Soltek's SL-K890-Pro 939
In mid-2004, VIA's K8T890 chipset may have turned some heads with its PCI Express support for AMD's processor lineup. After all, the market was pretty bare at that point, and anyone looking at a high-end PCIe graphics card was being pushed toward Intel. At this point, we've already seen what SLI is capable of, and none of VIA's Athlon 64 offerings really come close from a feature perspective.
At the same time, Soltek covers the most important bases, enabling Gigabit Ethernet (not a standard VIA feature), eight-channel audio, Firewire, and even a supplementary SATA controller.
Layout is, overall, very clean. You'll find that the Socket 939 processor interface is fairly roomy. There's a 20-pin ATX power connector--a first that we've seen for PCI Express motherboards--and a four-pin auxiliary 12V connector, both placed in reasonable spots to keep from obstructing airflow. All three 40-pin IDE connectors are lined up neatly, right above the color-coded SATA ports. Soltek's floppy connector placement is less than ideal, but it's certainly workable.
VIA's K8T890 north bridge is passively cooled, and the VT8237R south bridge is completely bare. Surely, that bodes very well for thermal output and minimal noise pollution. The two components communicate through VIA's proprietary 8x V-Link interconnect running at 533 MBps, which is surprising considering that the combination supports Ultra V-Link that couple operate twice as fast. Nevertheless, performance should still be impressive since most of the potential traffic, generated by PCI Express, is handled by the K8T890's 20-lanes of connectivity.
Those peripherals that do remain bound to the aging south bridge include VIA's integrated SATA controller and its two SATA 1.5 Gbps ports, both ATA-133 channels, the eight-channel audio, up to eight USB 2.0 ports running at 480 Mbps, the Firewire chip (sitting on PCI), Promise's SATA RAID controller (also maxing out at 133 MBps on PCI), and the Gigabit Ethernet chip (the third contender for limited PCI traffic).
Understandably, Soltek couldn't have been too enthused about loading up on PCI add-in slots. Perhaps that's why the board only has two. There's also a trio of x1 PCI Express slots, which are perfect for adding your own Gigabit Ethernet controller or TV tuner card once they're available. Of course, the single PCI Express x16 port is your key to the latest and greatest graphics cards.
There's little differentiation in memory support due to the Athlon 64's built-in controller. You get the standard four slots that each work with up to 1GB modules of DDR400 RAM. Soltek color-codes them to make dual-channel installations a little bit easier, but you might find that they're a little close together. Any module with heat-spreaders should be fine; however, you'll may have problems with a Corsair XPERT kit.
The K890Pro back panel is endowed with plenty of ports, such as standard PS/2 fare, a serial port, optical input and output for audio, four USB 2.0 ports, an IEEE 1394 connector, one RJ-45 connector for Gigabit Ethernet, and six, 1/8" mini-jacks for analog audio I/O. You also get a nifty little LED diagnostic readout for troubleshooting POST issues.