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The King of the Heap: 4 Chipsets for the Athlon64

ALi M1687

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ALi first announced it was developing the M1687 at Computex 2002; it released the chipset only recently. There are already boards based on the ALi chipset from Epox (EP-8LDAI), Soyo (SY-K8USA) and Wistron (AK87), all of which offer standard features.

Superficially speaking, the specifications for the boards are all the same. ALi followed SiS's and VIA's lead, also opting for a two-chip solution. One interesting feature is the interface between the M1563's Northbridge and Southbridge. ALi's chipset is interconnected via an 8 bit wide and 200 MHz clocked HyperTransport link that can transport 1.6 Gbp/s in both directions - far more than its rivals' interconnects. It doesn't just sound like AMD - it also looks a lot like it (see the M1687 picture). As it turns out, ALi is licensed to build the 8151 AMD chipset.

The reference board has a healthy array of features, albeit not all the bells and whistles you would expect from a retail model. For example, the board does not provide any overclocking functionalities. It is also lacking a couple of elementary things such as a functioning CPU temperature sensor.

The Southbridge link via HyperTransport is a wonderful idea because HyperTransport is both scalable and an established standard. If more manufacturers were to use this interface, it would be possible to combine an ALi Northbridge with a HyperTransport Southbridge from another vendor. And that would really be something, since different manufacturers focus on different priorities when developing Southbridges.

However, this approach would only pay off financially if many more units are sold or if HyperTransport were made to be compatible with Intel platforms (M1681).

When it comes to clock speeds, ALi plays fair, clocking its board to almost exactly 2.0 GHz. This is a good thing, it's hard to find a motherboard vendor who sticks to the CPU and chipset specifications at the fab. Most overclock their products by a few megahertz. But for a round up like this one, nothing can beat an untweaked reference board.

Finding information on the chipset proved to be a bit more difficult. ALi posts datasheets in its support area and not with the other product information. What's more, you have to be registered in order to access the sheets.

The ALi chipset takes either silver or bronze in the gaming benchmarks. The benchmarks showed that the differences between candidates were marginal, at best. The only area where the M1687 didn't shine was in OpenGL environments.