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Shuttle's AV30 VIA Apollo Pro 266 Motherboard
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Date: Dec 15, 2001
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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Shuttle's AV30 VIA Apollo Pro 266 Motherboard - Page 1

Shuttle's AV30 VIA Apollo Pro 266 DDR Motherboard
With a Dash of Crucial PC1600 DDR RAM...

By Marco "BigWop" Chiappetta
2/8/2001

 

The motherboard market is about to go through yet another large transition...maybe. In the year 2000 we saw the once omni-present, dominant Intel take a few too many punches on the chin, and they ended up losing a ton of ground in the motherboard chipset market. AMD's Athlon was selling in droves, and one company especially, VIA Technologies, took advantage and met the demand with a whole line of chipsets to compliment AMD's CPU. VIA also took full advantage of the void left in the Intel Pentium III motherboard market when the i820 turned off power-users with it's high price and dependency on expensive RDRAM. VIA released the Apollo Pro line of chipsets that were comparable to Intel solutions and offered more features at a lower price point. At first performance wasn't quite up to par with Intel's products, but as the Apollo line matured performance increased proportionately.

With the growing acceptance of VIA based solutions, more and more manufacturers began offering products based on VIA Chipsets. Almost a year ago, the first review I did for H.H. was of the Shuttle AV61 motherboard. Well, Shuttle is still here and today we're going to take a look at their newest board, the AV30, based on the VIA Apollo Pro 266 chipset. With VIA's new found confidence (and funds) :) they've decided to head in a new direction. No longer are they comfortable following Intel's or AMD's  lead.  They are now introducing new products that innovate rather than imitate. The Apollo Pro 266 is their first in what will hopefully be a string of new products that offer cutting edge performance and features at a reasonable price.

The major new feature that the Apollo Pro 266 brings to the table is it's ability to use newer, "faster" DDR RAM. DDR RAM or Double-Data-Rate RAM is capable of processing data on both the rising and falling peaks of the sine wave, which effectively doubles it's bandwidth clock-for-clock. Take a look at this simple graph...

This is a very simple drawing of a sine wave. Standard SDRAM is only capable of processing data on the rising peak (represented by the blue line), DDR RAM can execute commands at both the rising and falling peaks (represented by the red lines). This capability is why DDR RAM running at 100MHz can effectively process 200MHz worth of data. Please understand this explanation is not 100% scientifically accurate, but bear with us, we're just trying to explain the technology in a simplified manor that almost anyone will understand. :)

That's enough background info, let's get down to the nitty-gritty!


CLICK FOR ENLARGED VIEW

 
Specifications / Features of the Shuttle AV30
VIA is at it again...
Chipset
  • VIA VT8633, North Bridge
  • Integrated High Performance DDR DRAM Controller
  • VIA VT8233, South Bridge

Form Factor

  • ATX
  • Size: 305mm x 245mm

Processor

  • Socket 370
  • Intel PPGA Celeron 300 ~ 500+/66 MHz FSB
  • Pentium III FC-PGA 500 ~ 933+/100/133 MHz FSB

Expansion Slot

  • 1 x AGP (4x AGP)
  • 6 x PCI
  • 1 x ANR

Memory

  • 184-pin DIMM x 3
  • Supports DDR or SDR SDRAM module

Sound

  • Onboard AC97 Sound Card
On board IDE Controller
  • Support PIO Mode 4 and DMA Mode 2
  • Support Ultra 33/66/100 Synchronous DMA mode
  • Transfer rate up to 100 MBytes/sec

LAN

  • Onboard 10/100Mb Fast Ethernet card

Winbond 83697HF Super I/O Controller

  • 1 x Floppy port
  • 2 x Serial port (16550 fast UART compatible)
  • 1 x Parallel port (SPP, EPP, ECP port)
  • 4 x USB port
  • 1 x Game port
  • Li/Lo/Mic
  • IrDA Header

Flash EEPROM

  • Award PCI BIOS with PnP, Green and DMI Features

Other features

  • Wake-On-Ring & Alarm
  • KB/Mouse wake up
  • Support 4X AGP
  • Support PC133 SDRAM

We grabbed this image directly from VIA's DDR-Zone site for our more techno-savvy readers....

The Shuttle AV30's bundle is standard fare.  We did have a pre-release board, so the bundle in the full retail product may be a little different...

Included in the box was a CD containing all of the necessary drivers to get our AV30 up and running properly, a large user's manual and a package holding a floppy and an 80-Pin IDE cable.  We've seen quite a few new motherboards that ship with an extra connector to add 2 or more USB ports, as well as some sort of software bundle.  We would have liked to see these items included with our AV30, let's hope that Shuttle includes these items in the full retail product.

The RAM, Setup, Installation and Quality

 
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Shuttle's AV30 VIA Apollo Pro 266 Motherboard - Page 2

Shuttle's AV30 VIA Apollo Pro 266 DDR Motherboard
With a Dash of Crucial PC1600 DDR RAM...

By Marco "BigWop" Chiappetta
2/8/2001

You can't really review a DDR enabled motherboard without some DDR RAM can you?  Of course not!  We were lucky enough to have our friends from Crucial supply us with a 128MB stick of PC1600 RAM.  Take a look...

         
CLICK IMAGES FOR LARGER VIEW

At first glance, it doesn't look much different than standard SDRAM, but other than the underlying technology, there are some subtle differences...

Compared "side-by-side" with a standard stick of PC133 RAM, you'll notice the DDR stick is missing a notch.  The PC1600 designation on the DDR stick represents the maximum bandwidth of the RAM, 1.6GB/S.  PC1600 DDR RAM is spec'd to run at 100MHz, but the Micron chips used on this module were 8ns which theoretically should be capable of 125MHz.  If you're following the "DDR Scene", you've probably also heard of PC2100 (2.1GB/S) RAM.  This is the designation for the higher clocked 133MHz products.
 
Installation Quality and Setup
Easy as Pie

The AV30 was a snap to set up.  This is a standard ATX board that will fit in virtually any ATX case without any modification.  All we did was mount it, tighten a couple of screws and off we went!

Shuttle seems to have put some thought into the design and layout of the AV30.  The layout and general workmanship are excellent.  The AV30 has our preferred slot configuration too, 1 AGP and 6 PCI slots.

               

Upon closer inspection, you'll notice just how many expansion possibilities you'll have with the AV30.  You'll be hard pressed to fill all of the AV30's PCI slots when you consider that this puppy comes with onboard sound and an onboard 10/100 NIC!  Gamers will probably opt for a more powerful sound card, but should you be looking to build a second system or a basic file server for your home network the only card you'll need to buy is for video.

There were many other aspects of the AV30 that pleased us...

               

The AGP slot has a retention clip mounted to it which does an excellent job of making sure your video card stays seated properly.  If you move your rig around constantly, or are a LAN gamer, you definitely want one of these retention clips on your mobo!  Shuttle also placed the audio-in connectors in an excellent location where they do not interfere with any slots.

     

Although VIA's chipsets have historically run cool, Shuttle mounted a heatsink on the Northbridge for increased stability at higher bus speeds. (We threw a shot of the Southbridge in for good measure) :)  Stability was definitely on the minds of the Shuttle engineers who designed the AV30, just take a look at the size of the capacitors around the Socket 370 connector!  Providing a clean, even supply of power to your CPU is a key component of a stable motherboard (especially when overclocked), and these large capps help do just that.  Make sure you're using a high quality power supply for best results...remember, G.I.G.O (bonus points for anyone who knows what that stands for!)

                 

Shuttle also did something that we love and wish every manufacturer would start doing.  They placed all of the case, power and drive connectors all the way to the edges of the board.  This doesn't sound like a big deal but it makes for a very clean case, without any wires draped over your expansion cards or CPU.  This arrangement also makes cooling your rig a bit easier because there are no cables over the board to hinder airflow.

We snapped a couple of shots of the DIMM slots too...

                 

There's not too much to much to say here, but it sure is cool to see "Double Data Rate RAM" printed on a motherboard!  

The BIOS and Quake 3

 
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Shuttle's AV30 VIA Apollo Pro 266 Motherboard - Page 3

Shuttle's AV30 VIA Apollo Pro 266 DDR Motherboard
With a Dash of Crucial PC1600 DDR RAM...

By Marco "BigWop" Chiappetta
2/8/2001

Taking the processing and bandwidth requirements to the next level, we have our Business Winstone, Content Creation Winstone and SiSoft Sandra scores.

Business, Content Creation and our girl Sandra
Going through the motions...

We've placed the Business Winstone 2001 numbers from our previous Pentium 4 reviews in the graph for the sake of comparison.  Considering the Pentium 4 rig is approximately triple the price of our Shuttle / P3 / DDR combo, its not a fair comparison...just bear with us until our database of Winstone numbers fills up a bit!

BUSINESS WINSTONE 2001

Not quite as fast as the Pentium 4 setup, but its still a good number.  The Business Winstone test isn't very bandwidth hungry though, so the increased bandwidth of the DDR RAM isn't an issue.  Lets see how the AV30 compares in Content Creation Winstone 2001...

CONTENT CREATION WINSTONE 2001

Here you can see the Pentium 4s pull further ahead but the AV30 is by no means slow...it's roughly a 10% performance difference.

Time to move on to SiSoft's Sandra.  We ran the CPU and Memory benchmarks at both the default and overclocked speeds.  Hard drive performance historically hasn't increased much when overclocked so we skipped that one...

PIII @ 933MHz.                                           PIII @ 1.0GHz
                   

As you can see, CPU performance with the Shuttle AV30 is excellent, on par or better than other PIII boards we've tested.

Memory @ 933MHz                                   Memory @ 1.0GHz.
                   

I know what you're all thinking, "Where's the benefit of DDR?  These numbers don't seem much higher than normal!".  True, but there are a few variables you have to take into account.  Our RAM was PC1600 running at 100MHz.  That's 33MHz. lower than the FSB of our PIII 933.  Also, try and remember what happened to the Apollo Pro 133A as it matured.  Huge performance gains were realized as the product matured.  There is no reason not to think the we're back in the same situation.  As the Apollo Pro 266 chipset and it's BIOS mature, expect noticeable performance gains.  Also, should we have had PC2100 DDR RAM running at 133MHz. performance would have no doubt been much higher.  That 30% increase in clock speed is very significant.

ATA100 on the AV30

There is nothing wrong with VIA's hard drive controller this time around...these numbers are actually a little higher than we're used to seeing with this particular drive.

Overall we were very pleased with the Shuttle AV30 / Crucial DDR combo.  Performance, compatibility and stability were excellent considering both products were pre-release engineering samples.  As long as the shipping retail product isn't a radical departure from what we've reviewed, we can whole heartedly recommend the Shuttle AV30 to anyone contemplating a new motherboard purchase.  If you're looking for an excellent performing motherboard packed full of features, you can't go wrong with the Shuttle AV30.  We give it a HotHardware Heat Meter Rating of...

 

Stop Being so Quiet! Get in the H.H. Conference Room and Speak Your Mind.

 

 
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