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Asus A7V Motherboard
mini review
Dr. John

  The Asus A7V was the first Socket-A motherboard we were able to get a hold of and test. But now others, such as the Abit KT7-RAID, are out as well, so I decided to take a look at both boards, starting with the A7V.  The Asus A7V is a Socket-A format (socket 462) motherboard, made for AMD "Thunderbird"-type Athlon processors, and the new AMD Duron processor.  The A7V is a full-sized ATX motherboard, so make sure the case you are using will take a full-size board. 

Introduction: The A7V is a well made board with an unusual addition not found on many motherboards.  It's got an additional power board mounted at right angles to the mainboard, which you can see in the picture below. 

  When I review motherboards, I don't spend much time doing benchmarks, because the benchmarks between motherboards are usually very close.  I'm much more interested in things like layout of components, selection of features, ease of installation and setup, and especially stability. 

  The layout of the board is acceptable, but as with most Socket-A motherboards, the placement of components near the catches for the heat sink clips makes attachment of the heat sink a risky endeavor.  One slip with a pliers while trying to hook the spring clip on the catch, and you could gouge the motherboard surface. Having components in the way makes getting to the clips difficult. It's an arrangement we think needs reworking.

  Also, the placement of DIMM sockets and the additional power board near the CPU socket means that you may have problems attaching large heat sink and fan units, such as the Golden Orb. There is plenty of room to the left and right of the socket, but the catches for the heat sink are above and below the socket, where components get in the way.

Features: The Asus A7V has some nice features, including ATA-100 support with the new Promise controller chip. It also sports an AGP-Pro slot. Here's what Asus has to say about the A7V:

Supports AMD ThunderbirdTM / DuronTM 550MHz ~ 1GHz CPU. 3x DIMM support for 1.5GB PC133/PC100/VCM133 SDRAM.
New PCI v2.2 and USB v1.1 standards Ultra DMA/100 and DMA/66 support
5 x PCI and 1 x AMR Up to 7 USB Ports max.
200MHz Front Side Bus Stepless Frequency Selection
PC Health Monitoring

  The inclusion of PCI 2.2 and USB 1.1 standards is nice.

  The A7V motherboard is based on VIA's new KT133 chipset, which supports Thunderbird and Duron processors in the Socket-A format.  The board has the 5 PCI plus 1 audio modem riser configuration of peripheral slots, rather than the preferred 6 PCI slot layout. The board does have an AGP-Pro socket though, which will be helpful for folks thinking about an AGP Pro card for their system. And while the A7V has 4 built-in fan connectors, none of them is located near the bottom of the board for the front case fan.

  The worst design feature on the A7V is the "Clear CMOS" jumper.  The reason it is so bad, is that there is no jumper!  There are just two solder joints on the board, and you need to find a U-shaped piece of metal which you can use to short out those two solder joints. It's not only a pain, it is difficult and downright irritating. Overclockers want an easy and quick method of clearing the CMOS, if necessary, and don't want to hunt around for a bent piece of metal (I used tweezers).

Setup and Testing: I tested the A7V (revision 1.02) with an Athlon 800MHz processor and 128MB of PC-133 SDRAM. I used an Asus V7100 32MB MX video card with Detonator-2 version 5.30 drivers, and 3D Mark 2000 version 1.1 for stability testing.

  Except for the potential risk when clamping the heat sink clips, installation was easy.  On first bootup, I was very surprised by the length of time required for the system to boot. At first, I thought there might be a problem, but it eventually booted normally. While booting off of an ATA66 drive with Windows 98SE installed, and without any ATA100 drives attached, the cold boot time varied between 2 minutes 20 seconds and 2 minutes 40 seconds!  This is the longest boot time we have ever recorded for an IDE motherboard.

  The Promise controller looked for ATA100 drives for several seconds, so I attached an ATA/100 drive to one controller.  This cut the boot time by about 30 seconds, but the boot time still remained in the 2 minute range. Just to be sure it wasn't a bad board, I tried a second A7V board, which exhibited the same slow boot behavior. In comparison, an Abit KT7-RAID motherboard with the same CPU and hard drive only took about 50 to 60 seconds to boot.  I will do a comparison of the Promise ATA/100 controller on Asus boards with the ATA/100 controller from HighPoint on Abit boards in another review.

  Shutdown times were another story altogether.  The average Win98SE shutdown time for the A7V was a very respectable 3 seconds.  However, fast shutdown times on new systems can actually be a problem. There is a known bug in both Win98 SE and Win ME on computers running at 933MHz or faster. For more information on the Windows shutdown bug, go here

  The graph below shows the Direct 3D performance with several popular GeForce cards on the A7V.  I used the Detonator-2 5.30 drivers, and 3D Mark 2000.  The scores are for a Hercules 3D Prophet-1 32MB DDR card, an Asus V7100 32MB MX card, and an Asus V7100 16MB MX card.

Bus Overclocking:  Overclocking the A7V is easy due to the jumper-less design, and the board is quite stable at overclocked speeds. A nice addition to Asus boards is the so-called V I/O jumper, which regulates the power level to the peripheral slots.  This can be helpful when overclocking the AGP slot, for example.  But on the A7V, when I moved the jumper from it's normal position at 3.56 volts, to 3.69 volts, the voltage warning alarm sounded on rebooting. This alarm can be disabled in the BIOS, but the warning alarm should have been pre-set above 3.7 volts to avoid this problem.

   I began overclocking the T-bird 800 processor with the core voltage set to 1.6 volts (default).  I increased the bus frequency in the BIOS in steps, to see how far it would overclock before failing.  The graph below shows how the testing went.

   The system failed at 113MHz, and failed again at 113MHz with the core voltage boosted to 1.7 volts. At 111MHz on the bus (888MHz total processor speed), the system ran 3D Mark 2K continuously for hours at the default core voltage.  The A7V also overclocked a Duron 650 to 111MHz (722MHz total) with complete stability at the default core voltage (1.5v).  Getting Athlons and Durons to run stably at 111MHz is about as good as you can expect.

Multiplier Overclocking:  Asus outdid themselves when they decided to add the ability to change the CPU multiplier setting on the A7V.  We had been worried that bus overclocking would be all we could get with the new T-Birds and Durons.  But Asus added the ability to change the multiplier right on the motherboard.  The only problem is, they did not put the options in the BIOS setup.  So you need to do all the settings for overclocking with the DIP switches on the board.  While this is quite inconvenient compared with Softmenu III on the KT7-RAID board, at least the option for multiplier overclocking is there.  We were able to run the 800MHz T-bird at 9.5x 100 = 950MHz at 1.7volts on the core.  We also were able to run the Duron 650 at 800MHz, with a core voltage of 1.65v.  

Summary:  As motherboards go, the A7V is a well rounded product.  There are a few design goof-ups in my opinion, but overall, the A7V is a good socket-A motherboard.  It compares acceptably with high-profile boards like the Abit KT7-RAID motherboard, but falls slightly short of that mark.  The lack of IDE RAID capabilities, despite the inclusion of the Promise ATA-100 controller, is a shortcoming. The long boot time can be frustrating while setting up a system, where frequent reboots are necessary.  The lack of a convenient way of clearing the CMOS can be frustrating if you are overclocking the system. 

  The good points include a solid, stable platform for overclocking Thunderbird and Duron processors, good ATA/100 support, an AGP Pro socket, jumperless setup, and support for up to 7 USB ports.  The A7V boards I tested overclocked both T-bird and Duron processors to just as high a level as the Abit KT7-RAID, which means that stability is excellent. However, there are only a few features on the A7V that are not present on the KT7-RAID from Abit: for example, the AGP Pro slot. The KT7-RAID has a standard AGP slot. So if RAID capabilities are not important to you, but an AGP-Pro slot is, the A7V may be the T-bird/Duron motherboard for you. If you think you might want to try a RAID array, go for the KT7 from Abit.


Pros: 
  • Good stability and overclocking capabilities
  • Multiplier overclocking on board
  • ATA-100 drive support
  • AGP Pro socket
  • First Socket-A processor motherboard to market
  • Up to 7 USB ports
  • Nice BIOS features
  • PCI 2.2 and USB 1.1 standards
  • Jumperless setup
  • Good manual

Cons: 
  • Only 5 PCI slots
  • Audio modem riser slot not needed
  • Multiplier settings not in BIOS
  • No Clear CMOS jumper
  • Very long boot time
  • No IDE RAID support
  • Difficult access to heat sink catches

Price: Approximately $160 US

Rating, : 4.3 smiley faces (86%, B+)
:) :) :) :) +

Availability: Good
 

Copyright September 28th, 2000