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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [01.31.05]
Manufactured by: VIA

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Someone Other Than Intel?

You'd be forgiven for thinking that to use a Pentium 4 CPU, you need to use a chipset from Intel. After all, none of the chipset makers have been able to keep up with Intel's platform changes for some time.

We already know that ATI is planning on releasing what could be a decent solution for the latest P4's, but what about VIA? Well today they are announcing a new line of Northbridge chipsets, to be paired up with their newest Southbridge: The PT Northbridge and VT8251 Southbridge.

3 Flavours

From the PT series will be a trio of Northbridges to try to corner each chipset market segment:

  • PT880 Pro - The "value" segment. This is the alternative that the 915P was supposed to be when upgrading from 865/875. The impressive thing about this chipset is that it support both PCI-E and AGP as well as both DDR2 and DDR, offering the easiest transition possible. No longer do you have to buy new memory and a new video card if you decide to upgrade your CPU. The PCI-E bus on the PT880 Pro is NOT a full x16 slot; rather it is an x8 slot. Value segment, remember. Today's video cards will hardly notice the difference of course. The remaining PCI-E slots will be handled by the VT8251 Southbridge, which supports a pair of x1 slots.
  • PT894 - Intended to be the 'mainstream' solution - VIA's idea of what the 915 should have been. Although it supports DDR and DDR2, it only has a PCI-E video slot; that is a full x16 slot however. It also has a pair of native x1 PCI-E connections, which is preferred over using them on the Southrbridge. However since the Southbridge already has a pair of x1's, your grand total will be four.
  • PT894 Pro - This is the 'Enthusiast' part. It supports a pair of PCI-E video adapters, making it the first dual PCI-E video chipset for the P4 CPU. Note that SLI is NOT supported at this time, although VIA says it is technically possible to do so on their chipset. They cite 'business issues' to work out with NVIDIA before being able to enable SLI. These adapters are unfortunately not as flexible as we would like, only offering total of 20 lanes for PCI-E graphis; one x16 and one x4. This allows you to use maybe a high end and low end video card to use. Of course, most people will usually game with one card, and use the other for 2D, so this isn't a huge limitation. This Northbridge also supports both DDR and DDR2. Although this is a 'high end' chip, it has no native x1 slots, so you'll be using the ones that are on the Southbridge, like their entry level product.

It is somewhat confusing to wrap your head around the differences between these three chips. Mainly because they tend to go back and forth on the features. The low end PT880 Pro supports both PCI-E and native AGP, as is demonstrated in this post from a VIA employee on their own forum. However, if you upgrade to the PT894, you lose dual video capability, although you get a full x16 PCI-E slot and a pair of x1 slots directly on the Northbridge. Other than that, the chips appear the same. One step above that, and you're back to dual video support, but you're left with x8 at most for your main card, and x4 for the other. And you no longer get x1 slots on the Northbridge.

Ironically, the budget chipset it was seems the most interesting of all. Not only does it allow for a much easier upgrade path than Intel's chipsets (or any hacked version of an AGP slot some motherboard manufacturers have come up with), but it has the fortunate side effect of allowing both video ports to be used at once. In my opinion, this chipset makes the PT894 Pro seem kind of silly. If you're going to use one fast card, and one slow one, why not use a new PCI-E card, and have your old AGP card sitting in the secondary slot?

That about covers the Northbridges; now let's get to the interesting VT8251 Southbridge that is also new today.

Next Page: (The Southbridge)