Clash of the KT266A Titans! - HotHardware

Clash of the KT266A Titans!

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Clash of the KT266A Titans!
Motherboards from Abit, Asus, Soyo and MSI Do Battle!

By, Marco Chiappetta
December 13, 2001

Lately, not a day goes by without a reader inquiring about what motherboard we'd buy if we planned on building an Athlon system.  This is a seemingly straightforward question, but the Athlon motherboard market has seen such a large influx of great products since the introductions of VIA's KT266A, that it is almost impossible to recommend one board over another without asking a slew of qualifying questions.  Will you be overclocking?  Do you want RAID?  What type of on-board features, if any, are you looking for?  Are you a gamer?  Without the answers to these questions (and many more), helping a reader decide on a product is very difficult.

An equally difficult task was deciding which KT266A based motherboards we would test in this round-up.  There are some excellent boards out there from companies like EPoX, Shuttle and ECS (among others).  For the sake if this article however, we wanted all of the boards to have these features... on-board RAID, a complete set of overclocking features and at least one other "non-standard" feature (like USB 2.0 or diagnostic tools).  The four boards that made it into this article are widely considered to be in the "upper echelon".  Abit's eagerly anticipated KR7A-RAID is here, along with the excellent Asus A7V266-E, the very cool Soyo K7-DRAGON+ and MSI's well equipped K7T266 Pro 2RU.  Now it's time to dive in and see if these products deserve their lofty positions in the minds of computer enthusiasts everywhere...

Specifications / Features of the KT266A Combatants!
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ABIT KR7A-RAID

DESCRIPTION:

  • 200/266MHz Bus Speeds based on VIA KT266A Chipset (8366A/8233)

  • Supports Socket A AMD Athlon, Duron and XP Processors

  • DDR SDRAM (Four 184-pin DDR SDRAM 2.5V DIMM sockets, up to 4GB)

  • RAID controller on board

EXPANSION SLOTS:

  • Six 32-bit Bus Mastering PCI slots (V2.2 compliant)

  • One AGP  slot (support 1x/2x/4x mode)

EXTRAS:

  • On Board Ultra I/O CHIP

  • Two RS-232 Serial Ports (16550 UART compatible)

  • One Parallel Printer Port (SPP/EPP/ECP mode)

  • One FDD port (supports 3 mode, 1.2/1.44/2.88 MB FDD)

  • Provides IrDA port with optional cable for transceiver

  • Provides 6 USB ports (2 rear, 4 front)

  • Ultra DMA IDE Ports

  • Four independent channels for eight IDE devices (two for RAID)

  • Supports up to PIO mode 5 & UDMA 33/66/100/133

  • Two PCI bus mastering ATA E-IDE ports

  • Boot-Block Flash BIOS

  • Award PCI BIOS with ACPI function

  • 2M byte Flash ROM

  • Enhanced PC Health Monitoring

  • On-board voltage monitors for +3.3, +5V, +12V, Vcore,(TBD)

  • CPU fan speed monitor (TBD)

  • CPU temperature monitoring through flexible thermal sensor (TBD)

ASUS A7V266-E

DESCRIPTION:

  • 200/266MHz Bus Speeds based on VIA KT266A Chipset (8366A/8233)

  • Supports Socket A AMD Athlon, Duron and XP Processors

  • DDR SDRAM (Three 184-pin DDR SDRAM 2.5V DIMM sockets, up to 3GB)

  • RAID controller on board

EXPANSION SLOTS:

  • Five 32-bit Bus Mastering PCI slots (V2.2 compliant)

  • One Universal AGP Pro slot (support 1x/2x/4x mode)

EXTRAS:

  • On Board Audio Subsystem

  • On Board Ultra I/O CHIP

  • Two RS-232 Serial Ports (16550 UART compatible)

  • One Parallel Printer Port (SPP/EPP/ECP mode)

  • One FDD port (supports 3 mode, 1.2/1.44/2.88 MB FDD)

  • Provides IrDA port with optional cable for transceiver

  • Provides 6 USB ports (2 rear, 4 front)

  • Ultra DMA IDE Ports

  • Four independent channels for eight IDE devices (two for RAID)

  • Supports up to PIO mode 5 & UDMA 33/66/100

  • Two PCI bus mastering ATA E-IDE ports

  • Boot-Block Flash BIOS

  • Award PCI BIOS with ACPI function

  • 2M byte Flash ROM

  • Enhanced PC Health Monitoring

  • On-board voltage monitors for +3.3, +5V, +12V, Vcore,(TBD)

  • CPU fan speed monitor (TBD)

  • CPU temperature monitoring through flexible thermal sensor (TBD)

SOYO K7-DRAGON+

DESCRIPTION:

  • 200/266MHz Bus Speeds based on VIA KT266A Chipset (8366A/8233)

  • Supports Socket A AMD Athlon, Duron and XP Processors

  • DDR SDRAM (Three 184-pin DDR SDRAM 2.5V DIMM sockets, up to 3GB)

  • RAID controller on board

EXPANSION SLOTS:

  • Five 32-bit Bus Mastering PCI slots (V2.2 compliant)

  • One Universal AGP Pro slot (support 1x/2x/4x mode)

EXTRAS:

  • On Board Audio Subsystem

  • On Board Ultra I/O CHIP

  • Two RS-232 Serial Ports (16550 UART compatible)

  • One Parallel Printer Port (SPP/EPP/ECP mode)

  • One FDD port (supports 3 mode, 1.2/1.44/2.88 MB FDD)

  • Provides IrDA port with optional cable for transceiver

  • Provides 6 USB ports (2 rear, 4 front)

  • Ultra DMA IDE Ports

  • Four independent channels for eight IDE devices (two for RAID)

  • Supports up to PIO mode 5 & UDMA 33/66/100

  • Two PCI bus mastering ATA E-IDE ports

  • Boot-Block Flash BIOS

  • Award PCI BIOS with ACPI function

  • 2M byte Flash ROM

  • Enhanced PC Health Monitoring

  • On-board voltage monitors for +3.3, +5V, +12V, Vcore,(TBD)

  • CPU fan speed monitor (TBD)

  • CPU temperature monitoring through flexible thermal sensor (TBD)

MSI K7T266 Pro 2RU

DESCRIPTION:

  • 200/266MHz Bus Speeds based on VIA KT266A Chipset (8366A/8233)

  • Supports Socket A AMD Athlon, Duron and XP Processors

  • DDR SDRAM (Three 184-pin DDR SDRAM 2.5V DIMM sockets, up to 3GB)

  • RAID controller on board

EXPANSION SLOTS:

  • Five 32-bit Bus Mastering PCI slots (V2.2 compliant)

  • One AGP slot (support 1x/2x/4x mode)

EXTRAS:

  • On Board Audio Subsystem

  • On Board Ultra I/O CHIP

  • Two RS-232 Serial Ports (16550 UART compatible)

  • One Parallel Printer Port (SPP/EPP/ECP mode)

  • One FDD port (supports 3 mode, 1.2/1.44/2.88 MB FDD)

  • Provides IrDA port with optional cable for transceiver

  • Provides 8 USB ports (4 rear, 4 front) & USB 2.0

  • Ultra DMA IDE Ports

  • Four independent channels for eight IDE devices (two for RAID)

  • Supports up to PIO mode 5 & UDMA 33/66/100

  • Two PCI bus mastering ATA E-IDE ports

  • Boot-Block Flash BIOS

  • Award PCI BIOS with ACPI function

  • 2M byte Flash ROM

  • Enhanced PC Health Monitoring

  • On-board voltage monitors for +3.3, +5V, +12V, Vcore,(TBD)

  • CPU fan speed monitor (TBD)

  • CPU temperature monitoring through flexible thermal sensor (TBD)



Forgive us if the above specifications look very similar, there was quite a bit of information to fit in a relatively small space.  We highlighted the obvious features of each board.  The rest of their features will be covered later.

THE BUNDLES:

The Abit KR7A-RAID has a fairly complete bundle, but was missing some simple items like a secondary USB cable.  In the box we found three ATA133, 80-Wire IDE cables, a floppy cable, a driver CD and floppy and a very complete User's Manual.  Full "retail" boards are shipping with the USB hardware we desired.  Even though ours was missing, we won't hold anything against Abit.  They're doing the right thing by end-users.
The A7V266-E's bundle was "complete" but like the Abit KR7A-RAID, there was nothing unusual in the box.  It's tough to see it in the picture, but there are actually two 80-Wire IDE cables included, a standard floppy cable, hardware to use the secondary USB header, a very good User's Manual and a CD containing all of the necessary drivers to get your board up and running, plus some Antivirus software and proprietary utilities.
There's a different story to tell when it comes to the Soyo K7-DRAGON +.  Included with the board were three 80-Wire IDE cables, a standard floppy cable, an ATX case plate, the extra audio plate necessary to utilize the 6 Ch. audio and Digital-Out capabilities of the on-board C-Media sound and a very good User's Manual.  There was also a driver CD and an "8-in-1" software CD containing some excellent programs from Symantec, like Norton Ghost and Antivirus.  You can even get this board with a Smart-Card reader and front mountable USB connectors that will fit in any 3.5" or 5.25" drive bay.  Our package did not come with these extra items, but they are readily available.
MSI included a ton of extras with the K7T266 Pro 2RU as well.  In the box we found only one 80-Wire IDE cable, a standard floppy cable, a driver and utility CD and two very complete manuals, one for the board itself and the other detailing the intricacies of IDE RAID.  There were also two USB brackets included, one with four (4) external connectors and one with two external connectors plus diagnostic LEDs.  If you're counting, that's of six extra USB connectors, plus the two already
mounted on the board, for a grand total of eight!  There is also an optional USB security device dubbed "Smart Key" available, but it was not included with our review sample.


INSTALLATIONS:

Luckily, there is not much to report with regards to installing these boards.  All four of them installed without incident.  Just keep in mind that there are a few extra steps that need to be taken should you want to install your operating system onto a RAID array.  You'll have to have a driver floppy and a quick finger ready if you plan on installing Windows 2000 or XP.  We were able to install Windows XP on our first attempt with all four boards without a problem.

Now, let's get up close and personal and see what these puppies are made of...

Time to Check Out The Boards! 

 
 

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