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TR reviews Abit's KT7A-RAID motherboard

The A makes all the difference

Manufacturer Abit
Availability Now

In this context, the KT7A-RAID (and indeed, any motherboard based on the KT133A chipset) was behind the curve, a half-baked solution in the eyes of hard-core geeks. After all, why just crank your system bus up to 133MHz when you could do that and double your memory bandwidth? Duh! At Comdex, nobody took the KT133A chipset seriously.

But it's certainly being taken seriously now, isn't it? So what happened? That actually falls into two categories: what did happen, and what didn't happen. What did happen was that people testing KT133A boards found them to be within spitting distance of AMD 760 boards, DDR be damned. Few if any would've predicted that such a board was capable of such a feat with half the memory bandwidth of its competitor, but there it was.

And what didn't happen was DDR. There were no piles of DDR DIMMs selling for a piddling ten percent premium. Heck, for months it was nearly impossible to find a motherboard on which to put the stuff. That's starting to change now. As I write this, Micron has started selling PC2100 DDR DIMMs through its Crucial website for a mere three percent premium over CAS2 PC133 memory. But in the meantime, the KT133A chipset has had a chance to prove itself, and that DDR upgrade isn't as pressing as it used to be. Into this context steps the KT7A-RAID.

Show me what ya got
So let's take a look at what the KT7A-RAID brings to the table. We'll use this nifty little chart that I blatantly ripped off from Damage's AV32 review. Heh.

CPU support Socket 462-based CPUs, including AMD Duron and Athlon processors
Form factor ATX
Chipset Via KT133A (VT8363A North Bridge,
VT82C686B South Bridge)
ISA slots 1 (shared with PCI)
PCI slots 6 (one shared with ISA)
AGP slots 1, 2X/4X AGP w/sidebanding and fast writes
Memory 3 168-pin DIMM sockets for PC100/133 SDRAM (1.5GB max)
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA-100
Highpoint HPT370 RAID controller
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse,
2 serial, 1 parallel, 2 USB,
2 additional USB ports via expansion header
BIOS Award PnP with Abit Soft Menu III
Bus speeds 100MHz-183MHz
(official support for 100 & 133MHz)
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

As you can see, the KT7A-RAID is just packed with goodness. Notable features include a whopping half-dozen PCI slots, support for 512MB DIMMs (and thus a capacity of 1.5 gigs of RAM), and Highpoint's IDE RAID controller in addition to the standard ATA-100 controller, for a total of up to eight IDE devices. They even throw in a token ISA slot in case you still have need of a legacy card.

The selection of bus speeds is also worth a second look, not only because the board allows you to set speeds up to an eye-popping 183MHz, but because of the official support for a 133MHz bus. The 133MHz bus support, of course, is what puts the A in both the KT7A-RAID and its KT133A chipset. It's there to support the newer "C" Athlons that are sold to run on a 133MHz bus, but that doesn't mean we can't whip out the pencil and have some 133MHz fun overclocking the older "B" (100MHz) chips.

And with the KT7A-RAID, fun is only a delete key away. Pop into the BIOS, and Abit's Soft Menu III allows you to set the bus speed as well as core and I/O voltages. Assuming you have an unlocked CPU (or have unlocked it yourself) you can also manipulate the multiplier. With so many things to play with and no jumpers to worry about, finding the ideal multiplier/bus speed combination is, in theory, easy. We'll get to actual practice later on.