DFI 748-AL: First Look at SiS 748by Wesley Fink on August 30, 2003 12:00 AM EST
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You can’t look at a SiS chipset board these days without asking, “what is happening to SiS?” After the heady days of growth in the Intel market, SiS has grown strangely quiet. The phenomenal growth that started with the SiS 645 chipset and progressed through the SiS 645DX, SiS 648, and finally the dual-channel SiS 655 seems to have stopped. The forays into Athlon country with the 700 series chipsets (735/746/746FX) seem to have lost all their steam since nVidia began their takeover of the AMD market. Even the long-rumored 800FSB Dual-Channel SiS 655FX chipset for Pentium 4 has turned into an endless series of delay announcements while SiS market share continues to dwindle. It wasn’t long ago that SiS was poised to pass VIA as the top chipset maker in Taiwan, but now both SiS and VIA seem to have fallen on hard times. There are many questions, more rumors, and very few hard facts. We don’t have answers to these questions.
It was in this climate that we first began to hear of a new SiS 748 chipset for Athlon, but honestly, you had to strain to even hear rumors. The new SiS 748 chipset for Athlon is as difficult to find as the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack. The first 748 that we were aware of was produced by long-term SiS partner, iWill. But early reports on that board indicated almost none of the overclocking options that iWill had lavished on their earlier SiS Athlon motherboards. There were also reports of an Asrock version of the 748 at the very low end with almost no tweaking options. Asrock is the ASUS division that produces low-end value boards. It appeared that the 748 was already destined to be the “bargain-bargain” chipset of the Athlon world, slated below even the glut of KT600 boards that are being targeted at the “value” segment.
Then we began hearing about a 748 board that would be produced by DFI that was not a fancy LANParty board, yet had many of the tweaking and overclocking options which were missing from the SiS 748 boards that we had seen. We asked DFI if we could take a look at their SiS 748 board, called the DFI 748-AL, and DFI San Jose graciously had an engineering sample in our hands in just a couple of days. We were warned that this was a value board, and not in the same league as their LANParty series, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm. DFI is a major OEM manufacturer — they make many boards for other companies — and we had always found their mainstream boards solid and stable, if not the most exciting on the market.
As stated before, there is no inherent reason why a dual-channel chipset would be the performance leader on the AMD Athlon platform. Due to the limitations of the Athlon architecture, single-channel solutions should be able to compete effectively in most performance areas with the dual-channel nForce2 Ultra 400. Recently, the single-channel nForce2 400 has proven that this is more than just a theory. We’ve already seen that KT-600 is not likely the killer single-channel solution that we expected. So, could the SiS 748 be the solution that finally stands head-to-head with nForce2?
The interest in the DFI 748-AL was to try to answer this question. Does the SiS 748 chipset have any potential? Or will it be so out-performed and overshadowed by the nForce2 Ultra 400/400 and VIA KT600 juggernaut that it will die before it is even launched? We hope to be able to shed some light on those questions in this review.