VIA Apollo Pro 133A & VCSDRAM - Part 1: The Technologyby Anand Lal Shimpi on October 18, 1999 11:28 PM EST
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Just two months ago we took a look at VIA's latest Slot-1 chipset, the VIA Apollo Pro 133, which boasted the title of being the first Slot-1/Socket-370 chipset with official support for the 133MHz FSB. Unfortunately, the design was based upon somewhat outdated technology because it did not support AGP 4X, something Intel was scheduled to announce support for within the following two months with the i820 chipset.
Two months passed and Intel never made the announcement for the i820 chipset. The cause for this 'delay of game' ended up being the layout of i820 motherboards that featured 3 RDRAM slots, not the modules and not the chipset itself. The problem seems quite minor but it kept Intel from taking the spotlight in September for releasing the next flagship chipset platform for desktop PCs. This paved the way for VIA to quietly introduce the successor to their 133MHz-chipset platform just two months after they made the move to 133MHz.
This new chipset isnt really new at all; instead, it is a somewhat modified version of the North Bridge we've seen in VIA's Apollo Pro 133 thus justifying the small change in the name of this chipset solution. The part has been dubbed the Apollo Pro 133A and is essentially identical to the Apollo Pro 133 in every aspect except it adds the support for AGP 4X, making it a true competitor to Intel's 820. Why even bother with anything other than the i820? Intel has always produced high quality and high performing chipsets in the past, why even consider VIA?
There are a number of reasons for straying from Intel's solutions, especially the i820. With the i440BX the decision was easy to make; VIA's solution did not perform as well as the BX and it offered no features that the BX didn't. The BX was widely used and accepted and when you finally had it, you didn't need to manually install any special drivers to make the BX platform perform like it should. While the latter is a fault of the Operating System, in general, the VIA Apollo Pro+ (VIA's BX competitor) offered no real advantages over the Intel BX so most disregarded it.
The i820 isn't simply a BX chipset with the addition of support for the 133MHz FSB, AGP 4X, and Ultra ATA 66. If it was, then the decision would be simple since the BX is already a proven chipset. Instead, the i820, as we know from our review of the chipset, strays from the memory standard that we've been used to since before the release of the LX chipset in 1997 and moves towards Rambus DRAM. The main problem the industry as a whole has with Rambus or RDRAM is that the technology is expensive to implement and the performance gains are minimal for most users. The technology itself is perfectly sound, it offers a high bandwidth solution thus catering to Intel's recent philosophy that memory bandwidth is an obvious bottleneck of our PCs. But since today's performance numbers indicate that very little improvement is provided by i820 systems with the high speed RDRAM, the added cost isn't worth it. So, what other options are there?
If the Apollo Pro+ was designed to be a direct competitor to the BX chipset, then the new Apollo Pro 133A is essentially a competitor to the BX that adds support for the 133MHz FSB, AGP 4X and Ultra ATA 66. Sound familiar? Definitely, it's what we just talked about as being what many wanted the i820 to be.