When Intel released their 915/925 chipsets, it ushered in several new technologies for the desktop such as DDR2 and PCI Express. Given AMD tying in the memory controller into the CPU die, it'll be some time before we have DDR2 for the Athlon 64/FX platform, but with NVIDIA's nForce 4 and , Athlon owners now at least have PCI Express available. While todays applications do not show any tangible benefit with PCIe over AGP, unfortunently graphics makers, notebly ATI, have neglected the AGP interface.
Granted, there are many potential benefits with PCIe and we wouldn't be too surprised if AGP support more or less ends by this this time next year. That being said, VIA is placing some emphasis on the PCIe platform as seen with their Intel based PT series of chipsets we covered last month, and today we'll be looking at Soltek's latest Athlon 64/FX entry, the , that along with PCIe, comes fully loaded with features that will get some attention.
||AMD Socket 939 FX/64
||VIA K8T890 + VT8237
- 4 x 184-pin DDR DIMM Sockets.
- Supporting unbuffered non-ECC DDR 400/333/266 DRAM up to 4GB.
- Supporting Dual-Channel.
1 x PCI Express x16 Slot.
3 x PCI Express x1 Slots.
2 x PCI Slots.
||Gigabit LAN Function
||8-Channel AC'97 Audio
The Soltek SL-K890Pro-939
The SL-K890Pro-939 is a standard sized motherboard (9.8" x 12.2") that should have no issues fitting in any ATX compliant case. Everything is neatly laid out with no problem areas evident at first glance. The ram slots are placed near the edge of the board, and owners of large PCIe graphics cards will have no clearance issues with the ram clips. We do have to mention that in future, we would prefer not to see feature stickers stuck on to key areas as there was a bit of residue left over when we pulled them off (the ram and PCI slots in particular). This was easily fixed with some 99% rubbing alcohol, but it was an added nuisance. Other than the motherboard, we received the usual assortment of SATA and rounded IDE cables, manuals and driver disks.
The K8T890 North Bridge is passively cooled by an aluminum heatsink. While this effectively makes the board silent, serious overclockers may want to consider replacing it with an active cooling solution. During testing, the chipset ran quite cool and never got too warm to touch except when we were reaching our peak overclocks.
Soltek preinstalls the AMD heatsink retention bracket for the user, which will save one step when compared to boards that package the bracket separately. Thankfully, the retention support under the motherboard is not glued on, so you can easily remove this if you have a heatsink that requires a custom bracket and support. There is plenty of clearance around the socket area, except for a row of capacitors on one side. Between the capacitors and the rear IO backpanel are the MOSFETs, more capacitors, and the 12v ATX power connection. While we prefer not seeing power connections in this area, the power cable for this input is typically very thin, and easily routable. The CPU heatsink fan header is located in this area as well, near the edge of the motherboard.
There are four DDR ram slots available for expansion. The board supports a maximum of 4GB, in Dual Channel mode. Memory support is officially limited to DDR 400/333/266 of unbuffered, non-ECC DDR, but we had no problems using Corsair TWINX PC4400 and Kingston HyperX PC4300.
There are plenty of storage options available on the SL-K890Pro-939, thanks to the multiple controllers on the board. The VIA VT8237 allows for two SATA connections that support lone SATA drives, as well as RAID-0, and 1. you can also plug in up to 4 ATA133 devices across two PATA connections. The Promise PDC20579 controller supports two additional SATA connections (single, RAID-0, 1, and 0+1), and one PATA connection (two ATA133 devices).
Given that the board packs in two storage controllers, onboard 8-channel audio and Gigabit LAN, it shouldn't be much of an issue that there are only two PCI slots. As mentioned earlier, AGP has been dropped in favor of a x16 PCI Express slot and to accompagny it are three additional x1 PCIe slots. Unfortunently, we weren't able to play with DualGFX (VIA's multiple graphics solution) as only the K8T890 Pro chipset for the Athlon 64/FX offers this feature.
One item that we've seen in a few boards is a diagnostic LED. The SL-K890Pro-939 places this LED at the edge of the board, near the last PCI slot. The manual includes the code translations, but this is a nice feature that will assist veterans and newbies alike when troubleshooting thier system.
Rounding things out are the various IO connections. Going from left to right, we have; two PS/2 ports, one serial, one S/PDIF In and one S/PDIF Out, one IEEE1394, four USB 2.0, one Gigabit RJ45 connection, and six audio related connections.
The Pheonix AwardBIOS is used for Soltek's K8T890 motherboard. Everything is neatly arranged and pretty self explanitory. You can adjust your system settings, onboard peripherals and PC's health from the appropriate menus on the main screen. We figure most of you don't need a refresher on these items, so we'll go right into the juicy bits.
Under the advanced chipset settings, the first area of importance is the DRAM Configuration page. From here, you can make adjustments to the ram's frequency as well as the CAS Latency. Setting the configuration to Manual unlocks all the ram's options, and for the various settings, lower values typically net better performance at the expense of stability.
Under the LDT & PCI Bus Control tab in the advanced chipset features page, you have some control over the board's HyperTransport settings. Most of the default settings are already optimized, so there is little to do here.
Moving on to the CPU/Ratio page, this is where you can adjust the CPU for overclocking. Assuming you leave the FSB at default, the ratio clock has a number of predefined settings configured. The clock speed is ignored if you change the FSB, but the ratio will still play a part depending what you choose provided your CPU is unlocked. As for the FSB, your options range from 200 to 300 in 1MHz increments.
VIA has learned their lesson well since the K8T800 chipset was released and provide a number of locks available to keep the system stable. There are locks present for AGP and PCI (you can pretty much ignore the former), as well as for the x16 PCI Express slot. Of course, when overclocking you'll need access to voltage adjustments and you can adjust the CPU (max 1.7v) and memory (max 2.75v). There isn't any voltage options for PCIe which we found a bit surprising, but considering the frequency it already runs at, it's probably not a good idea to mess around too much with it.