Value Dual Socket-370 Motherboard Roundup - August 2001by Mike Andrawes on August 24, 2001 12:00 PM EST
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Competition among chipsets
In this roundup, the competition is not just between motherboards, but also a competition among chipsets as well. While there are quite a few chipsets in the market supporting SMP with the Pentium III, many of them are simply too expensive to be used in a value SMP system. Nevertheless, among the ten contestants here, there are a total of three chipsets used, showing that there is quite a bit of support for value market SMP systems.
The first, and also the most commonly used, is the VIA Apollo Pro133A. It was indeed one of the first chipset officially supporting SMP and the 133MHz front side bus. Thanks to the high cost of RDRAM with little to no performance advantage (in fact a disadvantage in many cases), Intel's i820 essentially flopped, making the Apollo Pro133A effectively the only official 133MHz FSB chipset on the market for quite some time.
The VIA Apollo Pro266 is the second chipset we found used on many of these motherboards. As the name implies, it is the successor to the Apollo Pro133A, although quite a bit has changed. The most obvious change is that the Apollo Pro266 supports DDR SDRAM instead of the traditional SDR SDRAM. While the Apollo Pro266 has not been able to boost the performance of single processor system too much, mainly because the Pentium III is not particularly memory hungry, it's potential with multiple processors was certainly promising. Another major design change is the use of the V-link architecture between the north and south bridges for more bandwidth and lower pincount. This is very similar to Intel's Hub Architecture.
Interestingly enough, we saw a very unlikely chipset used for SMP in this roundup, the Intel i815EP chipset. Officially the Intel i815EP chipset does not support any SMP system at all, and only a single motherboard manufacturer had mentioned an SMP motherboard using the chipset. Just days before this roundup was completed, we received a board from Acorp International, a motherboard manufacturer in Taiwan. They are, of course, that one brave manufacturer to announce an SMP i815EP board.
This is quite an engineering feet by Acorp since they obviously got no help from Intel in designing it since they do not support SMP on the i815EP. Kudos to Acorp for going out on a limb, and possibly raising some eyebrows over at Intel, for producing such a board. The i815EP of course is very promising as an SMP chipset because it performed so well as a uniprocessor chipset. Even with DDR SDRAM, the Apollo Pro 266 can barely keep up with the i815EP with a single processor.
In terms of features, all three chipsets supports AGP 1X, 2X, and 4X, official 133MHz FSB, and Ultra ATA 100. Both the Apollo Pro133A and the Apollo Pro266 support up to 4GB of memory, while the i815EP is limited to a mere 512MB, which is not nearly enough for most modern servers. Nevertheless, it could be a very affordable SMP chipset for a home system.
The Apollo Pro133A and the i815EP chipsets support a total of four USB ports. Generally, two traditional ports are installed at the back of the board within the ATX I/O panel, while the second set of connectors for the third and forth ports requires the use of a bracket, which is provided by most manufacturers. The Apollo Pro266 takes things one step further and supports a total of six USB ports.