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Gigabyte 7VAXPA Ultra KT400A
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Date: May 28, 2003
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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Gigabyte 7VAXPA Ultra KT400A - Page 1

 

Gigabyte's 7VAXP-A Ultra KT400A Motherboard
Competition For The nForce 2

By, Tom Laverriere
May 27, 2003


If anyone has ever been part of a team, not just in sports but in any part of life, there is one valuable lesson to learn and that is competition within the team makes the team better.  There are many reasons for this.  Competitiveness pushes individuals on the team to perform at higher levels to ensure their spot on the team.  The ones that don't play a starting role, nevertheless, keep working hard trying to become that next strong player on the team.  In any event, competition is a good thing.  Competition is even better when it comes to computer technology.  With every new piece of technology that gets announced, the top players in the industry flaunt their hardware sporting this new technology.  Who's product is better?  Which company has the better name?  Readers like you then jump to PC Hardware sites and get the scoop on how the new technology performs.  This, my friends, is competition at its best.  These companies are fighting for your hard-earned Benjamins and in doing so are constantly improving the final product.  This can only mean one thing, we are the winners of this ongoing endeavor of the hardware game.

Intel and AMD have been waging battle for some time now obviously and to claim highest performance over all, is the almighty crown.  Intel pushes the envelope with megahertz while AMD offers "slower" processors that perform more efficiently and seem to execute just as quickly.  Motherboard chipsets offer the latest support to get the most speed and efficiency out of these brand spanking new processors.  While dual channel DDR memory support has been all the talk lately, there are still some other chipsets out there that offer similar performance with single channel solutions.  For AMD'ers, Nvidia's nForce2 chipset seems to be the perfect match, but VIA has ideas of their own.  Today we take a look at Gigabyte's motherboard sporting VIA's latest chipset the KT400A.  The Gigabyte 7VAXP-A Ultra has many of the bells and whistles one could hope for.  However, while the KT400A chipset does not offer dual channel DDR memory, it offers what VIA likes to call, a "more efficient" memory architecture which will compete and possibly surpass the nForce2.  Is this it?  Have we found an nForce2 killer?  Grab a seat and get comfy while we give you the inside scoop as to how this motherboard performs.

 

Gigabyte 7VAXP-A Ultra: Featureset

Via KT400A - Gigabyte's Ultra KT400A Motherboard
Feature Rich
 

Gigabyte 7VAXP-A Ultra KT400A Motherboard

Chipset
Via KT400A Memory / AGP / PCI Controller ( PAC )

Via VT8235 Integrated Peripheral Controller ( PSIPC )

 

Processor
Socket A Processor AMD Athlon / Athlon XP / Duron ( K7 ) 128K L1 & 512K / 256K 64K L2 cache on die

200 / 266 / 333MHz FSB and DDR Bus speeds

Supports 1.4GHz and faster

 

Memory

3 184-pin DDR sockets

Supports DDR DRAM PC2100 / PC2700 / PC3200

Supports up to 3.0GB DDR ( Max )

Supports only 2.5V DDR DIMM

 

I/O Control

IT8705

 

Expansion Slots
1 AGP Slot supports 8X / 4X / 2X mode ( 1.5V ) & AGP 3.0 Compliant

5 PCI Slots supports 33MHz & PCI 2.2 Compliant

 

On-Board Peripherals

1 Floppy supports 2 FDD with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88M bytes

1 Parallel port supports Normal / EPP / ECP mode

2 Serial ports ( COMA & COMB )

6 x USB 2.0 / 1.1 ( 4 by cable )

3 x IEEE 1394 by cable

1 IrDA connector for IR

1 Smart Card Reader connector for SCR

 

On-Board Sound

Realtek ALC650 CODEC

Line Out / 2 front speaker

Line In / 2 rear speaker ( by s/w switch )

Mic In / center & subwoofer ( by s/w switch )

SPDIF Out / SPDIF In

CD In / AUX In / Game port

 

On-Board LAN

Realtek RTL8100BL

 

On-Board IEEE 1394

Via VT6306

 

On-Board IDE

2 IDE Controllers provides IDE HDD / CD-ROM ( IDE1, IDE2 ) with PIO, Bus Master ( UltraDMA 33 / ATA66 / ATA100 / ATA133 ) operation modes

IDE3 and IDE4 Compatible with RAID, Ultra ATA 133 / 100, EIDE

 

 

On-Board RAID

Onboard Promise PDC20276

Supports data striping ( RAID 0 ) or mirroring ( RAID 1 )

Supports concurrent dual IDE controller operation

Supports IDE Bus Master operation

Displays status and error checking messages on start up

Mirroring supports automatic background rebuilds

Features LBA and Extended Interrupt 13 drive translation in controller onboard BIOS

 

On-Board SATA RAID

Onboard Silicon Image Sil3112A

Supports disk striping ( RAID 0 ) or DISK Mirroring ( RAID 1 )

Supports UDMA up to 150 MB/s

AIL UDMA and PIO Modes

Up to 2 SATA Devices

ACPI and ATA / ATAPI6

 

H/W Monitoring
CPU / System Fan Revolution Detect

CPU / System Temperature Detect

System Voltage Detect

Thermal Shutdown function

 

PS/2 Connector

PS/2 Keyboard interface and PS/2 Mouse interface

 

BIOS

Licensed Award BIOS, 2Mbit flash ROM

Supports Dual BIOS / Q-Flash

 

Overclocking

Over Voltage ( DDR / AGP / CPU ) by BIOS

Over Clock ( DDR / AGP / CPU / PCI ) by BIOS

 

Additional Features
PS/2 Keyboard power on by password, PS/2 Mouse power on

External Modem wake up

STR ( Suspend-To-RAM )

Wake on LAN ( WOL )

AC Recovery

Poly fuse for keyboard over-current protection

USB KB/Mouse wake up from S3

Supports @BIOS

Supports EasyTune 4

 

Form Factor

30.5cm x 24.4cm ATX size form factor

4 layers PCB

 

 

 


 



 


Via KT400A Architecture

   

In the diagram above, its easy to see that the KT400A chipset is feature-rich and Gigabyte has not left anything out.  The Gigabyte 7VAXP-A Ultra, is named rightly so.  This motherboard incorporates all of the KT400A's capabilities.  RAID support is offered in both the IDE and SATA flavors.  There is support for USB 2.0, Firewire, and much more.  Let's take a closer look at the motherboard itself and see how all of these features were laid out.

A Closer Look: Gigabyte 7VAXP-A Ultra

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Gigabyte 7VAXPA Ultra KT400A - Page 2

 

Gigabyte's 7VAXP-A Ultra KT400A Motherboard
Competition For The nForce 2

By, Tom Laverriere
May 27, 2003

 
Gigabyte 7VAXP-A Ultra - Packing a punch
Under the Hood

The Bundle

The Gigabyte 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.

Pictured above 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 Gigabyte.

 

Under The Scope: Layout and Features

 

Pictured above 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.

 

  

The Gigabyte 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 load.

 

Gigabyte's 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 just fine.

 

 

 

 

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 Gigabyte's motherboards.

 

The BIOS

Gigabyte has 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. 

 

The more 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 motherboard.

Setup and Benchmarking

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Gigabyte 7VAXPA Ultra KT400A - Page 3

 

Gigabyte's 7VAXP-A Ultra KT400A Motherboard
Competition For The nForce 2

By, Tom Laverriere
May 27, 2003

 

To test the Gigabyte motherboard in its 3D gaming performance, we used the latest versions of Novalogic's Comanche 4 and Quake 3 Arena.  All gaming tests were run at a resolution of 640x480 in order to put as much stress on the motherboard rather than the graphics card.

 

Quake 3 and Comanche 4
OpenGL and Direct 3D Gaming Performance

 

 

In the gaming benchmarks, the nForce2 motherboard again manages to keep a big lead compared to the Gigabyte KT400A mainboard.  Although, the Gigabyte KT400A board is not quite up to the challenge presented by the nForce2 board, we're seeing fairly impressive numbers here, demonstrating that the KT400A solution is a competitor.  Let's see how this KT400A motherboard handles a round of Unreal Tournament 2003 benchmarks...

Unreal Tournament 2003 and The Ratings

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Gigabyte 7VAXPA Ultra KT400A - Page 4

 

Gigabyte's 7VAXP-A Ultra KT400A Motherboard
Competition For The nForce 2

By, Tom Laverriere
May 27, 2003

 

We'll wrap it up with a benchmark round from Unreal Tournament 2003.  We utilized a simple benchmark script that does "Fly By" demos on the Antalus, the Asbestos and the Citadel levels at low detail settings putting most of the strain on system throughput rather than the graphics card itself.

Unreal Tournament 2003
DirectX 8 Gaming Performance

 

 

 

We see that in the Antalus and Citadel levels, we can put the KT400A motherboard on the same pedestal as the nForce2 board.  However, the Asbestos level heavily favors the nForce2 motherboard mainly due to less intensive graphics pipeline demands, allowing for system bandwidth to truly shine through.  By now, it's fair to say that Gigabyte's KT400A motherboard is not quite up to par with a competitive nForce2 solution but does provide a measured level of performance above and beyond its predecessor the KT400.

 

Gigabyte 7VAXP-A Ultra Analysis:
 

After working with the Gigabyte 7VAXP-A Ultra for over two weeks, we have some mixed feelings.  Let's start you off with the good.  When looking at the benchmarks Gigabyte's 7VAXP-A Ultra motherboard produces, we can easily say this is a reasonably fast motherboard.  Despite some anomalies between this motherboard and the PC3500 DIMM's, this motherboard has also proven to be reliable and stable throughout its tests.  Although the performance is not at the level of an nForce2 motherboard, a competitive system could be configured potentially at a lower cost, since only one stick of memory is needed with this motherboard.  As a final positive notw, this board is loaded with extras from USB 2.0 support to PATA and SATA RAID support and these extra frills definitely earn the "Ultra" moniker.  Now the downside.  Why would anyone bother buying a KT400A motherboard right now?  Not only is this board slower than the nForce2 variety, it has only just now become mainstream nearly four months after nForce2 motherboards hit full swing.  The sound solution is not as good as the nForce2's, there is no dual channel DDR memory, and the nForce2 chipset has the ability to offer all the same peripheral features as the KT400A chipset does.  We have come to expect good things from VIA over the last couple of years, since each of their chipsets has seemed to improve upon the previous chipset release.  While Gigabyte has produced a solid product here, it would be hard for us to recommend this board to any type of enthusiast but perhaps it would suit the average system builder looking to control every cost variable they can.  If what you're looking for is a fast, stable motherboard with some decent options, then yes, maybe this board is for you.  But when you can get even better performance from an nForce2 motherboard, albeit it at a slightly higher price point, we think it would be wiser to consider something like Gigabyte's GA-7NNXP instead.

 

  • Stable and Reasonably Fast

  • AGP 8X

  • Supports 333MHz Athlon chips

  • USB 2.0 support

  • IEEE 1394 support

  • PATA and SATA RAID support

  • Dual BIOS

  • Single Channel DDR technology
  • No support for 400MHz FSB AMD processors
  • Mediocre overclocker
  • nForce2 motherboards available with better performance

We're giving the Gigabyte 7VAXP-A Ultra motherboard a HotHardware Heat Meter rating of...

 

Discuss this or any other Hot Hardware Review in the PC Hardware Forum!
 

 

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