Date Posted: November 13, 2001
Introduced over a year ago, the AMD 760 chipset was the first to offer full DDR support for the AMD Athlon. It wasn't intended to be around for the long haul, but with other third party chipsets fumbling the ball, AMD has chosen to continue supplying it's robust Athlon Socket-A chipset to manufacturers. Abit was a little late adopting an Athlon DDR solution, but despite that, it's one of the more viable solutions on the market.
"DDR done right!", was Abit's claim for the KG7 series of Athlon DDR motherboards. Unlike most of the popular motherboards at the time, the KG7 didn't employ the troublesome KT266 chipset, but rather the AMD760 chipset. The setup is actually comprised of two parts, the AMD761 Northbridge, and the VIA 686B Southbridge. In most benchmarks, the AMD760 outpaced offerings from VIA, ALi, and SiS. Be aware that the VIA 686B Southbridge is still here though, and it drags along it's reported Sound Blaster Live! problems. I didn't have any problems myself, but I'm using the HighPoint RAID controller for my hard drive duties.
Like the KT7A-RAID before it, the KG7-RAID is an AMD Socket A motherboard. There are actually three flavours of the KG7 series. The "Lite", which has no RAID and two DIMM slots, the vanilla KG7, which has four DIMM slots, and of course the "RAID", which adds the HighPoint RAID controller. Like the KT133A, the KG7-RAID officially supports the 133FSB for the CPU and ram. The difference is, the KG7 supports DDR. The other usual suspects are supported as well, such as ATA100 support, AGP 4x, USB, and as the name suggests, RAID. Abit was a little late to the party, but seeing how the market for DDR wasn't so hot at the time, there was no rush. Now, we're seeing a flood of DDR motherboards, and the question is, does the KG7 still keep up?
Support AMD Athlon/Duron 700MHz ~ 1.33GHz or future Socket A Processors based on 200/266 MHz(100MHz/133MHz Double Data Rate)
Four 184-pin DIMM sockets support up to 4 GB PC1600/PC2100 DDR SDRAM module
SoftMenu"III Technology to set CPU parameters
Four channels of Bus Master IDE Ports supporting up to 8 Ultra DMA 33/66/100( RAID 0 /1/0+1).
1 AGP slot, 6 PCI slots.
Ultra DMA 100/RAID
High Point HTP370 IDE Controller
Abit didn't do as good a job with the motherboard layout as they have in the past. The PCB is cleanly laid out here, but the placement of some items are odd. One issue I had was with the DIMM slots. If I plug in a video card into the AGP slot, removing or inserting DIMMs in the fourth slot (#1 being furthest away from the CPU) may be difficult. Then again, that may be a moot point since many have reported issues when using more than 3 unbuffered DIMMs. I'll get into more of that later on, but let's just say if you got buffered ram lying around, you'll want to install that before the video card. Anyhow, in the event you have one or two unbuffered DIMMs, you will need to fill slot #1, then #2. This was new to me, since I normally install ram to the slots nearest to the CPU, but maybe this is Abit's solution to the DIMM/AGP fitting issue. Don't worry if you forget though, you'll get a big warning screen the first time you boot up, telling you to fix it.
Thankfully, Abit does not include any onboard sound, since it sucks usually, which cuts down a bit on the total cost. Being a consumer board, there isn't any AMR slots either. You do get plenty of PCI slots, and since an extra RAID controller is built in, the 6 PCI slots should be more than enough.
I guess since we're still on the topic of bad placement of motherboard inputs, I may as well point out that I wasn't too thrilled with where they put the floppy connection. The floppy is problematic if you have a full tower case, where the floppy drive is installed at the top. Abit includes a long floppy cable that alieviates the problem somewhat, but it can still be a tricky affair.
The controller, an Abit mainstay, makes it's appearance here. It works quite well, and gives a nice boost if you decide to use the RAID properties. According to documentation, it supports RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 0+1. To explain, RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks.
RAID 0, also known as "Striping" configures several drives, a minimum of 2, so that data is written at the same time on all the drives in the array. Since data, ones and zeros, is written between the drives, where ones go to one drive, zeros to the other, your performance improves. When one disk fails, the entire array is lost. This may sound risky, but the same would happen if you relied on one drive. Just keep your backups current, and you'll be fine. For optimal performance, it's generally recommended you use identical drives. The reason is because all drives will perform only as fast as it's slowest member. Another reason for identical drives, is that RAID 0 will use the full capacity of it's smallest drive. So, if you combine a 40GB drive with a 20GB drive, your array total will only be 40GB, rather than 60GB.
RAID 1, known as "Mirroring", is exactly that. It'll take 2 drives, and "mirror" them, writing the same data on both drives. This is the slowest method of RAID, but it provides full redundancy in case of failure.
RAID 0+1, or "Striping + Mirroring" borrows techniques from both striping and mirroring. It performs well by reading and writing at the same time off two disks, while mirroring on another.
Back in the past, RAID was popular only with servers and workstations that supported SCSI disks. Hardly inexpensive, these disks were the only ones that were capable of working in a RAID array. Times have changed, and RAID has become very popular in the retail market. Rather than setting up two hard drives in Master and Slave mode, why not set up a RAID-0 array for better performance? CPU usage does increase, but the extra performance in hard drive access is usually worth it. HighPoint has updated their BIOS and drivers for full Windows XP support, but those same drivers should be used for all operating systems.
The Abit SoftMenu III is back, and although not much has changed, this is a good thing. Most Abit enthusiasts have long bragged about the tweakability of their BIOS over other manufacturers. Although most others have caught up to Abit, their BIOS continues to be one of the more intuative. Like the previous BIOS versions, this one allows for control over things such as CPU speed, memory timing, and a plethora of system level tweaks.
One of the nice things about the SoftMenu is it's CPU tweaking. Although more motherboards do it now, Abit was the first to allow changes to the FSB in 1MHz increments. Of course, in many cases, you'll need to increase the core voltage to do so, which the SoftMenu allows for. You can even increase the DDR voltage if need be. The BIOS also allows you to change the multiplier of an unlocked chip if you have one. One thing you cannot do is disable ACPI in the BIOS. You can still install Windows without ACPI, but it'll require you to install it via software switches. There is also hardware monitoring in the BIOS, which is handy to check for CPU temps if you're trouble shooting the system. If all else fails, you can reset the BIOS with a hardware jumper located between PCI slot number 3 and 4.
Out of the box, the KG7-RAID supports all current AMD Athlons up to 1.4GHz, or at least mine did. Worry not though, since the latest BIOS downloads add support for the Athlon XP. You can learn more about this, and a whole bunch of KG7 related tips and news at .
The KG7 is a Socket-A (Socket 462) motherboard. AMD is going to be sticking with Socket-A for the immediate future, so it's likely the KG7 will support a wide range of CPUs. As of this writing, with the latest BIOS, the Athlon XP 1900+ is fully supported.
Important note, one of the newest features that the Athlon XP supports, the thermal diode, is not enabled with the KG7. The point of this is to shut down the PC if it surpasses a danger zone for temperature. There is an external probe attached on the motherboard, but this will not prevent you from burning out your CPU.
Like their previous AMD motherboard, the KG7 has active cooling on the northbridge. Though I haven't heard about the northbridge overheating much aroung the web, it's a nice feature, and although it does add a bit of noise to the system, it should hardly be enough to distract you. Speaking about the northbridge, it can support up to a total of 4GB of ram. Before you get too excited, to do so, it's suggested that all the ram is of the registered variety. All I have is unbuffered ram here, and unfortunently, in my case, I was unable to get them to run. The problems vary, from corrupted bootup, missing files, or Windows crashing. With 2 DIMMs, I didn't have any issues. Of course, I should mention that I tried this with 2 DIMMs of Kingston, and one DIMM of Crucial. Your milage may vary, and perhaps more success can be attained if all the ram were to be identical.
So, with all the BIOS settings available, no doubt many of you are interested in the overclocking abilities of the motherboard. Here, Abit does not disappoint.
Abit employs a 3 stage power setup to allow for ample voltage to get to the processor. They have huge capacitors on the motherboard, but nothing that will get in the way of your peripheals. Speaking of which, Abit leaves plenty of room around the socket to install large heatsinks. I didn't have any problems fitting the Swiftech MC462A. For large heatsinks that require mounting brackets, Abit provides the necessary four holes, albeit ungrounded, needed for mounting.
So, using an AMD Thunderbird 1.4GHz, the highest overclock I managed was 1.6GHz. This was fairly easy to attain, and I'm sure with enough voltage tweaking, and other BIOS adjustments, I could have managed a higher overclock.
AMD Thunderbird "AYHJA" Core, 1.4GHz (10.5x133), 1.6 (12x133), 1.61 (12x134), 1.61 (12x140)
512MB Kingston Value DDR ram
2 x 60GB Maxtor Diamondmax, RAID-0
MSI StarForce 822 GeForce 3, Det. XP v21.81
VIA 4 in 1 v4.33
AMD Driver Pack 1.2
I am not going to bombard you with every possible overclocking combination, but rather post only the results that were successful. What that means is that only the highest overclocking results that was able to allow me to play 30 minutes of Quake 3, run SiSoft Sandra and CPUID, without crashing will be displayed. I managed overclocks at lower speeds (but higher than stock), but there's no point of displaying them. vCore settings were 1.85v for all the overclocked scores.
Sisoft Sandra - CPU
(left) 1.4GHz (1.75v, 10.5x133) and (right) 1.6GHz (1.85v, 12x133)
At 1.6Ghz, the Thunderbird destroys all the recorded systems in SiSoft Sandra. 12x133 ran perfectly, but any higher multiplier was a no go.
Sisoft Sandra - CPU
(left) 1.61GHz (1.85v, 12x134) and (right) 1.61GHz (1.85v, 11.5x140)
Here, we concentrate more on the FSB. I'm not sure why these scored lower than 12x133. Usually, the faster FSB will outperform adjustments by multiplier alone. At a multiplier of 12x, I couldn't even get a FSB of 135, but managed 134FSB instead. For comparison purposes, I wanted a FSB combined with a lower multiplier to see if the FSB would be faster. 140FSB was the most stable I was able to attain, which is too bad since I've seen higher online, and at 140, it only marginably outperforms 134.
Performance - Hard Drive
Anyhow, long story short, Windows XP was really bugging out on me. I kept getting these retarded Stop error: c0000218 errors, and I've said enough is enough. You can read the whole pitiful saga of my woes, and other users in this thread:
Well, I'll be honest in saying that I'm not really sure why Windows XP was doing this too me, whereas Windows 2000 doesn't. I haven't tried the latest HPT drivers/BIOS (/me slaps head), but I will in the near future. In the meantime, I did use the latest drivers here, and the results are in...
Sisoft Sandra - Hard Drive
Performance - Gaming
To test gaming, I've decided to use Quake 3: Arena, and 3D Mark 2001. Both are fairly standard, and have been used in previous benchmarks here. All benchmarks were done at default settings, and sound was turned "on". I'm leaving the CPU speed at the stock speed of 1.4GHz, because I want to see if there will be any performance improvement compared to the Abit KT7A-RAID.
Quake 3 Arena, 640x480, Sound On
3D Mark 2001, 1024x768, No AA
At the time of writing, Abit is releasing another DDR powered motherboard, the KR7 series. Make no mistake, the KG7-RAID is the best Abit solution if you want to got the DDR route, but with the KT266A and nForce motherboards coming out, you may be best to skip this motherboard. No doubt, the KG7 is an excellent performer, and runs rock solid, but if early previews of beta boards, and current reviews of the now released KT266A boards are of any indication, the KG7 is getting to be a little long in tooth.
There are several nagging aspects of the KG7 that bother me, such as the placement of some of it's slot components. I didn't suffer any instabilities using a Sound Blaster Live!, as others did, but a quick look in Viper's Lair's FAQ and various Abit forums show that the problem is still there.
That being said, even the best KT266A motherboards don't have some of the things the KG7-RAID has, such as the RAID, if you choose this particular model. The KG7 is very mature in terms of driver and BIOS support, plus has a large fan base community to draw from. Despite my criticisms, this is still one of the best current DDR motherboards on the market, and I absolutely love the performance. Abit's own KR7 boards are still going to be hard to find in the retail chain, whereas the KG7 is more plentiful, and at ~140$, a good deal. The nForce boards are going to be really expensive upon full retail release, so if you're looking for a stop gap solution until the prices fall, give the KG7-RAID a look.
Pros: Good performance, Soft Menu III, loads of tweaking, jumperless, RAID support, great manual.
Cons: Outclassed by the upcoming nForce & the "out now" VIA KT266A, issues with more than 3 DIMMS of unbuffered ram, odd floppy layout, still suffers from VIA 686B issues.