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Dual Opteron workstation motherboards compared


Three paths to dual Opteron nirvana
— 1:12 AM on April 6, 2004

IT TOOK what seemed like forever for AMD to release its Opteron processor for servers and workstations. However, while the server crowd sunk its teeth into AMD's new 64-bit platform right away, workstation users and SMP enthusiasts waited months for the first dual Opteron boards with AGP slots to trickle onto the market.

Despite all the hype over AMD64, only a handful of mobo manufacturers has jumped into the dual Opteron workstation game since the chip's launch. Don't let the limited number of boards fool you, though. We've rounded up a trio of dual Opteron boards, and there's quite a bit of variety to be had. Read on to find out which board best suits your workstation needs or enthusiast desires.


A pair of Opterons waits for a worthy motherboard

The specs
Before we dive into the details of each board, here's a quick look at how the spec sheets compare.

MSI K8T Master2 Tyan Thunder K8W Tyan Tiger K8W
Form factor ATX Extended ATX ATX
Chipset VIA K8T800 north bridge
VIA VT8237 south bridge
AMD-8151 AGP tunnel
AMD-8131 PCI-X tunnel
AMD-8111 IO Hub
AMD-8151 AGP tunnel
AMD-8111 IO Hub
Interconnect 16-bit, 800MHz HyperTransport (processor)
16-bit, 533MHz V-Link (chipset)
16-bit, 600MHz HyperTransport (processor/AGP tunnel)
16-bit, 600MHz HyperTransport (processor/PCI-X tunnel)
8-bit, 400MHz (PCI-X tunnel/IO hub)
16-bit, 800MHz HyperTransport (processor)
8-bit, 400MHz HyperTransport (chipset)
PCI slots 4 32-bit/33MHz 1 32-bit/33MHz
2 PCI-X 64-bit/100MHz
2 PCI-X 64-bit/133MHz
5 32-bit/33MHz
AGP slots 1 AGP 8X/AGP Pro 1 AGP 8X/AGP Pro 1 AGP 4X/8X
Memory 4 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8GB of registered DDR200/266/333/400 SDRAM with ECC
8 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 16GB of registered DDR200/266/333/400 SDRAM with ECC
4 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8GB of registered DDR200/266/333/400 SDRAM with ECC
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
2 channels Serial ATA 150 via VT8237 with RAID 0,1 support
Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
4 channels Serial ATA 150 via Silicon Image Sil3114 with RAID 0,1, 0+1 support
Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
4 channels Serial ATA 150 via Silicon Image Sil3114 with RAID 0,1, 0+1 support
Audio 6-channel audio via VT8237 integrated audio and Realtek ALC201A codec 6-channel audio via AMD-8111 integrated audio and Analog Devices AD1981b codec 6-channel audio via AMD-8111 integrated audio and Realtek ALC655 codec
USB 6 USB 2.0 ports via VT8237 (4 front, 2 rear) 5 USB 1.1 ports via AMD-8111 (2 front, 3 rear) 4 USB 1.1 ports via AMD-8111 (2 front, 2 rear)
4 USB 2.0 ports via VIA VT6212 (2 front, 2 rear)
Firewire None 2 ports via Texas Instruments TSB43AB22 2 ports via VIA VT6307
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet via Broadcom BCM5705 Gigabit Ethernet via Broadcom BCM5703C Gigabit Ethernet via Intel 82541E1

Although the K8T Master2, Tiger K8W, and Thunder K8W all support dual Opteron processors, there's more variation between the boards than one might expect. I'll be exploring each board's unique characteristics, quirks, and common traits over the course of the comparison. Make no mistake; there's a lot more to these boards than can be described by their spec sheets.