Only the Best: 9 Athlon Motherboards With The AMD 760 Chipset
Редакция THG,  6 августа 2001


Only The Best: 9 Athlon-Motherboards Based On The AMD760 Chipset

Only The Best: 9 Athlon-Motherboards Based On The AMD760 Chipset

Many companies do not need to lament the failure of RDRAM in the desktop market, since their anyway preferred marketing catchwords "Athlon" and "DDR" were strengthened by the demise of Rambus memory in the mass market. Indeed, current Pentium 4 systems with Intel's 850 chipset require RDRAM, but a change is en route. The new Northwood core will be backed by the i845, alias Brookdale, which has been announced with only simple SDRAM support, but is expected to support DDR memory soon.

Whether Intel CPUs are too expensive, or whether AMD CPUs are too cheap - that's a matter of personal opinion. As a matter of fact, AMD aggressively dropped prices during the last months, resulting in an amazing price advantage of all Athlon CPUs. Even the top model (Athlon 1.4 GHz) costs less than $180 now. A Pentium 4 at this clock speed is slightly more expensive, while only the Pentium 4 1.7 GHz is able to perform like AMD's flagship - at double the price!

With the latest price drops in the memory sector, computers with 256 or 512 MB finally affordable. Still RDRAM memory is expensive: Approximately $50 gets you 128 MB PC800 RDRAM, while you will get 256 MB PC2100 DDR or even 512 MB PC133 SDRAM for the same money! According to motherboard manufacturers, the Brookdale chipset may become the next BX, as it is expected to be very reliable and, teamed with Socket mPGA478, to remain in the market for a while. No matter which architecture you choose: DDR SDRAM is currently the memory to go with.

DDR Athlon Chipsets

Currently, there are four DDR Athlon products orbiting the market: ALi's MaGiK-1, the AMD760, the SiS735 and VIA's KT266. Although the ALi MaGiK-1 scored nicely with SYSmark, it could not fulfil similar performance expectations for the other benchmarks. In fact, its performance was not much better than PC133 SDRAM, which is a bit embarrassing. The upcoming B-stepping is supposed to provide more performance.

SiS impressed us with their high performance 735 chipset. Unfortunately, there are hardly any motherboards with this chipset available now. I still hope that SiS is working on this, because otherwise this powerful chip might very well die an untimely death.

DDR Athlon Chipsets
Newcomer: The VIA KT266 is not as fast as the AMD760, but is expected to dominate the market due to its attractive price/performance ratio.

DDR Athlon Chipsets
ALi's DDR chipset does not perform much better than fast systems based on SDRAM. The B-stepping is supposed to change that soon.

VIA's KT266 is finally on its way to market now. Though it also failed to meet some of our performance expectations, its success should be guaranteed because VIA is a big player on the chipset market.

One chipset is left that currently is the only one to go with if you are a power user. Initially, nobody knew if AMD was going to send this chipset into full battle, as they still dissociate from being a chipset maker. Fortunately they did. AMD760 may be more expensive than ALi MaGiK-1 or KT266, but the performance benefit is absolutely worth the money.

The AMD760: King Of Socket A

The AMD760: King Of Socket A
The 760 chipset consists of the North Bridge AMD761 and the South Bridge AMD766. Most manufacturers prefer the cheaper VIA South Bridge VT82C686B.

We already talked quite a lot about the AMD chipset. The following links lead to other articles containing basic chipset information, comparisons and product reviews. Please note that the article you are reading right now includes almost every AMD760 motherboard available, including those that had already been reviewed.

The Three Musketeers - Athlon Platforms For 133 MHz FSB
This article introduces the AMD760 and compares it to ALi MaGiK-1 and KT133A.

Athlon Boosters - Three AMD 760 Boards for DDR SDRAM
This was our first AMD760 motherboard review. Here you can also find a comparison table that includes all Athlon chipsets and additional information about the AMD760.

It's Time For DDR: 3 New 760 Athlon Mobos
This is the second review including three more boards

Maybe you have noticed that there is currently no AMD760 motherboard available that would make use of the AMD766 South Bridge. There is a very simple explanation to that: AMD761 can also be teamed up with VIA's current South Bridge, the VT82C686B.

The AMD760: King Of Socket A

This chip comes at a more attractive price point than the AMD pendant while offering the same features. Generally there aren't many differences between those chips today.

Motherboard Features

In terms of performance, today's motherboards usually differ from one another only by about 5%, so they rely more on special features and add-ons to distinguish themselves from the competition. Let me first summarize on standard features before talking about the interesting add-ons.

Basic Hardware

All candidates are standard ATX motherboards and come with the following features:

  • Support for all Duron and Athlon models (Thunderbird and Palomino)
  • Support for 100 and 133 MHz FSB (200/266 MHz DDR) and PC1600/PC2100 DDR memory.
  • Support for CL2 and CL2.5 unbuffered DDR memory, 64 or 72 Bit (Parity)
  • AGP 4x
  • at least 5 PCI slots
  • at least two UltraATA/100 ports
  • four USB ports (two controllers integrated into the South Bridge)
  • at least two DIMM sockets
  • Wake on Modem, Wake on LAN
  • two serial ports, one parallel port

Special Add-Ons

A very attractive feature is a sound system. There are two ways that manufacturers can integrate this: Either place an AC97 sound codec onto the board, or include a separate dedicated PCI sound card. The first method puts extra burden on the CPU, which was a very real problem some years ago, but today's processors are definitely able to cope with the sound output of several stereo channels. Similar to having the separate PCI sound card, motherboard manufacturers may opt to put a dedicated PCI sound chip on the board - this lets you have extra features without increasing the CPU load. However, nobody actually does this because of high costs, so if you want to have any kind of really sophisticated sound system (e.g., with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound), I'd recommend getting a separate PCI sound card.

Many companies offer motherboards that have two BIOS Flash ROMs. The only advantage of such boards is that you easily can recover from a BIOS failure. Flashing it is still a risky affair: Even a short power failure can have the BIOS update procedure fail (that's just another reason for getting a high-quality power supply!). In this case, motherboards with a backup BIOS only need to be switched to the secondary one in order to restore a working system condition.

There are also hardware features that are useless for most users. I am talking about AMR (Audio Modem Riser) or CNR (Communications and Network Riser) slots. The basic idea of such a multi-purpose interface may be good, but there is hardly any hardware available for those slots. I prefer to have a sixth PCI slot instead of AMR/CNR.

IDE RAID Advancing

Additional IDE controllers with RAID functionality are gaining popularity. Unlike SCSI, RAID devices do not boost costs but still provide a great extra value. There are three IDE RAID chips available now: Highpoint's HPT370A, Promise FastTrak100 Lite (PDC20265) and AMI MG80649. Integrated onto a motherboard, they do not require a PCI slot and offer two additional IDE ports for two devices each.

IDE RAID Advancing

IDE RAID Advancing

All chips support five different modes:

  • Standard IDE Controller
    You may attach up to 4 additional devices (2 at each port)
  • Disk Spanning
    The controller chip creates one single volume out of all hard drives attached. The capacity of small hard drives can be combined by this feature
  • Striping (RAID 0)
    That's the most interesting mode for many users: After attaching two or four IDE hard drives to the RAID controller, it will create one volume out of them. Data is written and read on alternating drives, resulting in a drastic increased data transfer rate. Using drives of different capacities is not recommended, though the array would work.
  • Mirroring (RAID 1)
    This feature is very useful for data safety. It requires two or four hard drives. Data is always written simultaneously onto two drives. If one of those drives fails, you will still have the latest data backed up on the second drive. That will only work with drives of the same capacity.
  • Mirroring + Striping (RAID 0+1)
    This mode requires four drives. Two of them will be striped while this will be mirrored onto the remaining two disks. Only works with drives that have the same capacity.

Performance Fine-Tuning

Performance Fine-Tuning

A DDR based motherboard has some more memory timing parameters that can be changed in order to influence performance:

PH Limit (Page Hit Limit)
Maximum number of consecutive page hits before choosing a non page hit request.

Idle Limit
AMD recommends 8 cycles.

Row Cycle Time (TRC) - less is better
Minimum time to activation of a bank.

RAS Precharge (TRP)
After reading a memory cell, the information usually gets lost, as the electric charge inside the cell is too small to conserve data integrity. To ensure consistency, data will always be written back into this memory cell. SDRAM requires 2 or 3 cycles precharge time for that.

RAS Active Time (TRAS) - less is better
Latency time before access to a non-addressed row within an open page (time from activate to precharge).

CAS Latency (CL) - less is better
After memory addressing, the system has to wait for the Column Address Strobe (CAS), which initiates the data transfer. Either two or 2.5 clock cycles, depending on the quality of memory (a half clock cycle is only possible with Double Data Rate memory). So far, there is hardly any PC2100 DDR SDRAM with CL2 available.

RAS-to-CAS Delay (TRCD) - less is better
The memory address information (which cell has to be read) is transferred in two steps: First the row address followed by the column address. Between that, the system takes a break of 2 or 3 cycles in order to separate those two values.

Though my testing memory from Micron officially only is a CL 2.5 module, it runs properly at CL2. I used the following settings:

PH Limit: 8
Idle Limit: 8
TRC: 5
TRP: 2
TRAS: 2
TCAS: 2
TRCD: 2

I want to emphasize that these settings are only valid for this particular memory module - they may vary with other types of memory. If you don't know the settings of your RAM, I'd recommend using the AUTO setting. Most BIOS versions try to obtain the timing information from the SPD EEPROM. Since many low-cost DIMMs do not have a properly programmed EEPROM, most motherboards will use the slowest timing settings in order to ensure stable system operation.

The Ideal Athlon System: Our Recommendations

The Ideal Athlon System: Our Recommendations
You need these ingredients in order to enjoy your Athlon: A decent power supply, a powerful CPU cooler and reliable memory.

There are several things to consider when assembling a powerful Athlon machine. First of all I would like to mention the importance of a decent power supply. The most important factor besides the power output is the amperage at 5 V. Most 230 or 250 W power supplies provide a maximum of 25 A, which is insufficient for Athlon systems running at 1 GHz or more. The most critical moment is when you turn the computer on and most components require maximum power. Older power supplies usually cannot resist the peak and shut down (or even blast). Here are my recommendations:

  • Standard multimedia computer, up to 4 drives
    300 W power supply, at least 30 amps at 5 V
  • High end computer, up to 6 drives, additional hardware
    400 W power supply, at least 40 amps at 5 V

I have been using a 431 W power supply from Enermax (EG451P-V), which is also able to bridge short power failures of one or two waves. That usually happens during thunderstorms.

The second issue is the memory. RAM may have become incredibly cheap these days, but be wary of cheap quality too. For this reason, I would try to obtain brand products. Getting the original products from Micron/Crucial, Samsung, Infineon, Viking, Kingston and others is usually the best way to go, since they are officially listed as being compatible with many motherboards. As such memory cannot be obtained everywhere, you may also choose a dealer that guarantees his memory to run with your motherboard.

Issue number three is proper cooling of your Athlon processor. The versions running at 1 GHz or faster have a high power dissipation that should be taken seriously. AMD CPUs may be cheap today, but losing $150 due to a poor CPU cooler still hurts. Make sure that you get a model that ensures a safe die temperature. Depending on the type of computer (home computer, workstation, server), you should also keep an eye on the noise levels. Tom's Hardware Guide recently published a comprehensive review of 46 CPU coolers. I recommend taking a look!

The Boards

Abit KG7

Abit KG7

Board Revision: 1.0
BIOS Version: 07/05/2001 (Ver. 1.2)

Company Info

Several years ago, Abit became very popular among freaks and overclockers thanks to their SoftMenu. It was the first company to abandon the classic way to set up the CPU via jumpers and DIP switches and moved all options into the BIOS set-up. Today Abit belongs to the top motherboard manufacturers and still concentrates on interesting hardware.

Today, Abit ranks among the top motherboard manufacturers

Hardware Features

We received much e-mail from readers, requesting us to review this motherboard, since it is one of the few models that come with four memory sockets. Using four 512 MB DDR-DIMMs, you can install the maximum memory capacity of the AMD760 chipset. Be careful: Those modules have to be registered DIMMs! If you only use unbuffered memory, you won't be able to use more than two modules.

The AMD761 chip is kept cool by a heat sink plus a little fan. A total of four fan headers will make sure that even power users can attach enough fans to keep the system or particular components cool. Also, only switching voltage regulators are used, which are the best choice, since they do not heat up the system.

There are six PCI slots, AGP 4x and VIA's VT82C686B South Bridge chip. This one offers two UltraATA/100 ports for two devices each. In addition, Abit placed an IDE RAID chip from Highpoint onto this motherboard (HPT370A). It can either be used as an additional controller or for drive arrays. Here you may choose between RAID mode 0, mode 1 or mode 0+1. The placement of the IDE RAID connectors could cause you some headache if the hard drives are installed at the top of a big tower case. The connectors are at the lower end of the motherboard. Usually, you won't be able to obtain IDE cables that are long enough.

In exchange for this extensive basic hardware, there are no special add-ons like a sound system or a backup BIOS.

BIOS

As usual the BIOS features the Abit's SoftMenu III, which allows you to set FSB speed, multiplier and core voltage directly in the BIOS menu. The Chipset Features sub menu includes many options to influence AGP and memory parameters. Though the manual mentions all options, it does not explain most of them but only shows the possible values. However, freaks are given powerful BIOS options to optimize system performance - or to risk stability, depending on your BIOS and hardware knowledge.

Configuration and Manual

Thanks to the SoftMenu, there is nothing to configure before putting your system together. Everything can easily be set within the BIOS.

Abit's manual is very comprehensive and includes BIOS information, software installation instructions and contact information for technical support. If you take the time to read it, you will find useful information just like the following facts:

  • PCI4 and USB controller share one IRQ
  • PCI5 and RAID controller share one IRQ
  • PCI1 and AGP share one IRQ
  • DDR modules have to be placed starting at socket 4

The IRQ sharing information applies to most motherboards while the memory installation information is quite important.

Test & Performance

The Abit board is one of the best performers. There were no stability issues during the tests. Of course I wanted to know if the board is able to run reliable with four DDR DIMMs. I used two different pairs of 128 MB modules. Each of them would run reliable even with CL2, but all four require the timings to be set to CL 2.5.

Shipment

The box includes the manual, a driver CD, an IDE RAID driver disk, one 80-pin IDE and a floppy cable as well as a USB cable.

Asus A7M266

Asus A7M266

Board Revision: 1.03
BIOS Version: 1004A

Please click here to read the initial review.

Company Info

For many years, Asus has been regarded as being the best Taiwanese motherboard manufacturer. Providing excellent products has almost become a tradition. It is difficult to improve something that is already great to begin with, and moreover, it draws that much more attention if you don't always place first in a hardware review.

Hardware Features

The A7M266 has been available for some time now. It comes with a PCI sound chip (CMI8738) and two line-ins, AGP Pro (4x), five PCI slots and one AMR slot. Though the motherboard design is prepared for four DIMM sockets, Asus only equips two of them. Asus possibly wants to avoid troubles that can occur with more than two DIMMs and fast memory timings. After all, DDR memory is still in its development stages and a long way from being standard technology. This can be clear seen by the fact that there are hardly any CL2 DDR DIMMs available.

Though the FSB and the multiplier can be set in the BIOS, Asus gives you the option to configure everything via some jumpers and DIP switches - that is quite useful for system integrators who want to prevent inexperienced users from altering the CPU settings my mistake.

The A7M266 is one of the most expensive AMD761 motherboards. Taken into account that there is nothing special on it except the PCI sound chip and the questionable AMR slot, I can imagine that many users could be wondering what's the extra value of the high price.

BIOS

The Asus BIOS has a different user interface than other versions. Though it does not provide better or more features, it is better structured than the standard Phoenix/Award BIOS. The system frequency can be set in small increments. If your CPU allows the multiplier to be altered, you can also choose this in the Advanced Menu. The Chip Configuration sub menu allows you to alter the memory timings.

Configuration and Manual

The Asus manual has been comprehensive and easy to understand for many years. Unfortunately, this one isn't totally up to date, as the BIOS description only mentions SDRAM settings and does not tell you anything about the DDR parameters. The hardware description and the installation guide are excellent as we are used to.

Configuring the motherboard requires a close look at the jumpers and DIP switches. Though the board is pre-set for soft set-up, I would never install it without verifying it. If you decide to set the CPU parameters in hardware (via DIPs and jumpers), it will take you some minutes.

The hardware description and the installation guide are of the excellent quality that we have come to expect.

Test & Performance

There is not much to say to the Asus board except that I experienced a problem with my 3COM 3C905B-TX network card: When installed into the 3rd PCI slot, it would conflict with the sound system. Everything else was fine: High performance and excellent stability.

Shipment

The Asus box includes a manual, the drivers CD, the USB card (a little slot panel that you need in order to use USB 3 & 4), one 40-pin and one 80-pin IDE cable plus a floppy cable.

Biostar M7MIA

Biostar M7MIA

Board Revision: 2.0
BIOS Version: 0627F (July 4, 2001)

Please click here to read the initial review

Company Info

Though Biostar is less well known than other brands, they have provided motherboards since the late 80's. Their main pillar is the OEM business. That may be positive for motherboard pricing, but can be a disadvantage for home users: The demands of companies are usually quite different from end user wishes.

Hardware Features

The board comes with 5 PCI and even one ISA slot, AGP Pro 4x and two DIMM sockets, which is certainly enough for most OEM customers. There is also an AC97 sound codec including two line-ins on board. Overclockers won't be too happy about the fact that only two fan headers are present.

The most interesting feature is the Highpoint HPT370A IDE RAID controller chip. It can be used as additional IDE controller or for RAID modes 0, 1 or 0+1. Though the placement of its connectors is quite good, the connectors for the standard ATA/100 IDE ports and the floppy cable are at the very bottom. In big tower cases, the floppy drive or the CD ROM is often in an upper drive bay, which is sometimes too great a distance for standard flat cables.

BIOS

Biostar uses the standard Phoenix BIOS. The memory can be set via auto config or manually.

Configuration and Manual

The basic FSB speed (100 or 133 MHz) has to be set via two jumpers on the motherboard. After that, you may choose several alternative settings in the BIOS. Biostar does not give you any option to alter the multiplier, which is still an important issue for Athlon fans, as this CPU can usually be overclocked by increasing the multiplier - but not with this board. Luckily, there is an option to change the CPU core voltage, which allows you to raise the FSB speed for overclocking after all.

The box contained only one 80-pin IDE cable, a floppy cable and a 1-page quick reference - unfortunately the manual was missing. I don't know if Biostar ships this board with or without manual. In case you are looking for it, you can download it here.

Test & Performance

The M7MIA performs within our expectations without any peak up or down.

Shipment

As already mentioned, inside the box was a quick reference, a CPU installation guide, two cables and a driver CD.

DFI AK76-SN

DFI AK76-SN

Board Revision: A
BIOS Version: 06/29/2001

Please click here to read the initial review.

Company Info

This year, DFI celebrates its 20 years anniversary. Today they belong to the Top 10 motherboard manufacturers. While they do quite a lot of OEM business, DFI also got a foot in the retail market some years ago. In Europe, their motherboards are popular due to attractive prices.

Hardware Features

The AK76-SN is a barebones motherboard with no special features. There are six PCI slots, AGP 4x, two DIMM sockets and VIA's 686B South Bridge providing UltraATA/100. The number of fan headers is exceptional: There are four of them available - not bad for a motherboard that looks very simple at the first view.

BIOS

DFI uses the standard Phoenix BIOS, just as everybody else except Asus. The positive news is that we could run our Crucial memory at the optimum memory timings, resulting in fast performance that puts the AK76-SN even above the two competitors of the last review.

Configuration and Manual

Though this motherboard does not have many soft set-up options except an item to alter the FSB speed, it is suitable for overclocking. On the image you can see two blue DIP blocks at the right edge. Here you can freely choose the multiplier (after closing the bridges on the CPU) and the core voltage.

DFI's manual includes English, German, French and Spanish. However, the trade-off is that it isn't as detailed as the manuals from Asus and Gigabyte.

Test & Performance

After manually changing the DDR timings from auto set-up to the ideal timings, the DFI motherboard performed significantly better. In all benchmarks the board is within the top 5.

Shipment

The motherboard box contains the manual, a driver CD, one 80-pin IDE and a floppy cable. DFI also includes a sticker with the board layout and jumper/DIP settings that can be posted inside your case in order to have the information handy.

Epox EP-8K7A+

Epox EP-8K7A+

Board Revision: 1.0
BIOS Version: 06/06/2001

Please click here to read the initial review.

Company Info

Being a large motherboard manufacturer, Epox has a lot of experience in this sector. The company has several branch offices and does both OEM and retail business.

Hardware Features

This board already left a good impression in the initial review (check the link above). It has six PCI slots, AGP 4x with a card lock system, Highpoint HPT370A IDE-RAID controller, two DIMM sockets, integrated debug module (see lower left corner of the image) and an AC97 sound system with three line-ins.

Overclocking fans will get three fan headers and DIP switches to change the multiplier. There are some jumpers to adjust the DDR voltage (JP3) and others for the CPU core voltage (JP2).

BIOS

Standard Phoenix BIOS with many options and the seven standard items for DDR timing.

Configuration and Manual

There are some yellow jumpers right below the AGP slot. They are used to select the FSB speed (100 or 133 MHz). In addition, you can alter the particular speed within a certain range in the BIOS. RAID drive arrays have to be set up in the BIOS of the on-board Highpoint controller, which can be accessed during the boot process.

The manual includes all kinds of important information, starting with a detailed description of the hardware features and ending with a description of the BIOS.

Test & Performance

Though the EP-8K7A+ achieved the highest SYSmark score, it is not able to take the lead in the other benchmarks. The Epox board showed average but stable performance.

Shipment

Inside the box is a driver CD, the manual, a USB adapter cable (for the ports 3 and 4), each one 40-pin and 80-pin IDE cable, floppy cable, a Highpoint driver disk plus a little RAID manual and a short notice explaining that Suspend to RAM does not work as long as the RAID Administrator software is running.

FIC AD11

FIC AD11

Board Revision: 1.2
BIOS Version: 03/16/2001

Please click here to read the initial review.

Company Info

FIC (First International Computer) is also a large motherboard manufacturer and usually work close together with VIA, as they provide the reference boards. Their main pillar is the OEM business and only a part of the motherboards produced is sold under the FIC brand.

Hardware Features

The AD11 comes with only 5 PCI slots, but it has one CNR slot. Here you can see that AMR and CNR are totally uninteresting for end users, but is a cheap upgrade option for major customers that buy in large quantities.

This board has a standard AGP slot (AGP 4x), two DIMM sockets, AC97 sound system (again preferred among OEMs, as its implementation is cheap) and only two fan headers. One of them is even used by the North Bridge fan, leaving only one for your CPU cooler. Unfortunately any additional fans must be attached directly to a power supply cable, which leaves out the ability to monitor the speed of the fan.

FIC did not use switching regulators, resulting in quite high heat dissipation.

BIOS

Standard Award/Phoenix BIOS.

Configuration and Manual

CPU configuration has to be done completely via two DIP switches (voltage and multiplier ratio). One jumper (FS) determines the FSB speed, while you can alter the actual speed starting from the 100 or 133 MHz.

Test & Performance

The performance of FIC's AD11 is within the midfield of the test bed. Though I could run the Micron memory at the optimum parameters, some motherboards are faster. However, I prefer that the board runs stable with hardcore timings rather than better performance at the cost of system stability.

As the voltage regulators produce a lot of heat, you should make sure that the airflow inside your case is strong enough to keep everything cool: CPU, RAM, North Bridge, voltage regulators, hard drives - everything heats up your system.

Shipment

FIC ships this motherboard with a full set of cables (one 80pin IDE, one 40pin IDE, one floppy), a comprehensive manual, a driver CD and another CD with Norton Ghost and Anti Virus.

Gigabyte GA-7DX

Gigabyte GA-7DX

Board Revision: 2.3
BIOS Version: F3 (May 24, 2001)

Please click here to read the initial review.

Company Info

Shipping up to a million motherboards a month, Gigabyte belongs to the global Top 5 motherboard companies.

Hardware Features

We already mentioned it in the first AMD760 review: The 7DX is a typical OEM board, as it comes with decent features, but without expensive components. There are five PCI slots, AGP 4x with AGP lock system, two DIMM sockets and AC97 sound with two line-ins. That's basically what OEM boards require. Different from FIC, Gigabyte merely uses switching voltage regulators (see upper middle in the image).

Gigabyte does not provide any option to change the CPU multiplier ratio - neither in hardware nor in the BIOS.

BIOS

As most other boards, Gigabyte uses a standard Award/Phoenix BIOS. Voltage and fan monitoring is supported.

Configuration and Manual

There is nothing to configure on this motherboard, as there is no way to change the clock speed settings. Every Athlon or Duron CPU will only run at its default settings. That may also be an advantage, since you won't be able to make any configuration mistakes.

The manual looks comprehensive, but does not go into detail very much. All BIOS items are merely mentioned and possible values are simply listed, with no further explanation.

Test & Performance

Even the latest BIOS update (May 24) did not increase the performance of this motherboard. Therefore it can be found on last position in almost all benchmarks. This is quite strange, since the bigger brother GA-7DXR is one of the fastest boards in the test bed.

Shipment

Gigabyte ships one 80-pin IDE cable, a floppy cable, a driver disc, and a manual. A USB cable for the ports 3 and 4 is missing.

Gigabyte GA-7DXR

Gigabyte GA-7DXR

Board Revision: 0.3
BIOS Version: F4 (May 24, 2001)

Please click here to read the initial review.

Company Info

Shipping up to a million motherboards a month, Gigabyte belongs to the global Top 5 motherboard companies.

Hardware Features

As the names 7DX and 7DXR are quite similar, you could easily think that the 7DXR is an enhanced version. After comparing the two images, you may have noticed that the 7DXR design is completely different. It comes with five PCI slots, AGP Pro 4x, DualBIOS, Creative SB128 PCI sound chip and the Promise ATA/100 RAID chip.

BIOS

Gigabyte uses a standard Award/Phoenix BIOS, but placed two Flash ROMs onto the motherboard (they call it DualBIOS). If one chip fails, you can switch to the other one by just setting a jumper.

There are several items to disable: the IDE RAID chip, the USB controllers or the sound system. All of them work properly - there are still some motherboards available that do not allow certain components to be disabled.

Configuration and Manual

Several jumpers and DIP switches are spread all over the motherboard. They have to be used to set the multiplier, FSB speed and CPU core voltage. The BIOS allows the FSB speed to be altered as well. However, the amount of jumpers and DIPs is definitely out of time. Abit regularly shows how a jumper-free motherboard can look like.

Test & Performance

The 7DRX is one of the fastest AMD760 motherboards available now. Though the board is equipped with lots of hardware features, it is fast and absolutely stable.

Shipment

Gigabyte provides a driver CD, a full set of IDE cables (three 80-pin IDE), floppy cable, USB adapter cable and a manual.

MSI MS-6341 "K7 Master"

MSI MS-6341

Board Revision: 1
BIOS Version: 07/09/2001

Company Info

Microstar International is one of the most important OEM players and has a lot of influence on the market. In terms of quality and performance, they have been advancing during the last years. So far, we have used the K7 Master as our reference board.

Hardware Features

The K7 Master uses a much larger board than the competitors. That's mainly because the PCB is ready for up to 4 DIMM sockets (only two are present) and for an Ultra160-SCSI chip (K7 Master-S). Five PCI slots, one CNR, AGP 4x Pro, three fan headers and an AC97 sound system with three line-ins complete the basic hardware. In addition, MSI implemented their D-LED debug system.

BIOS

Standard Award BIOS, enhanced by the multiplier and CPU voltage options.

Configuration and Manual

There are hardly any jumpers on this motherboard: FSB speed, multiplier and CPU core voltage can be selected inside the BIOS.

Test & Performance

Thanks to the soft set-up, overclocking the CPU can be done easily. Though MSI did not place a fan onto the AMD761 chip like the competitors did, the board runs smoothly and is absolutely stable.

Shipment

Manual, Driver CD, D-LED table, 80-pin IDE cable and a floppy cable.

Test Setup

Hardware
Processor AMD Athlon-C 1200 at 133 MHz FSB
Memory 128 MB with 133 MHz DDR, CL2, Crucial Tech.
Hard Drive IBM DTLA 307030, 30,7 GB, UltraDMA/100
Graphics Card nVIDIA GeForce 2 Ultra, 64 MB
Drivers & Software
DirectX version 8.0a
OS 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'
Unreal Tournament Version 4.23
ViewPerf Version 6.1.2
1280x1024x16
Refresh Rate 85 Hz for all Tests, V-Sync = off

Benchmarks - SYSmark 2000 - Windows 98 SE

Benchmarks - SYSmark 2000 - Windows 98 SE

I chose to share these results with you, even though the SYSmark is not a useful performance indicator any more. With business applications, the system is waiting for user inputs most of the time, making the maximum system performance quite uninteresting.

Still it's interesting to see that there are obvious differences among the AMD760 boards.

Quake III Arena

Quake III Arena

In Quake III, there are three motherboards dominating the benchmark charts: Gigabyte's GA-7DXR, Abit's KG7 and the DFI AK76-SN. However, the difference between the fastest and the slowest board is less than 4%. It's interesting to see that the three boards we reviewed first are not able reach the performance of newer competitors. Gigabyte GA-7DX, Biostar M7MIA and Asus A7M266 are at the end of the test bed.

Mercedes Benz Truck Racing

Mercedes Benz Truck Racing

These results are quite similar to those from Quake III, proving that they reflect the actual rating of the candidates. Abit and Gigabyte 7DXR are in front, DFI, FIC and Asus follow and Biostar and the Gigabyte 7DX are on the tail.

Advanced Visualizer

Advanced Visualizer

The SPECviewperf 6.1.2 OpenGL benchmark suite consists of six runs. I chose two of them, the Advanced Visualizer and ProCDRS, as they are sufficient to get an impression about overall performance.

Again, the order is pretty much the same. Gigabyte 7DRX and Abit KG7 are the fastest, FIC ranks 3rd and the Gigabyte 7DR is last. The Biostar is able to reach a medium ranking this time.

ProCDRS

ProCDRS

The M7MIA from Biostar seems to like OpenGL applications, as it scores an even better position in this benchmark run. Also DFI's motherboard finishes second. Unfortunately, the A7M266 from Asus is only the last but one.

Recommendations

In terms of performance, there are three AMD760 motherboards that are superior to the rest of the competitors. My number one choice is either the Gigabyte GA-7DXR or the Abit KG7. The Gigabyte has only 5 PCI slots, but a Creative PCI sound chip. Abit's KG7 is exemplary in that it offers 4 DIMM sockets and 6 PCI slots. Though it has no special hardware except the RAID controller, I consider this as the ideal platform for power users.

The alternative choice may even be the first choice for people on smaller budgets: The DFI AK76-SN is an alternative that might even be the best choice for users with smaller budgets: It performs almost as fast as the other two, but is available at a much better price point. Of course there won't be any special features to go with it, but perhaps that's just what you are looking for.

Conclusion

It is always difficult to recommend a certain product from a totally objective point of view. The three leading products are not the only ones that run well - the 8K7A+ from Epox is also an excellent motherboard, just as the A7M266 (Asus still knows how to make good ones). These two motherboards only have two DIMM sockets, while Gigabyte and Abit have 3 and 4 accordingly. The K7 Master-S from MSI may be your first choice if you need a motherboard with SCSI on-board.

To have one of the fastest motherboards available is really only important for your ego. It's hardly an advantage to anybody to own a motherboard that performs faster by only a few percent. I recommend going through the article again, keeping your requirements and your budget in mind. Finally, the price you have to pay in your local computer store may also become important.

Nobody is at rest out there - the fact that Asus has been outperformed by several companies makes that pretty clear. It can be favourable to spend some time on perfecting your product before releasing it. That's what Asus usually does, but others (e.g. Abit) were able to take the lead this time.

Tell us what you think! Your opinion about this article is highly appreciated. Please send comments and criticism to patrick@tomshardware.com.

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