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AMD 760MPX motherboard round-up

— 12:00 AM on November 18, 2002

TRUTH BE TOLD, I WOULD HAVE preferred not to write this article. To put it another way, I would have preferred a situation where such an article wasn't relevant and thus didn't need to be written. Not that long ago, such a situation certainly wasn't inconceivable—all indications (according to AMD roadmaps, anyway) were that Hammer was going to roll in and make the 760MPX a relic in both the workstation and server spaces. People with 760MPX boards would look back upon them fondly as some do the BP6 today, but integrated memory controllers and HyperTransport links would be the rule in our main systems.

Of course, it hasn't worked out that way. We're still waiting for Hammer, and the 760MPX is still AMD's answer for the server and workstation markets. We like the 760MPX chipset, though, and some of us would like to see an encore. That's because AMD's dual-processor solution packs some formidable technology, and it's still probably the best choice for building a dual-processor personal system today. So read on as we take a look at the current state of motherboards based on the AMD 760MPX chipset.

If you're not familiar with what the 760MPX chipset itself brings to the table, you should check out our excellent review on the subject. To briefly sum it up, the 760MPX has some impressive capabilities, including support for up to two 64-bit, 66MHz PCI slots and an advanced point-to-point bus that ensures that neither processor will want for bandwidth to the rest of the system.

Unfortunately, the initial revision of the 760MPX chipset (or more specifically, its 768 south bridge chip) had a nasty erratum in the form of a USB bug; it could be argued that the bug slowed adoption of the chipset, as motherboard manufacturers decided to wait until the bug was fixed to introduce their 760MPX boards. Some companies introduced boards with the buggy chipset anyway, shipping a PCI USB controller card as a workaround.

At the time the problem was announced, I don't recall ever seeing specifics on the bug, so I finally tracked it down on AMD's website here, and it's not pretty. Basically, when certain criteria are met, a bus contention issue arises. The possible effects include "[d]ata corruption leading to eventual system hangs and failures" as well as "[l]ong term component reliability problems due to bus contention." Like I said, nasty. Fortunately, this bug existed only in the earlier B1 revision of the south bridge, and all of the boards I'll be looking at today have the newer B2 revision which fixes the problem.

So why am I pointing all this out? Well, if you'd also heard of the USB bug, you should know that it's now been fixed, so you shouldn't have to worry about buggy USB if you buy one of these boards today (if you're in doubt, look for "B2" printed on the south bridge chip to be sure). Also, I'm theorizing that this bug is one reason that there aren't a whole lot of models of 760MPX motherboards available today. I think the manufacturers wanted to wait until the USB bug was fixed, and once that was done, many probably thought Hammer was too close to bother with 760MPX.

As a result, we could find only half a dozen or so manufacturers who have 760MPX products. There's Tyan. of course, along with MSI, Iwill, Gigabyte, Asus and Epox. Asus didn't respond to our review requests, and Epox declined to send a review unit, which may speak volumes about their commitment to this particular product. However, we did get boards from the other four manufacturers, so we have a fairly good sampling of 760MPX boards available for this round-up. We'll look at each board's features in detail, check out the state of overclocking on the 760MPX chipset, then wrap things up with benchmarks of each board in stock and (where applicable) overclocked configs.