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Socket 7 Board Review July 1998

Socket 7 Board Review July 1998
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Half a year has passed since our last Socket7 motherboard review and a lot has changed in the last months once again. This report is meant to give you an overview on the most important products, facts and improvements. If you want to skip the 'basics'.

Recently I stumbled across a motherboard review in a German publication, which painted a pretty bad picture of the current Super7 motherboards, particularly in terms of quality and reliability. I now have to draw a preliminary finish line to give you my opinion about the current state. Compared to the big socket 7 review I did last year I have to say that I didn't have more troubles this time than I had back then. The majority of the tested boards runs reliably at 100 MHz front side bus clock with PC-100 SDRAM. Nevertheless I can only recommend boards I've tested. Avoid buying a 100 MHz motherboard that has not proved its stability in an elaborately test. As Tom has been saying for months, you shouldn't always go for the fastest board, because stability is a very delicate topic with 100 MHz systems still. That the tested motherboards run reliably doesn't have to mean that other will also work that well

The CPUs

The most important fact for choosing a certain system architecture has always been a fast CPU. Fresh air has blown in the market with AMD's K6-2 for game and multimedia computers. The new CPU with its 3DNow! instruction set and Microsoft's DirectX6 substantially provides 3D gaming performance you can directly compare to a Pentium II at the same clock speed - at a much smaller price.

The second alternative is the 6x86MX CPU, now at PR300 and PR333 also officially called MII . This processor has always impressed with an excellent relation between price and business performance. As you know this CPU can only be recommended for people who work (!) with their computer, since the FPU is ghastly slow as ever for all 3D gamers ...

Last but not least you could also go for a good old Pentium MMX CPU with its steadily decreasing advantages: Quite good FPU performance and suited for overclocking: 250 MHz (83x3) or 262 MHz (75x3.5) should be no problem. In my opinion the 'original' has become rather unattractive since the 266 MHz K6-2 is costing about the same now and consumes much less power as well.

The Chipsets

At the moment the only two officially 100 MHz capable chipsets are the ALi Aladdin V and VIA's Apollo MVP3. To ensure a stable 100 MHz operation, 5 ns 2nd level cache chips are required which still are more expensive than the 6 or 7 ns types. Therefore some manufacturers use selected 6 ns chips. But be careful: The system won't have any tolerances in case you plan to overclock it!

ALi Aladdin V

  • Host Bridge M1541 and PCI-to-ISA bridge M1543.
  • PCI and AGP bus run pseudo-synchroneous:
  • external clock

    divided by PCI clock AGP clock
    66 MHz 2 33 MHz 66 MHz
    75 MHz 2.5 30 MHz 60 MHz
    83 MHz 2.5 33 MHz 66 MHz
    100 MHz 3 33 MHz 66 MHz
  • L2 cache size 256 kB, 512 kB or 1 MB.
  • Valid- and Dirty-Bits (16Kx2) as well as 16Kx10 bits TAGRAM integrated! This enables a cacheable area of 256 MB with 256 kB cache and according 512 MB with 512 kB cache. To cache up to 4 GB (physical adress space), you will need an external TAGRAM of 32Kx10 (9 ns) and 1 MB L2 cache. The chipset supports this at max. 83 MHz.
  • Full ECC and parity support.
  • Up to 5 PCI busmaster slots, AGP x2 support.
  • Linear burst mode support for Cyrix/IBM CPUs.

VIA Apollo MVP3

  • Host Bridge VT82C598 and PCI-to-ISA bridge VT82C586
  • L2 Cache size 512 kB, 1 MB or 2 MB
  • PCI and AGP bus run synchronously and are overclocked at 75 or 83 MHz bus speed.
  • Full ECC and parity support.
  • Up to 5 PCI busmaster slots, AGP x2 support.
  • Linear burst mode support for Cyrix/IBM CPUs.

VIA's MVP3 chipset allows you to use a synchronous or asynchronous mode for your memory, which means that the main memory runs at a lower bus speed than the CPU and the important L2 cache. You can run your PC-66 SDRAM or EDO at 66 MHz while the 2nd level cache and CPU runs at 100 MHz (memory asynchronously) or run the memory synchronously at 83 or 75 MHz. This is particularly interesting for all users who want to upgrade, but don't want to buy new memory again. In case of asynchronously running 66 MHz EDO RAM you will see about 80-90%, whilst 66 MHz PC66 SDRAM will offer you 85-97% of the performance achieved with PC100 SDRAM running synchronously at 100 MHz. I'm currently working on a dedicated article addressing this issue. Check out Tom 's Hardware Guide again for this soon.

Luckily I can say that the asynchronous memory mode runs without problems in all VIA chipset boards. I used 2x 32 MB EDO memory with Hyunday chips and 2K refresh mode or the Toshiba PC-100 SDRAM. I accepted the test as passed if the board boots up correctly and runs a Quake II Massive1 benchmark.

Summary

The ALI Aladdin V chipset is around now for quite a while, whilst the VIA's MVP3 chipset turned up a few months later. ALI had a lot of problems with bugs in the chipset, resulting in a tremendous amount of new revisions. It is certainly important to be aware of the fact that still most ALI Aladdin V motherboards are using chipset revision 'E', although ALI now ships revision 'F'. It is still not yet clear if 'F' will eventually be the final revision. The MVP3 has two other advantages, it offers a better upgradeability by enabling the usage of older EDO RAM or PC66 SDRAM running in asynchronous mode and it supports a larger 2nd level cache of up to 2 MB.

The Boards

  • To get an overview about the memory tolerances I ran the boards with four different types of SDRAM:
    • Toshiba 64 MB PC-100 DIMM (8 ns, 8 chip version)
    • Toshiba 32 MB PC-66 DIMM (10 ns, 16 chip version)
    • Siemens 32 MB PC-66 DIMM (8 ns, 16 chip version)
    • LG Semicon 64 MB PC-66 DIMM (10 ns, 32 chip version)
  • In addition the boards had to prove their compatibility with the following AGP graphic cards:
    • Matrox Millennium II 8 MB (MGA-2164W)
    • Asus AGP-V3000 4 MB (Riva128)
    • Diamond Fire GL1000 Pro 8 MB (Permedia 2)
    • ATI XPert@Play 4 MB (ATI Rage Pro)
  • The hard disk I used is the well know Quantum Fireball ST 3.2 (in Ultra-DMA 2 mode).
  • All test were done in Windows 95 OSR 2.1 (release B with USB supplement kit) with installed AGP drivers of each chipset.
  • ALi AGP driver 1.20, bus master driver 2.80
  • VIA AGP driver 2.6, bus master driver 2.1.24
  • DirectX6 ver. 5.1 beta

The Pentium II reference system consists of a Soyo 6BA motherboard.

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