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Albatron K8X890 Pro II – a Motherboard Based on VIA K8T890 Chipset

March 4, 2005



This Albatron model is the first of production motherboards on K8T890 in our test lab. This chipset is nothing more than a transitional product in the era of PCI Express advent. But if you are not disturbed by the idea to use a PCIE video card instead of an AGP modification, K8T890 has no flaws. On the whole, this motherboard is sturdy rather than luxurious, but considering its low price it's an excellent option which must be popular among users.




You cannot say that this motherboard is oversaturated with features, so the board layout is rather convenient. The "classic" complaints include only the audio input at the rear panel (the audio cable will have to be laid across the entire PC case, but it's an inevitable price for the shortest possible analog audio section). The row of connectors along the left edge of the PCB is also not very convenient to plug cables, and a cable from the FDD connector may fail to reach the floppy drive in high towers. The PCIEx4 slot instead of usual PCIEx1 is an original solution: indeed, PCI Express expansion cards are not to be seen on the market so far; thus there is no sense in using all the four chipset PCI-E channels for four expansion slots. At the same time it's a pity the hardware capacity stands idle :). As a result of this solution, users can use either an x1 expansion card or an x4 expansion card positioned for servers (connectors are backward compatible). Access to some jumpers is hampered even when the motherboard is not installed in a PC case (they stick too close to each other), a short description of their functions is provided on the PCB.

The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates seven 3300 uF capacitors and four 1500 uF capacitors. A 4-phase voltage regulator may be obtained by installing an additional mPower VRM into a special slot. Theoretically it must have a positive effect on the operating stability. Two of the three field-effect transistors and a choke on the mPower board are carelessly covered with a heatsink, the remaining third transistor was not deigned this honour. Perhaps, the main purpose of the heatsink (and the entire module in general) is to bear the large mPower logo. However, it has some point: VRM is inserted into the slot so that the choke and the transistors are on the side that is not blown by the air from the CPU cooler. The board also has a memory voltage regulator (it includes seven 1000 uF capacitors and several ones of a less capacitance), which is reinforced with inductive elements. Albatron is careful to enter the PCIE market, so there is only one model added to some few motherboards for Socket 754/939 – the top model under review. That's why we cannot judge whether the design is unique or similar to the existing ones. Motherboard dimensions – 305x245 mm (full-sized ATX, nine-screw mount, all motherboard edges are firmly fixed). The Winbond W83687THF chip is used to monitor:

  • CPU and battery voltage, +3.3, +5, ±12 V and +5 V Standby
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • CPU socket (Socket 939 supporting all modern processors)
  • 4 x DDR SDRAM DIMM (up to 4 GB DDR200/266/333/400 supporting dual channel mode), the list of certified modules can be found on the manufacturer's web site or in the user's manual
  • 1 x PCI Express x16 (with a latch) for video cards
  • 1 x PCI Express x4 for a peripheral device (it supports x1 cards)
  • 3 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can connect a regular 20-pin connector, but in this case it's not recommended to use powerful up-to-date componentry like top PCIE video cards) and 4-pin ATX12V for a processor
  • VRM slot (mPower)
  • 1 x FDD
  • 2 x IDE (Parallel ATA) – all in the chipset (four ATA133 devices)
  • 2 x SATA (Serial ATA) – both are in the chipset, connected disks can form RAID 0 or 1
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 4 additional USB (2.0) ports
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 2 FireWire ports
  • 1 x standard IrDA connector
  • Game-port connector
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • 1 x audio port
  • S/PDIF-Out for a bracket with proper ins/outs
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • 3 x fan headers (all with RPM control)

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)




  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x LPT, 2 x COM
  • 3 x Audio (Line-In, Front, Mic-In)
  • 3 x Audio (Center/Sub, Surround, Rear)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB

Package Contents




  • A box of an unusually modest (for Albatron) design
  • Documentation: a motherboard user's guide in four languages, a poster with brief instructions on assembling the system
  • Cables: 2 x ATA66/100/133 and an FDD cable, 1 x Serial ATA (with a power converter for a single SATA device)
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x FireWire





  • External VRM (mPower)
  • Rear I/O shield
  • Floppy with drivers for the integrated RAID controller
  • 2 CDs with software:
    • Motherboard drivers
    • DirectX 9.0b
    • Adobe Acrobat Reader
    • Trend Micro PC-cillin 2004 (antivirus)
    • VCT (Virtual Cable Tester, network connection diagnostics)
    • InterVideo WinCinema Pro to play DVD (InterVideo WinDVD 4) and listen to music (InterVideo WinRip 2) – outdated versions.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on a sterling audio PCI controller VIA Envy24PT (VT1720) and AC'97 codec VIA VT1616 supporting 7.1 channel audio systems, with front line-in/out and S/PDIF jacks
  • LAN, based on the Marvell 88E8001-LKJ chip supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/sec Base-T (PCI Gigabit Ethernet)
  • FireWire based on the VIA VT6307 chip supporting 2 ports

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16bit, 44 kHz using the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.4 test application and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
+0.01, -0.09
Excellent
Noise level, dB (A):
-85.2
Good
Dynamic range, dB (A):
84.8
Good
THD, %:
0.0095
Very good
Intermodulation distortion, %:
0.018
Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-81.7
Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.022
Good

General performance: Very good (details).

The audio controller from VIA is supplemented on this board with a good codec from the same company producing very good results. We have already tested such solutions before (also from Albatron – it's actually the only motherboard manufacturer that makes such experiments with sound). This time the company has considerably improved the PCB layout and the resulting noise immunity of the analog section. The results are obvious: low level of distortions, decent noise level and dynamic range, almost ideally even frequency response. Besides, this motherboard supports 7.1 channel audio output and 24 bit/96 kHz format – it's no High Definition Audio, but very decent indeed. Thus, integrated audio is the real advantage of Albatron K8X890 Pro II over its competitors. Well thought-out pricing policy of this company may stimulate sales of this top model.

Proprietary technologies

  • mPower (external VRM to increase CPU operating stability)
  • OTP (monitoring CPU temperature and shutting the system down when the threshold specified in BIOS Setup is exceeded – it's hard to explain the meaning of this function for K8 processors (they are good at powering off the system on their own), unless you are not happy with a too high temperature threshold hardcoded into a processor)
  • Watch Dog Timer (automatically resets BIOS settings into the safe values, when a system freezes due to overclocking – it saves you the trouble to open up the case and do the same thing with a jumper).

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
Enable/disable OTP jumper Disabled by default
A set of jumpers to use with external VRM (mPower) It's not clear why there are full 4 jumpers. Besides, their "code combination" is different from the specified in the manual and on the motherboard.
In Award BIOS v6.00PG from Phoenix Enable Cool'n'Quiet mode +  
Memory timings + CAS latency, Min RAS active time, RAS to CAS delay, Row precharge time, 1T/2T memory timing
Memory frequency selection + DDR200, DDR266, DDR333, DDR400
HT bus setup + Frequency (200, 400, 600, 800, 1000 MHz) and capacity (8 or 16 bit to each direction)
PCI-E bus setup + Maximum TLP payload size
PCI bus setup +  
PCI and PCI-E frequency divider setup + PCI-E = 100-150 MHz at 1 MHz steps, PCI = 33 MHz
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + 200-300 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + x4-x12
CPU core voltage control + Default, +0.05-0.35 V at 0.05 V steps
Memory voltage control + 2.6-2.9 V at 0.1 V steps
Chipset voltage control + Default, +0.1, +0.2, +0.3 V for each bridge separately
HT bus voltage control + 1.2-1.35 V at 0.05 V steps
PCI-E bus voltage control -  

We used BIOS R1.3, the latest available BIOS version at the time of our tests. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.

Performance

We have already come across performance differences among motherboards for Socket 939, though a memory controller in a K8 processor is integrated into a core, and so even a chipset has practically no influence on performance. It can be explained either by a motherboard not being able to start up with minimum timings or, as we have recently seen, by the 1T/2T memory operating mode. The 2T mode allows stable operation at higher frequencies for a larger number of modules but at the performance cost. In fact, Albatron K8X890 Pro II is the first model on new chipsets (with PCI Express) we reviewed, which allows direct selection of 1T/2T mode in BIOS Setup. As a result, (with 1T) the K8T890 chipset is fully exonerated and the performance of all chipsets for Socket 939 is again practically identical.

TestAlbatron K8X890 Pro II (1T)engineering sample VIA K8T890 (2T)ECS KN1 Extreme (nForce4 Ultra, 1T)
Writing to memory (RMMA, MB/sec)230518372237
Reading from memory (RMMA, MB/sec)436841394380
Memory latency (RMMA, ns)31,635,531,5
Archiving (WinRAR, min:sec)2:082:132:07
Rendering in SPECviewperf (3dsmax-03 test, fps)16,4715,7316,50

This model on the official site of the manufacturer




Sergei Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com)
February 22, 2005



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