Conclusion: KT266A Trounces nForce 420D - Soltek Is Front-runner
Our large-scale comparison of these two cutting-edge chipsets for the Socket 462 (Socket A) shows that despite Nvidia's dual-channel memory technology, the nForce 420D is currently no match for the new VIA KT266A. The main reason for the VIA KT266A's success lies in its optimized memory interface, which was designed to be a real dynamo. Coming originally from the graphics business, Nvidia is entering terra incognita with a motherboard chipset such as the nForce. But don't underestimate the potential the nForce poses, since Nvidia's developers have often served up some surprisingly re-worked drivers. Among the boards we tested were 11 boards with a KT266A chipset and two boards with nForce components. As a comparison, we also ran tests on an "old" board with a KT266 chipset, which can't perform anywhere near as well as the current batch of chipsets.
First choice among the boards equipped with a VIA KT266A chipset goes to the Soltek SL-75DRV2 and the Soyo SY-K7V (Dragon Plus!) as well as Abit KR7A. The Soltek is an ideal pick for any hardcore overclocker. Even at higher clock speeds (overclocking) and aggressive memory timing, the board runs much more stably than, say, the much-hyped Epox EP-8KHA+. Another good deal is the Soyo SY-K7V, whose comprehensive array of features set it apart from the crowd, and which comes out at the head of the pack in the benchmark tests. The lab engineers were somewhat disappointed by the two Asus boards - the manufacturer has hardly even tried to position itself as a breed apart, which would have kicked up some dust in the retail market. It wasn't until we received the latest BIOS version at the last moment that the Asus A7V266-E scored better in performance.
Abit arrived at our labs a bit late, that's why it was not included in the first release of this article. With four DDR DIMM sockets, support for registered DIMMs, six PCI slots, Soft Menu III and an UltraATA/133 RAID controller (HPT372, only KR7A-133!), your money should be well-invested.
Another issue for AMD processors is the thermal protection. None of the boards we tested comes furnished with the protective circuit recommended by AMD. In extreme circumstances - for example, if the cooler fails - the processor might go up in smoke in no time flat. That goes for both the classic AMD CPUs with a Thunderbird or a Spitfire core, and the new chips with a Palomino or a Morgan core. All the boards measure the temperature on the processor surface using a tried-and-true method - a thermal resistor under the CPU reads the temperature. This method, however, often produces readings that are up to 50 percent off, making it impossible to obtain reliable results.
A real bright spot in this test is the new standard USB 2.0, which is only used on the MSI K7T266 Pro2. We only have cause for one gripe - all the boards had three USB channels, with two ports apiece. But only MSI saw fit to include a suitable adapter for all the ports. In other words, if you plan to use more than four devices, you'll have to spend at least $15 on a suitable adapter from a retailer. And that's not all - there's no such thing as a universal adapter for all the boards, meaning that this little job has the potential to escalate into a real odyssey.
The "excessive" FSB clock speed we took offense to in one of our previous tests was a non-issue in this comparison. All the manufacturers stuck to the specifications and clocked their boards at almost exactly 133 MHz.