VIA PT880 Chipset Preview

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VIA PT880 Chipset Preview
A Performance Preview of VIA's Dual-Channel P4 Chipset

By: Chris Angelini
December 8, 2003

Quake III
An oldie, but goodie

One of the best reasons to benchmark with Quake III is the application's remarkable consistency.  Updated to the latest point release, we set Quake III to run at its "Fastest" detail setting, effectively eliminating graphics as a potential source of interference.  Insane frame rates aside, all three Pentium 4 motherboards place very close to each other.  The 875P takes a narrow first-place, followed by Intel's 865PE, and rounded out by the VIA PT880.  The thing to remember here is that PT880 is doing incredibly well considering its price point. VIA may have a lot more to prove right now, but at some point, Intel is going to have to drop its prices in order to compete against VIA's heavy hitter in the discrete market, and ATI's RADEON 9100 IGP on the integrated graphics side.
SPECviewperf 7.1
Professional Graphics Suite

The SPECviewperf benchmark is an OpenGL metric written in C.  Originally developed by IBM, several other companies have contributed to the benchmark, which claims to focus on real-world performance testing.  It's currently comprised of six "viewsets," or a group of individual runs intended to characterize the graphics rendering portion of a given ISV's application.  The current applications represented are: 3ds max 3.1, IBM's Data Explorer, Intergraph's DesignReview, Discreet's Lightscape, Pro/ENGINEER 2001, and Unigraphics V17.

The results for SPECviewperf have been broken down on a per-application basis.  The top bar in each segment represents the PT880 chipset, the middle is 875P, and the bottom divulges 865PE's performance.  Clearly, Intel's 875P is best suited for workstation graphics, while the 865PE and PT880 seem to alternate victories after that.  A robust benchmarking suite like SPECviewperf shows that VIA that it still has some work to do if it wants to compete in such a demanding space.

After witnessing mediocre performance from the PT800 chipset, VIA's new PT880 is full of pleasant surprises.  From a feature standpoint alone, it has nearly every enthusiast-oriented extra that we could ask for.  The only significant omission that our reference board lacked was IEEE 1394 support.  However, faced with surround sound audio, six Serial ATA ports (with RAID 0, 1, and 0+1 capabilities), eight USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and a dual-channel, DDR400 memory controller, there is very little room for complaining.

On top of it's feature set, PT880 performs remarkably well against the two fastest Pentium 4 chipsets currently available.  At the very least, PT880 packs sufficient horsepower to usurp the 865 family and in some instances it zips right on past 875P as well.  Optimistic previews need to be validated with evaluations of retail hardware, though, so you can count on PT880 motherboard reviews as motherboards start emerging on shelves.  A representative at VIA believes the next week or two will start to see availability.  The same gentleman also listed nine manufacturers with plans for PT880 boards, so there shouldn't be a shortage of variety, either.

Generally, when a company has a killer feature set and compelling performance, price becomes a prohibitive factor.  Not so with PT880.  As VIA pushes for its fair share of recognition in the AMD64 and Pentium 4 marketplaces, it is offering well-rounded hardware at a very low cost.  Of course, we'll reserve final judgment on the platform until third-party boards start arriving with suggested retail prices.  But the fact that VIA anticipates the platform to sell for as low as $70 is exciting.  MSI has already announced its take on PT880, and so has ABIT.  Unfortunately, neither of those two boards are quite so complete as VIA's reference design.

Now that we've had the pleasure of sampling PT880, the next stop on VIA's Pentium 4 roadmap is PT890.  PT880's successor, set to sport DDR-2 400/533/667 memory support and PCI Express, will start sampling in December of this year, and if all goes according to plan, will enter mass production in the first quarter of next year.  Expect that one to come with a new South Bridge, too.  VT8239 is reportedly already sampling, featuring an extra pair of Serial ATA ports and an upgraded audio solution.  VIA might have a contender for Grantsdale yet.



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