Of course, all I could think was: comparison review.
What better way to test the merits of DDR SDRAM versus PC133 than to test a board that could run both types of memory? Now, many months have passed, and DDR products are finally becoming widely available. And we have here a review of Shuttle's AV32, a hybrid DDR/PC133 board for the Pentium III and its ilk. As you might expect, we'll be reviewing the AV32, but we'll also let it serve as a kind of test mule for Via's Apollo Pro 266 chipset. I think that's appropriate, really. Keep reading, and I'll show you why.
The AV32 is, in many ways, a "pure" implementation of Via's Apollo Pro 266 chipset. That's no bad thing, because that makes the AV32 one of the more advanced Pentium III motherboards on the market. It also makes the AV32 a study in the current state of the art for Via-based motherboards. Here's a summary of the goods:
|CPU support||Socket 370-based CPUs, including Intel Pentium III and Celeron PPGA and FC-PGA processors|
|Chipset||Via Apollo Pro 266 (VT86333 North Bridge, VT8233 South Bridge)|
|AGP slots||1, 2X/4X AGP w/sidebanding and fast writes|
|Memory||2 168-pin DIMM sockets for PC100/133 SDRAM|
2 184-pin DIMM sockets for PC1600/PC2100 DDR SDRAM
|Storage I/O||Floppy disk|
2 channels ATA-100
|Ports||1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse,|
2 serial, 1 parallel, 2 USB,
4 additional USB ports via 2 expansion headers,
1 line out, 1 line in, 1 mic in for AC'97 audio,
1 game port
|Monitoring||Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring|
The layout, and dawdling on the south bridge
Here's how the board looks:
Notice a couple of interesting things about the AV32's layout. First, there's that funny connector next to the AGP slot that looks for all the world like a PCI slot that's been turned around and offset just a bit. That's an Advanced Communications Riser (ACR) slot, which is similar in function to the AMR and CNR slots that sit unused in thousands of motherboards around the globe. The idea behind both ACR and CNR is that cheap modems, network cards, and the like ought to go into those slots. Because CPUs and south bridge chips can now collaborate to deliver fuctions like modems and NICs, these little riser card slots were added to facilitate very inexpensive upgrades. After all, you need an RJ-11 socket for a modem, no matter how much of its logic is handled by the CPU.
The CNR standard is backed by Intel, but a range of companies have pushed ACR as an alternative, more broadly compatible standard. For more info on this stuff, see here. For now, let's just say Shuttle's choice of ACR over CNR makes sense in light of the Via chipset on this board. Also, ACR retains AMR compatability. You can grab an AMR modem to use in the AV32 for next to nothing online.
Next, the AV32's AGP slot is adorned by a black brace, with a clip at the back that holds the AGP card in place. This brace is a nice touch, since video cards tend to get torqued out of their slots by video cables.