VIA PT894 & PT880 Pro Chipset Preview
Windows Media Encoder 9 and Conclusion
The graph is fairly even when it comes to encoding media on our various platforms. The only real variation involves a slowdown affecting VIA's PT894.
VIA seems to have the right idea in approaching today's Pentium 4 market. Existing DDR2/PCI Express platforms aren't exactly popular in part because they force so many simultaneous upgrades without a significant return on investment. By opening the door to augmented memory flexibility and interchangeable graphics on the PT880 Pro, VIA is essentially appealing to those customers turned off by Intel's strategy. Adding a second graphics slot on the PT894 adds value above and beyond what Intel is currently offering to its customers, too.
However, in order to beat Intel at its own game, VIA needs to execute as well, if not better. And though the PT880 and PT894 chipsets look great on paper, our early tests indicate that there's still some work to be done under the proverbial hood. From a core logic level, DDR2 memory performance appears to be lacking somewhat. Moreover, PCI Express support appears to be dodgy, as our PT880 Pro sample wouldn't complete several benchmarks armed with PCIe graphics and the PT894 board demonstrated some odd screen refresh artifacts. While it may pertain to driver immaturity, the VT8251 south bridge currently won't allow Serial ATA hard drives to load Windows, although it recognizes the drives during POST. VIA has already said that the VT8251 bridge isn't quite ready for prime-time, so perhaps when the finishing touches are applied, all sub-systems will function as intended.
There's a lot in store for VIA's product lineup, according to representatives at the company. The next-generation of chipsets is already on the drawing board and set for manufacturing at 110 or 90 nanometers. Faster north-to-south bridge links are planned as well, and DDR2 memory at up to 800 MHz is under investigation. Believe it or not, VIA even plans to transition its core logic product to single-chip implementations a la NVIDIA. But that's all in the future. What's immediately important is the PT880 Pro, PT894, and PR894 Pro chipsets.
Retail motherboards are expected before the end of the first quarter and there's a good chance those boards will employ the VT8237 south bridge. Moreover, they'll need to either sell at a deep discount or boast better performance attributes than what we saw today. Here's hoping VIA is able to iron out the PT-series' kinks; we're looking forward to using three- or four-display setups.