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VIA PT880 Reference PREview VIA PT880 Reference PREview: It's been a bumpy road for VIA and the Pentium 4, but now, with Intel's blessing, VIA has something cooking that enthusiasts may want to keep an eye on.

Date: December 5, 2003
Written By:


The past legal issues between VIA and Intel are well documented. For those who don't know, in a nutshell, VIA had been making Pentium 4 based chipsets without Intel's backing. Despite having reference boards, and chipsets available, alot of motherboard manufacturers were a little hesitant in building boards due to the legal issues. Recently, the proper partnership was formed, and now VIA is fully licensed to build Intel based chipsets.

Though VIA's initial offerings were decent enough, in the age of the i865 and i875, something more is needed. VIA's answer is the PT880, which was recently unveiled, and after a meeting with a VIA rep, we got a chance to try out their latest creation.

Feature PT880
North Bridge
Processor Support Intel® Pentium® 4
Hyper Threading Support Yes
Front Side Bus 800/533/400MHz
Memory Support Dual Channel
DDR400/333/266 w/ECC
Max Memory 8.0GB
AGP Support AGP 8X/4X
Bus Architecture Asynchronous
South Bridge VT8237
North/South Bridge Link Ultra V-Link (1066MB/sec)
Integrated Audio

VIA Vinyl" Audio integrated 5.1 surround sound
VIA Vinyl" Gold 8-channel Audion (PCI)


VIA Velocity Gigabit Ethernet companion controller
VIA integrated 10/100 Fast Ethernet

Integrated Modem MC'97
PCI Devices/Slots

6 slots
Dual PCI-X bus support through VIA VPX2 I/O expansion bridge


Dual Channel Serial ATA supports 2 SATA devices
SATALite" interface for two additional SATA devices (4 total)

PATA Dual Channel Parallel ATA133 (up to 4 devices)
USB 8 ports
Super I/O LPC Super I/O
Power Management ACPI/APM/PCI/PM

A quick glance at the specifications reveal that the PT880 supports almost every modern feature under the sun. This block diagram gives you a visual representation.

The PT880 supports the latest Pentium 4 processors, and their DualStream64 provides Dual Channel support. Hyper-Threading, and AGP 8X support are also present, covering items Pentium 4 owners will be looking for. The VIA DriveStation Controller Suite is the marketing description of the VIA VT8237 South Bridge, which handles the various storage interface technologies enthusiasts have come to expect from a modern motherboard.

Pictured above is the reference engineering sample our VIA rep left with us. The board we have is a late revision, and has already been shipped to manufacturers. Although the board is "ready", there's likely a new revision on the way, which may explain why we still don't see any retail boards based on the PT880.

At the moment, Intel is still pushing their Socket 478 architecture, so everything up to the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition should be supported. The reference sample uses passive cooling for the North Bridge, but it'll be up to motherboard makers to decide if passive or active will be the way to go for their boards.

Like the Dual Channel motherboards we're used to seeing using Intel's recent chipsets, the DualStream64 PT880s require ram to be installed in pairs for maximum performance. Memory support is still a bit sketchy at this time, but they have qualified Corsair's XMS series as fully compatible, and I didn't experience any issues using Mushkin (pictured above), Corsair or Kingston. A feature the DualStream64 has, which wasn't found on the K8T800 AMD platform, is the ability to run the ram asynchronous. The ability to run async wil maximize your options when trying to tweak system performance.

The third image to the right is a shot of the PATA and SATA connections. Again, it'll be up to manufacturers to decide how many interfaces to put, but it's safe to assume we'll likely see one PATA, and two SATA supported via the VT8237, and probably additional connections by a third party controller.

The VIA VT8237 South Bridge is something we're already familiar with, but in summary, the South Bridge handles the storage and connectivity options on the board. RAID-0, RAID-1, RAID-0+1, and JBOD configurations are all supported, giving you more storage options than are typically available. 5.2 and 7.1 sound is supported, as well as VIA Gigabit Ethernet, 10/100 Ethernet and up to eight USB 2.0 ports.

The VIA Modular Architecture Platform (V-MAP) is VIA's unique architecture that allows for faster product development and speeds up time to put to market. Basically, items like controllers are developed, and are part of a unit (though they can work independently). Manufacturers can purchase "packages" that VIA puts together, that will save time and cost. The Ultra V-Link interconnect is part of the V-MAP architecture, and links the North and South Bridge with a 1066MB/s connection.

The VT1211 is a full function Super I/O chip, and it is responsible for hardware monitoring, floppy controller, and handling legacy connections such as the serial ports.

The VIA Envy24PT is a multi-channel audio controller with 24-bit resolution and 96KHz sampling rates. This is pretty high-end, and should motherboard manufacturers include it, it'll be one of the most impressive sound solutions integrated into a motherboard.

The VIA Velocity VT6120 Gigabit Ethernet Controller is another impressive piece of hardware, supporting 10/100/1000 speeds at full and half-duplex. Developed jointly with , the controller has an adaptive interrupt scheme which will reduce the CPU load during data transfer. There will also be VIA's GigaCheck link-management software packaged with boards that use the controller to help diagnose any problems and to run reports.

The VIA VT6420 Controller is another RAID controller present on our reference board, and supports RAID-0, RAID-1, RAID-0+1, and JBOD configurations.

When motherboard manufacturers start producing their PT880 motherboards, your IO options will certainly differ from our configuration. In fact, our board isn't fully ATX compliant and the back IO is too long to fit in our case. Other than the legacy connections, you can see we have four USB, and two NICs, as well as six channel sound.


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