It’s all about choices, something we haven’t had very recently.  When the first 133MHz Pentium IIIs were released, our only viable chipset option was the VIA Apollo Pro 133/133A.  When the Pentium 4 hit the streets, Intel’s 850 chipset was the only available offering.

Luckily today, things have changed considerably.  The table below is a listing of all of the available chipsets for the three major CPU platforms.

Having that many choices isn’t important if the platform is not desirable.  Although the Socket-370 Pentium III/Celeron platform can still service some niche markets (especially those that can’t deal with the incredible heat of today’s higher performance solutions) for the most part, going that route is a dead end.  The Pentium III does not have enough front side bus (FSB) bandwidth or enough scalability to be a good solution going forward. 

The Pentium 4 is becoming increasingly more attractive; with clock speeds rising and price dropping aggressively the processor will eventually find its way into the hands of some enthusiasts.  Unfortunately there isn’t enough platform diversity to drive buyers to the solution just yet.  VIA’s P4X266 chipset was finally released and competing solutions from ALi and SiS will be seen pretty soon as well.  But until the release of Northwood, the Pentium 4 will not be a truly sought-after upgrade path.

This leaves us with the home of the Athlon, Socket-A.  The Socket-A chipset market has become much more than the VIA dominated world it once was.  Competing solutions from ALi and SiS have arrived not to mention that NVIDIA’s first foray into the chipset market will be a Socket-A platform.  With performance high and CPU prices very low, it’s no surprise that more and more users are upgrading to Socket-A systems.  While we have yet to see the BX equivalent in the Socket-A chipset world, a few contenders have come very close.  In this roundup we will help you in your next Socket-A upgrade as well as give you an idea of when you should upgrade.

The Contenders

First things first, there are three notable absences from this roundup: ALi’s MAGiK1, NVIDIA’s nForce and VIA’s new revision of the KT266 chipset. 

The MAGiK1 isn’t present in the roundup simply because by no means is it a viable solution.  As we’ve seen in the past, the solution has some serious performance issues and the cost advantage over competing VIA platforms isn’t great enough to justify even considering it. There have been newer revisions to the chipset which we will take a look at in the future, but for now we'd suggest staying away from it. 

Contrary to popular belief (read: popular rumors), NVIDIA’s nForce isn’t a mess.  NVIDIA has learned a lot in these past few months about the chipset/motherboard markets and their progress has been reflected in the current state of nForce motherboards in Taiwan; they don’t have it perfect yet, but they’re getting there.  The performance of the chipset is still under NDA so we unfortunately cannot bring you benchmarks of it in this roundup but we will be able to soon enough.

As we’ve mentioned countless times before, VIA will be introducing a new revision of the KT266 chipset with a higher performance memory controller.  Some of these memory controller optimizations are already present in the DDR memory controller from the VIA P4X266 chipset.  The chipset will not carry any special name; it will just be a new revision of the KT266.  We should have this in our hands very soon and at that point we will add it to the benchmark mix.

With those exclusions out of the way, let’s have a look at the chipsets we did compare.

The Roundup
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