Socket-A Chipset Comparison - April 2001by Anand Lal Shimpi on April 5, 2001 2:16 AM EST
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There is no arguing that AMD can attribute their recent success in the x86 market to the Athlon; and much if not all of the success is very well deserved because, after all, the Athlon is an extremely attractive solution. Offering high performance at a very low cost, as well as a core that is flexible enough to meet the needs of AMD's entire processor line without really sacrificing performance, the Athlon is without a doubt the processor for the majority of the PC buying community today. Unfortunately AMD's charm does have its dark side, and it's one that we've known about for quite a while: poor chipset support. One strength that Intel still has going for them is that their processors are generally supported first and foremost by Intel chipsets. There are third party chipsets that often times fill the gaps left by the Intel solutions but for the most part, Intel processors run on Intel chipsets. And no one knows more about producing a platform capable of running Intel processors at their best performance levels other than Intel themselves. This has been proven countless times as you compare the performance of Intel chipsets to their third-party counterparts (the i820 excluded for obvious reasons).
Although the Athlon currently has quite a bit of support from the third-party vendors, as well as a low-production chipset from AMD themselves, the processor isn't blessed in the same manner that its Intel counterparts happen to be. AMD has said countless times that they do not wish to get into the chipset business, but if they want to continue on the path they have been on for the past 2 years, they will eventually have to.
Currently the cream of the crop when it comes to Athlon chipsets happens to be those manufactured by VIA, the most popular being the KT133 and more recently, the KT133A solutions. If you'll remember back to our AMD 750 vs. KX133 comparisons of early 2000, the KX133 with PC133 SDRAM was often times just barely able to edge out the AMD 750 chipset with regular PC100 SDRAM in terms of real-world performance. Needless to say, it isn't always the fastest platform that wins; it's the one that is more widely available and better marketed. With AMD's mentality of not getting into the chipset market, the 750 eventually died and was replaced by VIA's solution.
From that point until now and realistically speaking, probably until a few more weeks from now, VIA is still the only game in town. AMD has once again tip-toed into the chipset market with their 760 chipset, however that will be around only as long as it needs to be before it is replaced by a more widely available and cheaper VIA solution. The reason we mention that VIA may not continue to be the only game in town is because of ALi's recent entry into the Athlon chipset market, the MAGiK1. However, as VIA has learned over the past two years, and as ALi is currently seeing for the first time, making a chipset competitive to VIA isn't as easy as it was in the Socket-7 days.
Since the Athlon happens to be a very popular platform right now, it would only make sense to compare the chipsets currently available, after they have matured some since their introduction, and see if there is any re-evaluation necessary in terms of the recommendations we have been giving you.
VIA has lost the advantage of being the only one out with a mature chipset since the AMD 760 has been available now for at least a couple of months, and has been in the hands of motherboard manufacturers for much longer, and the MAGiK1 from ALi is also past its teething stage. Something else has happened, however, that has made now the perfect time to visit this comparison of the three major Athlon chipsets currently available.