by Grigoriy Gubankov
10/25/2003 | 01:56 PM
A little while ago we posted a review of the ASUS A7V600 mainboard based on the latest Socket A chipset from VIA – KT600 (see ASUS A7V600 Mainboard on VIA KT600 Chipset Review). If you remember, I didn’t like the mainboard that much. It left an impression of an unfinished product. I don’t know whether there is any objective reason for this. Maybe ASUS was a little hasty in releasing a mainboard on the latest VIA’s product or just approached its development not seriously enough. Or maybe this “hastiness” air about the mainboard is just my subjective impression, which has no real proof behind it. However, the ASUS A7V600 does have a striking drawback, which is not to be waved aside. The performance of this board was considerably lower than that of the reference KT600 board provided by VIA Technologies.
Now, we will have an opportunity to test another KT600-based product, made by another company. The company is in the top four mainboard makers list. It is MSI and the mainboard is called KT6 Delta.
The generic KT6 Delta name actually covers four mainboards developed around the same PCB. The scope of their functionality differs, of course. I won’t describe the differences in detail here, but rather offer you a list from the MSI Web-site. I guess no comments are necessary here:
Our thanks to MSI, we received the version with most features, MSI KT6 Delta-FIS2R. Let’s take a closer look at the product and its specifications:
Socket A AMD Athlon XP/Duron
DDR DIMM slots
Expansion slots (PCI/ACR/CNR)
USB 2.0 ports
3 (2 – 6-pin, 1 – 4-pin)
Serial ATA 150
As you see, the mainboard has every capability one could only wish. I am quite at a loss thinking about anything that might have been added. Well, VIA’s codec of the Vinyl Audio series might be better than the codec from C-Media. However, if you are a music fan, you would probably prefer a standalone solution, while non-demanding users will be quite satisfied with the quality of the integrated audio.
The connectors panel of the mainboard deserves a closer look:
Pay attention to the number of USB ports! If I am not mistaken, you can only see six USB connectors at the back panel of MSI mainboards, particularly of the MSI 875P Neo (see our Review of MSI 875P Neo-FIS2R Mainboard on i875P Chipset). This is quite reasonable since there appear ever more USB-compliant devices. At least, six USB ports don’t seem to be an unnecessary luxury anymore. Besides these six, the mainboard supports two more – outputted via a back panel bracket. Thus, you are free to employ all the eight USB ports supported by the South Bridge (VT8237).
According to the plan of any our mainboard reviews, I am now supposed to go over to the accessories. When trying to reach those accessories and the mainboard, I faced a very unexpected problem. The package of the KT6 Delta is designed like a matchbox. And the box is also parceled into thin cardboard:
It could be all right, but the external cardboard turned to be so tightly sitting that I had to work really hard to get the box out of it. Without a jot of exaggeration I can confess that I spent over half an hour opening the thing. I don’t know whether this is a persistent problem, or I was just unlucky to get a too tight package. Anyway, you should better be prepared for this. As for positive moments, the package has a handy handle to carry it around.
Now, to the accessories. Along with the mainboard you also receive:
There is nothing really remarkable about the accessories, but nothing seems to be forgotten. The D-Bracket looks quite useful because of its diagnostic LEDs. My only gripe was about the IDE and FDD cables that are thin (that is, “aerodynamic”), but are too slipshop-looking. I think MSI had better put ordinary flat cables into the box. By the way, the MSI website promises every KT6 Delta-FIS2R to come with round red-colored cables, which look much better. Compare youselves:
However, we didn’t get those beautiful cables with our mainboard. At least, MSI didn’t send them to us. The mainboards sold in the shops should have them.
As I have mentioned, the FIS2R version of the MSI KT6 Delta mainboard offers the greatest functionality. Most of the functions, however, are common things and we won’t dwell upon them for long.
First, the connection of the mainboard to external devices. These are USB, FireWire and Ethernet interfaces. Let me repeat it once again that the MSI mainboard uses the VT8237 South Bridge to the full extent and supports 8 USB ports (2.0 or “High-Speed”, of course). Six of them are implemented in the connectors panel, while the remaining two are implemented through the onboard connectors and the D-Bracket.
The VT6306 controller from VIA supports three FireWire 100/200/400 ports. The bracket for the system case back panel carries all of them. Two of the ports are 6-pin and one is 4-pin. Most (if not all) digital camcorders use this 4-pin connector and come equipped with a 4-4 cable (it can sometimes be purchased separately). By the way, this cable also allows direct video copying from one camcorder to another.
The networking capabilities of the MSI KT6 Delta FIS2R are provided by the integrated Broadcom 5788 Gigabit Ethernet controller. I don’t think there is any need to describe the controller in detail. It is rather an ordinary thing. Note though that Gigabit Ethernet is becoming ever more popular as an integrated feature and is probably to become a standard soon, like 100Mbit Ethernet now.
The MSI mainboard provides wide opportunities with respect to hard disk drives. The PCB carries three Parallel ATA (two supported by the South Bridge and one by the Promise PDC20378 IDE RAID controller) and four Serial ATA (two supported by the South Bridge and two by the Promise controller) connectors. Thus, it is possible to attach as many as ten IDE devices to the MSI KT6 Delta. I guess this is more than enough for a vast majority of users. All four Serial ATA devices can then be united into RAID arrays, but only in pairs. That is, you can build a RAID array of level 0 or 1 only. By attaching two more Parallel ATA drives to the Promise controller you can also build a RAID 0+1, although I doubt any “home” user would ever require such a RAID.
Now, we have approached what is usually called “features”. These are the unique capabilities of the MSI mainboard only. First comes the D-LED feature, the diagnostic technology. It consists of four light-emitting diodes that can light in red and green, thus representing 16 phases of the POST procedure. The meaning behind each code should be looked up in the user manual. Maybe this is not the perfect implementation of a technology of such kind, but that’s much better than nothing. By the way, MSI declares the D-LED as optional, but doesn’t explicitly tell what mainboard versions it comes with. So, be careful when shopping.
The S-Bracket is optional, too. This bracket for the back panel of the system case carries audio outputs for central and rear audio channels and two S/PDIF outputs – optical and coaxial. Again, I don’t know what mainboard versions this S-Bracket comes with. Without it, you cannot enjoy six-channel sound without losing the microphone and line-in inputs. This is a common problem of all mainboards that have only three mini-jacks at their connectors panel.
Yet another interesting technology implemented in the MSI KT6 Delta (and in all latest mainboards from MSI, for that matter) is CoreCell. The MSI website promises a fountain of happiness from this technology: reduced power consumption, longer life of nearly every system component and so on. Having put this feature to a practical test, CoreCell only proved capable of adjusting the FSB frequency and voltages from Windows (it comes with a special Windows-based utility called CoreCenter) and could warn you and then automatically shut down the system after a user-defined critical temperature is achieved.
But they also promised automatic and manual adjustment of the fan rotation speed. I guess these two options would be the most attractive points of CoreCell. And these two don’t work, although the necessary interface is present. I’m at a loss thinking of a reason for that, actually.
The PCB layout of the MSI KT6 Delta overall resembles that of the MSI KT4A Ultra, we reviewed a couple of months ago. Compare the snapshots (KT4A Ultra above and KT6 Delta below):
MSI KT4A Ultra
MSI KT6 Delta-FIS2R
Well, it would be strange if the mainboards differed, since KT400A and KT600 North Bridges are pin-compatible. I suppose the South Bridges don’t differ in the pin layout much, either, and MSI didn’t have to make any big changes to the PCB. There are minor distinctions, though, which we definitely should mention.
The most obvious ones are the ATX power connector moved to the front edge of the board and the 4-pin 12V auxiliary connector appearing. This additional 12V connector must have been introduced because of high power demands of the 200MHz FSB of the newest Athlon XP processors. As for moving the main power connector to the front, I guess this is provoked by certain peculiarities of the PCB wiring layout. Interestingly, three 200MHz-bus mainboards I have encountered (ASUS A7V600, DFI LAN PARTY NFII Ultra and the currently-reviewed MSI KT6 Delta) all had the main ATX power connector located at the same spot.
Some other mainboard components have made a short trip around, too, although without any negative consequences for the user. For example, the BIOS-supporting battery moved to the back edge of the PCB. The Clear CMOS jumper, which is usually located next to the battery, was left intact at the front edge.
The rest of the connectors were left in their places. The two extra Serial ATA connectors didn’t make a lot of commotion due to their small size. So, the only remark I can make concerning the connectors and cables (besides the ATX) is about the two Parallel ATA and the FDD connectors being placed in a row. This may cause some difficulty in plugging all three loops at a time. On the other hand, Serial ATA devices are quickly gaining their ground and you may even find no use for one of the Parallel ATA connectors.
The last drawback to be mentioned is the placement of the DIMM slots, or rather of two of them, DIMM 2 and DIMM 3. As you may have guessed, they are soldered up too close to each other. This may tell badly on the thermal condition of the installed modules, especially (a paradox!) if the modules have heatsinks. The DIMM slot latches are not blocked even by the longest AGP graphics card, which is an advantage of the PCB design. The drawback of this is the availability of five PCI slots only. However, this is not a big inconvenience for most users.
MSI prefers to use BIOS from AMI in its mainboards and the KT6 Delta follows the rule. I should mention though that BIOSes from Award and AMI are now equal in terms of functionality, so this is not a crucial factor anymore.
Once again, let me draw a parallel with the KT4A Ultra. Its BIOS and the KT6 Delta’s one are twins. Well, this is not a great surprise considering the similarities between the mainboards. What’s strange is that the BIOS of the KT6 Delta contains the same typos as the BIOS of KT4A Ultra (see our Review of MSI KT4A Ultra Mainboard on VIA KT400A Chipset). Simply amazing. Well, the KT4A Ultra had those typos in the final version of the BIOS, while here we deal with a beta version. It looks like these two BIOSes were written by the same man, which is not too diligent at learning English, or maybe is just trying to sound funny. :)
Well, enough of jokes. Although KT600 and KT400A are very similar, there are certain differences between them. One of the most interesting ones, for the end-user, is the VT8237 North Bridge supporting Serial ATA and RAID. This is reflected in the BIOS Setup page called Integrated Peripherals.
Note the two items under “Onboard PCI Controller”. As you see, you can disable Parallel as well as Serial ATA controllers in the VT8237. I’m not sure what the advantages of this feature are, but maybe it has to do with the VIA’s South bridge peculiarities.
One more option, which remained a mystery to me in this section, is V-Link Data 2X Support, which is activated only after enabling the Serial ATA controller. The mystery is the latter fact, though. The name of the option may be easily interpreted as doubling of the V-Link interface data-transfer rate. V-Link 8x and V-Link 4x only differ in the data transfer protocol and are fully pin-compatible. But it is quite unclear what Serial ATA has to do with it.
The Frequency/Voltage Control page has some changes, too. I doubt whether the change of the chipset was the reason. So, we now have an item called V-Link Voltage. I think the name speaks for itself, but the purpose of the option is unclear. Why would anyone increase the voltage of the bus connecting the chipset Bridges? Anyway:
The rest of the options are closer to the routine. We can change the bus frequency from 100MHz to 280MHz with 1MHz increment (the upper limit is of course inaccessible in practice). It’s nice we can type in the value from the keyboard rather than browse through a long list of possible values. Unfortunately, the BIOS doesn’t show what frequencies the AGP and the PCI bus will work under the given FSB clock-rate.
Then, we can adjust the CPU multiplier; the maximum one is only 15x. The Vcore can be adjusted from 1.375 to 2.3V. This is a wide range, since the nominal voltage of modern AMD processors doesn’t exceed 1.65V. Moreover, the BIOS offers a hint showing the nominal voltage for your processor. That’s good.
Then comes that V-Link Voltage option, ranging from 2.6V to 2.8V with 0.1V (or Auto) step. I don’t know whether it’s much or not, as I’m not at all sure how this value tells on the mainboard operation. Moreover, the nominal voltage is not clear, too. DDR Voltage can be set from 2.55V to 3.3V with 0.05V increment. You can set this option to Auto and hope for the mainboard to supply the nominal 2.5V voltage to the memory. I say “hope” because mainboard makers have been quite freakish as far as the automatically set voltage values are concerned. By the way, the available Vdimm range of the MSI KT6 Delta mainboard should be considered very wide.
The last is the Vagp, which is changeable from 1.55V to 2.1V with 0.05V increment. That’s impressive really. As for me, I would never dare to send 2.1V voltage to my own graphics card, but some people may find this useful. On the other hand, considering the popularity of the nForce2 chipset among overclockers, the prospects of the MSI KT6 Delta among this public look obscure. Still, we have to see the mainboard in action yet.
Winding up with the voltages, I’d like to mention two peculiar things about the BIOS. First, the mainboard sets too high voltages for V-Link (2.7V – although the nominal is unknown, it is not more than 2.6V), for the memory (2.7V against 2.5V nominal) and AGP (1.7V instead of 1.5V). The mainboard is quite stable at the nominal voltages, though. Maybe this way MSI just wanted to make sure that no stability problems ever occur.
The second peculiarity, and quite a useful one for the end-user, is the info about the voltage increase relative to the nominal. It looks like that: if the voltage is set a little (I suppose, by 10%) above the nominal, the option’s name is displayed in white. Like that:
If the voltage goes higher above the nominal, its name becomes yellow:
And if the voltage is set extremely high (in the mainboard’s opinion), the name is given in red:
This is no doubt a useful feature, especially for beginners. Even experienced overclockers may be pleased since the mainboard prompts the “safe” voltage range (if you are too lazy to do the math1 of adding 10% to the nominal in your mind).
Now, we are in the DRAM Timings Control. There are no significant changes compared to the BIOS of the KT4A Ultra. The range of available settings is still very wide:
This is all about the BIOS of the reviewed mainboard. Let’s get to the tests. Overclocking comes first.
I used the methodology explained in the ASUS A7V600 review. The idea is simple. I increase the Vcore to 1.85V, the FSB frequency to 166MHz and the multiplier to 13.5x. Thus, we get a 2250MHz processor and see if it works right. However, this simple method failed in the present case. The mainboard simply doesn’t support 13.5x multiplier. It offers a joint 12.5/13.0x and 14.0x, but none of 13.5x. Well, I set 204MHz FSB and 11x multiplier, thus achieving about 2250MHz. This combination didn’t work. The mainboard didn’t even try to start up. Well, it tried, but looped up (according to the D-LED) at an early POST phase. Thinking this might have been a processor problem, I replaced it with an Athlon XP 3000+ (166MHz bus) and ran it at its regular frequency of 2167MHz and at 1.85V voltage. The mainboard started up, started booting up Windows and then re-started. Seems like we have found the root of all evil – the CPU voltage regulator circuit doesn’t stand this voltage at all. I set 1.75V. The mainboard starts up all right and is quite stable. Well, I wonder why MSI offers the upper Vcore limit as 2.3V? Just for fun? Regrettably, the mainboard doesn’t pass our first stability test.
Now, let’s try to overclock the FSB. The ASUS board showed an average result of 207MHz, maybe the MSI is capable of something better? So, we reduce the CPU multiplier to 8x, increase the timings of the Corsair XMS3200C2 memory to 2.5-3-3-7 (with such timings and 2.7V voltage this memory is operational up to a frequency of about 225MHz), drop the AGP speed to 4x (I had to do this through ATI Control Panel, as the BIOS said the meaningful “Auto” instead of the AGP speed) and increase the FSB frequency, starting from 200MHz. The stability was tested in 3DMark2001 SE (three times), four standard demos from Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo and SPECviewperf 7.1. To double-check the system stability I also launched the distributed calculations client aka Find-a-drug to load the CPU to the maximum. I guess this check is more than comprehensive.
I won’t go deep into detail. In short, the maximum frequency the mainboard notched was 214MHz. It’s better than what we obtained on ASUS board, but worse than nForce2-based mainboards do, for example, DFI LAN PARTY NFII Ultra. Well, the AGP and PCI frequencies depend on the FSB frequency in Socket A mainboards on VIA chipsets. Thus, it would be unreasonable to hope for a really high result.
Before proceeding to the benchmarks, I have to mention the memory subsystem. I raised the matter in the ASUS A7V600 Review, but was not sure whether the mainboard or the chipset were to blame for that. Now, that I have the MSI KT6 Delta in my hands, I am inclined to think that it is the chipset problem (or peculiarity, if you like), as the MSI mainboard turned to be quite fastidious about the memory timings, too. I won’t reproduce the entire process of tracking the minimal timings and won’t enumerate them all, as this mainboard, as I have already mentioned above, is quite flexible at memory subsystem settings. I will just show you the DRAM Timing Control page from the BIOS with the timings I used in the tests:
As you see, I had to come to a compromise to maintain the stability of the mainboard. Moreover, like in case of ASUS A7V600, I observed this phenomenon with both: Corsair XMS3200C2 modules, which proved its ability to work with minimal timings at 200MHz numerous times, and OCZ PC3700 EL DDR.
The configuration of the testbed looked as follows:
Athlon XP 3200+
MSI KT6 Delta
2x256MB Corsair XMS3200C2
Seagate Barracuda ATA IV 40GB
ATI Radeon 9700 Pro
VIA Hyperion 4.48
ATI Catalyst 3.6
The testbed ran in Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1 installed. The DirectX version was 9.0a.
Remember, I was displeased with the performance of ASUS A7V600. Usually, mainboards based on the same chipset differ little in speed (by less than 1%). ASUS’ mainboard was much slower than the reference KT600 mainboard. Now, let’s see what the MSI KT6 Delta has to show us:
MSI KT6 Delta
VIA KT600 Reference board
DFI LAN PARTY (nForce2)
Business Winstone 2002, Score
Content Creation Winstone 2003, Score
3DMark2001 SE, Score
3DMark03, CPU Score
PCMark2002, CPU Score
PCMark2002, Memory Score
SiSoft Sandra Int RAM Buffered Bandwidth
UT2003, dm-antalus, 1024x768x32
Serious Sam SE, The Grand Cathedral, 1024x768x32
* - The results of these tests shouldn’t be compared as the testbed featuring the VIA KT600 reference board had a different hard disk drive.As you see, the performance of the MSI mainboard is higher than that of ASUS one. Moreover, the MSI KT6 Delta is sometimes faster than the KT600 reference board. Seems like MSI spent a lot of effort developing this product, and succeeded. The only strange result was the one shown in 3DMark03. The MSI mainboard won this test and defeated KT600-based mainboards as well as the nForce2-based one! Considering that the performance in 3DMark03 mostly depends on the graphics card, I’m not sure how this high result could be achieved. I ran the test a number of times with the same outcome. Anyway, this strange benchmark result cannot spoil the impression from a product. :)
Having run the benchmarks, I saw the results and got suspicious. The MSI K6 Delta might have had the FSB overclocked. This could have given it the performance boost. Well, I ran WCPUID and saw:
Yeah, the frequency is really set a bit high, but those extra 0.45MHz (0.225% from 200MHz) could hardly provide that superiority. So, the MSI mainboard is really faster than the one from ASUS on the same chipset.
The MSI KT6 Delta was the second KT600-based mainboard to go through the tests in our labs. It definitely left a better overall impression than the first mainboard from ASUS, mainly due to higher performance and lack of that “unfinished product” feeling the ASUS mainboard had. Of course, MSI KT6 Delta-FISR2 mainboard is worth your attention if you are looking for a solution on this VIA chipset. However, it still has a few drawbacks, which you should be aware of.
Thus, my resume is simple. The MSI KT6 Delta mainboard in its FIS2R version will suit you if you prefer mainboards equipped with every modern interface and having no problems with frequencies and voltages around the nominal. And if you are not too much into money-saving.