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Alternative Chipsets

Accelerating Athlon: VIA Releases KT266A Chipset
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We made a little list of all Athlon chipsets with DDR-memory support. We also included NVIDIA's upcoming nForce chipset, which won't be available before October 2001 at the earliest.

Chipset VIA Apollo KT266A VIA Apollo KT266 AMD 760 SiS 735 ALi Magik 1 NVIDIA nForce
220
NVIDIA nForce
420
Introduction September 2001 April 2001 November 2000 May 2001 December 2000 October 2001 (?) October 2001 (?)
CPU-Platform Sockel 462
Supported Prozessors AMD Athlon/Duron
SMP-Support n/a
Chipset North Bridge VIA VT8366A VIA VT8366 AMD 761 SiS 735 ALi M1647 nForce220 IGP nForce420 IGP
Chipset South Bridge VIA VT8233 VIA VT8233 AMD 765 - ALi M1535D+ nForce220 MCP nForce420 MCP
Official FSB Support 100 (200 DDR)/133 (266 DDR) MHz
Official Memory Clock Support 100 (200 DDR)/133 (266 DDR) MHz
Number of Memory Channels 1 2
Max. Memory Bandwidth 2133 MB/s 4266 MB/s
Asynchronuous Memory Timing yes
Supported DIMM-Slots 4 4 4 3 4 3 3
Max. Memory Support 4096 MB 4096 MB 2048 MB 1536 MB 1024 MB 1536 MB 1536 MB
SDRAM-Support yes
DDR-SDRAM-Support yes
VC-SDRAM-Support no no no no no ? ?
RDRAM-Support no
Ultra-DMA/33/66/100 IDE yes/yes/yes
Number of USB-Slots 6 6 4 6 6 6 6
Max. Number of PCI-Slots 6
Integrated Graphics no yes yes
Integrated 5.1 Sound no yes yes
Integrated Ethernet yes, optional yes, optional no ? no yes yes
AGP 1x / 2x / 4x yes/yes/yes
ACPI-Features yes

Except for the yet unreleased nForce420, all competitors of VIA's Apollo KT266A come with rather similar basic performance features. The theoretical peak memory bandwidths of the Athlon chipsets with single-channel memory controller are all identical. Only nForce420 stands out, due to its dual-DDR channel support.

Summary

VIA has doubtlessly done a tremendous work with the second version of its Athlon DDR-chipset. The performance of Apollo KT266A is nothing short of impressive. It seems as if VIA has finally been able to shake off the image of a memory performance killer. I was informed by VIA spokespeople in Taiwan that the DDR-memory controller of Apollo KT266A is even superior to its counterpart found in VIA's Apollo P4X266 Pentium 4 chipset. Skeptic people (like me) could of course ask now, why VIA wasn't able to provide this kind of memory performance in its first Athlon DDR-chipset. There is no doubt that owners of current KT266-motherboards would love to get their north bridges replaced with the new KT266A-chip. Naturally, this is just wishful thinking. However, due to the pin-compatibility between KT266 and KT266A, motherboard makers will be able to start their production of KT266A boards any time, as soon as VIA ships the new KT266A chips. There is no doubt that VIA's Apollo KT266A chipset has become the most attractive Athlon platform to date.

SiS has all reasons to feel unhappy now. It was able to provide the fastest Athlon-platform for 4 months only. Unfortunately that wasn't enough time to establish the rather weak brand against VIA in the channel or OEM market. Now SiS will either have to follow VIA's example and improve SiS735, or hope for success of its upcoming Pentium 4 chipset. It's a typical example for a failed 'carpe diem'. SiS did not capitalize on the good reviews of the 735 chipset and now time's up. It's a bit of a shame for SiS.

VIA will have all reasons to feel proud and happy now, even though the release of NVIDIA's nForce chipset is still pending. While KT266A may not be able to keep the performance lead amongst the Athlon DDR chipsets, it will most certainly continue to provide the best performance for the money, as nForce-boards are expected to be rather expensive. The good overall performance of VIA's Apollo KT266A chipset has now raised the bar for nForce by more than just one notch. The single-channel DDR solution nForce220 should provide at least the same performance as KT266A, while nForce420 and its double-channel DDR design will have to beat VIA's new product to avoid embarrassments.

Overall we can note another win for AMD's Athlon and Duron processors, as the release of VIA's Apollo KT266A chipset just made them faster. Let's hope that this process will continue with the release of NVIDIA's nForce chipset. With AMD's recent price cuts due to its struggle against the clock frequency lead of Pentium 4, informed buyers can now purchase even faster Athlon systems for comparably little money.

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