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The K8T890 in action
We had the chance to play with a K8T890 reference board for a little while, and we were able to extract some benchmark scores from it. This puppy was obviously nothing close to a production motherboard. When we test chipsets, we like to test performance twelve different ways from Sunday, including lots of south bridge I/O tests; those are becoming much more important now that the Athlon 64's integrated memory controller has robbed north bridge benchmarking of its usual drama. Unfortunately, the VIA reference board was neither designed nor intended to serve as a showcase of south bridge performance. What's more, the reference board didn't have the new VT8251 on it, just the familiar VT8237 we've already tested extensively.


VIA's K8T890 reference mobo

On top of all that, the reference board wasn't up for the task of running at really tight RAM timings or engaging in dubious overclocking adventures. We were able to get it stable with relatively conservative memory settings, but we just couldn't push too hard. VIA told us they didn't want to put too much effort into developing their reference boards because full production motherboards should be available from mobo makers like Abit in the very near future. In fact, this board from Abit is apparently ready to roll as soon as VIA gets volume chipset production going.

Given all these considerations, we decided to confine our testing to the thing that matters most on the K8T890 north bridge: PCI Express graphics. (We'd have tested other types of PCI-E cards, too, if we could find any.) Part of our goal was simply to verify that the K8T890 works as advertised, and part of it was to see whether the performance was acceptable. Based on our experience with the Intel PCI-E chipsets, we knew better than to expect immediate or dramatic performance increases in games and graphics.

We hit one snag immediately: the reference board's PCI-E X16 slot wouldn't accommodate a GeForce 6800 GT card. The CMOS battery and a capacitor were situated in the way of longer PCI-E graphics cards, so we had to confine our testing to a Radeon X600 XT. The X600 XT isn't an exact match for the Radeon 9600 XT on the AGP side of things, but it's close enough for comparison. The GPUs are essentially the same, with the same core clock speed, but the X600 XT has a higher memory clock speed than the 9600 XT. In order to even things up a little bit, I overclocked the memory on our 9600 XT to 720MHz. That's 20MHz short of the X600 XT's 740MHz RAM, but it was the best the poor card could do. In any event, we tested at low resolutions so that video memory bandwidth shouldn't be too much of an issue.

We will, of course, have a fuller look at K8T890 performance and compatibility when production motherboards based on the chipset arrive. For now, let's see what the reference board had to show us.