VIA P4PB Ultra Motherboard Review

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The VIA P4PB Ultra Motherboard Review
Intent on Total System Performance for the P4

By Robert Maloney
March 19th, 2003


Our first impression of the VIA P4PB Ultra, when the box showed up on the testing bench, was that it screamed (literally) that it was here to play.  From the no-nonsense black box with a guy yelling (at what we have yet to find out) to the impressive bundle within, it was clear that VIA was out to stake their own claim on the Pentium 4 Enthusiast Motherboard playing field.  Legally, it has been a mostly uphill battle for VIA, who claims that the rights to the P4's system bus architecture, were acquired when they bought out S3 Graphics.  Intel, which designs and manufactures chipsets for the majority share of P4 boards sold, would like nothing better than to keep VIA out of their backyard.  However, competition always brings out the best in just about anything, and having other capable motherboard chipsets to compete with Intel solutions, should only inspire Intel to press on in an effort to stay ahead of VIA, feature-set and performance wise.  One only needs to look at ATI vs nVidia, or the latter vs. 3dfx, to see what happens when a company rests on its laurels for too long without a real push to innovate.

The P4PB Ultra we received was based on the latest chipset from VIA for the P4, the P4X400.  Rather than step cautiously, VIA has hit the ground running, coming up with a chipset that supports some of the latest features that can be found these days,  8xAGP, ATA133, USB 2.0, and official DDR400 support.  To complement this fully featured board, VIA included an equally as impressive bundle.  So, they've developed the chipset, they built the board around it, and they have added a great bundle. The question is, will this be enough to sway over customers from the Intel chipset camp?

Let's get a look at what this board is all about.

Specifications of the VIA P4PB Ultra Motherboard
A board worth screaming about


Below are the items that were included with the sample we received for review:

VIA P4PB Ultra Motherboard
Media Card Breakout box
with attachment cables
Two 80-pin ROUND IDE ribbon cables
One 3.5" ROUND floppy drive cable
A bracket with 4 extra USB 2.0 ports
A bracket with S/PDIF output
Power adapter cable
I/O shield
User's Manual
Software & Drivers CD

 

Processor Support:
Supports Intel Pentium 4 or Celeron
Socket478 processors with 400/533 MHz FSB

Chipset
VIA P4X400:
VIA VT8754 NorthBridge
VIA VT8235 SouthBridge

Memory
Three 184-pin DIMM sockets (unbuffered Non-ECC)
Supports 3 DDR200/266/333 DIMMs (3GB Maximum)
Also has official support for DDR400

Expansion Slots
Six 32-bit PCI Bus Master Slots
One 1.5V AGP Slot (AGP 8x/4x)
One CNR Riser Slot

External I/O Connections
Two PS/2 ports (keyboard & mouse)
Two Serial ports
One Parallel port
Three Audio jacks (line-in, mic-in, line-out)
One Game Port
Two USB 2.0 ports
One RJ-45 LAN connector
 

Internal I/O Connections
One Floppy Disk Drive Connector
Two IDE Connectors (UltraDMA133/100/66 Support)
Four USB 2.0 headers for eight additional ports
Two CD-IN headers
One IrDA header

RAID/IDE Controllers
Promise 20276 RAID controller supporting RAID 0,1
Two ATA133 Connectors

Network Features
10/100 Ethernet MAC integrated into the
VT8235 SouthBridge + VT6103 PHY

Audio Features
C-Media CM18738 6-channel audio chip

BIOS
Award BIOS
Supports STR, ACPI, WfM 2.0, DMI 2.0
2/4Mbit Flash Memory
CPU Temperature and Voltage Monitoring

Form Factor
ATX form factor (4 layers)
Size: 30.5cm x 24.5cm


VIA Apollo P4X400 Chipset
High Performance DDR400 Chipset Platform
For The Pentium 4 Processor

The VIA Apollo P4X400 chipset is based on the company's idea of "Total System Performance", where all bottlenecks are supposed to be addressed and alleviated, in one way or another, to allow balanced operation.  This is achieved by bringing together all of the latest innovations, fusing the bandwidth of DDR400 memory with Pentium 4 processors, and supporting 8xAGP, ATA133, USB 2.0, as well as VIA's "8x V-Link" chip interconnect.  On previous chipsets, only a few of these areas may have been addressed.  The idea that a system is only as good as it's weakest link applies here.  VIA has, with the advent of the P4X400, created a chipset with no apparent weaknesses using these key technologies:

  • DDR200/266/333/400 Support: With support for DDR400 modules, the VIA P4X400 can reach a peak bandwidth of 3.2GB/s.

  • 400/533MHz Processor Bus Settings

  • AGP 8x:

  • ATA133 IDE Interface

  • USB 2.0

  • 8X V-Link: The 8x V-Link Chip interconnect between the North and South Bridges offers 533MB/s of memory bandwidth


 

Let's take a peek at the board

 

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