We all know about the performance of AMD's Thunderbird as well as AMD's Duron, but the biggest question that seems to continue to plague us all is, of course, where are all of the Socket-A motherboards?

Just as with the release of the first Slot-A Athlons, finding Socket-A motherboards is a bit on the difficult side. The main reason being that only a handful of motherboard manufacturers have been producing Socket-A motherboards since AMD's launch in June - among those manufacturers is Gigabyte.

They were one of the first to produce a Slot-A Athlon motherboard and now they're back with one of the first Socket-A Thunderbird/Duron motherboards, the GA-7ZM.

Motherboard Specifications

CPU Interface
Socket-A
Chipset
VIA KT133
Form Factor
microATX
Bus Speeds
95 / 100 / 105 / 110
113 / 115 / 117 / 133
Voltages Supported
Auto Detect
Memory Slots
3 168-pin DIMM Slots
Expansion Slots
1 AGP Slot
3 PCI Slots (3 Full Length)
1 AMR Slot (Shared)
0 ISA Slots
Onboard Sound
Analog Devices AD1881A AC 97
BIOS
AMI Simple Setup 1.21

The Good

The GA-7ZM is Gigabyte's first Socket-A motherboard and, like Gigabyte's first KX133 board, arrives in microATX formfactor. Just like that GA-7VM KX133 board, the GA-7ZM will be followed by a nearly identical ATX version with more expansion slots and optional hardware sound.

With 3 PCI, 1 AGP, and 1 AMR slots, the GA-7ZM maximizes the use of the PCB space allotted by the microATX standard. A trend we're starting to see from more and more motherboard manufacturers is the shared AMR/PCI slot, like we have on the GA-7ZM. The AGP slot is a "universal AGP slot," which means it isn't keyed specifically for AGP 2X or AGP 4X cards, allowing the user to install virtually any currently available AGP card in the slot, whether it is an AGP 1X/2X or 4X card. Gigabyte adds a nice little feature to the AGP slot - an AGP retention mechanism. Apparently some OEM's were having trouble with AGP cards coming loose during shipping, so the retention mechanism serves to make sure this doesn't happen. An AGP retention mechanism is included by Gigabyte on the AGP slot.

Located between the Socket-A connector and the AGP slot is the KT133's North Bridge, which is covered by Gigabyte's classic orange heatsink. The 8373 North Bridge is nearly identical to the 8371 of the KX133 with a few timing changes to support AMD's Socket-A CPU's. That North Bridge provides all the features of the KT133, most importantly 133MHz memory bus and AGP 4X support. The beauty of the 8373's memory controller is that it can run your memory at either 133MHz or 100MHz using a multiplier of the FSB frequency. So those users with PC133 SDRAM can take advantage of the increased bandwidth (1.06GB/s vs. 800MB/s) over PC100 SDRAM, while allowing backwards compatibility with older PC100 SDRAM. Support for VC100/VC133 memory is still included, but availability is still weak and prices high.

The GA-7ZM, as is the case with most Athlon motherboards, features 3 DIMM slots capable of accepting PC100/PC133 or VC100/VC133 SDRAM running at either a 3:3 (1:1) ratio with the FSB (by default, 100MHz) or a 4:3 ratio with the FSB (133MHz by default). This is the recommended maximum for PC133 support according to VIA.

More Good

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