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Once we started reviewing different mainboards on VIA Apollo Pro133A chipset, we couldn't leave out their drawbacks,such as poor overclockability, low stability or insufficient number of expansion slots. Frankly speaking, we haven't yetseen any solutions, which could satisfy our sophisticated demand. That is why, like a lot of other users, we pin our hopeson new mainboards offered by leading manufacturers. And of course, we long mostly for the products designed by one of thethree pillars of mainboard manufacturing, namely by ASUS, MSI and Gigabyte. We have already reviewed ASUS P3V4X on VIAApollo Pro133A, however, it didn't strike us as the best one. So, our search is not over yet. We are planning to discussMSI a bit later and the today's lot fell upon Gigabyte.

Gigabyte introduced two mainboards on VIA Apollo Pro133A chipset: GA-6VX-4X and GA-6VX7-4X. The differences betweenthem can be noticed with a naked eye. The first mainboard is designed for Slot 1 processors, while the second one supportsSocket 370. Besides, GA-6VX-4X features 4 DIMM slots compared to 3 DIMM slots of GA-6VX7-4X. And that's all. Except thesefew differences, the mainboards look very similar. Today we will take a closer look at GA-6VX7-4X, which is especiallyinteresting because it is the first VIA Apollo Pro133A based mainboard with Socket 370, which we happened to get for ourtestlab.

Specification

  • CPU
    • Socket 370 supporting Intel Pentium III and Intel Celeron and other compatible ones
    • Supports clock frequency multipliers equal from 3 to 9.5
    • 66/100/133MHz system bus
  • Chipset
    • VIA Apollo Pro133A (VT82C694X+VT82C686A)
    • Optional PCI sound controller Creative CT5880
    • Optional network controller 3Com 930
  • System Memory
    • Supports 8MB - 1.5GB SDRAM
    • 3 DIMM slots for 3.3V voltage
    • Supports 8/16/32/64/128/256Mb DIMM modules
    • Supports ECC and parity
  • AGP
    • AGP slot supporting 4x mode
  • Slots
    • 1 AMR slot (Audio Modem Riser)
    • 5 PCI slots 33MHz each, corresponding to PCI 2.2 specification
    • 1 ISA slot
  • Integrated Sound
    • Integrated AC'97 v. 2.1 codec
    • Optional sound chip Creative 5880
  • I/O ports colored according to PC99 specification
    • 1 FDD port, 2 serial ports and 1 parallel port, PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse
    • Joystick port, line in and line out, microphone in
    • 2 built-in USB ports
    • Connector for two additional USB ports (cable is optional) and IrDA TX/RX header
  • Integrated UltraDMA/66 IDE controller
    • 2 UltraDMA/66 Bus Master IDE channels (supporting up to 4 ATAPI-devices)
  • BIOS
    • 2Mbit Flash RAM
    • AMI BIOS supporting ACPI, Green, PnP, DMI with antivirus functions
  • Other
    • Wake on modem, mouse, keyboard, LAN, USB-devices and timer
    • Hardware monitoring
    • Suspend to RAM support
  • Board Dimensions
    • ATX Form Factor, 20.3cm x 30.5cm

We have to note that the specification does not quite correspond to what was actually promised during Gigabyte'sofficial announcement of GA-6VX7-4X. In particular, there is no DualBIOS support and no Aureal 8810 sound chip on theboard, which you can see in the specs list given above.

GA-6VX7-4X is supplied in an ordinary Gigabyte box colored green. Besides the card, the package also includes a user'smanual, a CD-disk with the drivers and a set of cables: for FDD and UltraDMA/66. As for the manual, it is as usual anillustrated brochure, with the help of which even an inexperienced user can easily install the board. Unfortunately,the package contains no commercial software, which often can be found with the boards from other manufacturers.

Closer Look

So, the time of Socket 370 has come. Since Intel focuses on Socket 370, mainboard manufacturers are simply forced tolittle by little shift to Socket 370 mainboards as well. However, we have to admit that Gigabyte proved very inventivethis time having launched two mainboards: one for Slot 1 and one for Socket 370. Nevertheless, the positive effect isundeniable: we can finally stop bothering about Slot 1-to-Socket 370 converters every time we decide to buy a new mainboard.Although these converters never had any influence on the system performance, didn't tell on the overall system stability andin some cases added more flexibility during overclocking, there were still a couple of problems about them. Have you evertried to place a mainboard with the CPU installed via this converter into the PC case? In fact, you could face this problemsometimes. Besides, deciding on Socket 370 will save not only trouble but also money, because FC-PGA processors cost a bit lessthan their Slot 1 brothers and you won't need to buy any converters then. Our mainboard - GA-6VX7-4X, shouldn't face anyproblems like that. It is equipped with Socket 370 and supports all the corresponding CPUs, such as Intel Celeron, IntelPentium III and of course VIA Cyrix III.

The mainboard features 3 DIMM slots supporting up to 1.5GB SDRAM altogether. As any other mainboard based on VIA ApolloPro133A chipset, our hero has its own BIOS, which allows setting SDRAM working frequency independently of the FSB frequency.VIA Apollo Pro133A core logic allows clocking the memory not only to FSB frequencies, but also 33MHz higher or lower thanthat. However, BIOS Setup of GA-6VX7-4X, allows setting only one of the three values: 66, 100 and 133MHz. That's why youshould keep in mind that BIOS settings won't always reflect reality. For example, if you overclock the processor bus to150MHz and set the memory frequency to 133MHz in BIOS Setup, then the real SDRAM working frequency will be 150MHz insteadof 133MHz as BIOS says. Besides, you should also be aware of the fact that if your FSB works at 133MHz, theoreticallyyour memory cannot support 66MHz. And vice versa: memory won't work at 133MHz if the system bus frequency equals to66MHz for the same reason. That's why the corresponding settings in BIOS Setup seem to be a nice trick and provideabsolutely no effect. Nevertheless, you will be able to use PC100 SDRAM with the processors requiring 133MHz FSB,as well as to overclock the memory to 133MHz and to use it with 100MHz CPUs. Unfortunately, if you use 133MHz FSBfrequency, you will hardly manage to set the memory frequency on your GA-6VX7-4X to 166MHz. However, this is not sobad, because today it is very hard to find SDRAM modules supporting this frequency. Speaking about memory, we shouldalso mention exotic VCM SDRAM support, which is none other but a buffered multichannel version of PC133 SDRAM manufacturednow only by NEC.

To set the CPU clock frequency and the multiplier on our GA-6VX7-4X, we used two sets of dip-switches. This Gigabytemainboard doesn't feature a very popular today jumperless configuring. On the one hand, this may be kind of inconvenientwhen you install your system anew. But we have to admit that Gigabyte engineers chose really good places for the dip-switcheson the PCB: easy to reach and to use. On the other hand, hardware processor frequency setting saves assemblers time and trouble,because they get a brilliant chance to conceal from users the board's overclocking options. Clock multipliers you can set onyour GA-6VX7-4X with the dip-switches lie between 3x and 9.5x. In fact, the latest CPUs will hardly care about that sincetheir clock multiplier is already locked in the core.

We would like to particularly dwell on the fact that Gigabyte GA-6VX7-4X supports some CPUs from VIA, which aren'tavailable in the market yet. Such as Cyrix III for instance. Especially for this case the mainboard boasts a jumpercalled "Cyrix CPU Turbo Function".

Gigabyte GA-6VX7-4X has a pretty common expansion slots configuration: 5/1/1/1 (PCI/ISA/AMR/AGP). AGP slot of GA-6VX7-4Xas well as of other mainboards on VIA Apollo Pro133A chipset is universal and supports 3.3V AGP 1x/2x and 1.5V AGP 4xgraphics cards. However, unlike all other mainboard manufacturers, Gigabyte provided its AGP slot with a retentionmechanism, which serves to fix AGP 4x graphics card. This small construction guarantees that the AGP-card you chosewill be installed correctly.

Since GA-6VX7-4X uses VIA 686A as a South Bridge, ISA slot doesn't require any additional microchips of PCI-ISAbridge, which is integrated into the chipset in this case. As for full-size expansion cards, they will fit withoutproblems in only one PCI slot. All other PCI and ISA slots, different connectors located on the front edge of theboard won't let you insert the card in a correct way.

Another feature provided by VIA 686A South Bridge is the possibility to enable software AC97 sound. Especiallyfor this purpose there is a codec from Analog Devices AD1881 featuring all basic things. Although software sound takesabout 10% of the CPU resources, it still has a very positive effect: it reduces the price of the end-system because youdon't need to pay for a separate sound card. If you don't feel like sacrificing processor resources but strive for highquality sounding, then you should also thank Gigabyte for their foresight: exactly for you they provided an optional integrated PCIsound controller - Creative CT5880. If necessary, you can easily disable the integrated software sound via BIOS Setup andthe hardware sound controller (if there is any) - either via BIOS Setup or by switching a special jumper on the mainboard.

Moreover, Gigabyte GA-6VX7-4X can also have an optional integrated network Ethernet controller - 3Com 930. In this caseat the rear edge of the board near the USB connectors you can see RJ-45 connector (for a twisted pair) and a couple of LEDsshowing LAN status. It looks as if it were a new tendency and now we would very often come across mainboards with networkcontrollers. By the way, Intel has been integrating them onto its mainboards for quite a while already, and now Gigabytefollows into Intel's steps. As for the other mainboard manufacturers, they will have to deal with LAN controllers even ifthey don't want to, because they will be stuffed into all new Intel chipsets including i820E and i815E.

As for the mainboard layout and mounting quality, Gigabyte hardly deserves any reproach. All connectors are locatedaccording to the PCI specification. The power supply connector as well as the connectors for an extra USB pair, aresituated at the front edge of the board, so that to prevent the cables from blocking up the way inside the case. Thechipset North Bridge is covered with a heatsink of golden color. Near the memory slots there is a yellow LED signaling if DIMMslots are powered. The mainboard is of normal size and should easily fit into all ATX-cases.

There are 13 capacitors on GA-6VX7-4X right at Socket 370. Each of them is 1200uF. Besides, there are a lot of smallercapacitors near PCI, AGP and DIMM slots. This makes Gigabyte GA-6VX7-4X amazingly stable. Moreover, in order to make itsmainboard more reliable Gigabyte used a not quite honest trick: the voltage, which goes to the processor core, memory,chipset and AGP was set 0.1V higher than the nominal. This small increase didn't break any allowed limits but unfortunately,Gigabyte didn't care to allow returning it to the nominal.

Speaking about BIOS, GA-6VX7-4X uses AMI BIOS version 1.20c. This version is incredibly similar to the popular Award BIOSver. 4.51PG, which is its main peculiarity, actually. However, unlike Award 4.51PG, which has been always known formemory configuring opportunities, BIOS from AMI can't boast the same diversity. Moreover, Setup is quite poor.It allows disabling AGP 4x. But that's all: no AGP Fast Writes enabling, no manualassigning of IRQs to PCI slots, nothing.

Hardware monitoring on GA-6VX7-4X utilizes the chipset South Bridge - VT82C686A. It allows checking two temperatures,rotations of two coolers (the mainboard is equipped with three fan connectors, but one of them can't be monitored) andfour voltages. Besides, there is also a chassis intrusion detector. To our great disappointment, GA-6VX7-4X doesn't usethe thermal diode integrated into the CPU core to monitor the processor temperature correctly. That's why the CPUtemperature you see in setup is very approximate, because the sensor responsible for it is placed in the middle ofSocket 370.

Overclocking

Among the main features Gigabyte tries to stress when promoting their mainboards, are stability and high performance.Actually, overclocking usually appears somewhere close to the end of this list. However, you can still squeeze somethingout of GA-6VX7-4X, and in fact, this "something" is not so insignificant as you might think.

Although GA-6VX7-4X doesn't allow jumperless configuring, the available set of dip-switches can easily make up for itand allows setting the processor bus frequency equal to: 66, 75, 83, 100, 124, 133, 140 and 150MHz. Altogether this makesnine different values. Aren't you satisfied? Then here you are, go for more! The mainboard also has a frequency generatorICS 9248DF-39, which will provide you with another couple of values: 103, 105, 110, 115 and 120MHz. You can obtain thesefrequencies if you set the dip switches into the following undocumented positions: 103MHz - on-off-on-on-off-off,105MHz - off-on-off-off-off-off, 110MHz - off-on-off-on-off-off, 115MHz - off-on-on-off-off-off, etc.

AGP frequency divider is locked and makes 1:1 for FSB under 100MHz, 2:3 - for 100-120MHz FSB and 1:2 - for over 124MHzFSB.

As for processor Vcore, it is initially 0.1V higher than the nominal. Besides, there is a special place for the jumper,which could increase CPU Vcore by 10%, 20%, 30% or 40%. Although the jumper itself is not there, it will hardly stop experiencedoverclockers, who know to use a soldering iron.

Then, we tried to overclock Intel Pentium III 500 FC-PGA on our Gigabyte GA-6VX7-4X. Frankly speaking, the results were veryeasy to foretell. Like on many other mainboards with the FSB frequency restricted by 150MHz, the CPU overclocked to 750MHz(5x150MHz) without any effort on our part. Since the frequency generator failed to provide higher FSB frequency, we didn'tincrease it any more. That's why if we take into account that officially the mainboard doesn't allow increasing Vcore aswell, which is important for highly overclockable FC-PGA processors, then our verdict will sound inexorably: overclockingunfriendly.

Performance

The test system was configured as follows:

  • Intel Pentium III 600EB (4.5x133) CPU
  • Creative 3DBlaster Annihilator graphics card
  • Creative Sound Blaster Live! sound card
  • IBM DJNA 372200 HDD
  • 128MB PC133 SDRAM by Micron

For our tests we used VIA Service Pack version 4.20. When we carried out the benchmarks for ASUS P3V4X, we had toenable Fast Writes mode, because only in this mode with 1003 BIOS version this mainboard showed acceptable performancein 3D applications.


Performance is not the main thing to tip the balance in favor of this or that board on the same chipset. Variousproducts do not differ greatly enough by performance so that one could fully rely on benchmarks when making up hismind. It is much more important to take a look at the product characteristics.

However, as we see, Gigabyte GA-6VX7-4X performed just brilliantly and left all the previously tested products onVIA Apollo Pro133A far behind. And if we take into account beautiful stability demonstrated during the test period,then Gigabyte GA-6VX7-4X can undoubtedly be called one of the best mainboards on VIA Apollo Pro133A.

Conclusions

So, the first mainboard on VIA Apollo Pro133A designed for Socket 370 - Gigabyte GA-6VX7-4X - showed the bestperformance of all, and besides, proved highly stable and reliable at work. This positive combination describesthis board as the best choice for the majority of users. However, it's hard to please everyone and hence overclockersmay appear disappointed with this product.

Highs

  • Supports Coppermine, 133MHz FSB, AGP 4x mode
  • High performance
  • Super stability and reliability

Lows

  • Poor CPU overclockability, doesn't allow setting AGP and PCI dividers manually
  • Doesn't use the thermal diode integrated into the processor core
 
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