VIA KM133 Socket-A Chipset: Final Battle of the Value Chipsetsby Anand Lal Shimpi on December 20, 2000 3:11 AM EST
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Just a week ago we took an in-depth look at the 730S chipset from SiS, the first ever chipset for the Socket-A platform that featured integrated video. The 730S proved to be a very feature rich solution as well as an option with mature drivers for its SiS 300 integrated video controller, however it did have its shortcomings.
We mainly attributed those shortcomings to its memory controller, which resulted in sub-par performance when compared to the KT133 chipset. The use of an external GeForce2 GTS graphics card effectively leveled the playing field between the KT133 and the 730S, allowing us to conclude about the strengths and weaknesses of the chip’s design itself as well as its integrated memory controller.
If you recall back to our first look at the KX133 chipset, which is virtually identical to the KT133 in all performance aspects, you will remember that we criticized VIA’s memory performance. That same criticism was present when we reviewed the Apollo Pro 133A, and even before then with the Apollo Pro Plus. However we never realized how blessed we were to have such well performing chipsets from VIA until we came across the 730S that offered significantly lower performance.
Concluding our review of the SiS 730S was a forward looking statement that warned of what a competing chipset from VIA would be able to offer over SiS in the near future.
Why should SiS be afraid? If VIA was able to produce a solution that performed on-par with the KT133 yet featured an integrated video core, the 730S would be in a considerable amount of trouble since it painfully lost the performance battle to the KT133 in all situations.
Well, that near future we spoke of happens to be today and that competing chipset we mentioned happens to be VIA’s ProSavage KM133 which is closely based on the KT133 chipset. Let’s have a look at VIA’s delayed solution for the Socket-A platform and see if it was really worth the wait.
The one no one expected to succeed
By the time VIA had finally gained some ground in the Socket-7 chipset market, Intel was done playing with those “silly” sockets and had moved onto the Slot-1 platform for their new baby, the Pentium II. VIA's first attempt at a Pentium II chipset left Intel with virtually no fears. Not only was the Apollo Pro Plus incapable of offering performance equal to that of the BX chipset, but it was also not priced significantly lower.
As you will all remember, it wasn't really until the release of the Apollo Pro 133 that VIA was really taken seriously in the desktop PC chipset market for Slot-1/Socket-370 CPUs. The reason being that the Apollo Pro 133 (and later the 133A) offered everything Intel failed to deliver with their i820 chipset. For the end-user as well as the OEMs/system integrators, the 133/133A series of chipsets was exactly what they wanted: a BX replacement with 133MHz FSB/PC133 SDRAM support not to mention the useless AGP 4X support which was desired as well.
Using the Apollo Pro 133A's design as a stepping stone, VIA's next major win was with the KX133, the first PC133 chipset for the Athlon which was met with instant success. Combined with the fact that VIA essentially had the only Socket-A chipset at the launch of the first Socket-A processors, it didn't take long for VIA to essentially have the Slot-1/Socket-370 and the Slot-A/Socket-A markets at their control.
In spite of this string of success, VIA failed to deliver what AMD most definitely needed. We discussed exactly why the Duron needs a highly integrated chipset to run on, and VIA realized this as they included plans for a value chipset for Socket-A platforms in their roadmaps, however this value platform, the KM133, took quite a while to make its way to production. While we saw a few KM133 boards floating around at Computex, we hadn't seen anything surface outside of trade shows and company press material.
While VIA was concentrating on making one chipset release at a time, in order to make certain they could meet product demand, the KM133's release slipped and slipped until the product was almost forgotten. Then on September 26, 2000, VIA made the joint announcement with S3 Graphics that the KM133 was officially launched. What kept the KM133 from being launched months earlier alongside the KT133 as well as the AMD Duron is still unclear, as VIA would be in an even more powerful position had they done so. In any case, the KM133 is here and now armed with the SiS 730S to compare it to we can offer a solid comparison of what is currently available.