Most of us remember the transition from VIA's KT266A to the KT333 chipset. We had been patiently waiting for a worthy successor to the popular KT266A, anxious to see the next level in chipset performance. In the end, what we ended up with were some nice feature enhancements, but some insignificant performance gains. Upon closer inspection of the two chipsets, we soon found that overall they weren't all that different. Aside from adding support for 333MHz DDR-RAM and USB 2.0, the two chipsets were essentially the same.
With a 25% increase in available memory bandwidth over the KT266A being the only real performance enhancement of the KT333, it became clear that the added bandwidth had a very minor affect on overall system performance. We soon found that in most tests the 25% increase in bandwidth had an effect on the benchmarks ranging from 1-5% in general. So ,naturally, with the introduction of the KT400, were we a little more hesitant to becoming excited about VIA's successor to the KT333. Were they going to take us down the same path again? This time it seems that the answer is a resounding "no". While the obvious change is "unofficial" support for 400MHz. DDR memory, VIA implemented other design changes that should have an effect on performance versus the KT333 as well as offering up some additional features.
Today we'll be taking a look at MSI's latest creation to adopt the KT400 chipset, the KT4 Ultra. This is a motherboard that not only incorporates VIA's latest and greatest, it also carries a heavy payload of features to make it an incredibly versatile, valuable motherboard. Let's take a look at what MSI has brought to us this time around.
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| Specifications of the MSI KT4 Ultra-FISR Motherboard |
| A Complete Package |
? Supports Socket A (Socket 462) for AMD®
Athlon? XP Athlon?/Duron? processor
? Supports 800MHz up to 1.8GHz
(Athlon? XP 2200+) processor
? VIA® KT400 chipset
- FSB @200/266 MHz
- Supports DDR200/266/333 memory
- AGP 8X and PCI advanced high
performance memory controller.
? VIA® VT8235 chipset
- Dual channel Ultra DMA 66/100/133
master mode EIDE controller.
- ACPI & PC2001 compliant enhanced
- Integrated USB 2.0 controller.
? 200/266/333 MHz. clocks are supported
? Supports up to six memory banks
using three 184-pin DDR SDRAMs.
? Supports up to 3GB memory size.
? Supports DDR200/266/333/400* memory.
*DDR 400 memory support by MSI certified
module only Note: DDR400 (PC3200)
Max. up to 2 Memory DIMM slots
with 4 memory banks only
? One AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) slot.
- Supports AGP 2.0 4x/8x.
? Six 32-bit PCI bus slots
(support 3.3v/5v PCI bus interface).
? An IDE controller on the VT8235 chipset provides
IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO,
Bus Master and Ultra DMA133/100/66 operation modes.
? 1 extra pinheader for Bluetooth connect connection.
? 1 floppy port supports 2 FDDs with 360K, 720K,
1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88Mbytes
? 2 serial ports (COM A + COM B)
? 1 parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
? 1 IrDA connector for SIR/ASKIR/HPSIR
? 1 audio port
? 6 USB 2.0 ports (Rear * 4/ Front * 2)
? C-Media 8738MX 6-channel audio + SPDIF out.
? The mainboard BIOS provides "Plug & Play" BIOS
which detects the peripheral devices and expansion
cards of the board automatically.
? The mainboard provides a Desktop Management Interface
(DMI) function which records your mainboard specifications.
? ACPI, 1.0a, APM1.2, PnP 1.0a, SMBIOS 2.3, USB 2.0,
WFM 2.0, Overclock, Boot from USB device.
? 30.5 cm(L) x 23 cm(W)
ATX Form Factor
? 6 mounting holes
Below is a list of the items that were included with the sample motherboard we received for review:
1 - 80 Wire Ribbon Cables
1 - Floppy Ribbon Cable
2 - Serial ATA Cables
1 - USB D-Bracket 2
1 - S-Bracket
1 - 3-Port IEEE 1394 Port
1 - Quick Installation Guide
1 - Quick User's Guide
1 - Serial ATA RAID Quick User's Guide
1 - PC2PC Bluetooth Quick User's Guide
1 - Drivers & Utilities CD
1 - Beyond 3D MSI DVD 5.1 CH CD
Once we were finished going over the contents of the KT4's package, we dropped in the Setup/Drivers CD to see what kind of Freeware/Utility packages came included. The installation process is handled by MSI's system configuration application which is one of the cleanest, most intuitive interfaces available. A simple tabbed menu system gives you easy access to all of the necessary drivers and other extras all within an easy to find layout. Along with the necessary drivers and support software that comes standard with the KT4, the CD also came with a few useful bonus products to add to the overall experience.
Included on the driver disk was a copy of Trend's PC-cillin, a fully functional and capable antivirus program. Every time each of us at HH checks our E-mail, we are reminded how many users are not running updated, or any antivirus software on their systems. There isn't a day that goes by that Norton Antivirus doesn't flag a few E-mails as infected each time new mail arrives. This is a disturbing reminder of how any users do not take the threat of a virus seriously and how many don't realize that they are, in fact, infected. It was great to see MSI is offering a free solution to help protect a user's new system, saving them the expense of buying a $50 Antivirus package. Nonetheless, we would have been happier to see a full version of Norton AntiVirus included as with many other motherboards on the market.
The CD also comes with MSI's Live Update 2 utility that checks for the latest BIOS and drivers available with a single click. We find it a little ironic that MSI has gone out of its way to make locating a new BIOS as simple as possible, yet when you go to their website they stress not to update unless you are experiencing problems with the system. The most we can say is if you are not terribly familiar with the process, be sure to read every single word of the instructions and follow them to the letter or you may end up with a dead board. MSI also includes a copy of X-Teq System's X-Setup for all you tweak hungry users who just can leave things alone! A second disk is also included which comes with a copy of MSI's own DVD 5.1 software. Although we tend to prefer PowerDVD, MSI's software was surprisingly robust and the playback quality was terrific. Any initial ambivalence we may have had about the product was soon dispelled once we installed it and started to check it out.
Quality, Setup and the BIOS