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2015 KickAss Gear

 

 

REVIEW: Asus K7M motherboard
and AMD Athlon 500MHz CPU VS the Intel Pentium III 533B. 
Dr. John  
Asus K7M motherboard

 There has been a shortage of good quality of Slot-A motherboards for the Athlon processor since it was released several months ago.  But this situation is slowly ending as more manufacturers get Slot-A motherboards to market.

The Asus K7M:  The Asus K7M motherboard is a good example of the new breed of higher-quality Athlon mainboards that are becoming available.  The board has 4 USB ports, 1 AGP slot, 5 PCI slots, 1 ISA slot, 1 Audio/Modem Riser slot, audio input and output jacks, a joystick port & 3 DIMM slots.  The hard drive controllers have support for ATA/66 drives.  Support for 4 USB ports is afforded by a small I/O card that connects to the motherboard with a data cable.  The I/O card is then secured in the back panel slot where an Audio-Modem Riser (AMR) card would go.  

  The capacitors along the Slot-A socket on the K7M are large, a sign of a good, stable motherboard. The "northbridge" chipset is the AMD-751, while the "southbridge" chipset is VIA's VT82C686A.  The AMD-751 northbridge supports up to 768MB of PC-100 SDRAM support.  With the overclock settings, you get unofficial support for PC-133 SDRAM.  The chipset supports AGP 1x and 2x standards, but not AGP 4x. According to Asus, the optional items on the K7M include:

  • Built-in Audio
  • Infrared Interface
  • PC Health Monitoring
  • Additional USB ports

  The motherboard we received had the two additional USB ports, and the built-in audio, but not the IR interface or health monitoring cable.  It came in a plain white box, and the label said "Asus Slot A w/sound ATX".  The part number is "K7M/500/WA".

  While the K7M's AMI BIOS was not quite as convenient as Abit's Softmenu III, it had plenty of setup options.  You can control virtually all aspects of memory timing and bus frequency. 

  The manual for the K7M was very good, almost as good as an Abit manual, but not quite as comprehensive.  Overall, this is the best Athlon motherboard we have seen yet.

The Athlon 500MHz processor: The 500MHz Athlon is selling at a very affordable price, between $20 and $30 less than Intel's Pentium III 500 processor.  The cost of the Asus K7M makes up for this difference, costing about $30 more than a good quality BX-chipset motherboard.  So price is not really a factor in choosing between the Athlon and Pentium III.

  The retail Athlon comes with a very large heat sink, and a good, high speed fan already installed.  The heat sink is several times more massive than the heat sink on the retail Pentium III.  Setting up an AMD Athlon system was exactly like setting up an Intel Pentium III system.  The only difference was that there were two drivers for Windows 98 on the Asus CD which had to be installed to get everything to work.  So for those Intel fans out there who have been wondering if setup for the Athlon was more involved, the answer is really no.  Setting up an Athlon system is as easy as setting up a Pentium III system.

 

  The Asus K7M allows overclocking in 1MHz increments between 100MHz and 133MHz.  We tested front side bus settings starting at 105MHz.  The system was stable until we got to 108MHz, and which point the system hung in Windows.  Setting the system back to 107MHz allowed testing with complete stability.  The Athlon system booted quickly, being ready to go in about 45 seconds.  

  Before we do the benchmarks, let's take a look at the Intel 533B Pentium III with a 133MHz front side bus.

The Intel 533B, 133MHz-bus Pentium III: The oddest part about the Intel 533B CPU is that Intel does not offer any motherboard support for PC-133 SDRAM.  That's correct.  They have released a processor for which they have no compatible motherboard.  Intel motherboards only offer support for PC-100 SDRAM, or Rambus DRAM, but not PC-133 SDRAM.  And Intel motherboards do not have any overclocking capabilities, so you can't run the 533B at 533MHz on Intel's motherboards.  However, companies like Asus and Abit make motherboards that have overclock settings, including 133MHz on the front side bus.

  Intel has only released a single variety of processor that uses a 133MHz-bus which is based on the older Katmai-core. The so-called "Pentium III 533B" has a 4X multiplier setting, and a 133MHz bus setting for a final speed rating of 533MHz (4 X 133MHz = 533MHz). In Intel's new nomenclature, the "B" refers to a processor that runs with a 133MHz front side bus (FSB) frequency. All higher speed "B-type" Pentium IIIs are based on the new "Coppermine" core.  The Coppermine CPUs are built using a newer fabrication process (0.18 micron) which lets them run on lower power, resulting in less heat production.  Therefore, Intel can set the bus and multiplier settings higher on these CPUs than with the older "Katmai" Pentium IIIs (0.25 micron fabrication).

  However, 533MHz is well within the operational range of the Katmai-core, so if the multiplier is set low enough (4x), then the bus frequency can be increased to 133MHz without risking instability.  This explains why Intel did not bother with higher speed "B-type" Pentium IIIs using the Katmai chip. They probably noticed too many Katmai chips failed at 600MHz with a 133MHz bus setting  (4.5 x 133MHz = 600MHz)

  We tested the 533B on an Abit BE6 motherboard with 128MB of Siemans PC-133 SDRAM.  The setup was very stable running with a 133MHz bus setting. The motherboard automatically applies bus frequency dividers to the AGP and PCI slots when the FSB setting is increased to 133MHz or higher. So when set at 133MHz on the front side bus, the AGP slot still runs at the normal 66MHz, and the PCI slots at a normal 33MHz. 

  AMD vs. Intel... The Slug Out:  We set the Athlon on the K7M at 5 x 107MHz = 535MHz, and the Intel 533B on the BE6 at it's default setting (4 x 133MHz = 533MHz).  The reason for comparing the 533B with the Athlon 500 running at 535MHz is that the Athlon has a faster CPU bus than the Intel chip (200MHz).  So we felt that using an Intel chip with a bus speed of 133MHz would give a more fair comparison.

  As a side note, the front side bus on an Athlon motherboard is divided into more parts than on a Pentium III motherboard.  The Athlon itself is running at 200MHz, but the memory bus is still running at 100MHz. The bus setting you change in the BIOS on the K7M is the memory bus frequency. This means that when the memory bus frequency is set to 107MHz, the CPU bus is running at 214MHz. 

  There was no need to do an exhaustive comparison of these CPUs, they have been compared in detail elsewhere on the web.  But we wanted to give you a quick idea of how they stacked up to each other.  For the Direct 3D benchmarks, we used the Diamond Viper V770 Ultra TNT-2 video card and 3D Mark 99 Max. For Windows performance, we used Winbench 99.

Benchmarks:

3D Mark 99 Max (average of 4 runs):
Athlon @ 535MHz           PIII 533B @ 533MHz
   10011 CPU 3D marks       8385 CPU 3D marks
   5331.5 FPU 3D marks     5304  FPU 3D marks

The Athlon has a 19% better CPU benchmark score, and a virtually identical FPU benchmark score while rendering Direct 3D images in 3D Mark 99 Max.

Winbench 99 (average of 4 runs):
Athlon @ 535MHz           PIII 533B @ 533MHz
  
50.175 CPU marks          40.97 CPU marks
   2917.5 FPU marks          2710  FPU marks

This shows a 22% higher score on the CPU business benchmark, and a 7.6% higher score on the floating point math benchmark for the Athlon processor.

 While the CPU benchmarks are clearly higher for the Athlon than the Pentium III, the floating point math unit benchmarks are nearly the same.

 Conclusions: The Athlon is a superior processor to the Intel Pentium III.  The Athlon is a 7th generation processor, while the Pentium III is sixth generation, and has the same core architecture as the Pentium Pro processor from back in the early 90's.  However, Intel has made some improvements to the Pentium III with the newer Coppermine version.  These newer Pentium III processors rival the Athlon in business and gaming benchmarks, and beat the Athlon in some high-end applications like Photoshop.  The only problem is, that Intel made serious mistakes in getting motherboard support for the Coppermine-type Pentium IIIs to market, so that currently, it's nearly impossible to find good motherboards for these new Intel chips.  This is similar to the situation AMD was in with the Athlon right after it's release.  The Athlon is a major step forward for AMD, and gives Intel some hot competition for the first time in years.  Right now, the Athlon is a better CPU than the original Pentium III, and has better motherboard support than the Coppermine Pentium III. 

  While we were only able to overclock the Athlon 500 by 7MHz on the front side bus, there are reports of much better results with the newest batch of Athlon CPUs.  Also, there are many reports of the Athlon being very overclockable by changing the multiplier setting, which requires either an add-on dip switch card, or some soldering on the circuit board.  We will have a report on this soon.

  The Asus K7M is a great board for overclocking the Athlon processor using higher bus settings. The bus settings range from 100 - 133MHz in 1MHz increments, and there are also settings of 140MHz and 150MHz. The motherboard has good ATA/66 drive support, but we would have preferred HighPoint Technologies controller to the one integrated into the VIA southbridge chipset.  Also, there is no reason to incorporate a sound chip on the motherboard, and we don't think high-end motherboards need an audio-modem riser slot either.

  The 533B version of the Intel Pentium III is the least overclockable Pentium III ever made.  This is because Intel has already overclocked it as far as it will go.  Don't buy this one unless you want to pay Intel to do your overclocking for you.

Pros:

  • The Athlon beats the Pentium 3 by about 20%
  • The Athlon overclocks nicely
  • The K7M motherboard has great overclock settings
  • The K7M has 4 USB ports
  • The K7M is stable at high speeds

Cons: 

  • Built-in Audio on K7M is undesirable on a high-end motherboard
  • Audio-modem riser slot is not needed on a high-end motherboard
  • K7M is more expensive than BX motherboards
  • The Intel "533B" can not be overclocked further

Note: The Intel 533B was quite stable at 133MHz, indicating that Intel could have done this with their Katmai-core CPUs much earlier if they had wanted to.  But this is the limit on the bus setting for this core, so this chip is maxed-out.  It's not for overclockers!

  • Rating K7M: 4.5 out of 5 smiley faces
    :) :) :) :) +
    Availability: Low

  • Rating Athlon 500MHz: 5.0 out of 5 smiley faces
    :) :) :) :) :)
    Availability: Good

  • Rating Intel 533B: 2.0 out of 5 smiley faces
    :) :) 
    Availability: Good
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