VIA has a rather long tradition of reacting to and following the market leader, Intel. Here, they have done it again: they have presented their competitive product six months after Intel released their current chipset generation, and have come very close in terms of performance. The shootout is not as accurate as it could be from a technical point of view, because we had to compare a DDR system to one using DDR2. However, we feel this represents typical configuration scenarios: Intel systems running DDR2 and VIA PT880 Pro ones using DDR400. Also, despite the differential in memory speeds, there are only few benchmarks that are dominated by the Intel platform; most applications run equally well on either of the systems.
This evaluation should have included DDR2 memory benchmarks for the VIA platform, too. Unfortunately, the reference board came with four DDR1 DIMM sockets rather than offering a DDR and a DDR2 socket per channel. Regardless, it is very unlikely that VIA could do more than match Intel's memory performance when running at the same clock speed. However, thanks to DDR2-667 already being supported, VIA systems could indeed gain a small lead over Intel systems now. Once again this is something that has already happened - in 1998, the VIA Apollo Pro 133A outperformed Intel's 440BX due to faster memory.
We would also like to comment on VIA's Front Side Bus policy, which includes support for 266 MHz or FSB1066, both for the PT880 Pro and PT894. As a result of this, the motherboards' overclocking abilities could be remarkable. Also, all future Intel processors should be able to be supported by the VIA chipsets, including the Extreme Edition, and the upcoming Smithfield dual core models. The challenge will be to meet Intel's upcoming FMB standard, which allows for a whopping maximum processor thermal design power of 130 W. This is something that low-cost motherboards may have trouble complying with.
We are curious to see what the first motherboards based on the PT880 Pro chipset will look like. Thanks to the variable Southbridge support, motherboard makers may decide to stick to a conservative approach using the VT8237 (PCI and two SATA ports only). Alternately, they may choose the new VT8251 with two x1 PCIe ports, four SATA ports, support for HD audio, and VIA's proprietary Gigabit Ethernet interface.
Either way, users will finally be able to upgrade to the LGA 775 platform while keeping their current AGP graphics card, and incurring no performance impact worth mentioning.