can construct a Super7 board built around this elusive chipset.  The Aladdin V allows for Pseudo-Synchronous operation of the PCI/AGP Buses keeping them at around 33 and 66MHz respectively, removing the possibility of running into problems with your PCI/AGP peripherals.  On the ISA end, the AMI BIOS allows you to manually set the AT Clock Frequency in order to prevent any problems your ISA peripherals may have. 

The User's Manual provided by Iwill is a step away from the 'el-cheapo' User's Manual you're probably used to seeing packaged with ALi based motherboards, Iwill paid great attention to detail in the manual and although there is some room for improvement it is definitely a well made document.  Also packaged with the motherboard are the ALi AGP GART VxD Drivers and the ALi Bus Master IDE drivers as well, both were installed for the AnandTech tests and each installation went without any problems at all.   

Performance-wise, the XA100 blows away all standard Socket-7 motherboards as it allows for Pentium MMX and AMD K6 owners to take advantage of the 100MHz Front Side Bus Frequency, unfortunately the Cyrix 6x86MX tested didn't seem to want to work at the 100MHz FSB speed.  Simply switching to the 100MHz FSB speed provides an average of a 10% increase in performance over its 66MHz counterpart, this is definitely a feature you'll need in order to get the full performance out of AMD's new K6-2 processor.

The Bad

A 112MHz bus speed would have been nice, apparently FIC's VA-503+ (MVP3) does feature this setting and initial reports state that it is quite stable, however the 100MHz bus speed will have to do for now.  Like the Epox Super7 Motherboard, the XA100 doesn't feature any CPU core voltage settings between 2.2v and 2.7v, making overclocking the K6-300 to 350 (100 x 3.5) virtually impossible.  Other than those two oversights the XA100 is a job well done by Iwill.  



IRQ Usage

  • Allows user to individually set IRQs for each Legacy ISA card

  • Allows user to assign IRQ to PCI VGA

  • Allows user to assign Off-board PCI IDE IRQ's

 


BIOS Settings

Iwill XA100 Chipset Features Setup

Item Settings
  Recommended Safe
USB Function: Disabled Disabled
USB Legacy Support: Disabled Disabled
DRAM Timing: Auto Auto
Gated Clock: Enabled Disabled
Graphics Aperture Size: 64MB 8MB
Primary Frame Buffer: Enabled Disabled
VGA Frame Buffer: Enabled Disabled
Data Merge: Disabled Disabled
Passive Release: Enabled Disabled
ISA Line Buffer: Disabled Disabled
Delayed Transaction: Enabled Disabled
AT Bus Clock: Enabled Disabled

 


Recommended SDRAM

Recommended SDRAM: Memory Man PC100 SDRAM; Corsair PC100 SDRAM
SDRAM Tested: 1 x 64MB Corsair PC100 SDRAM

Manufacturer: Corsair Microsystems
Purchase Web-Site: http://www.tccomputers.com/

Manufacturer: Memory Man
Purchase Web-Site: http://www.memory-man.com/

 


The Test

In recent times, choosing a motherboard cannot be completely determined by a Winstone score. Now, many boards come within one Winstone point of each other and therefore the need to benchmark boards against each other falls. Therefore you shouldn't base your decision entirely on the benchmarks you see here, but also on the technical features and advantages of this particular board, seeing as that will probably make the greatest difference in your overall experience.

How I Tested

  • Each benchmark was run a minimum of 2 times and a maximum of 5 times, if the motherboard failed to complete a single test within the 5 allocated test runs the OS/Software was re-installed on a freshly formatted Hard Drive and the BIOS settings were adjusted to prevent the test from failing again.  All such encounters were noted at the exact time of their occurrence.

  • Business Winstone 98 was run at each individually tested clock speed, if reliable scores were achieved with the first two test runs of the suite an average of the two was taken and recorded as the final score at that clock speed.  If the test system displayed erratic behavior while the tests were running or the results were incredibly low/high the tests were re-run up to 5 times and an average of all the test runs was taken and recorded at the final score at that clock speed

  • After each motherboard was tested a complete format of the test hard drive was initiated and the OS/benchmarking software was re-installed afterwards a defragment was initiated using Windows 95's Disk Defragmentation Utility

  • Tests using AGP Video cards were only run under Winstone 97, as the AGP Millennium II does not affect the Business Winstone 98 score when compared to the PCI Millennium II used in the tests.

  • No foreign drivers were present in the test system other than those required for the system to function to the best of its ability

  • All foreign installation files were moved to a separate partition during the test as to prevent them from effecting the test results

  • All tests were conducted at 800 x 600 x 256 colors

Test Configuration

Processor(s): AMD K6/300 AFR
Intel Pentium MMX 233
Cyrix 6x86MX-PR2/200
RAM: 1 - 64MB Corsair PC100 SDRAM DIMM
1 - 64MB Memory Man PC100 SDRAM DIMM
Hard Drive(s): Western Digital Caviar AC21600H
Video Card(s): Matrox Millennium II (4MB WRAM - AGP)
Bus Master Drivers: ALi BMIDE
Video Drivers: MGA Millennium 4.07.00.700
ALi GART VxD
Operation System(s): Windows 95 Service Release 2.1

 

Ziff Davis Winstone - Windows 95 Performance

Winstone 98 Winstone 97
Business Business
AMD K6/300 - 66MHz x 4.5 --- 60.5
AMD K6/300 - 100MHz x 3.0 21.4 66.7
AMD K6/266 -66MHz x 4.0 --- 58.9
AMD K6/250 -100MHz x 2.5 --- 61.7
Intel Pentium MMX 250 - 100MHz x 2.6 --- 58.6
Intel Pentium MMX 233 - 66MHz x 3.5 17.2 54.1
Cyrix 6x86MX PR2/200+ - 66MHz x 2.5 --- 55.4

 


The Final Decision

As a Super7 motherboard, the Iwill XA100 is a wonderful example of what you should look for in an ATX Form Factor Aladdin V motherboard.   You could always wait for another company to release their Super7 board and pass up the XA100 or you could walk down the path of the Cheetah.  When it comes down to the Final Decision, should you pass up this board from Iwill?  I wouldn't.

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