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ABIT VA6: Slot1 PC133 motherboard

by Drew Dunn
2000/07/18



VA6  motherboard
by Drew Dunn

General Partner
The NOSPIN Group

ABIT VA6: Slot1 PC133 motherboard

ABIT's VA6 is the latest offering from the Taiwanese manufacturer that most recently made its mark with the dual Celeron BP6 board. This time, they've created a budget-priced Slot 1 board that departs from the standard Intel chipset based Pentium II/III boards that we're used to seeing.

The VA6 is based on VIA Technology's Apollo Pro 133 chipset, a direct competitor of Intel's 440BX. It features ABIT's SoftMenu technology, a menu-driven CPU configuration system that allows the user to set all of the CPU parameters without changing any jumpers.

Part of the appeal of the Apollo Pro 133 is that it has native support for a 133MHz front side bus. While many BX boards support the fast bus, the chipset was not designed with it in mind.

The VIA chipset also provides some additional features not found on the Intel product, such as support for up to four USB ports, AC97 audio, HSP modems, a wider array of memory types and, perhaps most importantly, Ultra ATA/66 IDE devices.

The Apollo Pro 133 features an asynchronous memory bus that allows the user to use memory of a different speed than the front side bus. A front side bus of 133MHz supports both 100MHz and 133MHz DIMMs, while the 100MHz FSB allows 66MHz and 100MHz DIMMs. While that may not be a performance plus, it's certainly presents a cheaper way of upgrading to a faster system by allowing the use of slower DIMMs with a faster processor. The standard flock of three DIMM slots is present, supporting a total of 768MB of RAM.

The VA6 presents the standard appearance of a Slot 1 motherboard. In fact, it's very similar to it's BX-based cousin, the BH6. It features one AGP, five PCI and two ISA slots, including a shared ISA and PCI slot. The board is standard ATX form factor with the usual mix of I/O ports arrayed along its back, including PS/2 keyboard and mouse, two serial, one parallel and two USB ports. The three AC97 audio jacks along with a joystick port also reside in standard positions on the board. Pins are located on the motherboard for an infrared port and two additional USB ports. The motherboard also supports Wake on LAN and the system  management bus. The board supports Slot 1 CPUs including Celerons, Pentium II and Pentium III, including the new Coppermine chips.

In a different approach from more recent ABIT motherboards, the VA6 comes equipped with two Ultra ATA/66 channels, but instead of the integrated HighPoint HPT366 controller along with the "standard" IDE controllers, this board uses the Apollo Pro's built in ATA/66 controller.

I installed the VA6 motherboard in a system with an STB Velocity 4400 AGP video card, a Permedia2-based PCI video card, a Symbios PCI SCSI-2 card, a Netgear FA-310TX network card, 160MB of PC100 DIMMs, a Pentium II-450 processor, an Acer 32x CD-ROM drive, an HP 8100i CD-R drive and two Western Digital 20GB ATA/66 hard drives. I used Windows 2000 as the test operating system.

Windows 2000 recognized all of the devices on the motherboard except for the AC97 audio controller. A quick trip to ABIT's web site revealed updated drivers which installed with no problem.

The board performed well. Large and small file transfers between hard drives were very fast, as we've come to expect from the ATA/66 technology.  The board supported the USB devices we connected, including an Iomega Zip drive, and the Explorer mouse, Natural keyboard and Digital Sound System from Microsoft.

Network file transfers moved well, with no delays imposed by the motherboard. The dual monitory configuration that Windows 2000 supports also presented no problem to the motherboard.

The STB Velocity 4400 calls for a 256MB AGP apeture, but the VA6 offers a maxiumum of 64MB. The video card's requirement is somewhat unique, but it did not suffer any apparent performance degradation at 64MB.

One of the real conveniences that I appreciated was the ease of configuring peripheral cards. While the BP6 is one of my favorite motherboards, it presents a real puzzle if you want to populate all of the slots. The BP6 shares interrupts among the various installed PCI devices and its PCI slots. The VA6 doesn't suffer from this problem since the only "extra" device is the AC97 audio codec. Over the course of testing,  I managed to fill up every slot without an IRQ conflict to resolve.

The VA6 is stable. I ran the system for three days with a variety of applications from word processing to Quake III and it just wouldn't die.

The board isn't perfect, though. Like previous VIA chipsets, the Apollo Pro 133 has a problem with memory bandwidth. Head to head with an identically configured ABIT BE6, the VA6 clocks out about 20% slower in memory transfer rates. Where it counts, though, in actual use, the difference isn't so noticeable. A few runs of Quake 3 Demo 2 showed differences of anywhere from a few tenths of a frame per second at 1024x768 to around 10 fps at 640x480. While the numbers show that the VA6 isn't the memory performer that the BE6 is, the difference wasn't actually visible, at least not to my eyes.

The bottom line is that I like this board. You will too. It's stable, has a ton of features that no other motherboard in its price range even touches and supports the newest tech. The VA6 is a budget-priced performer. 

 

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