Introduction

VIA and AMD have formed an extremely strong relationship over the past few years.  Dating back to VIA’s strong support for the Socket-7 and later the Super7 markets, VIA has been a tremendous help in recent times as well.  With no intentions of becoming a chipset manufacturer, nor the resources to do so in addition to maintaining a successful processor line, AMD has devoted their attention, rightfully so, to producing the Athlon.  Instead, AMD relied on third party chipset manufacturers like ALi, SiS and VIA to develop the platforms for AMD’s processors.    While ALi and SiS were pretty much no-shows for the Athlon platform until now, VIA essentially carried the Slot-A and Socket-A markets with their KX133 and KT133 chipsets. 

This could have been a dangerous situation for AMD, because no matter how good their chips are, without a reliable platform to run on their processors are useless.  It turns out that VIA’s chipsets were a definite success, allowing the Athlon to gain over 20% of the desktop retail market share.

At the beginning of this month, AMD released their 760 chipset, where they introduced the DDR technology to the Athlon.  This is definitely good news, as we have seen that this new chipset does provide higher memory bandwidth, and thus higher performance.  However, in spite of the release of the AMD 760 together with the upcoming DDR chipsets from VIA and ALi, there are still some questions that remain unanswered.  When can DDR motherboards be widely available to the public?  What will be the average cost of those boards?  Will DDR SDRAM be able to live up with the demand?  And most importantly, is it worth it to current SDRAM owners to do a complete upgrade, possibly even throwing out a large chunk of memory in order to get the 10% performance gain of DDR SDRAM? 

With DDR here, but not readily available yet, VIA’s KT133 chipset is still the platform of choice if not the only platform that is available in many cases.  Since its release back in June, we have seen a constant flow of KT133 based boards from motherboard manufacturers.

Back in August, we were able to pull together ten KT133 motherboards and made provided you all with a complete roundup of the cream of the crop at that time.  Being the first wave of KT133 motherboards, the boards were more or less average.  Only a few candidates were able to differentiate themselves from the competition; and for the end user, it was really not that hard to pick a motherboard of choice during that time.  The ABIT KT7-RAID and the ASUS A7V easily won the comparison and became the top two boards in the market.  They offered outstanding performance and stability, but it was the ability to change the multiplier ratio of the processors that gave them the gold.

Fast forwarding three months to the present, manufacturers not only have more experience with the chipset but are now more familiar with what features really sell.  The method to implement clock multiplier control is no longer a secret, the VIA 686B Super South Bridge is finally out boasting Ultra ATA 100 support, and on-board IDE RAID controllers have become much more common.  All these factors, together with subtle design adjustments are enough to differentiate these, the second wave of KT133 motherboards, from their elders. 

In this roundup, we will take a look at twelve KT133 motherboards and as usual crown a single entry the victor.  The boards we compared are: the ABIT KT7-RAID, AOpen AK73 Pro, ASUS A7V, Chaintech 7AIV2, EPoX EP-8KTA2, FIC AZ11E, Gigabyte GA-7ZXR, Iwill KV200-R, Microstar K7T Master, Microstar K7T Pro, Microstar K7T Pro2, and the Soyo SY-K7VTA.

VIA's KT133 Chipset

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