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A Real Nail-Biter: Four Boards With ALi Magik 1
Краткое содержание статьи: The Taiwanese ALi (Acer Laboratories) hopes to take over the low-cost segment of the Socket A market with its Magik 1 chipset. The new chipset offers both DDR-SDRAM and SDRAM support. A test of the four first boards still revealed numerous shortfalls in practice. ALi is in fierce competition with VIA - either way, it's the customer who wins out. Of all test candidates, the Asus A7A266 cut the best figure.

A Real Nail-Biter: Four Boards With ALi Magik 1


Редакция THG,  9 мая 2001


Under Competitive Pressure: ALi Magik 1

Intro

It's when your stomach is growling that you're known to have the best ideas. And ALi's stomach is growling particularly loudly right now. The Taiwanese chipset producer has not been able to gain a foothold in the market for quite some time. About six months ago, the only marginally successful Aladdin TNT2 chipset was launched, but only racked up sales in the OEM business. Now the spotlight is on their latest chipset, dubbed "Magik 1".

It offers support for DDR-SDRAM memory in conjunction with the Socket 462 platform (Socket A - for AMD Athlon and Duron). So far, so good. ALi is in direct competition with the Taiwanese manufacturer VIA, which has just started to ship its DDR chipset KT266. The current performance ruler of the SocketA-platform however, is AMD's 760 chipset, which delivers the highest performance for Athlon processors right now.

It is true however, that only very few boards with AMD 760 chipset end up in the retail market. It leaves ALi the chance to win customers with Magik1's low price and the buzzword 'DDR-support. Tom's Hardware put four boards - based on "ALi Magik 1" - through a practically oriented test procedure.

Under Competitive Pressure: ALi Magik 1, Continued

Chipsatz ALi Magik 1 VIA Apollo KT133A VIA Apollo KT266 AMD 760
Introduction February 2001 January 2001 April 2001 February 2001
Processor Plattform Socket 462 Socket 462 Socket 462 Socket 462
Supported CPU AMD Athlon/Duron AMD Athlon/Duron AMD Athlon/Duron AMD Athlon/Duron
Multiprocessor Support no no no no
Chipset Northbridge ALi M1647 VIA VT8363A VIA VT8366 AMD 761
Chipset Southbridge ALi M1535D+ VIA VT82C686B VIA VT8233 AMD 765
Front Side Bus Clock 100/133 MHz 100/133 MHz 100/133 MHz 100/133 MHz
Memory Clock 100/133 MHz 100/133 MHz 100/133 MHz 100/133 MHz
Asynchronous Memory Clock yes yes yes yes
33 MHz PCI with 133 MHz FSB yes yes yes yes
FSB-Overclocking * up to 150 MHz up to 180 MHz up to 166 MHz up to 150 MHz
max. # DIMM-Slots 4 4 4 4
max. Memory 1024 MB 1536 MB 2048 MB 2048 MB
SDRAM-Support yes yes yes no
DDR-SDRAM-Support yes no yes yes
VC-SDRAM-Support no yes no no
RIMM-Support (Rambus) no no no no
Ultra-DMA/33/66/100 yes/yes/yes yes/yes/yes yes/yes/yes yes/yes/yes
Max. # USB 4 4 4 4
Max. # PCI Slots 6 6 6 6
Integrated Graphics no no no no
AGP 1x / 2x / 4x yes/yes/yes yes/yes/yes yes/yes/yes yes/yes/yes
ACPI-Features yes yes yes yes

* depending on clock generator

DDR-Chipsets for Socket 462 Compared: The ALi Magik 1, the AMD 760 and the VIA Apollo KT266 all offer DDR support. However, the AMD 760 works with DDR-SDRAM memory only, while the other candidates can optionally run with SDRAM also.

Chipset Structure

Northbridge
The Northbridge of the ALi Magik 1 contains the DDR-SDRAM interface.

Southbridge
The Southbridge contains four USB interfaces and the Ultra DMA/100 interface.

Asus A7A266: The Winner In Performance Tests

Asus A7A266: The Winner In Performance Tests

BIOS: REV. 1004 BETA 002
Board revision: 1.03

The Asus A7A266 comes in a standard package that doesn't stand out from the other commonplace designs. On the actual board, the manufacturer hearkens back to ALi's layout model. The Asus A7A266 is the only candidate in this comparison that has a combo solution for the memory slots: Both SDRAM (three modules) and DDR SDRAM modules (two modules) can be inserted. Combined operation is not possible.

The test of these boards did not go off without a hitch: The first version of the board showed high performance, but its unstable operation was a noticeable negative. It was only a second board, brought in later by Asus, in interaction with third BIOS that showed improvement in stability as well as performance. The three different BIOS versions showed how heavily a mainboard relies on the BIOS: The difference between the fastest and the slowest BIOS in overall performance is just short of 10 percent. When equipped with DDR SDRAM memory, the Asus A7A266 occupied the top rung in all benchmarks. The board is the only test candidate to have an AGP Pro socket. The placement of an AMR slot for which there is no peripheral available in the retail market is questionable.

Overclocking fans will be less impressed by this board: An adjustment of the multiplier is not possible, as the board is not equipped with the necessary DIP switch. Asus is trying to take the end user market by storm with this board - the attractive price is supposed to generate high sales figures.

Iwill KA266-R: Stability Problems

Iwill KA266-R: Stability Problems

BIOS: Award Rev. 32401A (15.12.2000)
Board revision: 1.1

What is noticeable at first sight with this package is the exemplary box design: The board from Iwill is anchored firmly in an additional, slip-proof, transparent plastic holder. Several sides of the contents can be seen from the outside through little transparent windows.

When tested, the Iwill KA266-R showed significant problems with system stability: Even a repeated BIOS update did not provide relief from this. Even worse: the performance got worse and stability could not be increased. Iwill offers the same board as the RAID variation (with an MG 80649 AMI controller) -- the circuit paths have already been provided in the board layout.

The performance of the boards is good enough to place the Iwill in the midfield of this comparison. Overclocking is practically impossible: Although the frontside bus and the multiplier can be set at 100 MHz and 146 MHz in 1-MHz steps, there is no option to adjust the CPU core voltage. The placement of the AMR slot remains a mystery, as there are no components for this interface on the market.

Transcend TS-ALR4: Heavy Braking

Transcend TS-ALR4: Heavy Braking

BIOS: Award Rev. 1.15 (05.02.2001)
Board revision: 1.05

The Transcend TS-ALR4 comes in a modest and unobtrusive package. Numerous problems cropped up in the test: the factory-installed BIOS did not permit stable operation. It was only when the BIOS was updated to Version 1.15 that the board exhibited stable system performance. At the same time, the performance suffered an immense drop: In this test quartet, the Transcend easily takes last place.

The setting options of this board are rather variable: the front-side bus speed, the multiplier and the CPU core voltage could be adjusted via jumpers and, optionally, with the BIOS. Because of its deficient performance, the Transcend is not suitable for fans of overclocking. The Transcend is the only board in the test group to have a total of six PCI slots.

Soyo SY-K7ADA: Useful Features

Soyo SY-K7ADA: Useful Features

BIOS: Award T0105 (1/5/2001)
Board revision: 1.01

The Soyo SY-K7ADA stands out because of its compact dimensions. In the test, it was the only board to provide high performance right from the start and to prove itself with stable operation. The voltage control of the board still works with dual-phase technology, which causes the switching transistors to get very hot. The manufacturer skimped on the integrated audio interfaces: there is only one CD-line in port. The preset storage cycle afforded by the BIOS proves to be useful: It allows even the less ambitious user to test the performance limits of the system.

Setting the front-side bus, the multiplier and the CPU core voltage is done using DIPswitches. The CPU core voltage can be set at small intervals especially in the range 1.10V 1.85V in 0.025V steps. All in all, the Soyo is an average board that caused fewer problems in testing than any of the other candidates.

Features In Detail

Manufacturer Iwill Soyo ASUS Transcend
Model KA266 K7ADA A7A266 TS-ALR4
Platform Sockel A Sockel A Sockel A Sockel A
Northbridge Ali 1647 Ali 1647 Ali 1647 Ali 1647
Southbridge 1535D+ 1535D+ 1535D+ 1535D+
Form factor ATX ATX ATX ATX
Memory
Maximum Memory (MByte) 3 GB 3 GB 3 GB 3 GB
SDRAM slots 0 0 3 0
DDR SDRAM slots 3 3 2 3
Features
Dimensions (LxW) 30,5 cm x 24,5 cm 30,5 cm x 19,0 cm 32,0 cm x 22,8 cm 30,5 cm x 21,0 cm
PCI-Slots 5 5 5 6
AGP 4X 1 1 0 1
AGP 4X (Pro) 0 0 1 0
AMR / CNR 0/1 0/0 0/1 0/1
Parallel ports 1 1 1 1
Serial ports 2 2 2 2
External USB ports 2 2 2 2
Onboard USB connector 2 2 2 2
IDE channels (UltraATA/100) 2 2 2 2
Fan connectors 3 3 3 2
Additional Onboard Connectors
AC97 Sound CMI 8738 AC97 HRTF Audio Com 3D Avance Logic. ALC100P
external audio connectors
Line Out/In/Mic
yes/yes/yes yes/yes/yes yes/yes/yes yes/yes/yes
internal audio connectors
# line-ins
2 1 2 3
Wake on LAN (WOL) yes yes yes yes
Wake on Modem (WOM) yes yes yes yes
Infrared yes yes yes yes
Sensor for chassis intrusion no no no no
Temperature sensor for CPU yes yes yes yes
Additional ATA/100 interfaces no no no no
Onboard piezo speaker no no no no
Settings
System Bus (FSB) adjustment Bios, Jumper DIP Bios Bios, DPI
Frequency range for FSB 100 - 146 MHz (Bios) 100/133 MHz 90,100,101,120,126,133 MHz 100 MHz - 146 MHz
1MHz steps for system bus (FSB) yes no no no
CPU core voltage adjustable no DIP Bios no
CPU core voltage range 1,750 Volt 1.100 - 1.850 Volt 1,750 - 1,850 Volt no
0.025V steps for VCore no yes yes no
0.5X steps for multiplier yes yes no yes
Multiplier adjustment 5.0 - 12.5 X (Jumper) 5.0X - 12.5X no 5.0x - 12.0x
BIOS und Revisions
BIOS Award Award Award Award
BIOS version tested 32401A (15.12.2000) T0105(P) (05.01.2001) Rev. 1004 Beta 002 (27.03.2001) V1.15 (05.02.2001)
Board revision tested V 1.1 unknown V 1.03. V 1.05
Notes
Clock generator ICS 93857 AG ICS 9248AF-173 1004 Beta 002 (00.03.2001) ICS 93857AG
SCSI Controller n/a n/a n/a n/a
Network interface card n/a n/a n/a n/a
Model variations KA266-R no no no

Test Configuration

Hardware
CPU AMD Athlon 1200 MHz @ 133 MHz FSB
DDR RAM Micron 128 MB @ 133 MHz DDR, CL 2.5
SDRAM Wichmann Works 128 MB @ 133 MHz SDR
Hard disk IBM DTLA-307030, 30,7 GB
Ultra-DMA/100, 7200 U/min
Graphics card Asus V7700 AGP, nVIDIA GeForce2 GTS, 32 MB DDR SDRAM
Drivers & Software
IDE-Driver Microsoft Windows default
AGP-Driver ALi AGP Driver Version 1.73e
Graphics driver Detonator 3 Serie V6.32
DirectX Version 8.0a
Operating System Windows 98 SE, Version 4.10.2222 A
Benchmarks and Settings
Quake III Arena Retail Version
command line = +set cd_nocd 1 +set s_initsound 0
Graphics detail set to 'Normal', 640x480x16
Benchmark using 'Q3DEMO1'
Sysmark 2000 Patch 4B
1024x768x16
ViewPerf Version 6.1.2
1280x1024x16x85
Refresh rate 85 Hz for all tests, V-Sync = off
Linux Kernel Compilation SuSE Linux 6.4, Kernel 2.2.14, THG benchmarking kernel, gcc 2.95.2
MPEG-4-Encoding Flask Mpeg "Video Codec: DivX 3.11 alpha, Fast-Motion, keyframe every 10 seconds, compression 100, data rate 910 kbps Audio Codec: audio not processed Video Resolution: 720x576, 25 fps, interlaced Resizing: Nearest Neighbor "

Benchmark Results In Detail

Office performance: Sysmark 2000

Office performance: Sysmark 2000

Sysmark 2000 analyzes the office performance of a system by containing various well-known applications. The Asus A7A266 places just above the other test candidates in combination with DDR SDRAM memory and in competition with the VIA KT133A and AMD760 chipset. It only achieves these results with very aggressive timing settings in the BIOS setup. The Transcend lands solidly in last place.

OpenGL Game Performance: Quake 3 Arena

OpenGL Game Performance: Quake 3 Arena

The long familiar OpenGL benchmark "Quake 3 Arena" is the domain of the AMD760 chipset, so the MSI K7 Master takes the top spot. Excepting the Transcend, which is again in last place, the candidates with the ALi Magik 1 chipset come behind the MSI. When SDRAM memory is used, the frame rates fall back by several percentage points. This is particularly apparent in the case of the Asus A7A266.

3D Game Performance: Unreal Tournament

3D Game Performance: Unreal Tournament

In this benchmark, only a slight difference can be observed between the individual chipsets and boards. The front-runner is the MSI K7 Master with AMD760 chipset, followed by the Asus A7A266 with the ALi Magik 1 module. In this benchmark, it can also be seen that the performance drops marginally when SDRAM memory is used.

MPEG-4-Encoding: Flask MPEG

MPEG-4-Encoding: Flask MPEG

The results of the MPEG-4-encodings are amazing: The ALi Magik 1 on the Asus A7A266 shows very high performance and briefly rises just above even the AMD760 chipset as the MSI K7 master. The Transcend once again is sorely beaten in last place.

OpenGL: Viewperf Awadvs-04

OpenGL: Viewperf Awadvs-04

The MSI K7 Master with the AMD 760 chipset is again at the top. The Asus A7A266 with the ALi Magik 1 chipset takes second place.

OpenGL: Viewperf DRV-07

OpenGL: Viewperf DRV-07

In the design review benchmark, a similar picture emerges to that of the Awadvs-04. The MSI K7 master is in front - only the Asus A7A266 with the ALi chipset catches up and takes second place.

OpenGL: Viewperf Light-04

OpenGL: Viewperf Light-04

The MSI K7 master with AMD 760 chipset leads once again. The other candidates with the ALi chipset are hot on the heels of the MSI.

OpenGL: Viewperf MedMCAD-01

OpenGL: Viewperf MedMCAD-01

It is mainly the same situation as was described in the previous benchmark.

Linux Kernel Compilation

Linux Kernel Compilation

The compilation of the Linux kernel reveals only slight differences between the individual boards. The Transcend board turns out to be the slowest candidate once more.

Moral: ALi Magik 1 - Not Yet Fully Developed

In this test it was quite clear: In making the boards, the manufacturers had two variations to choose from: either stable and weak performance, or high performance combined with unstable operation. We saw this in the test with various BIOS versions, which caused up to a 10 percent difference in overall performance. This is the ALi Magik 1 at a not yet fully mature stage. Often several test candidates crashed during the determination of test results.

Overclocking fans should give the chipset a wide berth right from the start: Although numerous features are offered for overclocking, raising the speed only works in a very narrow range. On the other hand, the board will not start up anymore, making it necessary to delete and reconfigure the CMOS settings. Overall, the poor success to overclock the test candidates reflects the questionable quality of the ALi chipset. Especially in direct competition with VIA. As soon as VIA puts its KT266 on the market in large quantities, life will become a lot harder for ALi. ALi has still got a chance for success once the quality problems have been eliminated. Right now however, the only thing ALi Magik 1 has going for it is its low price. Motherboard manufacturers such as Asus are currently going after OEM customers with ALi Magik1 boards by advertising "DDR support".




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