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VIA K8T800 Based Mainboards Roundup

November 25, 2003





While waiting for the Athlon 64 CPUs to be announced VIA not only released a chipset line for them but also updated it. Other companies are not such fruitful, and today we have actually only two chipsets for the Athlon 64: VIA K8T800 and NVIDIA nForce3 Pro. However, there are no dedicated chipsets for the Athlon 64 as all K8 processors are connected to any chipset via the HyperTransport bus which doesn't care about differences between sockets/CPU families installed on a certain board. But we stress on the Athlon 64 because of the positioning: the first released chipset, AMD8000, is used in no mainboards with AGP slots so far. That is why it's of no interest for over 90% of home users, while the Athlon 64 is developed exactly for such people (though not at its current price).

Other solutions for the AMD64 are ALi (ALi 1687) and SiS (SiS755/SiS755FX) though we haven't yet seen boards based on such chipsets. Next year ATI will probably bring out an integrated solution. Nonetheless, two chipsets are enough to compare performance of the system logic meant for the Athlon 64/FX and Opteron. 

Usually at the expense of technical innovations (original like DASP in the nForce/2, or common like two memory channels) or some other factors chipsets from different companies can have considerably different performance. But what do you expect from two chipsets whose north bridges feature only an AGP controller, especially because video accelerators today do not actually need its maximum throughput. Components connected via a south bridge are usually coincide, and the overall speed hardly differs (we take into account only the desktop usage and ignore the need of PCI-X, several Gigabit network connections and solid RAID arrays). 

So, what else can be compared? VIA stakes on the HyperTransport controller integrated into the north bridge. 

VIA K8T800

One of the advantages of the chipset is the Hyper8 technology which implies the HyperTransport support between the CPU and chipset that delivers 16bit/800 MHz in both directions.




The nForce3 based boards support only 8 bits/600 MHz one way and 16 bits/600 MHz the other. But it doesn't matter much since the only serious data consumer in any AMD64 based chipset (data are taken from memory via HyperTransport controller integrated into the chipset) is an AGP video controller which has a very light load today - and it may become important only for future workstations and servers with PCI-X and PCI Express buses. Since the BIOS of several K8T800 based boards allows adjusting bit capacity and clock speed of the HT bus we quickly tested the boards in the Return to Castle Wolfenstein and SPECviewperf and revealed no difference in these modes. By the way, SiS offers the HyperTransport clocked at 1 GHz. :) 




The real (not only boasted) specs are the following (south bridge functionality is given for the VT8237, though it's not forbidden to use any other older bridge from VIA):

  • Support of AMD Athlon 64, Athlon 64 FX, Opteron (any series and sockets)
  • AGP 8x
  • Two-way HyperTransport bus towards CPU, 800 MHz 16 bits both ways
  • V-Link 8x (533 MB/s) bus for south bridge
  • 2 channels for 4 Parallel ATA devices (ATA133)
  • 2 Serial ATA (SATA150) devices supported
  • Two more Serial ATA devices supported via PHY controller (SATAlite)
  • V-RAID for RAID array of SATA devices (JBOD, 0, 1, 0+1 - the latter mode is possible only if 4 SATA drives supported)
  • 8 USB 2.0 ports
  • 6 PCI devices
  • Fast Ethernet MAC controller (up to 100 Mbit/s)
  • AC'97 interface for audio codecs (up to 6 channels)
  • MC'97 interface for modem codecs
  • LPC bus for out-of-date peripherals

One more critical difference is the number of chips forming a chipset. NVIDIA combines all logic in a single die while the other companies offer traditional two-chip solutions. The former solution is less flexible (the more frequently updatable south bridge can't be separately replaced) but it's simpler to design boards on it. End users mustn't care about it. 

Performance

Testbed:

  • AMD Athlon 64 3200+ (2000 MHz), Socket 754
  • Mainboards on VIA K8T800:
  • Memory: 2x256 MB PC3200(DDR400) DDR SDRAM DIMM TwinMOS, CL 2
  • Video card: Manli ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB
  • Hard drive: Western Digital WD360 (SATA), 10,000 rpm
  • Terratec DMX 6fire sound card (only for RMAA audio quality tests)

Software:

OS and drivers:

  • Windows XP Professional SP1
  • DirectX 9.0b
  • VIA Hyperion 4.49
  • VIA SATA RAID Driver 2.10a
  • ATI Catalyst 3.8
  • Terratec DMX 6fire Driver 5.40
  • VIA Envy24PT Driver 1.30d (for Albatron K8X800 Pro II)
  • SoundMax Driver 5.12.01.3620 (for ASUS K8V Deluxe)
  • Avance Logic AC'97 Driver (for Gigabyte K8VNXP MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R)
  • VIA ComboAudio Driver 3.90a (for Soltek K8AV2-RL)

Test applications:

  • CacheBurst32 0.90.91
  • VirtualDub 1.5.7 + DivX codec 5.1 Pro
  • WinRAR 3.20
  • 7-Zip 2.30
  • Gray Matter Studios & Nerve Software Return to Castle Wolfenstein v1.1
  • Croteam/GodGames Serious Sam: The Second Encounter v1.07
  • Digital Extremes/Epic Games/Atari Unreal Tournament 2003 v2225
  • RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.1

Here are brief specs of the boards tested today:

Board Albatron K8X800 Pro II ASUS K8V Deluxe Gigabyte K8VNXP MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R Soltek K8AV2-RL
Links Albatron K8X800 Pro II ASUS K8V Deluxe Gigabyte K8VNXP MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R Soltek K8AV2-RL
Chipset VIA K8T800 (K8T800+VT8237)
CPU support Socket 754, AMD Athlon 64
Memory slots 3 DDR 3 DDR 3 DDR 3 DDR 2 DDR
Expansion slots AGP/ 6 PCI AGP/ 5 PCI/ ASUS WiFi AGP/ 5 PCI AGP/ 5 PCI AGP/ 5 PCI
I/O ports 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 1 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2
USB 2 USB 2.0 + 3 connectors of 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors of 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors of 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors of 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 + 3 connectors of 2 USB 2.0
FireWire 2 connectors of 2 ports (bracket supplied), VIA VT6307 1 port + 1 connector of 1 ports (bracket supplied), VIA VT6307 2 connectors of 3 GigaWire ports GigaWire (FireWire-800, IEEE 1394b), bracket with 2 ports, TI TSB82AA2 and TSB81BA3 2 ports (6-pin and 4-pin (mini-FireWire, without power supply)), VIA VT6307 -
Integrated ATA controller ATA133 + SATA RAID (0, 1)
External ATA controller - Promise PDC20378 (ATA133+SATA RAID 0, 1, 0+1) ITE IT8212F (ATA133 RAID 0, 1, 0+1, JBOD) Promise PDC20378 (ATA133+SATA RAID 0, 1, 0+1) -
Sound VIA Envy 24PT (VT1720) + VIA VT1616 AC'97 codec Analog Devices AD1980 AC'97 codec Avance Logic ALC658 AC'97 codec Avance Logic ALC655 AC'97 codec VIA VT1616 AC'97 codec
LAN controller 3Com Marvell 940-MV00 (Gigabit Ethernet) 3Com Marvell 940-MV00 (Gigabit Ethernet) integrated Fast Ethernet + Realtek RTL8110S-32 (Gigabit Ethernet) Realtek RTL8110S-32 (Gigabit Ethernet) integrated Fast Ethernet
I/O controller Winbond W83697HF Winbond W83697HF ITE IT8705F Winbond W83697HF ITE IT8705F
BIOS 4 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit AMI BIOS v2.51 4 Mbit Award BIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit AMI BIOS v3.31a 2 Mbit Award BIOS v6.00PG
Form-factor, dimensions ATX, 30.5x24.5 cm ATX, 30.5x24.5 cm ATX, 30.5x24.5 cm ATX, 30.5x24.5 cm ATX, 30.5x22 cm
Average current price (quantity of supplies) $161 $170 $190 $150 $112

 

Test results

We do not take into account the marketing tricks with the HT bus throughput (which anyway remains the same in boards on the same chipset). The only different parameters are memory timings. Most of the boards have no limitations there, and the TwinMOS modules allow starting the test system at 2-2-2-5. However, the Gigabyte board works only at 2.5-2-2-5, and the Soltek K8AV2-RL starts at 2.5-3-3-8. Let's have a look at the difference in the low-level tests.

Both boards with the different timings have greater read access latency, but they score pretty high results in reading/writing: the Soltek loses just a couple of percent, and the Gigabyte K8VNXP makes up for poor latency with the highest write speed. The other boards have almost identical results. 

The MPEG4 encoding reveals the difference in the memory speed, but still, it's rather a processor test which doesn't depend much on latency. The scores are absolutely equal.

The archivers are to prove the low-level benchmark scores as they are most critical to the memory subsystem performance. The Gigabyte K8VNXP keeps to the three boards with identical parameters, while the Soltek K8AV2-RL falls behind the pack by 17-19%.

Games are a very important test for future owners of the Athlon 64 based systems. TheSoltek falls behind the leaders by 2-3% while the Gigabyte demonstrates yields less than a percent, i.e. it can be considered just a metering error. The formal leaders are Albatron K8X800 Pro II and MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R

Integrated audio quality

Integrated audio quality was estimated at 16 bits, 44 kHz with the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.1 and Terratec DMX 6fire audio card:

Parameter/score Albatron K8X800 Pro II ASUS K8V Deluxe Gigabyte K8VNXP MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R Soltek K8AV2-RL
Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.02, -0.22 (Very good) +0.07, -0.19 (Very good) +0.12, -0.26 (Very good) +0.11, -1.09 (Average) +0.01, -0.09 (Excellent)
Noise level, dB (A): -87.5 (Good) -79.8 (Average) -79.4 (Average) -84.4 (Good) -85.1 (Good)
Dynamic range, dB (A): 87.2 (Good) 79.6 (Average) 79.3 (Average) 83.7 (Good) 84.7 (Good)
THD, %: 0.0084 (Very good) 0.0055 (Very good) 0.0035 (Very good) 0.042 (Good) 0.0094 (Very good)
Intermodulation distortions, %: 0.064 (Good) 0.035 (Good) 0.052 (Good) 0.064 (Good) 0.020 (Good)
Channel crosstalk, dB: -81.7 (Very good) -74.3 (Good) -80.4 (Very good) -79.2 (Very good) -84.0 (Very good)
General performance Good Good Good Good Very good

 

The boards that integrate the VIA VT1616 codec - Soltek K8AV2-RL and Albatron K8X800 Pro II - look best of all; also note that the Albatron features not only the audio codec but also a normal audio controller. Remember that we directly compare these models as they are based on the same chipset and therefore they will be considered direct competitors. The chipset itself doesn't influence audio quality (codec, its output signal level, amplifier on codec's output, feed-through electrochemical capacitors, PCB design may affect it), that is why you can use the data obtained to make a cross comparison of models on other chipsets. 

Conclusion

First of all I should say that it actually makes no sense to compare boards based on the chipsets for AMD64 a traditional way. There can be some slight difference between different chipsets in some critical modes, but boards based on the same chipset do look like twins. I do not doubt that the updated BIOS will provide normal timings for the Soltek K8AV2-RL and it will catch up with the others. But even with the current awful timings and poor scores in the low-level tests the Soltek look pretty good in games, video encoding and obviously in many other typical home applications. 

Secondly, as performance isn't a determining factor anymore, there are some other vital factors that influence the demand: features, accessories, oveclockability, stability etc. and certainly price! The companies have different approaches to conquering the market: most of them offer only one or two expensive models (according to positioning of the Athlon 64), others deliver performance of this CPU at a relatively low price without offering extra bonuses. Do read descriptions of the boards as they can bring you much more information than the diagrams. At the same time we extend our benchmarks with integrated audio quality tests. We will be pleased to know your opinion about current solutions and your suggestions. 
  


Sergey Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com)
Dmitry Mayorov (destrax@ixbt.com)

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