Athlon64 Motherboards: First Look at Chaintech, FIC, and MSIby Wesley Fink on September 23, 2003 1:03 PM EST
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VIA K8T800 ChipsetThe FIC K8-800T and MSI K8T Neo are built with the VIA K8T800 chipset. Since this is our first look at a board built on the K8T800 chipset, it is important to have a basic understanding of the features of the chipset compared to others for the Athlon64 processor.
One of the most exciting, and also controversial, features of the Opteron/Athlon64 is AMD’s decision to include the memory controller on the CPU. There are tremendous potential speed advantages to this solution. For a chipset maker, the move of the memory controller to the CPU itself means the chipset design is much simplified. In fact, about half of the requirements of the supporting chipset are eliminated, which allows a much simpler design — even the possibility of a single chip solution instead of the customary North and South bridges.
VIA chose to use a traditional North Bridge/South Bridge design instead of a single chip solution. The following Features and Benefits of the K8T800 come directly form VIA literature.
Key Features of VIA K8T800
- Supports full range of AMD Opteron/Athlon64 processors
- Hyper8 Technology enables 16-bit/1.6GHz HyperTransport processor-to-chipset link
- Support for AGP 8X/4X
- V-Link 533 MB/sec high bandwidth North/South Bridge interconnect
- Support for VIA Vinyl 5.1 & Vinyl Gold 7.1 Multichannel Audio Suite
- Serial ATA support for up to 4 devices
- Integrated V-RAID with RAID 0, RAID 1
- Parallel ATA133/100/66 support for up to 4 devices
- Support for up to 8 USB 2.0/USB 1.1 ports, UHCI compliant
- Support for VIA Gigabit Ethernet controller & Integrated 10/100 Fast Ethernet
- Integrated MC'97 Modem
- Advanced power management capabilities including ACPI/OnNow
- 578-pin BGA North Bridge
- 539-pin BGA VT8237 South Bridge
Benefits of VIA K8T800
VIA Hyper8™ Technology
VIA's unique Hyper8 technology eliminates noise on the HyperTransport link between the processor and chipset, enabling the industry's only full-speed, full-spec 16-bit/1.6GHz implementation of the processor-to-chipset HyperTransport link.
VIA Modular Architecture Platform
To best exploit the rapid pace of innovation in the PC industry, particularly with reference to I/O technology, VIA have opted for a classic North/South Bridge configuration allowing for the most scalable mainboard design, enabling new functionality to be integrated in an expedient and practical manner, thus providing the fastest time to market with new features and system performance enhancements.
Native Serial ATA/RAID Support
The VIA DriveStation™ Controller Suite with native dual channel Serial ATA/RAID controller, provides direct support for two 150MB/s Serial ATA devices and its unique SATAlite™ interface expands support for two additional SATA devices. The V-RAID controller features native RAID 0 & RAID 1. The user friendly V-RAID software interface enables easy disk array configuration and management.
VIA Vinyl Multichannel Audio Suite
Delivering rich, warm surround sound at resolutions as high as 24/96 through up to six- or eight-channel outputs, the VIA Vinyl Audio 5.1 surround sound and VIA Vinyl Gold Audio 7.1 surround sound enables crisp, clear performance, representing the highest levels of audio quality in a mainstream integrated or onboard solution.
Unified VIA Hyperion 4in1 Drivers
VIA's unified approach to drivers has been established for eight generations of chipsets, allowing end users to benefit from seamless hardware and software compatibility.
VIA has made quite a point lately in literature and press releases of the fact that they are the only chipset to support fully the full-speed 800Mhz (1.6GHz) Hypertransport bus. This is certainly true. A full 800MHz HT bus requires very low noise circuits, and VIA claims that others cannot yet implement 800 Hypertransport because of excessive circuit noise.
nVidia has a very different explanation, and they believe their single-chip solution is superior because it eliminates the 533 Mb/sec "bottleneck" that exists between VIA's 2-chip Northbridge and Southbridge solution. It is true that VIA runs a 3.2GHz uplink/downlink, while the nVidia nForce3-150 runs a 2.4GHz downlink and 1.2GHz uplink. However, nVidia says VIA's 3.2GHz must then be crammed into the 533mb/sec link between the north and south bridges which negates any advantage a 3.2GHz design might have. The nVidia nForce3-150 was designed with a 16-bit downlink/8-bit uplink running at 600MHz DDR (1.2GHz effectively) in a SINGLE chip that is connected to the CPU with a 3.6GHz connection. NVIDIA claims this is a much more efficient and faster solution, and they are confident that current nForce3-150 chipsets will not be penalized in performance as a result of the 600MHz HT speed.
nVidia has also announced that their upcoming nForce3-250 chipset, which we understand will likely be introduced with Socket 939 solutions, will run at the full 800MHz Hypertransport speed.
As we will see in benchmarks, the practical effect of 600MHz vs. 800MHz Hypertransport on performance of desktop Athlon64 machines is nil at present. However, as we see Athlon64/Opteron chipsets mature, we may see that this has a greater impact on future performance. More information on VIA K8T800 is available at http://www.viatech.com/en/k8-series/k8t800.jsp.
If you are interested in learning more about the features and architecture of Opteron and Athlon 64, you can access Anand’s excellent 3-part article.