Under increased pressure from AMD, Intel has been forced to accelerate their price cuts for their low-cost Celeron line of processors, making way for the 400MHz parts to enter the market, and pushing the 300MHz Celeron A's well below that $100 level. 

In lieu of the price cuts, many users are looking for a cost-effective, yet high end motherboard solution to tide them over until the release of the next generation Pentium II processors.  Many motherboard manufacturers have chosen to produce Micro-ATX products to help cut down on cost, however at the same time, a Micro-ATX board will often be outfitted with no more than 2 or 3 PCI slots greatly limiting your expandability. 

FIC has chosen to take another route, in the past, FIC's close relationship with chipset manufacturer VIA Technologies has given them the upper hand in production of motherboards based on VIA chipsets, in this case, the Apollo Pro.  The VIA Apollo Pro offers a lower-cost alternative to Intel's 440BX, and is at the heart of FIC's VB-601-V Pentium II board, FIC latest try at the low-cost/high-performance Slot-1 market.

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Motherboard Specifications

CPU Interface Slot-1
Chipset VIA Apollo Pro
L2 Cache N/A (on-chip)
Form Factor ATX
Bus Speeds 66 / 75 / 83
100 / 112 / 124 / 133
Clock Multipliers 3.0x - 5.0x
Voltages Supported Auto Detect
Memory Slots 4 168pin DIMM Slots
Expansion Slots 1 AGP Slot
5 PCI Slots (5 Full Length)
2 ISA Slots (1 Shared / 2 Full Length)

The Good

Getting with the times, FIC chose to equip the VB-601-V with a full 5/2/1 (PCI/ISA/AGP) expansion slot configuration, in addition to the four DIMM slots placed on the BH6-sized motherboard.  The DIMM slots are placed close to the Apollo Pro North-bridge chip, and separated by a couple of electrolytic capacitors to improve stability, especially with the lack of any DRAM buffer between the memory banks and the north-bridge chip.  The rest of the board is sparsely populated with medium to large electrolytic capacitors, with a large concentration of them near the voltage regulators and the ATX power supply connector. vb601-v.jpg (23879 bytes)

Unlike most FIC motherboards, the VB-601-V is available in a jumperless configuration, using dip switches to set the clock multiplier for your CPU, and using the AMI BIOS setup to select the FSB frequency.  As is the case with most BX motherboards today, the VB-601-V supports both the 66/100MHz FSB settings and the overclocked 75/83/112/124/133MHz speeds for the overclocker in all of us.   Documentation for the setup of the VB-601-V is included, as usual, in the 1st Mainboard packaging (the name under which the VB-601-V is manufactured).  The classic FIC 1st Mainboard User's Manual is up to par with their usual standards, documenting the entire installation process and most configuration options with pictures and diagrams, as well as helpful hints as you go along.  Supplementing the user's manual is FIC's CD-Pro utility CD-ROM which contains all the necessary driver files and utilities to get your system up and running perfectly the first time.

Like it's smaller AT sibling (KA-6100), the VB-601-V features all of the perks of the most popular BX motherboards, including 100MHz FSB support as discussed earlier, and USB support...with one exception.  At the sacrifice of one of the rear USB ports, you are given the option of making use of the Front USB connector carefully placed out of the way of any peripheral expansion slots, that will accommodate USB peripherals plugged into an interface port at the front of your case.  You aren't required to use that port, not doing so will allow both ports on the rear of the ATX I/O panel to be used simultaneously. 

Due to the usage of the Apollo Pro chipset instead of the Intel BX, you can expect the price of the VB-601-V to be ideal for a second Pentium II system, once available in mass quantities, the VB-601-V should be able to be purchased for somewhere in the <$100 area, which isn't too bad so long as you're not going to be overclocking a Celeron on this bad boy.

The performance and stability of the VB-601-V are up to par with most expectations from FIC, their extreme attention to detail and quality is present in their latest ATX concoction, and there is little left to be desired from the company with the VB-601-V.

The Bad

At the risk of nit picking, there are a few problems with the VB-601-V that simply must be mentioned.  First of all, the location of the ATX Power Supply connector is definitely not ideal for cramped cases, and you basically have to stretch your power cable over your CPU/Fan in order to get it to plug into the socket properly, something most people won't find too comforting.

There are a total of two fan connectors on the VB-601-V itself, one close to the slot-1 interface, and the other near the ISA slots.   If you happen to have a multiple fan combo on your heatsink, then prepare to get some 3-pin to 5-pin power converters, or at least a cable extender for one of your fans, as reaching that second fan connector can be a pain if you don't have a long enough cable.  

The board chooses to auto-detect the FSB settings to make available to the user depending on the type of CPU you have installed, so unless you feel like taping up your Celeron to force 100MHz detection, don't plan on using the VB-601-V with your 300A at 450MHz.

One of the main features of the Apollo Pro chipset is the ability to run the memory bus at the frequency of the AGP bus, allowing older PC66 SDRAM that isn't fit for operation at 100MHz to be used in conjunction with the 100MHz FSB.  Unfortunately, that key feature doesn't seem to be present on the VB-601-V AnandTech tested, leaving the only advantage of the VB-601-V over most BX boards as price...and not a great advantage at that.

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