Quality and Setup of the MSI KT3 Ultra
Ultra ARU is an impressive looking motherboard with its
bright red PCB and over all appearance. The layout of
the system components is smart, leaving us with little to
find fault with, aside from the ATX power connector
placement. The CPU socket has plenty of breathing room
to accommodate an oversized HSF which is essential if
overclocking is your game. However, the cabling from
your power supply may get in the way of proper airflow with
extremely large coolers. At the heart of the
Ultra ARU is the new VIA KT333 Northbridge with active
cooling to help maintain stability. It was great to
see that MSI took the extra step to apply a thin, even layer
of thermal grease to the KT333 chipset to insure good heat
transfer to the HSF, a sure sign that they are paying
attention to the details with this board. Eleven large
capacitors are located around the Northbridge and CPU to
insure consistent clean current is being supplied to these
key components. An additional 14 other capacitors are
placed strategically near the AGP and RAM slots, as well as
other key subsystems. It seems that MSI had stability
in mind with the design of the KT3 Ultra ARU.
The system comes
outfitted with 1 AGP, 5 PCI and 1 CNR slot for ample
expandability. A total of four fan-headers are
included on the board, with two being used by the chipset
and CPU cooler, leaving two additional headers available for
a chassis fan and other additional fans of your choice.
Both the CPU and chassis fan header, located near the RAID
IDE connectors, are capable of monitoring FAN speeds and
voltages in the BIOS or with the PCAlert III utility using
the integrated Winbond Hardware Monitor.
headers are placed behind the CNR slot offering expansion to
2 additional USB 1.1 ports and 4 USB 2.0 ports. 2 USB
brackets are included with the motherboard to take advantage
of this added feature and color coded connectors make
installation very simple. The 2 port USB bracket comes
with 4 diagnostic LEDs that can provide critical systems
status. This can be an extremely handy feature when
overclocking the KT3 Ultra ARU. If the system hangs or
crashes during the boot process, the LEDs could give a hint
as to what portion of the system is failing. This can
be helpful in determining a hardware error as well as
helping with fine tuning an overclocking attempt, when
system boot failure is part of the game. Knowing which
portion of the system can't cope with the attempted
overclock allows for a systematic plan of attack to help
maximize performance while maintaining system stability.
The KT3 Ultra
ARU includes an integrated Promise 20276 RAID Controller,
powered by the Promise "Lite" BIOS. Although the RAID
controller is capable of supporting up to four hard drives,
it is important to note that no more than two drives can be
set up in RAID 0 or 1 configuration, the other two can only
be used as single drives, independent of the array.
Both the Promise 20276 RAID controller and on-board IDE
connectors support the new ATA133 standard, allowing for a
maximum data transfer burst rate of 133MBs per second with
ATA133 capable hard drives. The on-board audio is
powered by a Realtek ALC650 audio codec, providing superb
6-channel analog/digital audio with the use of the audio
S-Bracket included in the KT3 package. As a whole, the
KT3 Ultra ARU has an impressive appearance along with a nice
collection of standard features that should please even the
most critical user.
Next we'll take
a closer look at the system BIOS and see if it is as well
equipped as the board itself.
The BIOS of the
The KT3 Ultra
ARU is equipped with the AMIBIOS Easy Setup Utility Version
3.31a. This version of the BIOS has an excellent
variety of settings to maximize the systems performance.
One of the quickest ways to set this board up for optimal
performance is by choosing the "Load High Performance
Defaults" setting. Using this option sets up the
system with aggressive timings for maximum performance.
We were surprised how effective this setting was, needing to
make little adjustments over and above the changes it made,
other than system specific choices like "boot order."
When it comes to overclocking, there are a number of
critical adjustments available to get the job done.
Timing Control, the system can be set to run the memory by
SPD, 200MHz., 266MHz. or 333MHz. depending on whether
PC1600, PC2100 or PC2700 is installed. When it comes
to overclocking, the Frequency/Voltage Control screen offers
an adequate selection of settings to tweak the CPU, FSB and
critical voltages as needed. The FSB can be adjusted
from 100MHz. to 220MHz. in 1 MHz. increments. The CPU
VCore can be adjusted from 1.725V to 1.85V in .25V
increments, while the AGP Voltage can be set for 1.6, 1.7 or
1.8V. The DDR RAM Voltage can also be adjusted for
either 2.6, 2.7 or 2.8V.
Lastly, the PC
Health Status screen can be used to monitor critical system
temperatures and voltages, as well as CPU and system fan
speeds. The system can be set to detect a CPU fan
failure as well as chassis intrusion, with the proper
hardware. However, the board is missing the option to set a
shutdown temperature, in case the CPU gets too hot.
Next we'll put
these settings to good use and see how high we can go with
the MSI KT3 Ultra ARU.
Get On The Bus!
Normally when we
overclock a system, we prefer to do it with an unlocked
processor. This way when an overclock attempt fails,
we know it is the result of the processor or the board
failing rather than another component connected to the
system. In this instance however, our Athlon XP 1800+
is one of the few whose contacts are burned, making
unlocking it virtually impossible. Nonetheless, we
gave it a try with simple bus and voltage adjustments and
the results were not bad. With this system we were
able to reach a maximum bus speed of 147MHz, boosting the
processor from the default 1.53GHz to 1.70GHz, for an 11%
gain. Once we went any higher the system would fail
during the boot process. We tried a number of voltage
adjustments and the results were still the same.
Surely we could have decreased the RAM settings from 2-2-5-2
to 2.5-3-6-3, but then the effects of the overclock on the
RAM is reduced tremendously. So with this test
we opted to settle for 147MHz with aggressive memory timings
and let the benchmarks speak for themselves.
Ultimately the choice is yours. So, let's take
a look at Sandra 2002 Professional and see how the system
stacks up in the big picture shall we?
Sandra 2002 and CPU Tests!