Remember the days when huge AT cases could be had for less than $100?  The days when you could order an average sized case for little more than $30, have been long gone since the advent of the ATX form factor which pulled motherboard manufacturers in the ATX direction, drove case prices up and left investors in the old AT form factor alone in the street.

Since the violent takeover of the ATX standard, most motherboard manufacturers have placed new AT products at the bottom of their list of priorities, and those that didn't usually produced lack-luster, low quality solutions for their once popular AT users.

Have things changed at all since the days of the relatively poor release of AT form factor Pentium II LX and BX boards?  One company we're all familiar with, FIC, has put the low-cost VIA Apollo Pro Pentium II chipset to good use in a new line of Pentium II boards, including an AT form factor board, the KA-6100.  Is the KA-6100 a trend setter or a follower of the rest of the industry, price over quality?  Let's find out...

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Motherboard Specifications

CPU Interface Slot-1
Chipset VIA Apollo Pro
L2 Cache N/A (on-chip)
Form Factor AT (w/ AT/ATX PS Connectors)
Bus Speeds 66 / 68 / 75
100 / 103 / 112 / 133
Clock Multipliers 3.0x - 5.5x
Voltages Supported Auto Detect
Memory Slots 3 168pin DIMM Slots
Expansion Slots 1 AGP Slot
3 PCI Slots (0 Full Length)
2 ISA Slots (1 Shared / 1 Full Length)

The Good

The Baby AT form factor KA-6100 starts off by cramming as much onto a PCB no larger than a sheet of paper.  The 3/2/1 (PCI/ISA/AGP) expansion slot configuration is combined with the 3 DIMM slots to provide for a motherboard that is just about as expandable as possible for a Pentium II board of this size.  From a feature point of view, the KA-6100 does bring quite a bit to the table, the on-board Yamaha ISA Audio tends to the need for occupying a precious expansion slot to add sound to a system based upon this motherboard, and at the same time it outshines the presence of only 2 ISA slots, or only 3 PCI slots, by eliminating the need for a physical sound card.   FIC provides you with an I/O cutout panel for the game and sound interface ports, and with a the presence of only 5 usable slots, you shouldn't have a problem fitting the I/O panel to your case. ka6100.jpg (21049 bytes)

The KA-6100 doesn't leave you without any of the bells and whistles ATX Pentium II motherboard owners have, in addition to the two rear-external USB ports standard on most newer motherboards, the KA-6100 brings an increasingly popular feature within the reach of AT advocates, the elusive front-panel USB connector.  In between the two ISA slots, FIC placed a 4-pin USB connector that will hook up to a panel in the front of your case to support a USB port that is accessible from the front of your system, makes sense, no?

The VIA Apollo Pro chipset allows for the same feature support as Intel's BX chipset, with a new feature that will keep many cost-concerned users happy, the ability to run the memory bus at the speed of the AGP clock.  This feature was once only reserved for MVP3 Super7 users, but it would make sense that VIA would bring the feature over to the Slot-1 arena with their Slot-1 chipset in order to offer an advantage, albeit not a great one, over the Intel BX chipset.   The cost of the Apollo Pro is also decreased in comparison to the Intel BX, unfortunately the cost differential isn't great enough to justify going with a Slot-1 system over a low-cost Super7 upgrade for those users greatly concerned with the overall price of their system.

The initial setup and configuration of the KA-6100 did require a visit to the FIC user's manual, which since the beginning has been getting increasingly more thorough and well written.  The KA-6100's manual documents all of the officially supported FSB settings, including the 68/103MHz turbo settings, however it refrains from documenting the 112/133MHz FSB settings that can be obtained by the following jumper configurations:







Also included with the motherboard package is FIC's classic FIC CD Pro CD-ROM utility disc that contains everything necessary for getting your system up and running properly, including the latest AGP GART and BMIDE drivers, however for those users with DVD drives, it is recommended that you refrain from using the Bus Master IDE drivers to avoid any compatibility problems. 

The performance of the Apollo Pro chipset doesn't distance itself enough from the BX chipset in 3D games and AGP tests to be considered a weak performer, and under Business Applications and general usage, the KA-6100 is often on the heels of the most popular BX motherboards, including the ABIT BH6.

The Bad

The jumper setup on the KA-6100 could've been simplified quite a bit, as the jumper blocks are too close together, and the documentation on the motherboard (as well as in the manual) does not correspond directly to the jumper positions as they are on the motherboard.

If you're concerned with audio quality and compatibility, then you will definitely want to pass up the choice on this motherboard, the on-board Yamaha's Windows Sound System/SB Pro compatibility left the test system out in the rain while playing older DOS games with a full set of peripherals installed (ISA Modem, SCSI/Network cards installed) and required quite a bit of troubleshooting to get all of the IRQ/DMA conflicts resolved.  Over time you can expect upgrading the KA-6100 to be decreasingly pleasant, at least a PCI equivalent of the on-board sound would've been better than what was included on the KA-6100, the board would've been better off without it.

This can be attributed to the cramped Baby AT layout, however it is still no excuse, as other manufacturers have avoided the problem: the HDD/FDD interface ports are in the way of all three of the PCI slots, making the use of full length PCI cards quite difficult.  After a little bending, I could install a reference Voodoo2 (the shorter Pure3D-2 had no problem fitting) without too much of a possibility that the card would lose its seat in the PCI slot as a result of the FDD cable pushing up on it, however installing a full length card would be a bit of a risk.

Following the lead of most AT motherboard manufacturers, FIC still fails to include any USB ports for your case, so you're left with a USB capable motherboard, and a $10 debt for the external USB ports that you can pick up at your local computer retail shop. 

The stability of the motherboard, especially with all three DIMM slots populated pushed the quality rating of the KA-6100 down a few percent.  Overall, under normal usage conditions, the KA-6100 bumped heads with the best of them, however don't consider the KA-6100 as a purely rock solid motherboard as it is shadowed by the ASUS' and AOpen's of the industry.

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