Gigabyte 7VAXP-A Ultra - Packing a punch
Under the Hood
7VAXP-A Ultra's bundle is rather impressive.
Gigabyte provides all of the cables one would need to take
advantage of what this motherboard has to offer, with the
notable exception of SATA power cables. In the box,
there are three yellowish-green IDE ribbon cables, two SATA
cables and one Floppy Disk Controller ribbon cable.
Also included were three rear-slot brackets. One
bracket provides two USB 2.0 ports. A second bracket
has the additional sound connectors including SPDIF out, an
RCA jack, a sub/center jack, and a rear r/l speaker jack.
The third bracket has a single Firewire jack, which seems a
bit odd considering there are three Firewire connectors
onboard. Gigabyte has also provided a case badge and a
CD containing, system health monitoring tools and Symantec
Norton titles including Norton Antivirus, Norton Personal
Firewall, Norton Privacy Control, and Norton Parental
Control. One can never be too safe these days.
It's nice to see a motherboard manufacturer provide the end
user with nearly everything he or she needs to get started.
is Gigabyte's EasyTune 4 which allows the user to alter
system settings. This program allows for simple
overclocking of your motherboard right from the comfort of
the Windows environment. For all those bios tweaker
newbies out there, EasyTune 4 is a dream come true.
Pretty much everything is adjustable here. The FSB is
adjustable in 1 MHz increments, while the voltage control
allows for changes to the AGP, DRAM, and CPU voltages.
Also timings to the DRAM, PCI, and AGP are adjustable here
as well. There are a few changes that require a
reboot, but most simple changes are handled without even
rebooting. This definitely is a nice touch afforded by
Under The Scope: Layout and Features
we have the VIA KT400A Northbridge chip and the VIA VT8235
Southbridge chip. The Southbridge chip provides the
end user with up to six USB 2.0 port, which is the standard
configuration on most Southbridge controllers these days.
As we saw earlier, Gigabyte provides a two port USB 2.0
rear-slot bracket. This leaves one of the onboard USB
2.0 connectors open which is good for any of you that have
USB 2.0 ports on the front of your case.
7VAXP-A Ultra provides three DIMM slots for a maximum 3GB of
memory. This is one motherboard that allows for memory
module manipulation without removal of the AGP graphics
card. While some may not find this to be extremely
important, it is nice to be able to swap out DIMM's without
having to remove additional hardware. Dual Channel DDR
is not supported by the KT400A chipset, but VIA is now
unveiling their new memory technology named "FastStream64",
which aims to compete somewhat with Dual Channel chipsets.
Basically what VIA has done is taken the same memory
technology from the KT400 Northbridge and added larger
internal memory buffers to store more data going from main
memory to the CPU. How does this help performance you
ask? Basically the same way larger buffers help on any
other piece of hardware; since more data can be stored in
the buffer, there is not as much fetching going on thus
improving latency and overall throughput. This all
sounds nice, but it will be interesting to see if this
single channel solution performs on par with Dual Channel
technology. With all this data screaming through the
Northbridge, Gigabyte decided to keep things cool with a
heat sink and fan. Upon removing the heat sink and fan
from the KT400A chip, there is a sticky thermal pad to pass
heat from the chip to the heat sink. Heat sink/fan
combinations on the Northbridge chip have become pretty much
standard in today's motherboard market. It's
definitely an advantage to have some active cooling on these
chips because they do tend to get hot especially on full
patented Dual BIOS comes standard on this board. This
is a great feature to have and one we'd like to see more
motherboard manufacturer's adopt. How many of us have
hosed a BIOS during an update? Although it's tough to
admit, we've had a few of those ourselves. The beauty
of this setup is that there is a backup of the BIOS right
there on the motherboard for those hairy situations which,
in turn, may save you a trip down RMA Lane.
For those of you
who take advantage of RAID configurations, this Gigabyte
motherboard offers two varieties, PATA and SATA RAID.
This is something we don't see on too many motherboards, but
certainly is an added benefit. The duties of handling
IDE RAID are given to the Promise PDC20276 controller.
The bottom two IDE connectors ( both green ) are the RAID
connectors and are not compatible with ATAPI devices.
These connectors support two channels each, which means up
to four IDE drives are supported. Although its nice to
have this feature, the placement of these connectors is less
than desirable. If you do decide to use the IDE RAID
slots, this immediately conflicts with ATX 20-pin power
connector. This isn't a huge downfall of course, but
could tend to make things a little messy inside the case.
SATA RAID is
handled by Silicon Image's Sil3112A controller. There
are two SATA connectors onboard which allows for two
different SATA drives arranged in RAID 0 or RAID 1.
Although SATA support is nice to have, you'd be hard pressed
to find any mainstream drives that offer the performance
increase worthy of the price premium (one exception would be
these WD's Raptor 10K RPM SATA drive, which is also pricey).
Until then, it would be more fitting to stay with the lower
cost PATA drives until the real potential of SATA technology
is exploited. In any event, this board will have you
ready when the time comes to step up to the SATA plate.
There are two
USB 2.0 onboard connectors ( yellow ) which allow for an
additional four USB 2.0 ports. The USB support is
handled by VIA's Southbridge chip as mentioned earlier.
To the left of the USB 2.0 connectors are three IEEE 1394
Firewire connectors ( grey ). The Firewire support is
provided by VIA's VT6306 controller allowing for a total of
three Firewire devices to be connected. Again,
Gigabyte only provided a bracket with one Firewire port, but
many cases today have additional Firewire ports which can
take advantage of all three connectors onboard. For
those that don't have those case features, it would have
been nice to see Gigabyte provide a rear bracket with three
Firewire ports as to support the entire board's potential.
The sound on
this board is of the 6-channel variety and is handled by
Realtek's ALC650 chip. This is one of the most popular
onboard sound solutions found on motherboards today but is
not quite up to par with leading edge solutions on the
market as of late. Of greater importance here is the
fact that VIA did not use its own sound solution ( VT1616 ).
Since this board has come to market in direct competition to
NVIDIA's nForce2 chipset, it seems logical to think VIA
would give its board any advantage possible even if its
something as small as sound. Not so in this case.
Regardless of that fact, this is still a very capable sound
solution provided by Gigabyte and will suit most end-users
The socket A is
colored green on this motherboard and dubbed the "Green
Thunder Socket A" by Gigabyte. Not that this will make
your processor run faster, but it is a catchy name.
This motherboard supports 333MHz FSB processors, including
those of the Barton flavor, but does not support the latest
400MHz FSB Athlon processors. Those processors will
need VIA's KT600 chipset, which is scheduled to be released
this summer. Expansion slots are plentiful with one
AGP 8X slot and 5 PCI slots. Also pictured above are
the SPDIF in and SPDIF out connectors. Adjacent to the
fourth PCI slot is the Realtek RTL8100BL LAN controller
which provides 10/100Mb LAN support. Finally we have
the back I/O panel which has two PS/2 connections, an RJ-45
LAN jack, a game port and speaker ports. There are
also two USB 2.0 ports located below the LAN jack.
This is a straightforward design as we've seen on many of
chosen the AWARD BIOS for this particular motherboard.
The AWARD BIOS is a very popular one and is found on many
major motherboards today. This particular BIOS has the
standard screens with a couple worth noting. There is
one screen labeled Top Performance which is either enabled
or disabled. This apparently sets the motherboard to
operate at its best performance, although it was hard to
notice anything in terms of sheer speed improvements when
enabling this setting. Another interesting screen here
is the PC Health Status screen, which monitors all of the
motherboard's vital signs. There is an option for
monitoring whether or not the case has been opened.
There are also settings to alarm the user in the event a fan
is not up to speed. Lastly, a setting to enable the
CPU Shutdown temperature is here to prevent any injury to
the processor from thermal over-stress.
interesting screens are seen here. The
Frequency/Voltage Control screen is where we'll find the
overclockers hanging out. On another note, we were a
bit disappointed when seeing what other options are
available in this BIOS. For all those with an
"unlocked" processor, the multiplier is set via a dip switch
on the motherboard, not in the BIOS. This may not be a
big pitfall, but one that is a tad more cumbersome.
The FSB is adjustable here by entering a number between 166
and 250 which is interesting because this board will not
allow an underclock. Also on this screen is the DRAM
Clock setting which gives four options: By SPD, DDR266,
DDR333, and DDR400. The DDR400 selection is nice since
running the memory at 400MHz can be achieved without having
to get the FSB all the way up to 200MHz. Voltage
settings are also managed on this screen. The CPU, AGP,
and DIMM voltages can be adjusted. There are four CPU
voltage settings: Auto, +5%, +7.5%, and +10%. This is
slim pickin's here, but covers a decent range of voltages.
AGP voltage settings allow for Auto, +0.1V, +0.2V, and +0.3V
which is a nice array to choose from. DIMM voltage
settings are exactly the same as the AGP's and once again is
what one would like to see when honing in on a solid
graphics card overclock that needs a little extra
persuasion. Finally, memory timings can be adjusted
inside the BIOS, which will help tremendously when
overclocking this motherboard. One note worth
mentioning here is that the "Advanced Chipset Feature"
screen (where you dial additional memory timings) is only
available when CTRL+F1 is pressed once inside the BIOS.
This is definitely not intuitive, but is mentioned in the
manual that ships with this motherboard. OK, we've
seen what's under the hood, let's take a look at our setup
and some of the benchmarks we achieved with this