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Chaintech 7AJA motherboard review

September 19, 2000



Introduction

Chaintech company is a good example of a good strategy. The victories of 6LTM and 6BTM boards in the comparative reviews in the middle of 1998 gave a start to the great success of system boards under this trade mark. And though the ways of testing and estimating criteria differed from what we have now, nevertheless the success of the given boards was rather deserved. In that time the market was not so packed yet as it is now, and many looked for the alternative to the boards from ASUS comparable on quality and possibilities but with lower price. ChainTech has successfully taken this authoritative niche and continues to hold it till now.

As for packing cards the real necessity to change ''the clothing'' for the motherboards takes place. The old one didn't look nice and became annoying during the last two years. We are glad to present you the exclusive photos of new boxes for the system boards from ChainTech.

Now it will be packed into two sorts of boxes - one with the trade mark "Intel Chipset Inside" and another with "VIA Chipset Inside". It is obvious that the new design looks rather advantageously compared to previous one. Probably the given marketing course will allow the company to occupy the larger part of the market - then let's wish it good luck.

Now we shall examine the last ChainTech motherboard on the VIA chipset KT133. The chipset deserves the definite notice, therefore we shall examine it more in detail.

At present AMD processors become more popular, they demonstrate the large performance at the smaller price in matching with competing Intel hardware products - this fact is not challenged by anybody. In this case the system boards for AMD processors is a weak place, because at the higher price it provided the worse possibilities and stability. VIA having now the leading position in the market of chipsets for AMD decided to correct the situation, and at the moment KT133 chipset for Socket-A processors being the logic continuation of KX133 can be considered as the best not only among AMD chipsets but among all chipsets represented now in the market.

Let's try to clear up why it is so. Naturally it is not absolutely correct to compare chipsets for different processors, but nevertheless we shall do it.

In the case with KT133 we won't speak about speed disadvantages of the chipsets from VIA relative to Intel - it is reasonable only to estimate all system performance. Intel 815 chipset together with CuMine processor loses in performance KT133 chipset together with ThunderBird processor of the same clock rate, and the opposition Celeron - Duron is destructive for Intel. However it is impossible to find out if it helps the processor to achieve the given performance or on the contrary retard it. So not to upset anybody we shall let us consider that the abstract performance in parrots for i815 and KT133 chipsets is approximately at the same level, but the processors from AMD by the architectural features are a little faster. It is necessary to repeat that the given matching is not lawful and only allows to reduce the chipsets performance to the common denominator.

Thus it is impossible to accuse the chipset in the lack of rate as it usually happens with VIA chipset for Intel processors. Let's try to criticise possibilities. In this area the chipset KT133 is the standard before the appearance of the chipsets with support DDR memory. It doesn't have all weak places of the main competitor - i815. Let's mention the main of them.

The chipset i815 supports not more than 512 MBytes of memory whereas KT133 - up to 2 GBytes PC100 memory in 4 slots or up to 1,5 GBytes PC133 in 3 slots. The chipset i815 allows to clock the memory on 133 Mhz only in the case if the processor bus frequency is 133 Mhz, but KT133 allows to install the memory frequency HOST Frequency - equal to the processor bus frequency, and HOST+33 - i.e. the processor bus frequency plus 33 Mhz. At the bus frequency by default in 100 Mhz the resulting memory frequency 133 Mhz. On i815 having the processor with the bus frequency 100 Mhz you shouldn't plan for the memory operation on the frequency 133 Mhz it is not necessary. For many users ISA support is important, but in i815 it is not present.

The only advantage of i815 is UltraDMA100 support in the new southern bridge. But the advancing here is rather insignificant - VIA has already began the delivery of the refreshed southern bridge 686B with the support of the given protocol. It is possible not to take into account at all the fact that Intel advances CNR instead of more limited on possibilities AMR because they both are useless. Thus KT133 possibilities are great.

As for the boards on two competing chipsets operation stability VIA is unachievable here. The manufacturers of the boards on i815 will have to work on the development of their products BIOS, and the boards operation on KT133 does not cause serious remarks.

As for the prices for the system boards the difference in prices on hardware products on chipsets KT133 and i815 from one manufacturer is 20 dollars for the benefit of VIA. Together with the cheaper processor from AMD you can save a lot of money. I did not mention the built-in video while matching chipsets possibilities on purpose: it can't change the situation because of its horrifying performance.

Thus it is possible to consider that Intel lost the round of the battle before the issue of the new generation chipsets. Though it is not strange because it is limited by Rambus ...

However we shall return to the board which we had in our laboratory. Chaintech 7AJA on the chipset KT133 for Socket-A confirms VIA leading position and has the unique features added by the company ChainTech.

The data sheet

  • Shape factor
    • Standard ATX, 30,5x22 cm, four-layers PCB
  • Processors
    • Socket-A The processors AMD Thunderbird 700-1100 Mhz and are higher and AMD Duron 600-750 Mhz and higher.
  • Chipset
    • VIA Apollo KT133 (VT8363/686A) AGPset
  • System memory
    • Three 3,3 V 168-contact plugs DIMM
    • Maximum size of supported memory - 1,5 GBytes
    • Support PC100, PC133, VCM SDRAM, ECC
  • Extension slots
    • Five 32 bit slots PCI rev. 2.2
    • One 16 bit slot ISA
    • One 32 bit AGP slot rev. 2.0, supporting 2x / 4x mode with supply 3.3 V and 1.5 V
    • One AMR slot rev. 1.0
  • Input\output ports
    • One port for FDD, two sequential and one parallel ports, ports for PS/2 mouse and keyboard
    • Four built in ports USB
    • Optional riser for two ports USB
  • Integrated IDE controller
    • 2 channels IDE with support up to 4 ATAPI-device
    • Support of all modes including UltraDMA66
    • Support UltraDMA100 at usage VIA 686B South Bridge
  • sound subsystem
    • Integrated in the South Bridge audiocontroller with external AC' by 97 codec
    • Optional external 4 channels sound controller CMedia 8738
  • BIOS
    • 2 Mbits Flash EEPROM
    • Award BIOS with support Enhanced ACPI, DMI, APM, PnP
    • Technology BIOS Wonder including ChipAway Virus, BIOS protection from wearing, built in utility for wearing new versions BIOS without the system load, built in utility for hard disk restoration.
    • Optional technology TwinBIOS - two microcircuits BIOS on a board
  • Miscellanea
    • STR (Suspend to RAM)
    • Hardware monitoring
    • Waking up from the modem, mouse, network and timing controller
    • Optional possibility of the processor factor forced change.

The board is delivered in the blue box of the new design described above, only the polygraph is changed. The box size, cardboard and all the rest including the sticker with the brief description and the serial number remained the former.

The delivery package contains the system board, FDD and 80-conductor IDE cables, the compact disk with drivers and the user's guide in English. As for the compact disk Chaintech continues to widen the set of programs which can be needed for the system board users: Trend PC - cillin, Norton Anti-Virus, Appio, X-Stop and ActiveShare and also utility of a monitoring Shepherd2000 are represented on the disk. The guide pleased with the balanced contents and upset with poor photos. Though the last can be explained by the changed design and the version we got was pilot.

The board

I would like to pay attention to the fact that a lot of manufacturers began to vary the availability of one or two BIOS, the ways of sound realisation - AC'97 codec or the sound controller on the board, and also the board complete set - availability or absence of two additional USB ports in one model. Naturally it is convenient for the computer manufacturers which do not want to overpay for the additional improvements. But an ordinary user can be deceived: purchasing the board and looking to the certain advantages such as the second BIOS he can find out that they are not present at all. We had two boards Chaintech 7AJA. One of them was "Limited Edition"- the complete version with two BIOS and CMedia sound controller with the possibility of variation the processor muliplier. The second one was with one BIOS and AC'97 codec.

How to distinguish boards at purchasing? The availability of TwinBIOS and sound from CMedia can be found out by the sticker on the box, but to find out whether there are any switches for the processor factor variation it is necessary to get the board from the box.

Running forwards we should point out that there is no fundamental difference in performance and operation stability between two variants of the board.

The board is made in Standard ATX format with the dimensions 30,5 cm x 22 cm. Thus the board installation in any ATX body should not cause any difficulties.

As far as the processors from AMD demand more effective voltage supply regulators than their competitors from Intel, they contain 11 capacitors of rather high capacities - 2200uF. Under the manufacturer announcement the board can provide 40A current at 1.6 B voltage. According to the specification "AMD Athlon Processor Module Data Sheet" Athlon Model 4 i.e. Thunderbird by frequency 1 GHz consumes about 55 watts that is demanded for the current 33,6A normal operation. This is a rather good store for those who are going to use 1 GHz and faster processors on this system board.

Because of the said above the stability of the given board didn't cause any remarks. 24 hours of testing under the head of Windows NT revealed only the insignificant lagging from the standard EPoX EP-8KTA board on the same chipset passed all the tests without any failure.

4 DIP-switches are installed on the board, one of them is responsible for the possibility of the processor muliplier variation. It is marked as SW4. It is not present on the facilitated model of the board, and its description is not present in the user's guide. The sheet with the sign "Manual Amendment" is applied separately. It adds some corrections to the guide. SW4 and its installation correspondence to the processor factor is described in it, but we shall examine it in the unit "Overclocking".

But the other three DIP - SW1, SW2 and SW3 are described in the instruction as " reserved by the manufacturer " and it is strictly forbidden to change their installations. The experiments on switching led to the system refusing to start. Neither return to the starting position nor CMOS unset could revive the board. Only SW4 availability saved the situation - the board was revived by the forced installation of the fixed multiplication coefficient. On the facilitated variant of the board as it was already mentioned the switch SW4 is not present, and the change of installations SW1-SW3 can lead to unreversible aftermath.

Probably the possibility of the forced change voltage given on the processor core, chipset and memory will appear on the later chip versions with the help SW1-SW3.

AMD processors finally and fast removed from cartridges in PGA packing, therefore it is not wonderful that Socket-462 processor plug more known as Socket-A is applied on the board 7AJA. Its disposal on the board is ideal: the side where the cooler is latched faces the left edge of the board that allows completely easy to take out and to install heat sinks with the most hard fixture without risk to damage something. Probably the increased fixture force gave the idea of so nonconventional orientation of the socket on the board. The installation of large heat sinks such as Golden Orb doesn't need hard efforts - the capacitors are providently removed from the socket on the safe distance.

Chaintech 7AJA board has one AGP slot, five PCI slots supporting Bus Mastering and also one ISA slot shared with the last PCI and rather unnecessary AMR slot. The availability of AMR slot to the detriment of PCI is a rather disputable decision, but the shared ISA does not restrain PCI rights and for the owners of old models it will be one more addition in favour of VIA in the argument between KT133 and i815.

The common board design doesn't cause any remarks. The power supply connector posed almost in the middle of the board can seem inconvenient, but such position meets to standard design and does not cause inconveniences at operation. The external plugs of bright colours meet to PC99 specification which aim is to facilitate the peripherals. Some free places on the board are the result of unification PCB with the board 7AJV operating North Bridge with the built-in video Savage4 which is compatible on contacts to KT133 North Bridge.

On the board there are three DIMM slots, so the maximum memory size supported by the board is 1,5 GBytes. Such memory quantity is enough for any needs, therefore the lack of the fourth slot is not supposed to be a disadvantage.

The availability of the perfect CMedia 8738 sound controller on the board allows to get a quite good audio subsystem practically free of charge. From the fundamental possibilities it is necessary to mark the availability of 64-voice table synthesis, support Creative EAX and Aureal A3D API, and also the possibility of connection the second couple of columns. Moreover there is S/PDIF digital interface support which connector is present on the board. Unfortunately the system board with connection plug doesn't contain the delivery package.

The most interesting board features are connected with the board BIOS. It seems that Chaintech engineers are fond of the idea of saving BIOS from every possible attack though it is favourable for us. The whole hardware-software complex 3BIOS was created to win buyers and then to facilitate the owners life.

The hardware consists in two BIOS microcircuits application on the system board and is named TwinBIOS. At failure of one microcircuit contents there is a possibility of load from the second, and the realisation of the given possibility is rather interesting. At usual switching on the system BIOS number 1 is used, and if at pushing the button Power to hold the button Reset, BIOS number 2 will be used.

If both microcircuits content is serviceable, it is possible to choose what microcircuit to use for the load in BIOS configuration.

The program part consists of built-in in BIOS programs - Flash Utility and HDD Instant Recovery Utility. The first allows to flash BIOS new versions without usage any additional means: it is enough only to have a diskette with the new version. And TwinBIOS technology is entirely supported by the program: BIOS number 1 can be flashed both from a diskette and from number 2, but standby BIOS number 2 - only from a diskette. Such a range of possibilities allows to experiment with new versions without any risks to damage the system.

The second utility allows to organise the data saving with the help of disk contents doubling or data copying on another disk and also gives the possibility to conduct the disk defragmentation. All this is fulfilled without any operating system load. The practical value of the given utility appears in such situation: the price difference between for example 8 and 15 GBytes hard disk is rather insignificant and many can overpay it if only their data doesn't suffer. Thus the technology of data doubling on the same disk which seems to be strange will find the fans and widen the market of ChainTech production.

BIOS is based on Award Medallion BIOS v6.0 and has a lot of different configurations. I would like to mark so necessary functions as the forced IRQ allocation on PCI slots and maximum detailed configuration of memory timings.

Hardware monitoring is carried out by means of South Bridge which has the standard possibilities described in lots of articles. As well as on the rest of Chaintech boards the processor temperature is taken out from the thermosensor situated in the centre of the processor slot that does not provide the indications accuracy.

The two red light diodes are situated near DIP-switch SW4 changing the multipy by force. One of them should probably signal about voltage feed on DIMM slots however really is switched on together with the system switching on and the second - about the activating of variation factor function. Let's light this diode and we shall see what our Thunderbird suits for.

Overclocking

Chaintech overclocking policy is rather strange: the boards on VIA chipsets grant rather quite good possibilities but the boards on Intel chipsets do not 7AJA board continues a famous tradition - Chaintech pays more attention to overclocking fans.

FSB frequency set not only is too big for the board with the EV6 bus, but some frequencies cause puzzle. BIOS Set-up allows to install the following frequencies: 100, 102, 104, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 112, 114, 116, 120 at the divider PCI 3/1, and 120, 124, 127, 130, 133, 140, 145, 150, 155, 160 at the divider PCI 4/1, however only frequencies up to 116 MHz are profitable. At usage Thunderbird 700 test processor the operation system stability disappeared at exceeding 108 MHz that is 756 MHz for the processor.

It is obvious that the processor operational life on overclocking is much bigger - and here SW4 permitting to change the processor muliplier at range from x5 up to x12,5 is saving. Thus no tracks on the processor were shaded and nothing was effected with the processor. Thus it was possible to achieve the stable system operation at the processor frequency 850 MHz, and at 900 MHz the system was not loaded. FSB frequency change can help to add something. At frequency 102 MHz that is 866 MHz the system kept stability. It would be possible to achieve the additional overclocking at the availability of the processor core voltage regulation and the circuits input / output on the board but they unfortunately are absent. However we can hope that in new board versions this possibility will be present, and then the board confidently will take the high place in the nomination " The choice of an overclocker ".

Generally speaking the increase by 23% is rather small, but unfortunately there is no possibility to compare the same processor overclocking on 7AJA and other boards to the possibility of factor variation.

Performance

Testing platform:

  • System boards: Chaintech 7AJA, EPoX EP-8KTA and EliteGroup K7VZM
  • The processor: Athlon Thunderbird 700 MHz, 100 MHz DDR bus, Socket-462
  • Memory: Hyundai PC133 128 MBytes
  • Hard disk: Quantum CX 13 GBytes 5400RPM
  • CD-ROM: Panasonic 40x speed
  • Videocard: ASUS V7700 Geforce2 GTS (Core:200MHz; Mem:166MHz DDR)

Software:

  • Windows 98SE
  • NVIDIA Detonator 2 v6.18
  • BapCo and Mad Onion SysMark 2000 Internet Content Creation v1.0
  • idSoftware Quake III Arena v1.17 demo001.dm3

The situation is rather complex - we shall try to make a conclusion. In SysMark the board performance is at the level of analogs, but in game applications the results spread is rather significant. The most probable cause is not optimized for speed BIOS, though BIOS stability didn't cause any remarks. New version has not changed the results, so we shall wait for the following versions - Chaintech was always famous for getting maximum performance from the board.

Conclusion

So Chaintech has got a rather worthy board which will undoubtedly find a big contingent of buyers, and among them there will be overclockers, people presenting increased requirements to information safety and just those who want to have products of excellent quality not overpaying.

Pros:

  • Possibility to change processor multiplier
  • Good stability
  • Unique 3BIOS technology

Cons:

  • No Vcore adjustments
  • Not enough BIOS optimization for speed

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