ASUS has always been one of the most solid and well-respected motherboard manufacturers in the industry. On our first trip to Taipei, Taiwan for this year's Computex 2000, we were amazed at the respect ASUS was given, even by competing motherboard manufacturers. Unlike other markets that we are report on, there seems to be much less bashing of competing companies in the motherboard industry, and more competition based solely on the merits of a company's products.

ASUS has attained this high level of respect by consistently delivering some of the most reliable, high performing and flexible motherboard designs we have ever seen. Case in point would be one of ASUS' most recent entries into the motherboard market, the i815E based CUSL2. An instant winner in our eyes, the CUSL2 took the same chipset that every other motherboard manufacturer was equipped with, and managed to produce a motherboard that was more impressive than any other design based on that chipset.

Another example of the ASUS standard would be their K7M, quite possibly the most highly anticipated motherboard for the Athlon processor. If you remember, the release of the K7M wasn't as clean cut as most of ASUS' earlier motherboard launches, simply because the company's close ties to Intel made releasing an AMD 750 based motherboard for use with the AMD Athlon far from the best way to maintain a healthy relationship with Intel. After a bit of toying around with ways to lessen their involvement with the production of the K7M, ASUS eventually rose to the point where they came out and fully supported the motherboard. The K7M turned out to be the most mature AMD 750 board in a time when finding a solid Athlon motherboard was quite difficult. Once again, ASUS was armed with the same chipset as everyone else, but they were simply able to produce a better implementation than the competition. Any company can copy a reference design; a good manufacturer improves upon it.

Since their cautious entry into the Athlon motherboard market, ASUS has become much more comfortable with releasing boards that support AMD's flagship. After the K7M, their KX133-based K7V (and the microATX version, the K7V-RM) hit the streets and proudly bore the ASUS name, as it became one of our two favorite KX133 based motherboards. This time around, armed with a new CPU interface to support, the 462-pin Socket-A, and a somewhat "new" chipset, VIA's KT133, ASUS is back once again to provide AMD's fastest processors a place they can call home.

We call it, the ASUS A7V.

ASUS A7V

CPU Interface
Socket-A
Chipset
VIA KT133
Form Factor
ATX
Bus Speeds
90/95/100/101/102/103/105/107/109/110/111/113
115/117/120/125/130/133/135/137
139/140/143/145MHz
Voltages Supported
1.30 - 1.85V in 0.05V increments
Memory Slots
3 168-pin DIMM Slots
Expansion Slots
1 AGP Slot
5 PCI Slots (3 Full Length)
0 ISA Slots
1 AMR Slot
On-board Audio
Cirrus Logic CrystalClearSoundFusion CS4299 AC'97
BIOS
Award Medallion BIOS 6.00

The Good

Like its closest competitor, the ASUS A7V starts off with a fairly hefty PCB. In terms of size, it is comparable to the older ASUS K7V, AOpen AK72, EPoX 7KXA, and Tyan Trinity K7 boards. When compared to the ABIT KT7, the ASUS A7V has a much "cleaner" layout, mainly because of the vertically mounted daughterboard that contains quite a few of the capacitors and power regulators that would normally be positioned around the CPU socket.

While it is difficult to say exactly why ASUS chose to mount these components vertically, there are a number of possibilities that could hold true. We have yet to see ASUS do something that didn't have a very good reason behind it, so we're going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that their engineers know what they're doing. Possible explanations that we have come up with include that the move from a Slot-A based Athlon to a Socket-A based Thunderbird/Duron platform yielded slight differences in the trace length requirements for various components, and thus it made the most sense for ASUS to proceed with a layout that the A7V uses. The thought of an upgradeable VRM module had come to mind upon first seeing the A7V, especially with the power needs of the higher clocked Socket-A processors rising dramatically. If need be, ASUS could theoretically easily replace the VRM module (it's not plugged into a socket, so you would have to de-solder the connections before removing the board) with a quick RMA back to the factory, but then again, we're not sure if this was what ASUS had in mind.


Click to Enlarge

The inclusion of this vertically mounted VRM module as well as the orientation of the CPU socket make the A7V very friendly towards the larger heatsinks that are becoming necessary as the higher clock speed Socket-A CPUs are producing quite a bit of heat (already at over 55W at 1GHz). The only potential problem is that there is a single Sanyo capacitor that is pretty close to the top right corner of the CPU socket, so before you drop $50 on that extreme cooler, you'll want to make sure it can clear that capacitor. All standard heatsink/fan combos will work fine on the board since it does comply with AMD's specifications.

The A7V's "clean" layout continues as the VIA 371 North Bridge is positioned almost perfectly between the AGP Pro50 slot and the CPU Socket. Unfortunately, the results of this "clean" layout are seen in the fact that the ATX power connector does not have as prime of a location as it does on the ABIT KT7-RAID. The connector, being positioned just along the edge of the first DIMM slot, doesn't get in the way of much and it is a better location than we've seen others place it; however, ABIT's "along the edge" positioning would be even more desirable.

As we continue the comparison to the KT7-RAID, the heatsink on the VIA 731 North Bridge isn't actively cooled like that on the ABIT board, which is fine, since we saw no need for it, at the same time, there is no thermal compound placed between the North Bridge and the heatsink itself to aid in transferring heat. We haven't seen an immediate need for including thermal compound in this location and it doesn't affect stability as far as we know, so we didn't count against ASUS for not including it.

More Good

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