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Reviewed by: Ed Lau [08.23.04]
Manufacturers: Abit, Albatron, Asus

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No, this isn't reality TV...

The Athlon 64 processor has become more of a mainstream product as its MSRP slowly dissolves. What was only in Alienware and Voodoo's high-end boutique box is now available to Not-Too-Average Joe with a little bit more money in their pocket than his younger brother, Average Joe.

Of course, the question that will always inevitably come up is "What should I spend the money I earned working at Wal-Mart on? AMD or Intel?" If that's what you're going to ask me, then you're going to be sorely disappointed as I'm going to stay the hell away from that subject. That's not what I'm doing here today.

We are, however, going to be looking at three AMD 64 motherboards to see which ones are hot and which are not. Oh, and let me point out that all three are from VIA. The latest version of nVidia's nForce3 will be represented at a later date (once we round up some Socket 939 processors). Someone grab me my green laser pointer...

  SiS 755 VIA K8T800 NVIDIA nForce3 150 NVIDIA nForce3 250
Downstream HyperTransport Link 16 bit / 800 MHz 16 bit / 800 MHz 16 bit / 600 MHz 16 bit / 800 MHz
Upstream HyperTransport Link 16 bit / 800 MHz 16 bit / 800 MHz 8 bit / 600 MHz 16 bit / 800 MHz
Northbridge? Yes Yes No No
North/Southbridge Connectivity 1 GB/s (MuTIOL) 533 MB/s (8X V-Link) 1.8 GB/s (no Northbridge) 3.2 GB/s (no Northbridge)
Max. Memory 2 GB 4 GB 3 GB 3 GB
SATA 2 Channel w/ RAID 2 Channel w/ RAID 2 Channel w/ RAID 4 Channel w/ RAID
PATA 2 Channel ATA 133 2 Channel ATA 133 2 Channel ATA 133 2 Channel ATA 133
Ethernet 10/100 Base-T 10/100 Base-T 10/100 Base-T 10/100/1000* Base-T
Max. USB Ports 8 Ports 8 Ports 6 Ports 8 Ports
Max. PCI Slots 6 Slots 5 Slots 6 Slots 6 Slots

As you can see here, the VIA K8T800 has a few clear advantages over its direct rivals as well as some weaknesses. It supports the greatest amount of memory and HT bandwidth that matches the rest but a slower North/Southbridge speed.

Other than that, everything else is mostly the same. Now let's see who gets voted off the island.

If you're buying a Sempron 64 bit CPU, you're going to be limited by it anyway. It is only available in the S754 platform, and thus only capable of single channel memory support. It has several limitations that would not be used on newer chipsets anyway. Its HyperTransport link tops out at 1.6 GHz.

Albatron K8X800 Pro II

Our last encounter with Albatron did not fare as well as we would have liked. While it did try hard, the 5700P was simply outmatched and suffered from being, well, ordinary. However, their AMD 64 offering is anything but with more features than its competition, most notably an audio controller using the excellent VIA Envy24HT which supports 24-bit mode, something we see in many of the better sound cards available on the market. The onboard audio setup supports 7.1 speakers and also includes a PCI bracket with coaxial SPDIF (which I like to pronounce spee-diff - say it, it's fun.) and digital TOSlink.

In addition to the great sound solution, the K8X800 Pro II also features 3Com Gigabit LAN, two SATA connectors that allow for RAID 0, 1 and JBOD, eight USB 2.0 ports, two Firewire, and up to 3GB of PC3200 DDR RAM.

Included in the ample accessories package is: two ATA 133 cables, one SATA cable, one SATA power adapter, one floppy cable, one Firewire (IEEE1394) bracket, one USB 2.0 bracket, one gameport/serial port bracket, and the aforementioned audio card bracket. I would've liked one more set of SATA cables but they're dime a dozen. The usual manuals, drivers and software bundles with the usual DVD software and usual junk is also there.

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