by Ilya Gavrichenkov
07/03/2001 | 12:00 AM
Well over half a year has passed since the arrival of AMD 760, the first DDR SDRAM core logic for AMD Athlon platforms. In spite of all the optimistic forecasts, it proved really hard for the new memory to conquer the market. The unreasonably pricy DDR SDRAM with its only 10-15% performance gain didn't generate any hectic demand for the new memory and mainboards. Another problem for DDR SDRAM was a crucial delay in the arrival of suitable chipsets that would support it. AMD 760 was far too expensive and it was not manufactured in mass. And the poor performance of ALi MAGiK 1 was good only to mock at.
Only today due to the new VIA KT266 costing some reasonable money and showing good performance the situation may change for the better. However, the launch of VIA KT266 doesn't imply the end of all the rival products. For instance, AMD 760 has a number of really worthy advantages if compared with VIA KT266. It boasts higher performance provided by an asynchronous memory controller with Super Bypass support. Thus, AMD 760 has a good chance to peacefully coexist with VIA KT266 in the today's market. This idea is also proven by the mainboard manufacturers, since some of them get down to producing AMD 760 based solutions in mass only now.
Sadly, AMD refuses to position itself also as a core logic manufacturer. The chipsets it makes are nothing more than small-quantity products for sheerly marketing purposes. That's why the products based on AMD 760 are so rare to meet. There are not enough chipsets for the manufacturers, therefore we don't see any new AMD 760 products selling in the hardware shops. Some new products based on this chipset appear in retail only when some mainboard maker reduces the production of its solutions based on AMD 760 or even stops manufacturing them at all. The precedent we'll dwell on here is Chaintech CT-7KJD mainboard. Like some other mainboard manufacturers, Chaintech managed to produce its AMD 760 product in mass only when this core logic was no longer bought by ASUS that had stopped manufacturing its A7M266. Does it mean that Chaintech CT-7KJD arrived too late? No way! AMD 760 supports practically the whole range of the modern technologies and innovations, so it allows building steadily popular mainboards.
Here is the new mainboard from Chaintech, which is based on the relatively old AMD 760 core logic.
|Supported CPUs||AMD Athlon/Duron (200/266MHz)|
|Chipset||AMD 761 + VIA VT8231|
|Overclocking Friendly Features||Supports CPU Clock Multiplier Setting and Vcore Adjustment|
|Memory||2 184-pin DIMM slots for PC1600/PC2100 DDR SDRAM|
|Expansion Slots (AGP/PCI/ISA/ACR/CNR)||1/5/0/1/1|
|Integrated Sound||6-channel PCI controller from C-media - CMI8738|
|BIOS||Award Modular BIOS v6.00PG|
We have already admitted that Chaintech CT-7KJD is an up-to-date mainboard, though it came some half a year later than its competitors. Indeed, AMD 760 won't fall behind the times soon. Another favorable matter is that Socket A mainboards live much longer than those supporting Intel processors. First of all, it's for AMD's habit not to change the CPU form-factor and packaging almost every year, unlike Intel, which can't help doing it. As AMD officials say, all the Athlon/Duron microprocessors will remain Socket A compatible for at least two years. This way, if a manufacturer wants his Socket A mainboard to support all the new CPUs, he should only update the BIOS timely and provide the board with a quality voltage regulator managing a broad scale of voltages and high electric current power.
From this point of view, CT-7KJD is a good buy. The board's voltage regulator is built on eight transistors and will have no troubles supporting even Palomino 1.73GHz which is supposed to consume about 77W. As for the BIOS updates, Chaintech belongs to those hardware manufacturers that keep a keen eye on the support of their products, so there is no doubt that fresh BIOS versions will come out regularly.
Of course, CT-7KJD allows installing huge cooling systems that may be needed for processors with high working frequencies: all the capacitors and other massive components are moved away from the socket and no components are installed along its sides at all. The only small drawback in the socket's location, which we would like to point out, is that it is turned at 90 degrees from its conventional position. Subsequently, the special cooler fastening "hooks" will appear too close to the right edge of the board, which will cause you a certain inconvenience if you decide to replace the CPU when the board is already installed in the case.
Chaintech CT-7KJD is bundled with two 184-pin DIMM slots for PC2100/PC1600 DDR SDRAM. The number of DDR DIMM slots is determined by the chipset. AMD 760 is able to work with many DDR modules only if these are register modules. Being aware that modules of this kind are comparatively more expensive and are not spread worldwide, Chaintech has taken a wise decision to implement only two memory slots. In fact, it proves not so troublesome as it might seem. In the nearest future 1GB DDR SDRAM modules will become available for everyone that's why if you can afford you may be able to equip your system with a pair of DIMMs like that (the chipset supports 2GB of memory at the most).
Unfortunately, AMD 760 can't clock the memory and processor buses asynchronously. As a result, the maximal memory performance on CT-7KJD can be achieved only with Athlon CPUs supporting 266MHz bus. On the other hand, the coinciding memory and CPU bus frequencies allow AMD 760 to support the Super Bypass mode which is enabled via BIOS Setup. It helps to avoid some delays needed to synchronize the buses and brings about a slight performance gain.
We should stress that Chaintech developers didn't keep their hands in pockets while 7KJD was waiting to be launched in mass. During this period the R&D department worked hard on the product and eventually they altered the AMD board reference design having introduced a four-layer solution. Let us remind you that all the previous AMD 760 mainboards had a six-layer design that resulted in higher costs and manufacturing difficulties. CT-7KJD is actually the first four-layer mainboard, so it is supposed to be not so pricy as the rivalry products based on the same core logic. It's especially nice since this board won't be less smart at the same time!
Chaintech has a great lot of other remarkable traits like its South Bridge. Chaintech has taken a South Bridge from VIA, but it's not VIA 686B chosen by many other manufacturers. This is the newer VIA VT8231, which carries out the same functions as 686B and also features ACR support. Naturally, Chaintech couldn't help implementing this new function on its 7KJD and as a result we can see an ACR slot of non-standard blue color. It's a pity that this not very useful slot left enough space only for five PCI slots, but on the other hand, the PCI slot next to AGP (the one replaced with the notorious ACR) is rather seldom used to install any extension cards.
The second unique feature of Chaintech CT-7KJD deals with the BIOS. A year ago Chaintech began to provide the BIOS of its mainboards with a supplementary HDD Instant Recovery Utility from Lenten Technology. The BIOS of 7KJD is not an exception. There is a special option in BIOS Setup to activate this utility. If activated, the start screen of HDD Instant Recovery Utility appears, but no sooner than POST is bypassed.
This utility is needed to create the system backup version on the same hard disk drive without loading the operating system. For this purpose, HDD Instant Recovery Utility makes an invisible area on the hard disk and copies there the system data and the entire data from the HDD itself.
That is, sacrificing half the HDD's space we can backup the hard disk data on the same disk. Of course, this method doesn't help to save the data if the whole HDD is corrupted, but it's still better than nothing. HDD Instant Recovery Utility offers a couple of far more useful things. Firstly, the utility comes in handy when you need to transfer the data from one HDD to another. Secondly, it can defragment the disk. The utility understands all the basic file systems, according to its developers.
We would like to dwell on the mainboard's integrated audio controller. C-Media CMI8738 chip supports real six-channel sound. Moreover, in order to allow connecting the rear speakers, the central speaker and the subwoofer 7KJD features two additional fully-fledged Outs, which are implemented on a bracket shipped with the board and installed instead of one of the expansion cards.
On the whole, we wouldn't call the design of CT-7KJD ideal. In particular, Chaintech engineers aimed at making the PCB as small as possible (we should confess, they've done it quite well) and for this purpose moved the HDD and floppy drive connectors to the left side of the board, just in front of the PCI slots. This location is not the best they could think of for a number of reasons. First, it makes the IDE and FDD cables run inconveniently through the case, and second, full-size expansion cards are now hard to install. The ATX power supply connector also appears not in the best place: it lies in front of the ports going to the rear panel, so that the power supply cable inevitably hangs over the CPU cooler and hampers proper ventilation of the processor.
The North Bridge of CT-7KJD is cooled down with a huge passive heatsink. We should stress that due to its big size this heatsink is nearly as effective as any active chipset cooler used on most other mainboards.
The system integrators using AMR/CNR/ACR cards (if they do exist at all) will be happy to find not only an ACR slot, but a CNR slot as well. The backward compatibility of ACR and AMR makes it possible to bundle CT-7KJD with audio and Ethernet riser cards of any of these three formats. By the way, speaking about strange peculiarities of this product we should of course point out that there is only one COM-port, while the spot for another port on the rear panel is simply closed with a lid. Chaintech has obviously been inspired by the i815 mainboards featuring a D-Sub Out instead of a second COM-port.
The hardware monitoring implemented on CT-7KJD is actually nothing special. There are only two connectors for coolers - an awkward shortcoming for the today's hardware - and only one thermal diode situated in the center of Socket A.
Socket A overclocking has grown into a pretty popular past-time :-) First of all, it's a very simple procedure. Then, such overclocking is utterly fruitful and consequently pleasant. So, the mainboard manufacturers pay due attention to the overclocking functions their product possess. Of all the grand names, no one except ASUS artificially ties the overclockers' hands. Everyone else tries to arm the users with more and more overclocking abilities.
Chaintech CT-7KJD is no exception. The mainboard lets adjust both the FSB frequency and the CPU multiplier. The FSB frequency is set in two stages. The basic frequency (100MHz or 133MHz) is selected by the jumper, finer adjustment with an increment of 1MHz is done via BIOS Setup (the max frequency is 165MHz). Please, bear in mind that when you set the basic FSB frequency to 100MHz, the mainboard uses 2:3 divider for the AGP frequency and allows to increase the FSB frequency in BIOS Setup only up to 132MHz. In case you set the basic FSB frequency equal to 133MHz, for the AGP frequency 1:2 divider is taken and the interval between 133MHz and 165MHz becomes available via BIOS Setup.
Unfortunately, CT-7KJD doesn't offer the opportunity to increase the Vio, so the highest FSB frequency we obtained totaled 153MHz. At higher FSB frequencies the board became unstable.
The mainboard is also bundled with a block of dip-switches to adjust the CPU multiplier if it is not locked. If you are willing to learn more about the possible ways to unlock the multiplier of Athlon and Duron CPUs, you're welcome to read this article.
The worshipers of extreme overclocking will be also able to increase the processor Vcore. Corresponding parameter, which helps to increase the Vcore by 0.25V over the nominal value, is to be found in BIOS Setup.
As long as Chaintech CT-7KJD is not the first AMD 760 mainboard tested in our lab, we won't compare its performance with that of other platforms. If you would like to know how fast AMD 760 is in comparison with other chipsets, you can consult one of our latest articles tackling this topic called "VIA KT266: Final Verdict. MSI K7T266 Pro Mainboard". This time we'll see how Chaintech CT-7KJD looks against the background of other AMD 760 based mainboards. The racing team looked as follows:
|Chaintech CT-7KJD||Gigabyte GA-7DX||ASUS A7M266|
|CPU||AMD Athlon 1.33GHz (266MHz FSB)|
|Mainboard||Chaintech CT-7KJD||Gigabyte GA-7DX||ASUS A7M266|
|Memory||256MB PC2100 CL2 DDR SDRAM by Apacer|
|Graphics Card||Gigabyte GV-GF3000DF (NVIDIA GeForce3)|
|HDD||IBM DTLA 307015|
We tested in Microsoft Windows 98 SE.
Before we pass over to the test results, let us point out that the "guinea pig" from Chaintech revealed splendid stability. Its four-layer design and improved CPU power supply circuit make CT-7KJD one of the most stable and reliable products based on AMD 760.
Now let's look at the results of our tests. This is what the memory test showed:
In SiSoft Sandra 2001 all the samples run evenly. Let's find out how things in real applications stand.
First come office applications:
In office applications ASUS A7M266 proves the fastest. However, Chaintech 7KJD is feeble 3% slower.
Now we pass over to gaming applications:
In Quake3 Chaintech 7KJD drops a trifle behind the mainboard from Gigabyte. But in Serious Sam where another engine is used all the racers go abreast.
In conclusion we'd like to say that performance is not the main argument for this or that mainboard when you choose between several boards based on the same chipset. The performances of different products do not differ that greatly for you to be guided by benchmarks only. It's much more important to pay attention to the board's other features as well.
If you are going to buy a DDR mainboard for an Athlon CPU in the nearest future, we would advise you to take a closer look at Chaintech CT-7KJD. This four-layer mainboard based on one of the today's fastest chipsets, AMD 760, provides an optimal combination of performance, stability and price. The board deserves to be called a well-done high-quality product. Although CT-7KJD doesn't have all the presently popular features, such as RAID controller or diagnostics system, but they aren't always that necessary for users that is why their absence can't be regarded as a grave drawback.