Intel has been given a tough time these days; the Pentium 4 just can't seem to get the recommendation over the Athlon XP and as if that wasn't enough, Intel's strengths in the market are still largely ignored. One of Intel's largest strengths is their chipset business; although far from the most desirable solution, Intel's 845 chipset has turned out to be one of the most stable and reliable platforms ever. While it's true that we won't see many enthusiasts with i845 based PCs, we can commend Intel on the fact that on the chipset's launch day motherboards were immediately available. Historically, this has been the way desktop chipsets and motherboards have been launched. Somewhere along the line it became acceptable to get all excited about a chipset without seeing a single retail motherboard based on that platform for weeks and even months.

At this point we could bring out nForce as the perfect example but even at the time of publication nForce based motherboards are not readily available (note that the chipset was "launched" in June). We'll spare nForce until later, today we are concerned with the first few motherboards based on VIA's KT266A chipset. This chipset was officially launched on September 3, 2001, although it was due weeks before that. As you'll remember, the release was inspired by increasing pressure from SiS and worries that NVIDIA would have a killer product on their hands with nForce. Now, almost two months after the initial launch we are finally seeing motherboards based on the chipset appear in the retail channels.

With only three boards readily available this is far from an Intel chipset launch, which is something that VIA and the rest of the chipset players will have to work on in the future. Regardless, with the arrival of the Athlon XP many users are finding themselves in a very tempting position of wanting to upgrade. We've already shown you how much of a difference a high performing DDR platform like the KT266A can make in the benchmarks, but now it's time to take a look at the options you have available if you're making that upgrade today.

We've started out this mini-roundup with the three currently available motherboards, but we will continue to update it as more motherboards become available. As for now, the contenders are: the EPoX 8KHA+, MSI K7T266 Pro2-RU, and the Shuttle AK31 Revision 3.1. All of the boards are based on VIA's KT266A chipset and feature the same VIA 8233 South Bridge. For more information on the chipset itself take a look at our original review of it from September.

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