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As you may recall, Intel decided to drop AGP support in their 900 chipset series. This forced users to discard all of their core components if they want to upgrade to the newest Intel-based hardware. Given this, it is not too shocking that many users have been hesitant to upgrade - especially those who just bought expensive high-end AGP graphics cards. It is also not a big surprise that VIA generated a lot of excitement when they announced a potential solution to this conundrum: a P4 chipset that supports both PCI Express (PCIe) and AGP graphics.
Enthusiasm about this chipset was tempered somewhat, due to rumors that VIA might not be able to implement both x16 PCI Express and AGP 8X in one Northbridge part. Well, it took many more months than expected, but the Taiwanese chipset maker finally succeeded in doing exactly that. The new PT880 Pro is basically what we already know as the PT800, but with a x16 PCIe graphics interface and DDR2 support added. Obviously, this chipset's big attraction is upgrading, since it lets the user chose whether to keep using AGP or deploy a new PCIe graphics card.
Although this article is dedicated to the PT880 Pro, we should also mention that VIA is launching some other chipset products as well. The PT894 is the direct competitor to Intel's 915P chipset family, so we'll take a brief look at it. It has x16 PCIe graphics and two additional x1 PCIe ports integrated directly into the Northbridge. And there is more to come too: the PT894 Pro incorporates two physical x16 PCIe graphics ports, capable of hosting NVIDIA's SLI graphics solutions. However, availability of this option will depend largely on driver support, which we don't expect to arrive prior to NVIDIA releasing its own Pentium 4 SLI nForce chipset.
Finally, VIA is announcing a new Southbridge component called the VT8251. The storage subsystem, known as DriveStation, now incorporates four rather than two SATA ports. VinylAudio is ready for High Definition Audio, and two x1 PCIe ports have been added. While the VT8251 is meant to be paired with the PT894 or PT894 Pro, it is still based on VIA's V-Map / Ultra V-Link, and thus could also be hooked up with the PT880 Pro.