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| Quality and Setup of the MSI KT3 Ultra ARU Motherboard |
| Looking Good... |
The KT3 Ultra ARU is an impressive looking motherboard with its bright red PCB and over all appearance. The layout of the system components is smart, leaving us with little to find fault with, aside from the ATX power connector placement. The CPU socket has plenty of breathing room to accommodate an oversized HSF which is essential if overclocking is your game. However, the cabling from your power supply may get in the way of proper airflow with extremely large coolers. At the heart of the Ultra ARU is the new VIA KT333 Northbridge with active cooling to help maintain stability. It was great to see that MSI took the extra step to apply a thin, even layer of thermal grease to the KT333 chipset to insure good heat transfer to the HSF, a sure sign that they are paying attention to the details with this board. Eleven large capacitors are located around the Northbridge and CPU to insure consistent clean current is being supplied to these key components. An additional 14 other capacitors are placed strategically near the AGP and RAM slots, as well as other key subsystems. It seems that MSI had stability in mind with the design of the KT3 Ultra ARU.
The system comes outfitted with 1 AGP, 5 PCI and 1 CNR slot for ample expandability. A total of four fan-headers are included on the board, with two being used by the chipset and CPU cooler, leaving two additional headers available for a chassis fan and other additional fans of your choice. Both the CPU and chassis fan header, located near the RAID IDE connectors, are capable of monitoring FAN speeds and voltages in the BIOS or with the PCAlert III utility using the integrated Winbond Hardware Monitor.
Three USB headers are placed behind the CNR slot offering expansion to 2 additional USB 1.1 ports and 4 USB 2.0 ports. 2 USB brackets are included with the motherboard to take advantage of this added feature and color coded connectors make installation very simple. The 2 port USB bracket comes with 4 diagnostic LEDs that can provide critical systems status. This can be an extremely handy feature when overclocking the KT3 Ultra ARU. If the system hangs or crashes during the boot process, the LEDs could give a hint as to what portion of the system is failing. This can be helpful in determining a hardware error as well as helping with fine tuning an overclocking attempt, when system boot failure is part of the game. Knowing which portion of the system can't cope with the attempted overclock allows for a systematic plan of attack to help maximize performance while maintaining system stability.
The KT3 Ultra ARU includes an integrated Promise 20276 RAID Controller, powered by the Promise "Lite" BIOS. Although the RAID controller is capable of supporting up to four hard drives, it is important to note that no more than two drives can be set up in RAID 0 or 1 configuration, the other two can only be used as single drives, independent of the array. Both the Promise 20276 RAID controller and on-board IDE connectors support the new ATA133 standard, allowing for a maximum data transfer burst rate of 133MBs per second with ATA133 capable hard drives. The on-board audio is powered by a Realtek ALC650 audio codec, providing superb 6-channel analog/digital audio with the use of the audio S-Bracket included in the KT3 package. As a whole, the KT3 Ultra ARU has an impressive appearance along with a nice collection of standard features that should please even the most critical user.
Next we'll take a closer look at the system BIOS and see if it is as well equipped as the board itself.
The BIOS of the MSI KT3 Ultra-ARU Motherboard:
The KT3 Ultra ARU is equipped with the AMIBIOS Easy Setup Utility Version 3.31a. This version of the BIOS has an excellent variety of settings to maximize the systems performance. One of the quickest ways to set this board up for optimal performance is by choosing the "Load High Performance Defaults" setting. Using this option sets up the system with aggressive timings for maximum performance. We were surprised how effective this setting was, needing to make little adjustments over and above the changes it made, other than system specific choices like "boot order." When it comes to overclocking, there are a number of critical adjustments available to get the job done.
Under DRAM Timing Control, the system can be set to run the memory by SPD, 200MHz., 266MHz. or 333MHz. depending on whether PC1600, PC2100 or PC2700 is installed. When it comes to overclocking, the Frequency/Voltage Control screen offers an adequate selection of settings to tweak the CPU, FSB and critical voltages as needed. The FSB can be adjusted from 100MHz. to 220MHz. in 1 MHz. increments. The CPU VCore can be adjusted from 1.725V to 1.85V in .25V increments, while the AGP Voltage can be set for 1.6, 1.7 or 1.8V. The DDR RAM Voltage can also be adjusted for either 2.6, 2.7 or 2.8V.
Lastly, the PC Health Status screen can be used to monitor critical system temperatures and voltages, as well as CPU and system fan speeds. The system can be set to detect a CPU fan failure as well as chassis intrusion, with the proper hardware. However, the board is missing the option to set a shutdown temperature, in case the CPU gets too hot.
Next we'll put these settings to good use and see how high we can go with the MSI KT3 Ultra ARU.
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| Overclocking the MSI KT3 Ultra-ARU Motherboard |
| Get On The Bus! |
Normally when we overclock a system, we prefer to do it with an unlocked processor. This way when an overclock attempt fails, we know it is the result of the processor or the board failing rather than another component connected to the system. In this instance however, our Athlon XP 1800+ is one of the few whose contacts are burned, making unlocking it virtually impossible. Nonetheless, we gave it a try with simple bus and voltage adjustments and the results were not bad. With this system we were able to reach a maximum bus speed of 147MHz, boosting the processor from the default 1.53GHz to 1.70GHz, for an 11% gain. Once we went any higher the system would fail during the boot process. We tried a number of voltage adjustments and the results were still the same. Surely we could have decreased the RAM settings from 2-2-5-2 to 2.5-3-6-3, but then the effects of the overclock on the RAM is reduced tremendously. So with this test we opted to settle for 147MHz with aggressive memory timings and let the benchmarks speak for themselves. Ultimately the choice is yours. So, let's take a look at Sandra 2002 Professional and see how the system stacks up in the big picture shall we?
Sandra 2002 and CPU Tests!