Athlon Motherboard Roundup - March 2000by Anand Lal Shimpi on March 27, 2000 12:27 AM EST
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The Athlon as a CPU got off to a very powerful start, instantly smoking all competing Intel solutions in the benchmarks. The CPU restored faith to the AMD name and definitely turned the tables in terms of who the performance leader of the industry was. Unfortunately, the dark side to the Athlon CPU was its motherboard support.
At the release of the Athlon, there were two motherboards shipping in limited quantities, the Microstar MS-6167 and the Gigabyte GA-7IX. The initial revision of the MSI board had some serious stability issues, and thus, it took another revision before the board was fit for public sale. The Gigabyte board was generally solid from the start, but it boasted no unique qualities other than a 95MHz FSB setting that would surely be of no use to Athlon owners.
Shortly thereafter, the FIC SD-11 made its introduction, but unfortunately, the first revisions of the board were plagued with stability issues that simply branded the board with a bad name. Even after FIC corrected the problems with the motherboard, there were still quite a few older revision boards being sold to unsuspecting users that resulted in a number of Athlon owners growing very frustrated with the platform and the motherboard situation itself.
With no more than three motherboard options, Athlon advocates were stuck between a rock and a hard place; they had an incredible CPU but were left with 3 motherboards to choose from. This situation was more than enough to frustrate Athlon owners as well as reviewers alike; it became increasingly difficult to recommend that users pick the Athlon as their next system simply because of the lack of good motherboards.
This trend was due to change with the rumors that ASUS would be releasing their Athlon board, the K7M. But when the K7M did eventually come around, ASUS did not publicize the motherboard until months after it had already made its way into distribution channels as an OEM product due to pressures from Intel.
The lack of support for the Athlon platform from motherboard manufacturers was disappointing to say the least. The situation was mainly produced by a number of factors acting in conjunction with one another. While the Intel pressure factor was evident, it was mainly directed towards motherboard manufacturers that used VIA South Bridges on their Athlon designs because of the fact that VIA is a direct competitor to Intel’s chipset market.
The other factors included what some motherboard manufacturers claim to be negligence on AMD’s part to help them with developing motherboards as well as the lack of a 4-layer reference design. AMD’s reference Athlon motherboard, the Fester, featured a 6-layer construction that went against the cost concerns of most Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers, including ABIT, who was often criticized for not producing an Athlon motherboard. It wasn’t all their fault, it simply didn’t seem feasible (from a profit perspective) to produce a 6-layer motherboard.
Luckily, things have been turning around for AMD with the motherboard situation. With the release of VIA’s KX133 chipset, and over 15 motherboard manufacturers listed on the VIA homepage as offering KX133 products, the Athlon motherboard market is expanding very quickly.
In preparation for the influx of Athlon motherboards into the market over these next few months, we have rounded up 11 Athlon motherboards, 5 of which are based on the new KX133 chipset. The boards included in this roundup are the AOpen AK72, ASUS K7M, ASUS K7V-RM, EPoX 7KXA, FIC SD-11, Gigabyte GA-7IX, Gigabyte GA-7VM, Microstar MS-6167, Microstar MS-6195 K7Pro, Soyo SY-K7AIA, and the Tyan Trinity K7 S2380.