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Soyo Dragon2 KT880 Motherboard
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Date: Aug 05, 2004
Section:Motherboards
Author: Tom Laverriere
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Introduction and Specs

 

While the AMD Athlon XP still remains popular, it is no longer the sought after enthusiast part it once was. This isn't because the Athlon XP is a poor performer, but rather it's because a new era of AMD processors are now in the limelight.  Regardless, there are still plenty of reasons to consider a system based on the Athlon XP processor, with the most logical being affordability.  Building or buying such a computer, will not put a big dent in your wallet and it will provide more than ample performance for most of today's software titles.

Apparently VIA was thinking along those lines when they developed their latest chipset for the Athlon XP family of processors, the VIA KT880.  Today in the HotHardware labs we take a look at the latest motherboard from Soyo that incorporates the VIA KT880 chipset, the Soyo Dragon2 KT880.  The feature set has the enthusiast stamp of approval as it offers Gigabit LAN, SATA and PATA RAID, and a slew of other useful goodies.  But a few questions still loom.  Will the KT880 chipset have what it takes to compete with the extremely popular nForce2 Ultra chipset?  Will motherboards using this chipset, be as affordable and reliable as the ones we've seen in the NVIDIA camp?  Let's try to answer those questions...

SOYO Dragon2 KT880 Motherboard
Specifications

CPU
Athlon XP: 1800+ - 3200+, Duron 1.3GHz - 1.8GHz

 

Chipset
VIA KT880 Northbridge

VIA VT8237 Southbridge
 

Front Side Bus

400/333/266/200 MHz


Memory
Dual Channel Mode DDR400/333/266

4 x DDR DIMM, Max 4GB

 

IDE

UDMA 66/100/133

4 Channels Parallel ATA IDE Ports

Supports RAID 0, 1, 0+1, JBOD

4 Channels Serial ATA IDE Ports

Supports RAID 0, 1, JBOD

Supports up to PIO mode 5 & Ultra DMA 66/100/133


Audio
On board C-Media CMI9780 AC97 8 Channel CODEC

Supports SPDIF input/output

 

LAN

Integrated VIA VT6122 Gigabit LAN Controller


IEEE 1394
Integrated VIA VT6307 Controller

Supports up to 2 ports

 

USB 2.0

Integrated 8 USB 2.0 ports (4xrear, 4xpin-header)


Slots
1 x AGP Pro

5 x PCI

1 x LPT
 

Storage & Back Panel I/O

1 x Floppy Drive Connector (1.2/1.44/2.88MB FDD)
1 x LPT Printer Port (SPP/EPP/ECP Mode)
Provides IrDA Ports w/ optional cable for transceiver

1 x PS/2 Keyboard

1 x PS/2 Mouse

1 x VGA Port

1 x COM Port

1 x D-Sub 25-pin female printer port
1 x LAN Port

4 x USB 2.0/1.1 Ports

Audio I/O: 1 x Line-Out, 1 x Line-In (share SPDIF in), 1 x Mic Jack, 1 x Center/Bass (share SPDIF out, 1 x Rear, 1 x Side Surround

On Board Connectors

1 x Front Audio

6 x 3-pin fan headers

1 x COM2

1 x Game Connector

2 x IEEE 1394

4 x USB 2.0/1.1

 

BIOS Feature

AMI PCI BIOS with ACPI Function

Supports multiple boot from E-IDE / SCSI / CD-ROM / FDD / LS120 / ZIP

4MB Flash ROM

 

Health Monitoring

On board voltage monitors VCore, +3.3V, +5V, +12V

CPU Fan and CHA Fan speed monitor

CPU temperature and CHA temperature monitor

CPU temperature overheats protection

 

Accessories

4 x SATA cables

2 x E-IDE cables

1 x FDD cable

1 x Rear I/O Shield

1 x Rear LPT port

1 x Rear COM port

1 x Soyo Case Badge

1 x Packet Thermal Paste

1 x CD-ROM driver disc

1 x User Manual

 

Software

Panda Anti-Virus

Pro Magic Utility

Image IT Utility

Data Processing Utility

 

Features

Supports Serial ATA RAID 0, 1, JBOD

Supports Parallel ATA RAID 0, 1, 0+1, JBOD

Supports High-speed USB 2.0 ports

Supports Dual Channel DDR

Provides high quality 8 Channel Audio

Supports Giga-LAN Ethernet Function

Supports overclocking setting via BIOS Setup

CPU core voltage, DIMM & AGP Pro voltage could be adjusted via BIOS Setup

Soyo ABR (Anti-Burn Regulator): CPU Overheat Protection, system will automatically shutdown when CPU Overheat

Suspend to RAM, Suspend to Disk

Supports IEEE 1394

WOL (Wake on LAN) function

 

Form Factor

Four layers, 30.5 cm x 24.5 cm

ATX Form Factor

 


 

 

The VIA KT880 chipset is very impressive when compared to other chipsets in its class.  It is very feature-rich, and the Soyo Dragon2 motherboard envelopes all aspects of the VIA KT880 chipset, and then some.  While some may think the Dragon2 is just a fancy name, it carries plenty of meaning.  Dragon2 is actually and acronym for: 

Dual Channel DDR400/333

RAID Function on IDE and SATA

A Crisp 8-channel hardware audio solution with all digital SPDIF input-output connector

G Extreme 8X AGP Pro graphics support

Overclocking features on CPU, Memory & AGP

N Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000 High Speed Internet Access ready

2 Next generation Dual DDR, Dual High Speed I/O (USB & Firewire)

Now let's get a closer look at this Soyo Dragon 2 and see how all of these features were incorporated into this motherboard.

 

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The Bundle and a Closer Look

 

Soyo Dragon2 KT880 Motherboard
The Bundle

The bundle that shipped with the Soyo KT880 motherboard was complete and supplies everything a user will need to get their new motherboard up and running.

 

 

All the cables one would need to connect any drives, whether they be SATA, PATA, or a floppy disk drive, are included.  There are four Serial ATA cables, but unfortunately no power cable converters.  There are also two 80-pin parallel ATA ribbon cables included, as well as one floppy disk drive ribbon cable.  Also provided is a custom IO shield and a rear bracket that accommodates an LPT and COM port.  For good measure Soyo also included a packet of thermal paste and a Soyo case badge labeled "Dragon2".  On the software front, Soyo included only one CD-ROM disc that carries all of the necessary hardware drivers along with four additional software titles including Panda Anti-Virus, Pro Magic Utility, Image IT Utility, and Data Processing Utility.  A user's manual is also included which was quite comprehensive and provided all of the necessary details regarding the motherboard.

 

A black PCB was chosen for this particular motherboard along with blue and purple accents on the DIMM and expansion slots, giving the Dragon2 a nice look and feel.

  

  

The layout of the motherboard is pretty standard with no major areas of concern, but nonetheless some small caveats exist.  The can capacitors located toward the front of the CPU socket are very close.  Those planning on using an oversized after market cooling solution may have trouble squeezing it into place.  The location of the 20-pin and 4-pin ATX power connectors is not ideal either, as the bulk of those wires will be hanging across the motherboard when connected.  Other than the above mentioned nitpicks, however, this motherboard layout works well and should provide an easy setup for most.  And for the overclockers among us this motherboard holds five 3-pin fan headers for those that like to load up their cases with fans and keep things cool when pushing their system to the edge.

   

  

 

Powered by the VIA KT880 chipset, the KT880 Northbridge and VT8237 Southbridge provide a lot of the extras including high-speed USB 2.0 support, native SATA RAID support, and a slew of others.  Also on board, however, we can find an ALI M5281 PATA RAID controller providing support for RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and JBOD for PATA drives.  Also on this motherboard is a VIA VT6307 controller powering the two IEEE 1394 Firewire headers.  This motherboard also sports the VIA VT6122 Gigabit LAN controller providing 10/100/1000 Mbit speeds for the LAN connection.  The 8-channel audio we mentioned earlier is powered by an on-board CMedia CMI9780 CODEC.  This motherboard is tightly packed with goodies which should whet the appetite of most power users.  But being able to customize which hardware is enabled and how it works is key as well.  Let's take a look at the BIOS that shipped with this motherboard and see if it provides as much versatility as the hardware.

The BIOS
Get Tuned Up

  

The Soyo Dragon2 KT880 motherboard uses American Megatrends, Inc.'s BIOS.  The first three screen shots are your typical BIOS menus.  The initial BIOS screen presents all of the options available to the user.  The Boot Configuration Setup screen should be self explanatory, as this is where the user will choose which order and type of hardware to boot from.  A PC Health Status screen is also provided which allows the user to track all of the system's vital signs including voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures.  This is also the screen where the user can set the safety feature of shutting down the system should the CPU temperature reach dangerous levels.  The final screen shot in this set is where the BIOS starts to get interesting.  The Advanced Settings screen allows the user to set the timings of the RAM as well as the AGP speed and the graphics aperture size.  

  

   

 

DRAM timings provide a few pre-programmed options, or the user can set all of the timings manually. Configuring the timings manually allows specific values to be set for CAS Latency, Precharge to Active, Active to Precharge, and Active to CMD.  Once the RAM timings are set, it's off to do some overclocking. The Soyo COMBO Feature screen provides these tools.  There are some preset values to choose from such as Fast and Turbo, but true enthusiasts will prefer doing things manually.  Starting with voltages, the user can change the CPU, AGP, and DDR voltages.  The CPU voltage adjustments top out at 1.850V.  Setting system performance to manual unlocks a few other options including the CPU ratio, Front Side Bus, and AGP/PCI clock.  The CPU ratio options are plentiful and provide every necessary multiplier to hit the sweet spot with your particular CPU and memory.  

The biggest downfall comes when trying to manually adjust the front side bus speeds.  Choosing anything other than the preset front side bus speeds will cause the AGP/PCI clock to change with the front side bus. There is no lock to speak of.  This BIOS does provide a selection of dividers to keep the AGP/PCI clock at 66MHz/33MHz, but going over a 200MHz front side bus speed begins to bring the AGP/PCI clock above stock, since a 1/6 divider is the lowest setting available. This is somewhat disappointing as many systems tend to get unstable when the AGP/PCI clocks gets too high. While this is not a devastating problem with this motherboard, it is a rather large drawback to the enthusiast crowd and those looking for the most when it comes to overclocking.  Overall though, the features of this BIOS are quite broad and should prove fully capable to all but the most extreme power users.

 

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Overclocking and Synthetic Tests

 

 

The Test Machine
Locked and Loaded

 

Motherboard:

Soyo Dragon2 KT880 Motherboard

ABIT AN7 nForce2 Ultra Motherboard

DFI LANParty nForce2 Ultra Motherboard

 

Common Hardware and Software:

AMD Athlon XP 2800+ Barton Processor

2 x 256MB Kingston HyperX PC3500 Memory

AOpen Aeolus FX5600S 256MB (Drivers - v.56.72 WHQL)

Seagate 40GB ATA-100 7200RPM Hard Drive

On Board Sound

WinXP Professional w/ SP1

DirectX 9.0b

VIA Hyperion 4-in-1 Driver v.4.51
 

Overclocking
Going Above and Beyond

 

If you reference our previous nForce2 Ultra article pitting the DFI LANParty motherboard against the ABIT AN7 motherboard, you'll see that we achieved a high speed of 2420MHz using a multiplier of 10.5x and a front side bus speed of 230MHz with our Athlon XP 2800+ processor.  We wanted to see how high we could take this processor on this Soyo board to see how it compared, so we lowered the default multiplier of 12.5x to 12x and slowly brought up the front side bus.  We started low because we didn't want to run our AGP/PCI clock to far out of spec. And when all was said and done, we managed to reach and FSB of 200MHz (400MHz DDR) with a CPU voltage of 1.850V, which is the max CPU voltage setting allowed on this particular motherboard.  This is an impressive overclock which yielded a 15.6% (12 x 200MHx = 2400MHz) increase in speed over the stock setting of 12.5 x 166MHz or 2075MHz.  

 

 

Test Settings:

To begin testing we ran the Soyo KT880 motherboard through a round of synthetic benchmarks using the Sandra test suite.  To run this motherboard at dual channel DDR400 speeds, we set the CPU multiplier to 10x and the front side bus to 200MHz giving us a 2000MHz processor speed.

Sandra Testing: Default Settings DDR400

Sandra CPU

Sandra Multimedia

Sandra Memory

 

Sandra Testing: Overclocked DDR408

Sandra CPU
Sandra Multimedia
Sandra Memory

WCPUID

The overclocked scores show an increase of 14% for both the CPU and Multimedia tests.  The memory score increased a microscopic 0.4%.  This is due to the fact that our memory is running at the same speed of 400MHz at both the default and overclocked settings.  Also worth noting is the score of 2950 MB/s in the memory test comes in 4% lower than we've seen in previous nForce2 Ultra reviews.

ZD eTesting Labs Business and Content Creation Winstones
Desktop Application Performance

The Business Winstone 2004 tests include:

  • Microsoft Access 2002 SP-2
  • Microsoft Excel 2002 SP-2
  • Microsoft FrontPage 2002 SP-2
  • Microsoft Outlook 2002 SP-2
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2002 SP-2
  • Microsoft Project 2002 SP-2
  • Microsoft Word 2002 SP-2
  • WinZip 8.1 SR-1
  • Norton Antivirus Professional Edition 2003

Content Creation Winstone 2004 tests include:

  • Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1
  • Adobe Premiere 6.50
  • Macromedia Director MX 9.0
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 6.1
  • Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9 Version 9.00.00.2980
  • NewTek's LightWave 3D 7.5b
  • Steinberg WaveLab 4.0f

 

The next round of benchmarks uses eTesting Lab's Business and Content Creation Winstone tests.  These tests put the system through a round of desktop application benchmarks which help show how the system performs with office-type and Content Creation applications.  From the graphs above, the VIA KT880 chipset lags behind the two nForce2 Ultra motherboards by 2% and 5% in the Business and Content Creation tests, respectively.  However, the difference in scores is right in line with the 3% margin of error allowed in these tests.

 

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PCMark 2004 and SPECViewperf

 

We used the latest versions of SPECViewperf and Futuremark's PCMark04 for the next set of tests.  These numbers will give us a general idea of how well these motherboards perform overall.

 

FutureMark's PCMark 2004
System Bandwidth

 

Again the trend continues to show the nForce2 Ultra motherboards at the top of the pile.  While the Hard Drive tests are in a tight race, at default speeds, the KT880 motherboard falls behind in the CPU and Memory tests by 4% and 6%, respectively.  While these differences may seem minute, they are detectable and do show that the nForce2 Ultra chipset is outperforming the KT880 based Soyo motherboard up to this point.

SPECViewperf 7.1.1
Workstation Performance

 

The results from our SPECViewperf tests paint the same picture, as the Soyo KT880 motherboard falls behind again albeit by a small margin.  Let's see if the Soyo KT880 motherboard can make up some ground in our next set of gaming benchmarks.

 

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Some Gaming and the Conclusion

 

Throwing in a round of gaming benchmarks is mandatory for any motherboard showcase at HH.  We used Unreal Tournament 2003, Halo - Combat Evolved and Aquamark 3.  All gaming benchmarks were run at a resolution of 640x480 to take as much stress off of the graphics card as possible and place it on overall system bandwidth.

Unreal Tournament 2003
DX8 Performance

This test consists of running a "Fly-By" on the "Citadel" level of Unreal Tournament 2003.  The UT2K3 scores again show the Soyo Dragon2 motherboard being outpaced by its counterparts to the tone of 8% which is a healthy lead.  

Aquamark 3
DX9 Performance

 

The Aquamark 3 scores follow the trend we've seen thus far and place the nForce2 Ultra motherboards on top.  

Our final test using Halo - Combat Evolved, places the Soyo KT880 motherboard in a dead heat with the nForce2 Ultra motherboards.  This is one of the tighter races we've seen up to this point.

Soyo Dragon2 KT880 Analysis:
Motherboards supporting the AMD Athlon XP line of processors have been around for some time now.  With each new generation of chipsets, we see improvements in performance as well as additional functionality to support the latest hardware trends.  It's easy to argue, that the race for Athlon XP marketshare has gone to NVIDIA's nForce2 Ultra chipset while VIA's line of KTXXX chipsets is a close second.  After putting the Soyo KT880 motherboard through a round of benchmarks against two other nForce2 Ultra based motherboards, it's not hard to see why VIA remains behind in this sector, however.  While the functionality of both chipsets remains competitive, the performance of the KT880 chipset leaves something to be desired.  

This is no fault of Soyo's though, as they have put together a very reliable product in the Dragon2 KT880 motherboard.  It's always nice to have a piece of hardware that works as advertised from the time we plug it in until we are finished with our testing.  Soyo did not disappoint.  But the question remains... Why bother with a VIA KT880 based product when the nForce2 Ultra products are more plentiful, and affordable?  The release of the latest revision of the nForce2 chipset, the nForce2 Ultra 400Gb, which sports a built in networking firewall, system utility, and on-the-fly overclocking options, gives much more value to the end user.   However, we'd like to give Soyo its proper credit in puting together a solid motherboard.  Anyone in the market for a reliable motherboard with enthusiast-like functionality will find the Soyo Dragon2 KT880 motherboard is for you.  On the flip side, if you're in the market for an all around solution for the AMD Athlon XP processor, then we'd have to steer you toward an nForce2 Ultra motherboard.  We're giving the Soyo Dragon2 KT880 motherboard a score of 7 on the HotHardware Heat Meter.

  • Loaded with features
  • Four SATA ports with RAID support
  • Gigabit LAN
  • 7.1 Surround Sound
  • Dual DDR400 support
  • USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394
  • Very stable with good performance
  • Not a great overclocker
  • BIOS options a bit lacking
  • nForce2 Ultra chipset a better solution
  • Availability
  • Price

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