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Tekram P6Pro-A5 motherboard

by Drew Dunn
1999/04/09

Tekram P6Pro-A5 Motherboard
product review

by Drew Dunn

The Tekram P6Pro-A5 motherboard is a very small slot one ATX form factor board that features VIA's new Apollo chipset. Tekram markets the board as having "maximum performance at a cost-effective price."

They were certainly correct about the price. I purchased this motherboard at a local computer store near Boise, Idaho for about $95.00. I admit that I was really looking for a BX chipset-based motherboard, but I was intrigued by the idea of trying out a new chipset. We'll get to the performance shortly.

Other than the VIA logo prominently stamped on the large, surface-mounted chip in the center of the motherboard, the P6Pro-A5 looked like any other Pentium II board that I'd seen. A quick visual scan of the board showed sockets for the CPU, three DIMMs, one AGP, five PCI and two ISA (including one PCI and one ISA slot shared). The quality of construction was, as we've come to expect from computer components, excellent. The remainder of the accessories on the board were the usual PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, two USB ports, two serial ports and a parallel port. Two Ultra DMA/33 IDE and a floppy port were placed along the edge of the motherboard.

Installing the Pentium II CPU and 96 megabytes of RAM was as simple as pressing them into their slots. This motherboard is not jumperless, however, so I did spend about five minutes configuring and double-checking jumper positions. If you're tweaking for every last bit of speed from your system, this motherboard supports front side buses from 66MHz to 133MHz and features a temperature sensor to keep you advised of the heat produced by your CPU.

Speaking of heat, this board features two on-board connectors for fans. Both the CPU fan and a case fan can receive their power from the motherboard. A thermostat on the board controls the speed of the fans in response to the temperature within the case, something that should increase both motherboard and fan life.

Installing the motherboard was easy. I was replacing the aging Pentium Pro 200-based Intel Venus motherboard in my Micron Millennia Pro Plus full tower system, so there was plenty of room to work with. The Venus motherboard was easily twice the size of the new Tekram board, so I had to relocate some standoffs in the case. The board fit the case perfectly.

Because this board follows the ATX standard, installing peripheral cards was quite easy, and there was no problem with clearance or airflow blockage. After installing the cards, and connecting the various cables within the system, I turned it on for its initial configuration.

This motherboard uses an Award BIOS that was easy and intuitive to configure. While the online help, as expected, was not particularly useful, the printed manual accompanying the motherboard was very detailed and useful. Once the board was configured, I proceeded to boot the system.

This system runs Red Hat Linux 5.2, and the initial boot did not go well. The system could not find a bootable partition to load the operating system. I could not determine which component was at fault for this problem, but it was easily solved by booting to a floppy drive and rewriting the master boot record. Once booted, the system was obviously faster than the previous motherboard/CPU/memory combination. Although the system had 32 MB less than the previous installation, the system performance is, perhaps, 30% faster.

After recompiling the Linux kernel, version 2.0.36, to support the PII, I tested the system exhaustively, but found no compatibility issues. It was fully supported by Linux with no problems.

Because this motherboard supports Ultra DMA/33, the hard drive was fully able to perform at its maximum speed. The combination of faster processor, faster hard drive transfers and a more efficient chipset resulted in a reduction of about 50% in the amount of time to boot the system. In fact, for the first time, this system actually booted faster than the Windows 98 system next to it, running a PII 450 with 128MB of RAM.

I recommend this motherboard to anyone who wants to build a system on a budget. The VIA chipset is comparable to an Intel BX chipset, the board is well constructed and easy to install. Other, jumperless, boards may be easier to configure, but do cost more.

Tekram is on the World Wide Web at: http://www.tekram.com

As tested, the computer was configured as follows

  • Tekram P6Pro-A5 Motherboard
  • Intel Pentium II 300
  • 3 - 32 MB PC100 Crucial DIMMs
  • Maxtor 11.2 GB UDMA/33 Hard Drive
  • Plextor 20TS SCSI CD-ROM
  • Hewlett-Packard HP4020i SCSI CD Writer
  • Iomega JAZZ Removable Cartridge Drive
  • Sony 3.5" Floppy Drive
  • Buslogic BT-930 "Flashpoint" SCSI Controller
  • STB Velocity 128 Video
  • 3COM 3C509 10BaseT Network Interface Card
  • Red Hat Linux 5.2

Drew Dunn is the co-founder of
The NOSPIN Group, Inc.

Drew is an Electrical Engineering student at Boise State University. He served ten years in the US Navy as a sonar technician, working on micro and minicomputers manufactured by IBM, Honeywell, Hewlett Packard and Digital. Prior to attending BSU, he worked for Micron Electronics as the manager of the Government/Fortune 500 Technical Support Group. He
mixes an occasional column on Linux for the San Diego and Denver based magazine "ComputorEdge" in with musing about why he waited 18 years before going to college.

 

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