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VIA's P4XB P4X266A Motherboard!
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Date: Feb 13, 2002
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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VIA's P4XB P4X266A Motherboard! - Page 1

VIA's P4XB P4X266A Motherboard
Yes, VIA is Selling Motherboards Now!

By, Marco Chiappetta
February 14, 2002

A few short months ago, if you were planning to build a high-end Pentium 4 system, an i850 based motherboard and expensive RDRAM was in your future.  VIA Technologies changed that though when they released their P4X266 chipset.  With the introduction of the P4X266 came the ability to use DDR SDRAM with the Pentium 4, which at the time was significantly cheaper than RDRAM yet offered similar performance.  Even though having a low-cost chipset on the market would help sales of the Pentium 4, Intel was none too happy about the P4X266.  Intel claimed VIA did not hold the necessary licenses to manufacture chipsets for the Pentium 4, and a lawsuit ensued.  With all of the litigation surrounding the P4X266, many OEMs shied away from building boards based on it.  A few boards did make it to market, but no where near what VIA would have liked to see.  A few months later, VIA improved the memory controller in the P4X266 and released an "A" version of the chipset.  Not happy with the turnout the first time around, VIA decided to take matters into their own hands and brought a whole line of motherboards using their unlicensed chipset to market.  The product we'll be looking at today, the P4XB, is VIA's basic P4X266A based motherboard. Let's dive right in and see what this puppy is made of...

Specifications / Features of VIA's P4XB
The Nitty-Gritty...

 
Click any Image for an Enlarged view...

 

Chipset
(North) VIA P4X266A:
Support Pentium 4 System bus
Support DDR 200 / 266 SDRAM interface
(South) VIA VT8233
Built in high bandwidth 266MB/S
V-Link

Form Factor
ATX

Processor
Intel Pentium 4 in the 478 pin package
(Including Northwood Core)

Expansion Slots
Support external AGP V2.0 compliant VGA device
Support 1X, 2X, 4X AGP data transfer
5 x PCI slots

Memory
3 184pin DDR DIMM Slot

On-board IDE Controller
2 x UltraDMA/100 Bus Master IDE from ICH2
2 x UltraDMA/100 promise 265R to support RAID 0 (OPTIONAL)
80-pin Cable Backward Compatible Legacy ATAPI Devices

Back Panel
2 Serial Ports
1 Parallel Port (SPP, EPP, ECP)
1 PS/2 Keyboard Port
1 PS/2 Mouse Port
2 USB Ports
1x Game / MIDI Port
1x Line in, 1x Line out, 1x Mic

On-board Audio
VIA AC'97 2.1 compliant CODEC


Connectors
1 x ATX power connector
1 x 4-Pin Power Connector

2 x Fan Power connectors (one for CPU fan)
4 x UltraDMA/100 Bus Master IDE (AR model only)
1 x Floppy

BIOS
Stored in 2 Mb flash memory
DMI 2.3
CPU 100 - 199MHz FSB setting
BIOS FSB step-less setting from 100MHz to 199MHz with 1 MHz increment
CPU core voltage setting from +0.025V ~ +0.10V
DDR voltage setting from 2.5V ~ 2.65V
Support IRQ manual assign table
Bootable from Floppy, ATAPI device, USB device, SCSI device

 
THE BUNDLE:

The VIA P4XB ships with a "standard" bundle.  There was nothing terribly exciting to see when we first opened the box.

Included with the board, we found an 80-Wire UDMA/100 IDE cable, a standard floppy cable, a USB cable and plate, a user's manual and a CD that contains all of the necessary drivers to get the board up and running.  The bundle was uninspiring, but this board isn't exactly crammed full of bells and whistles.  This version of the P4XB is a "pure" motherboard, with no extravagant on-board features other than basic audio.

The BIOS and The Board... 

 
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VIA's P4XB P4X266A Motherboard! - Page 2

VIA's P4XB P4X266A Motherboard
Yes, VIA is Selling Motherboards Now!

By, Marco Chiappetta
February 14, 2002

THE BIOS:

The VIA P4XB is equipped with the very popular Award BIOS, that we've seen on the vast majority of motherboards that pass through our labs.  We were very pleased to see options to adjust virtually every aspect of the board's integrated peripherals, memory and CPU timings.

       

       

       

VIA even opted to include a very complete "Frequency / Voltage Control" section which allows users to tweak their CPU's FSB, VCore voltage and DRAM voltage.  On the rare chance you're lucky enough to have an unlocked Intel CPU in your possession, the multiplier can be adjusted as well.

OVERCLOCKING:

   

If you take a look at the two screenshots above you can see a "close-up" of the "Frequency / Voltage Control" section of the BIOS.  From within this menu, the CPU VCore voltage can be raised a full 1/10 of a volt in .025v increments.  The FSB maxes out at 199MHz, adjustable in 1MHz. increments, the DDR DRAM voltage can be set between 2.5V and 2.65V in .5V increments, and the multiplier has a selectable range of 8X - 24X.

In an attempt to overclock our 1.9GHz. CPU, we experimented with a variety of FSB (Front Side Bus) frequencies, raised the voltage to our CPU and RAM to the maximum settings and were able to hit a completely stable speed of 2.08GHz. (19x109MHz.), with our memory set to the most aggressive timings.  Keep in mind that at the "+33MHz" memory setting, with a 109MHz FSB, our memory was actually running at 142MHz.  We could have taken our CPU even higher, but opted not to do so because we had to set our memory with less aggressive timings to keep things stable.

Layout and Installation
What's to see?

As we do with every product that passes through the H.H. lab, we gave the VIA P4XB a complete physical inspection before installing it into our test system.

       

Looking at the external case connectors doesn't reveal anything wild or out of the ordinary, unless you get all hot and bothered over on-board AC'97 audio!  The slot configuration was decent, with 5 PCI slots, 1 AGP slot and a CNR slot making an appearance.  While we understand the merits of a CNR slot, I don't think I've ever seen one used.  We would have preferred to see the CNR slot dumped in favor of a sixth PCI slot.  Then again, I don't remember the last time I saw a system with five PCI cards installed either!  Pay close attention to the back of the AGP slot.  The slot is extended a bit, which helps hold a video card in place if the system is moved around.  Just behind the CNR slot you can see the extra USB headers.  Six total USB connectors are available.

       

Around the tiny Socket 478, you'll find the customary plastic heatsink bracket. While these brackets may look cheesy, I think they're great.  Installing and removing coolers on the new P4s is a piece of cake, and you don't have to worry about jamming a screwdriver through your PCB if you slip!  Also visible around the socket are 11 capacitors for cleaning and stabilizing the current flowing to the CPU, and they do their job well.  Clean, smooth power flow is necessary for stable computing and the P4XB was just that...stable.  The Northbridge is "cooled" by a chrome, passive heatsink labeled, "P4X266", but don't fret!  There is a P4X266A under there!  The heatsink is mounted with thermal tape (which is very unpopular around the H.H. lab), but the P4X266A Northbridge runs so cool, its not a problem. Throughout testing, the heatsink barely got warm to the touch.  Just between the fourth and fifth PCI slots you can see a buzzer, which eliminates the need for a speaker in your case.  This is a simple, often overlooked addition to some boards, but anything that reduces the amount of wires and clutter in a case is OK in my book!

    

The VIA P4XB is equipped with 3 DIMM slots, which thankfully were placed far enough away from the AGP slot to allow us to install DIMMs without having to remove our video card.  IDE and Floppy connectors are also well placed behind the DIMM slots, perpendicular with the upper edge of the board, out of the way of any other components.  In the adjacent corner you can see locations where a RAID controller and it's connectors could be placed.  (There is also a model P4XB-R available that adds an on-board Promise controller as well as better C-Media on-board sound.)  One thing that turned us off a bit was the lack of fan headers.  There are only two available on the board, one of which will be used by your CPU cooler.

installing the P4XB was a piece of cake.  Because of the board's jumperless nature and ATX compliance, installing the board was just a matter of tightening a few screws and plugging in our hardware...
 



How Does it Perform?!?

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VIA's P4XB P4X266A Motherboard! - Page 3

VIA's P4XB P4X266A Motherboard
Yes, VIA is Selling Motherboards Now!

By, Marco Chiappetta
February 14, 2002

We can't tell the whole story with synthetic benchmarks alone.  Next up, we'll move on to some gaming and "real world" tests.  First, we ran time demos with Quake 3 Arena v1.17 (Demo001), set to the "Fastest" video settings, at a low resolution (640x480x16) to isolate CPU performance.

Some OpenGL Performance
This is the Benchmark that never ends!

QUAKE 3 ARENA:

These results speak for themselves.  The P4X266A powered P4XB simply dominated in the low-res Quake 3 tests with a 30 FPS lead over the i845.  VIA's advantage in this test can be directly attributed to the increased memory bandwidth and very efficient memory controller of the P4X266A.
 

More Performance
More of the Good Stuff!

We also ran ZD Labs' Business Winstone and Content Creation Winstone 2001 benchmarks on the P4XB.  If your interested in knowing exactly what this test consists of, I'll quote ZD's eTestingLabs website:

"Business Winstone is a system-level, application-based benchmark that measures a PC's overall performance when running today's top-selling Windows-based 32-bit applications on Windows 98 SE, Windows NT 4.0 (SP6 or later), Windows 2000, Windows Me, or Windows XP. Business Winstone doesn't mimic what these packages do; it runs real applications through a series of scripted activities and uses the time a PC takes to complete those activities to produce its performance scores."

BUSINESS WINSTONE:

In the Business Winstone tests, the VIA P4XB holds only a slight performance lead over the i845.  The "office type" applications used in this test don't necessarily tax a powerful system though, which is why we don't see a huge performance difference here from one platform to the next.   Let's move on to something a little more intense, shall we?

CONTENT CREATION WINSTONE:

In this test, we again see the i845 system bested by the VIA P4XB, but this time by a considerable margin of about 8%.  The P4X266A coupled with a high-end Pentium 4 makes for a very powerful system.  Throughout our battery of tests, the P4XB was a top-notch performer and didn't exhibit any instability whatsoever during normal operation.

CONCLUSION:

Although VIA has long been a major player in the chipset game, marketing and selling their own branded motherboards is a new endeavor.  If the stability, quality and performance of the P4XB is indicative of the other motherboards in VIA's lineup, they are off to a very fine start.  A little bird tells us that VIA themselves may not be actually manufacturing these boards, but rumor has it a very respected OEM has taken on the responsibility.  In every benchmark we threw at it, the P4XB performed very well.   Even when we experimented with a variety of aggressive memory timings and overclocked the system over the 2GHz. mark, the VIA P4XB remained stable.  We had to max out the voltage and overclock our CPU higher than it had ever been, before we had a single "crash".  VIA has done an excellent job with the P4XB and the P4X266A chipset powering it.  We would recommend this board to anyone looking to build a Pentium 4 powered system.  Based on it's excellent performance, stability and very affordable price (around $90 USD as of this writing), we give the VIA P4XB a HotHardware Heat Meter rating of 8.5... 

Think you know about this hardware stuff?  Then get into the New H.H. Forum and Flap Those Gums!

 

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