Articles: Mainboards

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Positioning their PT880-based mainboard as a high-end solution, Soltek couldn’t do without networking – it is supplied by a Gigabit Ethernet VIA VT6122 PCI-controller.

I was not very happy with the PCB design of Soltek SL-PT880Pro-FGR. First of all, I was surprised to see the extra controllers – network and ATA RAID – disabled with onboard jumpers rather than in the BIOS. Moreover, the PCB has jumpers for setting up the regular clock rate of the processor bus. In other words, Soltek mainboard brings you back to those days when all configuring was performed with jumpers rather than in the BIOS Setup.

There are even more comments on the design. Soltek mainboard is not free from the common problem of many mainboards: the installed AGP graphics card blocks DIMM slot latches. ATX power connectors are also placed carelessly. They are at the back part of the PCB and their cables hang over the CPU cooler, preventing proper ventilation. The connectors for Parallel ATA HDDs are right in front of the first PCI slots and “long” graphics cards will hinder connection of IDE-cables to them. As for the FDD connector, it is at the left edge of the PCB and the FDD cable goes through the entire case. So the engineering team from Soltek won’t receive any awards for this mainboard design.

Interestingly, the back panel of the PCB carries two COM ports, although many manufacturers abandon legacy ports altogether. Judging from the PCB layout, I guess that Soltek is planning to produce mainboards on the integrated VIA PM880 chipset replacing the second COM port for a D-Sub video output.

The mainboard BIOS is based on the microcode from Award. In fact, the Setup doesn’t offer you an abundance of settings, but everything necessary is here. There’s no magic about configuring the memory subsystem as all options are standard for VIA chipsets:

The ITE IT8705F chip is responsible for hardware monitoring, keeping track of the system and CPU temperatures as well as rotational speeds of two coolers and nine different voltages. Regrettably, Soltek doesn’t offer any hardware monitoring utilities with its mainboard that would work in Windows. On the other hand, you can use a third-party utility like the well-known Motherboard Monitor. The Soltek mainboard has no means for controlling the rotational speeds of the fans.

The overclocking capabilities of Soltek Sl-PT880Pro-FGR are rather limited because of the narrow FSB frequency range.

The main problem SL-PT880Pro-FGR poses for an overclocker is a low ceiling of the FSB frequency. This mainboard allows increasing the FSB clock rate to 250MHz only (with 1MHz increment), which is insufficient for giving a boost to some readily-overclockable Pentium 4 models.

The voltages don’t provoke any cause for criticism. The Vcore can vary from 0.8375V to 1.8V with 0.0125V increment. The Vmem can be set to 2.6, 2.7 or 2.8V, and the Vagp can vary from 1.5 to 1.8V with 0.1V increment. In fact, the mainboard might offer higher memory voltage, but it’s not that important now that we can only change the FSB frequency in a very narrow range.

The PT880 is the first chipset from VIA Technologies to be able to lock the frequencies of PCI/AGP busses and clock them asynchronously to the FSB clock rate. Thus, you shouldn’t worry about PCI and AGP devices during overclocking – they will continue working at their normal frequencies.

As for practical overclocking experience, we enjoyed neither of the reviewed mainboards. When trying to overclock a Pentium 4 2.4C (rated for the 800MHz FSB) on the Soltek board, we only achieved a FSB clock rate of 240MHz, while the i865PE chipset makes it possible to overclock this processor to 300MHz FSB. Increasing the FSB frequency further, we couldn’t make the mainboard start up whatever we did – used overclocker DDR500 memory or increased the memory divisor. Once again we should confess that mainboards on alternative chipsets are inferior to Intel’s in overclocking for some mysterious reasons.

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