"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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  • Rza79 - Wednesday, March 22, 2006 - link

    I would say the Asus P5VD1-X is a 10x better option than this board.
    - PT880Ultra instead of PT880Pro
    - Asus doesn't use OST caps
    - gigabit lan controller
    - space in between the AGP and PCI-E slot so you can actually put two cards
    - can be found as low as 50 euro

    It would be nice if you reviewed this board too. I used it and it really did good.
    Reply
  • Marlin1975 - Wednesday, March 22, 2006 - link

    Thats the PT880 board I am running now. It does not have voltage mods for the CPU but I was told the next Bios update will fix that. :) Reply
  • Per Hansson - Tuesday, March 21, 2006 - link

    Gary, sigh, I whined about this in your Epox review and I'll do it in this one too

    The Caps used on the board for the VRM section are excellent brand by United Chemi-Con, for the smaller caps they used the crap-brand OST that will prolly fail within the boards useful life if they are installed in any high ripple areas, which they seem to be (chipset, memory and expansionslots....) Please atleast provide pictures where you can read the make and model of the caps

    Next; PCI-E 4x has low bandwidth; well, compared to AGP 3.0 it is 2.0GB/s, and guess what, AGP 3.0 has 2 GB/s too... So the issue is not with too little bandwidth but something in the implementation...

    Most serious is the fact that there is no mention about the fact that the VT8237R does not support SATA2 harddrives, i.e. they do not work at all with it! Only the VT8237R+ support SATA2 properly, this is a design issue in the following chipsets: VT8237, VT8237R, VT6420 and VT6421L

    http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=24910">http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=24910
    Reply
  • Rza79 - Wednesday, March 22, 2006 - link

    While i know OST caps are cheap and come from Taiwan, still i have to see a blown up one. Asrock is using them from the start and those first boards are still working good for me. Still, better ones are good but OST isn't crap but just worse. Big difference.

    PCI-E 4x has 2GB/s bandwidth in total, what means 1GB/s per direction. So it can read 1GB/s and write at 1GB/s. Since these stuff are reading most of the time ...
    AGP can use it bandwidth in both directions meaning it can read at 2GB/s or write at 2GB/s. But the benchmarks do show that 1GB/s for reading is just not enough for these highend cards.

    About the Sata2 incompability. The southbridges you mention do have a detection issue. But any Sata2 hdd can be to Sata1 by jumper. When you do that, they will just work. Actually hdd's from Samsung, ... are set to Sata1 by default and have to be set manually to Sata2 by jumper.
    All the lastest Via boards i got from Asus (last month) had the Plus version of the southbridge, so you don't need to bother any longer about it either.
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Friday, March 24, 2006 - link

    "Next; PCI-E 4x has low bandwidth; well, compared to AGP 3.0 it is 2.0GB/s, and guess what, AGP 3.0 has 2 GB/s too... So the issue is not with too little bandwidth but something in the implementation...

    Most serious is the fact that there is no mention about the fact that the VT8237R does not support SATA2 harddrives, i.e. they do not work at all with it! Only the VT8237R+ support SATA2 properly, this is a design issue in the following chipsets: VT8237, VT8237R, VT6420 and VT6421L "

    The PCI-E 4x comments have been clarified by RZA79 already. Our features chart and text clearly indicated the VIA VT8237R was a SATA 1.5Gb/s controller. However, I obviously did not clearly state this in the article. :) I updated the Final Words section based upon your comments. In our testing with this controller, our Maxtor, WD, Seagate, and Samsung 3Gb/s drives all worked fine with the jumpers set to 1.5Gb/s. Thanks!!!
    Reply
  • Per Hansson - Wednesday, March 22, 2006 - link

    Yea right, OST is great...

    ASUS P5GDC-V DELUXE LGA775
    http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showth...ghlight=p5gd...">http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showth...ghlight=p5gd...
    Shuttle MS50N s478
    http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showth...highlight=ms...">http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showth...highlight=ms...
    MSI MS-6741 s754
    http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showth...7&highli...">http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showth...7&highli...
    Matsonic MS8318E s462
    http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showth...1&highli...">http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showth...1&highli...

    I had no idea about the PCIe bandwidth info... Interesting to say the least

    And last, I bought a friend a 500GB Seagate Barracuda, it did not get recognized by his mobo (8237 southbridge) I contacted Seagate by phone, the tech said I was supposed to put a jumper between two of the pins, it did not help, so I had to buy him an external controller
    Reply
  • Per Hansson - Wednesday, March 22, 2006 - link

    Sorry, links trancuated...

    ASUS P5GDC-V DELUXE LGA775
    http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showthread.php?t=843">http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showthread.php?t=843

    Shuttle MS50N s478
    http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showthread.php?t=481">http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showthread.php?t=481

    MSI MS-6741 s754
    http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showthread.php?t=1127">http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showthread.php?t=1127

    Matsonic MS8318E s462
    http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showthread.php?t=251">http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showthread.php?t=251
    Reply
  • Wonga - Monday, March 20, 2006 - link

    From this review, you can certainly see that AMD made a good choice going for an IMC - relying on VIA, they'd always be in second place.

    Not that VIA chipsets are bad to use, but they certainly aren't the quickest...
    Reply
  • lemonadesoda - Monday, March 20, 2006 - link

    Something isn't quite right here. If you want to provide an upgrade path for basic users, start with what they have already:

    1./ CPU - 478 (this is an intel example)
    2./ GPU - AGP
    3./ Memory - DDR

    And cost/price of the original components (and their new replacements) IS IN THAT ORDER. What's the point of throwing away your most expensive components and recycling only the lowest value ones? Not much really.

    The design criteria should be to get maximum gain from minimum investment. And to me that would suggest upgrading, in this order:

    A./ Increase memory
    B./ GPU
    C./ Other software or hardware speed-me-ups
    D./ Maybe CPU if you have a pooooor humble one. Either you buy a second hand CPU on ebay, or you might as well start with a brand new up to date platform

    Not on the list, would be to change memory format DDR vs DDR2 (since this ain't going to give you any more practial or noticeable speed)

    Therefore, for the budget conscious upgrader, what is needed is a mainboard that will allow them to do upgrade A and B at minimum cost. ie a mainboard with PCIe16 and socket 478 and SIX DDR memory slots. (SIX Slots allows the upgrader to use existing too-small DDR sticks and add a couple more)

    I believe ASUS and ASROCK did a socket 478 and PCIexpress, but guess what, only 2 RAM slots. Brainless.
    Reply
  • Missing Ghost - Tuesday, March 21, 2006 - link

    yeah bright, 6 dimms unbuffered memory! Reply

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