VIA KT333 Motherboard Roundup - June 2002by Anand Lal Shimpi on June 13, 2002 5:41 AM EST
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Normally on this page we hand out our coveted Editor's Choice awards, including the Editor's Choice Gold award for excellence. However, in the case of this batch of KT333 motherboards, we didn't feel that any were particularly deserving of the Editor's Choice Gold emblem. There were a number of solid motherboards in the roundup, but none were truly perfect, leaving us with a number of ties for second and third place but no overall winner. Before we get to the winners let's talk about some of the things we learned from this roundup and what we'd like to see in the next generation of Socket-A boards based on VIA's KT400 chipset:
1) DIMM slots - Although every single motherboard in this roundup had over two DIMM slots, almost a third of the boards had problems working with more than two DIMM slots populated running at DDR333 speeds. With the KT400, it will be even more difficult to guarantee stable operation at DDR400 speeds with more than two DIMMs. We would like to see boards move down to 2 DIMM designs, but offer faster/stricter memory timings instead of offering three DIMM slots that cannot be used reliably. To those motherboard manufacturers that are able to pull off 3 or 4 DIMM slots without sacrificing stability, kudos. It's important to note that Intel purposefully limited their 845 series of chipsets to only 4 banks (2 double sided DIMMs) with this in mind.
2) Thermal Protection - AMD included on-die temperature sensing technology on the Athlon XP for a reason; we want to strongly encourage motherboard manufacturers to implement support for the diode in their next-generation of KT333 or KT400 motherboards.
3) North Bridge Cooling - fans are not necessary to cool the KT333 North Bridge, ASUS' A7V333 design employs a large heatsink, which handles the job perfectly while removing another noise generating component with moving parts.
4) IDE RAID - The "light" edition of Promise's FastTrack IDE RAID controller is useless for anything other than RAID 1. Not being able to control stripe sizes is unacceptable, either use another controller or don't offer the option at all. Also, we definitely want to have the option to disable on-board RAID. Those users that don't use the functionality shouldn't have to wait for the controller to go through its detection phase before their system boots.
5) Ethernet - With the prevalence of home networks and broadband internet it's time to make on-board Ethernet a standard.
6) USB 2.0 - Support for only two USB ports on a motherboard isn't enough, a minimum of four ports should be provided since most smaller devices don't come with USB hubs. When the KT400 is released the 8235 South Bridge, it is bundled with will bring USB 2.0 support to these motherboards, we expect to see at least 4 USB 2.0 ports on board or 2 + 2 on a bracket.
7) 6 Channel Audio - It's very good to see that the move to 6-channel audio is being made almost unanimously by the Taiwanese board manufacturers. At this point it's all about making sure that the proper outputs are available; SPDIF outputs are necessary with optical and RCA being the most popular.
With all of that said, let's get to our picks for the best KT333 boards.
|Our Editor's Choice Bronze award goes to Gigabyte for the 7VRXP as it has all of the features we were looking for in a KT333 board but lacks two very important things: on-die thermal sensing and in-BIOS multiplier adjustments. The Bronze award had a number of ties including ABIT with the AT7 MAX, EPoX with the 8K3A+ and Soyo with the KT333 Dragon Ultra.|
|Our Editor's Choice Silver award goes to ASUS for their A7V333 and MSI for their KT3 Ultra. What set these two boards apart from the competition is their ability to read the Athlon XP's on-die thermal diode and offer solid protection against overheating. The KT3 Ultra only lacks on-board Ethernet and a frustrating AMI BIOS setup, and otherwise it would have been a good candidate for a Gold award. The A7V333 loses out on the Gold because of its compatibility issues with Kingston DDR333 memory, the lack of on-board Ethernet, and the frustrating inability to disable the on-board RAID controller from within the BIOS.|
It was somewhat disappointing that none of the boards truly shined above and beyond the competition. There was much potential for a couple of these boards to do just that; a hybrid version of ABIT's AT7 could have pulled it off in a configuration similar to what we mention on that page in this roundup. The A7V333 and MSI boards both had a chance, too. We've taken the time to go through and make suggestions for what we would like to see in the future. The KT400 is the next VIA-AMD chipset we will see, and hopefully that batch of boards will be even more impressive with a few brighter stars.