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MSI K7T266 Pro DDR
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Date: Dec 18, 2001
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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Unknown Title - Page 1

The MSI K7T266 Pro DDR Socket A Monster
Misguided? or Misunderstood?...

By, Marco "BigWop" Chiappetta
June 14, 2001

With the influx of DDR memory into the market place, came a craving for a high performing chipset to exploit the increased bandwidth offered by this new memory type. AMD was first to introduce a DDR chipset for the Athlon.   However, the chipset wasn't widely available and was priced slightly higher than expected. ALi then jumped into the fray with their DDR enabled MaGiK1 chipset. The MaGiK1 was quickly adopted by some major motherboard OEMs and has met with some success. Many users however chose to wait for VIA's DDR offering, before spending their hard earned money on a new motherboard.

VIA announced their KT266 chipset and power users began chomping at the bit. In the last couple of years, VIA has been on a roll, releasing inexpensive, yet high performing chipsets.  This time around, months went by without seeing any products based on the KT266 chipset. Rumors circulated that the KT266 was not stable, or was performing far lower than expected. Then MSI's K7T266 Pro was introduced but all was not well.

A few well respected sites quickly reviewed the MSI K7T266 Pro, but their findings were not consistent. Some sites resorted to soldering resistors to different locations in an effort to realize the full potential of the KT266 chipset, while others argued that a simple BIOS update was all that was needed for maximum performance. During this "storm" of information we got our hands on a retail MSI K7T266 Pro but we decided to wait until the dust settled and the BIOS and drivers matured before we passed judgment. We updated our K7T266 Pro to the recently released 1.20 BIOS, mounted our 1GHz AXIA T-Bird, installed the Via 4-in-1 4.32s and let her rip.  Come see what we found out.
 

Specifications / Features of the MSI K7T266 Pro
DDR for the Masses?


Click any Image for an Enlarged view...
 

CPU
  • Socket A for AMD(R) Athlon? / Duron? 600MHz - 1.4GHz

Chipset

  • VIA(R) Apollo KT266 chipset / VT8233
  • VIA(R) VT8366 chipset. (552 BGA)

FSB

  • 200 / 266MHz

Memory

  • 184-pin DDR-DIMM x3
  • Maximum 3GB

Slots

  • AGP x1 or AGP Pro x1(only for K7T266 Por-R)
  • CNR x1
  • PCI x5

Audio / Video

  • Audio Chip Integrated
  • AGP 4x and PCI Advanced high performance memory Controller

On-Board IDE

  • Ultra DMA 33 / 66 / 100

Special Features

  • D-LEDTM
  • Fuzzy Logic 3
  • Live BIOS

VIA(R) VT8233 chipset. (376 BGA)

  • High Bandwidth Vlink Client controller
  • Integrated Faster Ethernet LPC (Optional CNR card support)
  • Integrated Hardware Sound Blaster / Direct Sound AC'97 audio
  • Ultra DMA 33/66/100 master mode PCI EIDE controller
  • ACPI

Slots

  • One CNR (Communication Network Riser).
  • One AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) or AGP Pro slot.  Note : AGP Pro only for K7T266 Pro-R
  • AGP specifcation compliant.
  • Support AGP 2.0 1x/2x/4x
  • Five 32-bit Master PCI Bus slots.
  • Supports 3.3v/5v PCI bus Interface.
Main Memory
  • Support 6 memory banks / 3 184-pin DDR DIMM.
  • Support a maximum memory size up to 3GB.
  • Supports 2.5v DDR SDRAM DIMM.

On-Board IDE

  • An IDE controller on the VIA VT8233 chipset provides IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO,
  • Bus Master and Ultra DMA 33/66/100 operation modes.
  • Can connect up to four IDE devices.

Promise 20265R On-Board (Optional)

  • Support IDE RAID 0 or 1
  • Can connect a Master and a Slave drive to each IDE RAID connector.
  • The two connectors support hard disk drives only.
    Note: only the two Master Hard Disk Drives will adopt RAID function

USB Interface (Optional)

  • USB 2.0 HC On Board (Optional)
  • Support 4 USB 2.0 ports via extemal bracket
  • USB PC2PC Networking Function (Optional)
  • Controlled by USB PC2PC Controller
  • Supported by the JUSB2 pin header
  • 6 USB Ports (Optional)
  • Controlled by VT8233 Soughbirdge
  • 2 rear ports and 4 port supported by JUSB2 & JUSB3

Audio

  • Chip integrated (2 channel S/W audio) / Direct Sound AC97 Audio

On-Board Peripherals include:

  • 1 Floppy port supports 2 FDD with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88M
  • 2 Serial ports (COM A+COM B)
  • 1 Parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
  • 1 IrDA connector for SIR/ASKIR/HPSIR
  • 1 Audio/Game port

BIOS

  • The mainboard BIOS provides "Plug & Play" BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
  • The mainboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI) function which records your mainboard specifications.

Dimension

  • ATX Form Factor (30.4cm x 23.5cm)
  • 6 mounting holes
As you can see from the above specification list, this board is feature laden. Even without looking at the specifications, you'd know the MSI K7T266 Pro is something special the moment the box is opened.

The "out of box" experience with the K7T266 Pro is fantastic. Quite a few motherboards pass through the H.H. labs, making it tough to get excited about many of the boards we get our hands on, but not with the K7T266 Pro. This board ships with a plethora of goodies. In our box we found two excellent user's manuals outlining the features of both the board and the on-board Promise RAID controller. We also found a floppy cable and two 80-Wire UDMA IDE cables. That is where most companies would stop, but MSI also included a set of external USB connectors, and another USB bracket and cable that will allow you to connect one PC to another via the USB ports. All necessary drivers for the chipset and on-board sound were included as well as some thermal paste and a sweet chrome case badge emblazoned with a "Geared by MSI" graphic.
 

 

Layout and Installation 

                       

 
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Unknown Title - Page 2

The MSI K7T266 Pro DDR Socket A Monster
Misguided? or Misunderstood?...

By, Marco "BigWop" Chiappetta
June 14, 2001

The BIOS:

At fist glance, the K7TPro 266's BIOS may seem familiar...but take a closer look.  This is not the Award BIOS that we're all so familiar with, it's a similar looking BIOS from American Megatrends (AMI).  The K7TPro 266's BIOS is powerful, giving users complete control over virtually every setting needed to tweak a system for maximum performance.  Memory tweaks are available, and a very complete set of overclocking options are in the "Hardware Monitor" section of the BIOS, allowing for adjustments of CPU multiplier, Front Side Bus (Up to 164MHz in 1MHz increments) and voltage.  You'll see a little later that this board was definitely "Overclocker Friendly".

Layout and Installation
Tons O' Fun...

LAYOUT:

As we usually do when a new product lands in our labs, we gave the MSI K7T266 Pro a thorough physical inspection.  We found many things that we liked, and only a few that we didn't...

              

MSI mounted a passive heatsink on the Northbridge.  Normally we would like to see a heatsink of this type mounted using spring clips, with thermal paste used as the TIM (Thermal Interface Material), but because the KT266 runs very cool, this simple heatsink mounted with thermal tape should do just fine.  To the left is a shot of the VT8233 Southbridge.  Via has also introduced a new feature known as V-Link with this new chipset.  Via's new V-Link technology offers more bandwidth for communications between the North and Southbridge.

     

The K7T266 Pro is outfitted with an AGP Pro slot, five PCI slots and a CNR slot.  We prefer a six PCI slot configuration, but with a RAID controller already integrated onto the motherboard, and with on-board USB 2.0 soon to follow, we can't really hold much against MSI for their decision.  Also notice the secondary power connector to the right of the AGP Pro slot. This connector will supply a clean, constant source of power, so when new power hungry video cards are released that utilize this type of slot, K7T266 Pro owners will be prepared.  You'll also see the audio-in connectors mounted just below the CNR slot.  While we like that these connectors are placed in an easy to reach, out of the way location, we don't like their placement at this far corner of the board.  With the connectors in this spot, you'll have to drape your CD-Audio cable over your CPU and expansion cards.  If you strive for a clean "spaghetti free" case, this doesn't help.

       

The external case connectors are standard fare, with the usual array of USB, serial and parallel connections available.  There is a lot to see in the middle picture.  Here we can see the IDE-RAID connectors as well as the on-board buzzer, which eliminates the need for a case speaker...one less wire to connect to the motherboard...we like that.  Also notice the clean silk screening that illustrates the position of the case connectors.  If you don't have the manual handy when mounting this board, you'll appreciate these clear illustrations.  To the right you can see the connectors for the two external USB connectors.  Also visible is the spot where a USB 2.0 controller will be mounted in a later board revision.

       

The ATX-Power connector is located in an excellent position, out of the way off all components.  The DIMM slots are clearly labeled, and with the on-board IDE connectors placed behind them (not below then as with many other boards) there should be no ribbon cables in a position that will hinder airflow over your RAM.  The slots are a little too close to the AGP slot though, making it next to impossible to remove memory without first removing your video card.  Another feature worth noting is Diagnostic LEDs (D-LED).  A row of LEDs will light up to help you diagnose system errors.  Very usefull if you're having a problem and aren't sure which piece of hardware is the culprit.

              

There is ample room around the CPU socket, allowing for the use of an over-sized cooler.  It was a little bit tight, but we were able to fit our WBK-38 onto this board without a problem.  As you can see above, the K7T266 Pro is equipped with some very large capacitors.  We've mentioned this before, but we'll say it again...a clean, constant flow of power is essential for a stable system.  We're happy to report that the K7T266 Pro is just that...STABLE.  We've been torturing this board for over a week and it is rock solid.

INSTALLATION:

Physical installation of the board went without a hitch.  The K7T266 Pro is a standard ATX board.  As long as you use proper stand-offs and screws, you won't have any problem.  You'll have to take a few extra steps when installing your Operating System though.  Installation of the Promise RAID controller's drivers, on-board sound drivers (optional), Via 4-in-1s and USB PC-to-PC drivers (optional is required.

Time For Some Numbers...

 
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The MSI K7T266 Pro DDR Socket A Monster
Misguided? or Misunderstood?...

By, Marco "BigWop" Chiappetta
June 14, 2001

We ran ZD's Content Creation and Business Winstone benchmarks to test "real-world" performance in Multimedia and Office type applications.
 

More Performance
Nice...Very Nice...

BUSINESS WINSTONE:

The DDR equipped K7T266 Pro outperformed the KT7A-RAID by approximately 10% at the same clockspeed.  "Office" type applications are plenty fast on any high-performance PC though, the 10% performance increase is unperceivable in real world use.

CONTENT CREATION WINSTONE:

Although the MSI K7T266 Pro again outperformed the KT7A, I expected to see a larger gap in this test.  I figured the multimedia applications comprising this test (Photoshop, Premiere Etc.) would benefit more from the increased memory bandwidth.  At higher bus speeds, I suspect the KT266 would have a larger performance lead.

Throughout testing, the MSI K7T266 Pro was a top-notch performer.  In addition to it's excellent performance, the K7T266 Pro was perfectly stable.  Even while overclocking our test system was rock-solid. We didn't experience a single crash or lock-up.

We have no choice but to praise the MSI K7T266 Pro.  As was the case with the Apollo 133A, as the KT266 has matured it's stability and performance has dramatically increased.  Reviewing the feature list reveals that there is currently no other, widely available DDR / Socket A board as feature rich as the MSI KT266 Pro.  Aside from a few minor issues with the layout, and the higher cost of DDR RAM compared to standard SDRAM, there is nothing negative to report regarding the KT266 Pro.  Throughout testing, working with this board was an absolute pleasure.  Without hesitation we recommend this board to anyone looking build a high-performance Athlon system.  We give the MSI K7T266 Pro our Editor's Choice Award and a HotHardware Heat Meter rating of...

 

 

Think you know about this hardware stuff?  Yeah?  Then get in the Forum and Prove it!

 

 

 
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The MSI K7T266 Pro DDR - Page 4
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