A Lost Chance? SiS 735 Motherboard Review
Who Is To Blame For The Delay?
The news that a low-cost chipset from SiS would in fact be able to outperform its competitors was met with surprise all over the world. VIA, Taiwan's number one chipset manufacturer, had particular cause for concern. There have been a lot of rumours why we had to wait so long for SiS 735 motherboards. Right after the release of the KT266A chipset, it looked as if VIA was putting the motherboard makers under pressure to prevent the release of SiS735 motherboards before their improved chipset would hit the market.
We probably won't ever find out if this was the real reason for the delay of SiS 735 motherboards, but regardless - SiS should have pushed their 735 as much as they could up till then, and they didn't. They could have brought more competition into the Athlon chipset market, and more importantly, SiS missed the unique chance at building momentum in the market; a chance which low-cost chipmakers so seldom have. As a result, I'm pretty sure that the SiS 735 will arrive in the market as a fast and attractively low-cost chipset, instead of as the top performer in the market.
SiS 735: Chipset Architecture
The 735 comes with all the interesting features that you would require from a modern chipset, such as AGP 4x, SDRAM interface with support for Single and Double Data Rate memory, UltraATA/100 interface, integrated network controller, integrated AC97 sound support, software modem, USB controller, an I/O controller and ACPI.
For detailed information about the chipset architecture, you should take a look at the initial chipset review:
One-Chip Solution: Low Cost, High Performance
Although the SiS735 is a pretty good performer, it is still classified as a low-cost product. That's why it does not support more than 1.5 GB of RAM - a factor that you can usually live with in the first place. However, the Athlon chipset is a real allrounder with its palette of features: SDR or DDR SDRAM support, synchronous or asynchronous memory timings, ATA/100 IDE interface, 6 USB, AGP 4x, integrated AC97 support and even integrated Ethernet - everything within only one 582-pin BGA chip.
SiS has done itself a credit - the 735 chipset does not get hot at all. While the KT266 and AMD's 760 chipset are usually kept cool both by a heat sink and an active fan, the SiS 735 hardly requires a heat sink. Also, we should not forget that the single-chip solution has one considerable advantage over all two-chip products: it does not require any sophisticated solution to connect North and South Bridge. That is a rather good condition for high internal data rates. That is why SiS quotes > 1 GB/s for their Multi-Threaded I/O-Link.
Alternative Athlon Chipsets: Strong Competition Out There
|Chipset||VIA Apollo KT266A||VIA Apollo KT266||AMD 760||SiS 735||ALi Magik 1||NVIDIA nForce 220||NVIDIA nForce 420|
|Introduction||September 2001||April 2001||November 2000||May 2001||December 2001||October 2001 (?)||October 2001 (?)|
|Chipset North Bridge||VIA VT8366A||VIA VT8366||AMD 761||SiS 735||ALi M1647||nForce220 IGP||nForce420 IGP|
|Chipset South Bridge||VIA VT8233||VIA VT8233||AMD 765||-||ALi M1535D+||nForce220 MCP||nForce420 MCP|
|Official FSB Support|
|Official Memory Clock Support|
|Number of Memory Channels||2|
|Max. Memory Bandwidth||4266 MB/s|
|Asynchronuous Memory Timing|
|Max. Memory Support||4096 MB||4096 MB||2048 MB||1536 MB||1024 MB||1536 MB||1536 MB|
|Number of USB-Slots||6||6||4||6||6||6||6|
|Max. Number of PCI-Slots|
|Integrated 5.1 Sound||yes||yes|
|Integrated Ethernet||yes, optional||yes, optional||no||yes||no||yes||yes|
|AGP 1x / 2x / 4x|
Board Reivision: M101
BIOS Version: June 12, 2001
The Chaintech board 7SID is a typical MicroATX model. It comes with three PCI slots, AGP 4x, one CNR slot, two DIMM sockets and an AC97 sound codec with three line-ins. There are two standard fan headers plus a smaller connector labeled 'chip fan'. This one can be used to attach any additional (small) fan, e.g. for a graphics chip or chipset cooler. Also, there is a connector that provides two additional USB ports. Chaintech does not include an adapter cable, so you will have to get one yourself.
This motherboard was trimmed in order to reach the lowest price possible. That's why it does not feature a network interface although the chipset comes with all the required hardware functions.
Inside the box, we found a floppy and an 80-pin IDE cable plus a short manual.
Unfortunately, the board did not prove to be absolutely stable. Though the whole SPECviewperf suite ran smoothly, it took four runs for the SYSmark 2000 to complete all applications. Also Quake III dropped several before I could obtain the final result. Mercedes Benz Truck Racing refused to start, and the benchmark terminated with an abort message.
The BIOS dated June 12 is 'quite old' now; I could not find a newer one at Chaintech's website. I hope that they are preparing a stable updated version, since I couldn't solve the reliability issues with either another type of memory or with slow memory settings. As you will see in the benchmark section, this board is basically able to compete with AMD760-based motheboards.
BIOS Version: 08/29/2001
Today, the ECS board is one of the few SiS 735 boards that is widely available. Though Elitegroup usually targets the low cost and OEM market, this motherboard should be suitable for most users.
Thanks to the full size ATX format, it has five PCI slots, one AMR, on-board AC97 sound and on-board 100 MBit LAN. You may have already noticed the two pairs of DIMM sockets: There are two sockets for DDR DIMMS (blue) and two more for standard SDRAM. In case you should have recently bought huge SDRAM DIMMs, you can continue using them with this motherboard. But it's not possible to mix both DDR and SDRAM DIMMs.
The RJ45 LAN connector is right above the two USB ports.
The K7S5A is equipped with both a pair of SDRAM and a pair of DDR RAM sockets (blue).
As opposed to the Chaintech board, the Elitegroup board ran solidly, regardless of the memory timings I used. Actually, the performance difference between the fastest and the slowest possible setting is not very large. There was a similar characteristic with the SiS reference board.
At approximately $80, this motherboard provides much better value than any AMD760, Ali MaGiK or KT266 board can offer. In other words: Spending the extra money for a motherboard based on one of these last three chipsets will give you neither a substantial increase in features nor a performance increase worth talking about.
|Processor||AMD Athlon-C 1200 at 133 MHz FSB|
|Memory||128 MB with 133 MHz DDR, CL2, Crucial Tech or Infinieon.|
|Hard Drive||IBM DTLA 307030, 30,7 GB, UltraDMA/100|
|Graphics Card||nVIDIA GeForce 2 Ultra, 64 MB
Detonator 3 (667) Reference Driver
|Drivers & Software|
|OS||Windows 98 SE, Version 4.10.2222 A|
|SiS Drivers||AGP 1.06
Windows Standard IDE Drivers (!)
|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'
|Mercedes Benz Truck Racing||Downloadable Demo Version
Standard 3D Features
|Refresh Rate||85 Hz for all Tests, V-Sync = off|
SYSmark 2000: Windows 98 SE
The differences between the tested motherboards are not very large. The charts for the two new motherboards are blue, all other boards are based on AMD's 760 chipset.
Both newcomers position themselves in the middle of the testbed. For your reference: the SiS735 prototype board scored a SYSmark result of 229 points. Obviously there is still some room for improvement.
Quake III Arena
Mercedes Benz Truck Racing
This game benchmark did not even start on the Chaintech 7SID, as I mentioned before. Again, it seems to be some memory issue, as I could not have the board run stable neither by replacing the memory nor by reducing the BIOS timings to the slowest possible values.
SPECviewperf 6.1.2: Advanced Visualizer
The SiS735 seems to like OpenGL applications: both motherboards are very suitable for the Advanced Visualizer. Let me tell you that almost all applications of the SPECviewperf 6.1.2 benefit almost like this one from the presence of a SiS735 motherboard. That's quite a contrast to the targeting of those SiS boards: They are meant to be low-end, but they perform much higher.
SPECviewperf 6.1.2: ProCDRS
Neither ECS nor Chaintech is known as a top motherboard company. This is certainly not because of their inability to make good products, but because they lack consistency in their product lines and usually concentrate on the OEM market as well. Although both companies have been known to design good motherboards, they have not been able to get favorable reviews on a regular basis, as is the case for Asus, Gigabyte, or MSI, for instance.
This time, Elitegroups is able to collect a lot of gold stars. First of all, they were the first to show courage by releasing their SiS 735 motherboard. Secondly, the board is suitable for the vast majority of users due to its features - even though both SiS and ECS might consider it as a low-end product. Thirdly, the K7S5A comes with both excellent performance and stability, which is mandatory for a motherboard if it wants to receive high marks.
The Chaintech 7SID targets the lower-end of the budget market, as it does not even make use of all chipset features (e.g. LAN). Unfortunately, the board does not run stably yet. I guess that they are already working on an updated BIOS. If not, this review posted should hopefully trigger some revision. The board is fast and has quite some potential.
I really hope to see more SiS 735 motherboards soon, as this chipset currently offers an unbeatable value. Motherboards like the ECS K7S5A can be obtained for less than $ 80 and perform as good and stable as high-end motherboards based on the AMD760 chipset.
SiS still has a good product, though VIA did their homework very well. Let's see if they learned a lesson from the past and introduce the SiS 735 to the market in a decent fashion this time.