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Review: VIA P4PA-UL P4X266A Motherboard

by Tarinder Sandhu on 10 May 2002, 00:00

Tags: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), VIA Technologies (TPE:2388)

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Introduction

If you've ever owned an AMD Athlon processor in any of its incarnations, you'll no doubt know all about VIA technologies. VIA, the large Taiwanese chipset manufacturer, have produced Slot and Socket A chipsets for every iteration of the Athlon processor. Arguably, VIA, with their KT333 chipset based solutions, are at the very pinnacle of motherboard manufacturing for AMD's range of CPU. Unfortunately, for VIA, the same cannot be said for their position with respect to Intel's Pentium 4 CPU.

VIA have previously produced a workable Socket 478 chipset in the form of the P4X266. This proved controversial from a legal viewpoint. Intel claimed that VIA were not in possession of the relevant motherboard licenses required for production. VIA, on the other hand, continued to produce the chipset in reasonable volume.

The wrangling between Intel and VIA ensured that only the bravest motherboard manufacturers dared produce retail P4X266 equipped motherboards. Manufacturing giants in the form of Asustek, MSI, and Gigabyte gave the P4X266 a wide berth until the matter was satisfactorily resolved.

Late last year, VIA, undeterred by any legal implications, proceeded to produce a refined version of the P4X266, rather unimaginatively named the P4X266A. The naming tradition of VIA's socket A chipsets being carried over to the Pentium 4. The revised P4 chipset saw improvements via an enhanced memory controller by improving general timings and deepening queues, much like the socket A KT266A had over the KT266. With a thought to the future, VIA also decided to include support for Pentium 4 processors running at 133FSB (533FSB QDR).

Now here comes the interesting bit as far as our review motherboard is concerned. As the name implies, the VIA P4PA is manufactured by VIA, the first time we've seen VIA produce a full retail motherboard for either the Pentium 4 or Athlon. We earlier alluded to the lack of support by the large motherboard manufacturers for the P4X266 chipset. VIA decided to take matters into their own hands and promote their revised chipset by producing and marketing a retail motherboard themselves. To this end, VIA setup a manufacturing division named VPSD ( VIA Platform Solutions Division). Today we see the fruit of their labours in the P4PA.

VIA are up against it in the Pentium 4 motherboard world. Intel, rather unsurprisingly, have 3 chipsets already well established in the form of the I850 (RAMBUS), I845D (DDR) and I845 (SDR) respectively. Almost every respected motherboard manufacturer has a motherboard based on each of these chipsets. SiS are also present, with their 645 / 648 chipset based motherboards garnering quite a following due to a low chipset price, full PC2700 support, and excellent performance.

Our preamble should highlight the precarious position VIA are in, let's see if the P4PA can enhance their standing in the Pentium 4 motherboard arena.