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Reviewed by: Trevor Flynn [07.01.03]
Edited by: Carl Nelson

Manufactured by: DFI
Est. Street Price: $140-145

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Back in the fall of 2002, Via released the much maligned KT400 chipset.  If you recall, the KT400 was outperformed by it's predecessor, the KT333, in almost all benchmark tests.  Embarrassed to say the least, Via went back to the drawing board with promises of a forthcoming KT400a release that would set things right in the tradition of the KT133a and KT2666a.

Now a good nine months later we are finally starting to see these new chipsets in a large number of production motherboards. The face of the chipset industry on the socket A chipset front have drastically changed over the last little bit though.  Via, once the reigning king of the chipset industry has been dethroned by the upstart Nvidia and their nForce2 chipset. What kinds of performance gains can we expect to see from the new "a" chipset revision?  Can the KT400a compete with the nForce2 without the benefit of DualDDR?  Will Via reclaim it's crown as the top performing AMD chipset?  Let's have a look and see.

The Specs

The board we are looking at today is one of three from DFI's new Lan Party series.  Along with the KT400a option, there is also an nForce2 and an Intel based 875 Pro board to choose from.  The DFI KT400a board ships with the following features.

CPU: Socket A AMD Duron/Athlon MP/Athlon XP
Chipset: Via KT400a + Via VT8235CD
FSB: 100/133/166 (+ max 200)
Memory: 3 DDR SDRAM PC3200, 3GB Max
Onboard IDE: 2 x E/IDE Ultra DMA/133, 2 x Highpoint Raid, 1 SATA. 6 drives max
USB: 6 x USB 2.0 ports, 4 onboard, 2 with included front-panel cable
Onboard Audio: 6 channel VT1616 AC'97 integrated sound
Onboard NIC: 2 x 10/100 RTL8139C
Onboard Firewire:1 x IEEE 1394 port via included front-panel cable
Expansion Slots: 1x AGP 8x/4x, 5 x 32bit PCI

For a full list of features you can check out DFI's Lanparty website.

A couple points of interest here.  First off notice that lack of a Dual DDR setup.  Via claims that their Fastream 64 memory prefetch technology will allow a single DDR memory chip to run as fast at 64bits as two DDR memory chips, with an equal combined size, running at 128bits (Dual DDR config). Furthermore, AMD CPU's aren't exactly as bandwidth hungry as P4's. While Dual Channel DDR should give a performance boost overall, it won't be as profound as you see with the Pentium 4 (you can see direct comparisons in our latest P4 Platform Overview)

Secondly, notice the board has both RAID capabilities as well as SATA. There is unfortunately only 1 SATA header though, and both SATA and RAID devices cannot be used at the same time.

The Highpoint RAID controller is of great interest since it incorporates the new RAID 1.5 configuration. Basically RAID 1.5 claims to incorporate both mirroring (RAID 1) and Stripping (RAID 0) much like RAID 01 (or 10), but with only 2 drives instead of 4!

Finally, for whatever reason, DFI chose to use a third party controller for their SATA interface even though one is included through the new VT8235 southbridge. This might explain why the RAID interfaces are not able to be used in conjunction with the SATA interface.

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