The Chipside Story
As you know, there is Intel's i820 chipset (which requires RDRAM). It is up to date and offers acceptable performance, but the memory is incredibly expensive. Moreover, many people don't trust Intel any more, as this chipset has left quite negative impressions. First, Intel had to delay Camino's original release date, as it had trouble running three RIMMs. As a result, the third RIMM slot was simply removed from the design. Of course there is/was the alternative to use SDRAM. To do so, the so-called MTH chip (Memory Translator Hub) has to be either on the board, or on a DIMM raiser card. Only some weeks ago, Intel found a bug in this MTH chip and production as well as shipments of this chip were discontinued and Intel started a big recall. The story isn't over yet, but I think it's more than understandable that most users don't want i820.
The second choice is over two years old, but has proven its qualities over and over again. Everybody should know now that Intel's 440BX chipset is still the fastest product for Intel processors. Overclocked to 133 MHz , it is as fast as Intel's high-end chipset i840. But it comes with two handicaps: First, the AGP card has to run at 89 MHz when running the FSB at 133 MHz. Second, the BX chipset only supports UltraDMA/33. To get the pleasure of having UltraDMA/66 support, an additional controller chip must be present on the board. Alternatively you may also use a PCI IDE controller (just as the Promise Ultra66 or FastTrak 66, or ABit HotRod 66). That's an advantage, even if you lose a PCI slot, because almost all PCI IDE controllers can run two IDE channels with only one IRQ. All on board controllers require two interrupts (14 and 15). Some of you may be concerned about the missing AGP 4x support of BX as well, but so far hardly any mainstream application is making use of it. Even though a BX overclocked to 133 MHz FSB is still the fastest solution and absolutely mellow, it is not officially meant for 133 MHz FSB.
The one and only chipset which fulfils all wishes and requirements right now is the VIA Apollo Pro 133A. VIA has successfully improved its image, and started to supply a lot former Intel following OEMs.
All motherboards make use of VIA's Apollo Pro 133A chipset (VT82V694X) and come with four or five PCI slots - except the Asus, which is a MicroATX motherboard. All boards support 66, 100 and 133 MHz FSB. Usually, the FSB speed is auto detected. Almost all boards also allow a FSB speed to be forced. Other (faster) settings can mostly be chosen in the BIOS setup.
I'm happy to say that there were no stability issues with the boards. Just the Lucky Star did not want to run stable even with the slowest BIOS settings. As this one is still a pre-release product, I don't want to overvalue this.
Some boards have an integrated speaker, which I personally like, as fewer cables reduce the cable chaos inside the case. All boards came with three DIMM sockets, as four can only be used if at least two modules are only single sided types. That's because the chipset is only specified for six memory banks. All boards come with Suspend-to-RAM, making it possible to wake up quite fast from power saving mode.
This time, I did not include motherboards with the older 694A chipset, as the Socket 370 motherboards will usually be used with Pentium III or fast Celeron processors (533+MHz). Using the slower Pro 133 chipset (without the 'A') means to give away about 10% performance!