The VIA 686A Super South Bridge helps reduce costs by integrating a number of features into a single chip. The VIA 686A actually adds a number of features, including support for 4 USB ports, integrated hardware monitoring, and an AMR interface. Two of those USB ports are available via the standard ATX I/O panel, while the other two are only available with an optional cable that can run to the front or back of your case. The Sigmatel STAC9708T AC 97 CODEC provides host-based audio support, but anyone that cares about their PC's sound will want to look into the optional on board hardware-based PCI sound solution that Gigabyte offers.

That solution comes in the form of the Creative Labs CT5880 chip mounted just behind the PCI slots. We've seen this chip on a number of motherboards and it provides good basic sound acceleration that is far better than the AC'97 software CODEC that has become virtually standard on any new motherboard. Drivers are available for the CT5880 under Windows 9x, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Linux and even BeOS. Gamers looking for a full 3D positional sound solution should look elsewhere, however.

Unlike just about every other manufacturer out there, Gigabyte still uses a DIP switch based CPU setup. Four dip switches control the FSB speed, which can be set to 95 / 100 / 105 / 110 / 113 / 115 / 117 / 133. Unfortunately, FSB speeds above 110 MHz have had little success on the EV6 bus. Although some KT133 boards that are on the way may allow unlocking the Athlon/Duron multiplier, but the GA-7ZM is not one of those boards.

In order to supply a stable signal to your shiny new Athlon or Duron CPU, Gigabyte outfitted the GA-7ZM with thirteen 1200uF capacitors next to the Socket-A connector. The stability of the GA-7ZX was comparable to the KX133-based GA-7VX, which was above average for a KX133 board, but not quite at the top of the pack.

Although the BIOS is technically the AMI Simple Setup 1.21, it looks exactly like the Award 4.51PG setup that we've come to know and love. Most of the tweaking options of the Award BIOS are still there, including control of the AGP transfer mode and the status of AGP fast writes, just like other VIA KT133/KX133 based boards. Readouts from the 686A hardware monitoring are available in the BIOS. Since all current AMD CPU's lack an on-die thermal diode, CPU temperature is read by a thermistor located in the center of the Socket-A connector.

Those of you that have experienced a failed BIOS flash attempt that has killed your motherboard or video card will appreciate Gigabyte's DualBIOS, which means there is actually a second BIOS chip on the motherboard with a backup copy of the BIOS. If there is corruption in the main BIOS for any reason, the backup BIOS takes over to allow the system to boot. With viruses beginning to attack the BIOS and the possibility of failed flashes, DualBIOS is a good safe guard measure that you'll see more and more manufacturers implement on their boards.

The typical Gigabyte manual ships with the GA-7ZX, which means that it lacks details on installing a motherboard, but is otherwise pretty good for the experienced user, and includes information on all connector pin outs as well as the various BIOS settings.

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