Six Athlon Boards With The KT600 Chipset

VIA KT600: Final Chapter For The AMD Platform

The days of the discontinued Socket 462 Socket A platform are numbered. Nvidia has already begun to develop a fast memory connection for its NForce 2 chipset with the dual-channel DDR400, which made most Nvidia Nforce fans happy. The famous graphics chip supplier’s offering was the first choice when it came time to buy a motherboard based on the Athlon XP chipset.

VIA and SiS were a second choice, above all for customers looking for top performance. The VIA KT400 did not offer dual-channel DDR400 support.

Buyers enticed by dual channel DRAM should note one crucial thing : in theory, a dual-channel memory link does not bring any benefits since the data rate is limited by the FSB bus’s bandwidth. It’s fixed at a maximum 200 MHz (Athlon XP 3200+) to give a bandwidth of 3.2 GB/s. Even using fast dual DDR400 memory with an access time of 6.4 GB/s has no effect on the Front Side Bus bottleneck of 3.2 GB/s. With that in mind, it’s really not so inappropriate to question dual-channel memory technology on the Socket A platform.

A single memory channel combined with DDR400 - and cleverly connected at the Northbridge - has a bandwidth of 3.2 GB/s. What’s more, this solution saves money.

By THG standards, putting six mainboards on the test bench represented a miniscule test.

Shortly before the Socket 462 is superseded, VIA brings out a last chipset - the KT600. Based on the not-so-successful KT400, memory support has been raised to 200 MHz (DDR400) and a new Southbridge VT8237 with integrated Serial ATA RAID controller makes its entry. Although most mainboard manufacturers have completed the switch to Socket 754 and Socket 940 (Socket 939), a total of six firms have put their boards in the running. This comparison is actually a low-cost test that should appeal to price-conscious purchasers with a tight budget but certain demands. Even critically-minded folks will know from experience that "low-priced" does not necessarily mean "cheap" quality.

Besides the usual features, careful buyers also expect an AMD Athlon board to have, at the very least, a built-in sound and network chip. For a more money, there’s FireWire, Gigabit LAN, RAID controller, and a comprehensive package of accessories. Fully-equipped mainboards soon pass the $100 limit. The bottom price for the latest KT600 boards is about $71 (€65) to $77 (€70). Boards featuring outdated SiS 745 or KT266A/333 chipsets will accommodate serious penny-pitchers.

They can be had for as little as $33 (€30) under the Asrock - not to be confused with Asus - ECS or Soyo labels. However, the most these brands offer is a robust chip at best. Performance is limited, but these boards work.