Articles: Mainboards

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A little while ago we reviewed a fresh dual-channel Socket A chipset from VIA Technologies, the VIA KT880. This chipset came to our test lab on a mainboard from ASUS and left a very nice impression (see our article called ASUS A7V880 Mainboard Review. First Look at VIA KT880 Chipset). The ASUS A7V880 was slower than a mainboard on NVIDIA’s nForce2 Ultra 400 chipset in our tests, but not hopelessly so. The overclocking potential of the ASUS mainboard drew our attention, too. Thanks to the KT880 chipset, this mainboard worked stably at over 200MHz FSB and also allowed locking the AGP/PCI clock rates. We met a sudden pitfall, though. The BIOS Setup of that mainboard didn’t allow setting the FSB frequency above 227MHz and we had to postpone our exploration of the overclockability of the KT880 at extra high frequencies till better times.

Anyway, the KT880 aroused our curiosity and left us waiting for other mainboards on this chipset. Note also that according to our recent tests, the Socket A platform is still a viable solution, an ideal choice for a budget computer system. Its price/performance ratio seems much more appealing than that of the Celeron platform from Intel. This is why KT880-based mainboards are demanded nowadays. This chipset, unlike the nForce2 Ultra 400, allows creating cheap mainboards with a dual-channel memory controller and this controller brings about some performance gains compared to mainboards on the KT600 or other value chipsets.

So today we’re going to review yet another Socket A mainboard on the VIA KT880 chipset. The board from Soltek may prove interesting for thrifty overclockers as Soltek is known to produce cheap products, but with extensive CPU-overclocking capabilities. We’ll also have a chance to explore the capabilities of the KT880 chipset in more detail.

Before examining and testing a Soltek SL-KT880E-RL mainboard that we got into our test lab, I should make a few reservations regarding the KT880. In our previous review of a KT880-based mainboard we said that VIA’s chipset for the Socket A platform had more appeal due to its better formal characteristics. And that was true then. Old South Bridges from NVIDIA couldn’t boast an integrated SerialATA controller or support of eight USB ports, for example.

But recently NVIDIA announced new South Bridges to complement chipsets of the nForce2 series. These chips, called RAID MCP and Gigabit MCP, add those SerialATA RAID and eight USB ports to the nForce2, while the Gigabit MCP version also includes an additional Gigabit Ethernet controller with a hardware firewall. Thus, although the new Bridges from NVIDIA lost the audio processing unit and the IEEE1394 ports, they are not obsolete anymore. In other words, the nForce2 Ultra 400 chipset accompanied with a new South Bridge offers a wider functionality to the user than the KT880 does.

On the other hand, prices of nForce2 Ultra 400-based mainboards don’t seem ready sink down to the level of KT880-based products. It means that the KT880 remains a better choice for building a budget computer system, even though NVIDIA will probably reduce prices of the nForce2 family chipsets in the future. Well, I hope we’ll have a chance to talk about the nForce2 with the new South Bridges in one of our upcoming reviews. Right now, let’s get back to the hero of the today’s article: the Soltek SL-KT880E-RL mainboard on the VIA KT880 chipset.

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