July 26, 2001

Review: Soyo K7VTA Pro motherboard

Author: JT Smith

- By Jeff Field -

Not everyone has DDR memory. Most people, in fact, have PC133 memory. So suppose you want to upgrade that Pentium III 600 that came with PC133 to a new CPU, but you don't want to give up your RAM? Such options do exist, and I am reviewing one of them today, the Soyo K7VTA Pro.
PC133 memory has been the standard for the past year or so -- most newly built PCs in the past year had PC133, and most SDRAM memory upgrades sold were PC133, because it didn't cost anymore than PC100, and was backwards compatible with it. With RAM becoming so cheap, many people upgraded their RAM -- I know people who added 256 megs of RAM to their machines just because of how cheap it was -- and I can't blame them. So, now there are lots of people with older machines that have hundreds of megabytes of PC133 installed -- should these people ditch their memory and rush out to buy DDR memory? That is what I want to find out today, by reviewing the K7VTA Pro and comparing it to a DDR board from the same company.

The board and expansion
The K7VTA Pro is an ATX board that uses the VIAKT133A chipset. The board is a medium-sized board, slightly smaller than the Gigabyte 7DXR, but larger than the Soyo K7ADA, both of which I have reviewed previously.

For expansion, the board comes with five PCI slots, one AGP and, surprisingly, one ISA. When designing this board, it would seem Soyo realized it might be used more as an upgrade board than a board for brand new systems. As such, Soyo chose to include an ISA slot, something not present on most newer boards, allowing the use of one older ISA component, such as a modem or network card. The board has three DIMM slots capable of holding a total of 1.5 gigabytes of memory. The board has two ATA-100 connectors, allowing for up to four IDE devices to be attached.

As for external expansion, the board has two USB ports, one parallel port, two serial ports, a game port, and the inputs/outputs for the on-board sound, as well as the standard PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports. Two more USB ports may be added, but are not included with the board.

Layout and design
The layout of the board K7VTA Pro is fairly standard, and I found few issues with it. The CPU socket has several large capacitors near it, only one of which obstructs it at all, and attaching a heatsink should not be a problem. All of the PCI slots can hold full full-length cards, as can the AGP slot. The only issue here is the capacitors at the end of the last three PCI slots, which could become a problem if you have a PCI card that hangs down farther than usual. Overall, it's an excellent design.

Documentation and configuration
The documentation of the K7VTA Pro is like the documentation to other Soyo motherboards -- complete, but brief. The manual is 21 pages, and contains information on how to mount the CPU and how to configure the jumpers and switches on the board. It does not include information on how to insert RAM, attach a CPU fan, or physically install the board, although this information is easily accessed online, and if you are installing a motherboard, Soyo assumes you have a basic knowledge of the internal workings of a PC. Overall, the documentation is adequate, although it could certainly go into more detail.

Configuration of the board is easy, and is done mostly through DIP switches. Most things are automatic, the only setting you have to change is the front side bus speed of the CPU, which is set by default to 100MHz, a safe setting because all CPUs for this board will either be 100 or 133MHz FSB.

System Specifications
AMD Athlon 1.4GHz
256 Megs DDR PC2100 SDRAM from Crucial.com
256 Megs PC133 SDRAM from Crucial.com
Western Digital 7200 RPM 10.2 Gig Hard Drive
3Com 3C905TX-C 10/100 NIC (PCI)
300 Watt AMD-Approved ATX Power Supply
Abit Siluro GeForce 2 MX400 64MB AGP

Mandrake 8.0 with Kernel 2.4.3

Kernel compiles
In order to test both the board's stability and speed, I ran three sets of Linux kernel compiles on this board. One is a normal, "uniprocessor" make, or make -j1, which is the default. This uses one process, and does not always maximize system usage. I then did make -j2, which spawns a second process. The last test I run is with make -j3, spawning two extra processes. I do this for several reasons -- to find the "sweet spot" for the board/CPU, as well as to stress the system as much as possible when trying to rate its stability. Also, the kernel is extremely useful as a measure of integer performance.

Kernel 2.4.6 Compile Times (Minutes:Seconds)
Board -j1 -j2 -j3
Soyo K7VTAPro 4:37 4:32 4:28
Soyo K7ADA 4:44 4:39 4:41

As you can see, the VTA Pro is indeed slower than the DDR-based K7ADA, but not by much. Compiling certainly depends on memory, but not enough that the increase in memory bandwidth given by DDR gives a large edge over PC100/133.

POVRay Benchmarks
POVRay is a multi-platform raytracing program. It is a floating point-intensive task and serves well to help measure the floating point performance of a CPU. For more information on this benchmark, head to the official POVBENCH homepage. The command to run for this benchmark, once you obtain POVRay, you run povray -i skyvase.pov +v1 +ft -x +mb25 +a0.300 +j1.000 +r3 -q9 -w640 -H480 -S1 -E480 -k0.000 -mv2.0 +b1000 from the command prompt. Results are in seconds.

Board Result
Soyo K7VTA Pro 15
Soyo K7ADA 15

The results for POVRay are exactly the same, showing that POVRay is dependent much more on your CPU than on RAM, at least when rendering this demo. On larger tests this might not be the case, but CPU speed would still be the major factor.

Quake 3 Arena Timedemos (Frames Per Second)
Board 640x480 800x600 1024x768 1200x1024 1600x1200
Soyo SY-K7VTA Pro 175.4 129.3 85.1 52.8 36.8
Soyo SY-K7ADA 159.1 127.4 85.1 52.8 36.8

Quake 3 only suffers from a slower CPU at lower resolutions where the GeForce2MX is not a bottleneck. At higher resolutions, we find that the graphics card, more than anything else, is the deciding factor. With newer graphics cards such as the GeForce 3 we might find a difference in maximum speed, but hardly enough to justify the cost in replacing your memory.

bonnie++ results
Bonnie++ is a hard drive benchmark that tests the writing and reading
from both a single large file (such as that of a database) and many small files (like a proxy, or mail program). It is
useful for simulating performance under such applications.

Bonnie++ results
Sequential Output
Controller Per-Character Block Rewrite
Soyo K7VTA Pro 15507 K/sec, 98% CPU 24376 K/sec, 19% CPU 7441 K/sec, 4% CPU
Soyo K7ADA 15544 K/sec, 99% CPU 26980 K/sec, 20% CPU 8951 K/sec, 5% CPU
Sequential Input Random
Controller Per-Character Block Random
Soyo K7VTA Pro 11037 K/sec, 60% CPU 22231 K/sec, 9% CPU 121.3 Seeks/sec, 0% CPU
Soyo K7ADA 12660 K/sec, 70% CPU 22296 K/sec, 8% CPU 134.1 Seeks/sec, 0% CPU
Sequential Create
Controller Create Read Delete
Soyo K7VTA Pro 15892 /sec, 85% CPU none 22560/sec, 100% CPU
Soyo K7ADA 18623 /sec, 100% CPU none 22322/sec, 100% CPU
Random Create
Controller Create Read Delete
Soyo K7VTA Pro 17740 /sec, 100% CPU none 18303/sec, 99% CPU
Soyo K7ADA 17874 /sec, 100% CPU none 18820/sec, 99% CPU

Bonnie++, being a hard drive test, is not affected much by the difference in RAM types, and as you can see, both boards performed equally well in this test.

HDparm tests the maximum data transfer rate of a hard drive in using two methods, uncached (but buffered still by the hard drives on board buffer) and cached (buffered by the drive and cached via the operating system cache). While the uncached test should not vary between different controllers that support up to the drive's ATA-version (such at ATA-66, which is what this drive uses), the cached test varies between boards because it is essentially a test of the CPU, cache and RAM on a system. This is what makes it interesting in this case -- it can help showcase the memory performance of these two boards.

hdparm -t (Uncached)
Soyo K7VTA Pro 23.70 MB/sec
Soyo K7ADA 23.79 MB/sec
hdparm -T (Cached)
Soyo K7VTA Pro 154.22 MB/sec
Soyo K7ADA 216.95 MB/sec

The uncached speed is unaffected by system ram, with a minor difference in score between the two boards. Cached speed however, because it is basically a benchmark of the CPU and RAM, is greatly affected by the the faster DDR memory, showing the theoretical maximum for the system is 216.95 megs a second versus 154.22. However, this is under optimal conditions, and the difference should not scare you away from the VTA Pro -- in reality, it is not a big difference.

If you are upgrading your current system and want to keep your old PC100/PC133 RAM, the VTA Pro is a good choice, allowing you to not spend money on new RAM, and giving you a fast, stable board that is available for a reasonable price (around $100) on Pricewatch. If you are building a machine from scratch, I would suggest you instead purchase a DDR board and RAM, because it will have a longer useful life-span than PC133 will. With DDR chipsets out for the AMD platform, and Pentium 4 DDR chipsets becoming available from VIA soon, you will be a lot better off.


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