VIA PT894 & PT880 Pro Chipset Preview
VIA's PT894 Reference Board
VIA's reference PT894 motherboard is quite similar to any other retail product you might pull off of a store shelf. Granted, component layout isn't a top priority, but VIA still managed to leave plenty of room around its LGA775 interface for oversized cooling. The power connectors aren't placed optimally; however, that's less of a problem in an open-air test bench environment.
The PT894 north bridge is covered by a small passive heatsink, indicating that VIA's latest core logic is free from the thermal constraints that often plague other high-end chipsets. Moreover, the VT8251 south bridge is able to run without cooling at all--a testament to the benefits of smaller manufacturing processes. Surely some motherboard manufacturers will opt to use more robust cooling, nevertheless.
The reference board is actually well-equipped with peripheral connectivity, too. You can see on the back panel that there are two RJ-45 jacks, which interface with an add-on Broadcom Gigabit controller and VIA's VT6103 PHY with 10/100 Mbps capabilities. There are also three 1/8" stereo jacks enabled by VIA's VT1617A Eight-TRAC codec. Finally, four USB 2.0 ports grace the back panel; retail boards will undoubtedly include extra headers to expose the chipset's remaining four ports.
Because the north and south bridge combination offers a total of 22 PCI Express lanes, VIA does its best to employ them all. You'll find one x16 slot for graphics, one x4 slot for another high-speed peripheral, and a single-lane x1 slot, leaving just enough room for two standard PCI slots.
Four memory slots support up to 4GB of DDR2 RAM. VIA claims that the PT894 chipset actually works with 667 MHz memory, but the initial reference BIOS doesn't offer that setting quite yet. Instead, we had to content ourselves with DDR2 533 running at 3-3-3-8 latencies in a dual-channel configuration. Theoretically, such a configuration would yield up to 8.5 GBps of bandwidth, but as you'll see, our real-world throughput was significantly lower.