In such a crowded market, it takes something unique to really stand out from the crowd and get a lot of attention. Abit did it with the BP6, and more recently, Shuttle did it with the FV24 (you may know it better as the guts of the SV24). I'm not certain if the Soyo SY-K7V DRAGON Plus will garner as much attention as those boards, but I do think it deserves a lot of attention. Rather than make a board with the same features as a lot of the competition, Soyo has created a design philosophy that attempts to give enthusiasts just about everything they want.
Bold words, I know, but I think they're deserved. Let's start by taking a look at what the DRAGON Plus brings to the party.
|CPU support||Socket 462-based CPUs, including AMD Duron, Athlon and Athlon XP processors|
|Chipset||VIA KT266A (VT8366A North Bridge,|
VT8233 South Bridge)
|AGP slots||1, 2X/4X AGP Pro|
|Memory||3 184-pin DIMM sockets for PC1600/PC2100 DDR SDRAM|
|Storage I/O||Floppy disk|
2 channels ATA-100
Promise Fasttrak 100 Lite RAID controller
|Ports||1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse,|
2 serial, 1 parallel, 2 USB 1.1,
4 additional USB 1.1 via expansion headers,
10/100 Ethernet LAN,
stereo audio line-out, stereo audio line-in,
microphone, game port.
(Stereo rear line-out, center and bass line-out,
optical digital input, optical digital output,
coaxial digital input, coaxial digital output
via included backplane.)
|BIOS||Award PnP with Soyo COMBO|
(official support for 100 & 133MHz)
|Monitoring||Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring|
A quick glance at the ports section in the table above (you don't even have to read it; just look at the size of it) lets you know that the DRAGON Plus has a few more bells and whistles than a typical KT266A board. With all those features, you might think it would be difficult to keep track. Not to worry, Soyo has made it easy for you; just remember the name of the board.
Enter the DRAGON (Plus)
Along with being the name for an expanding line of feature-laden motherboards, DRAGON is also a clever acronym describing those features. Let's examine this in more detail:
|DDR||The Dragon Plus uses VIA's KT266A chipset, which gives it DDR memory support. The board has three DIMM sockets, and will support unbuffered modules up to 1024MB in size for a total of 3GB of memory.|
|RAID||Promise's Fasttrak 100 Lite RAID controller is included on-board. Arrays built using this controller are apparently limited to two drives and therefore can be RAID 0 (striped) or RAID 1 (mirrored) but not both. If you're not keen on RAID but have a lot of IDE devices, a jumper on the motherboard will allow you to make this a Promise Ultra-100 controller instead.|
|Audio||The Dragon Plus includes on-board audio thanks to a C-Media 8738 chip. With six-channel sound and so many connectors that an extra backplane is required to hold them all, this is no mere standard AC97 solution.|
|Graphics||Don't panic, the Dragon Plus doesn't include any marginal on-board graphics chip that most enthusiasts would immediately disable. In this case, the Graphics refers to the AGP Pro slot. AGP Pro cards aren't very common right now, but with the Dragon Plus you're covered if you purchase one in the future.|
|Overclocking||The Dragon Plus comes with impressive overclocking features, allowing control of CPU voltage, multiplier and bus speed. We'll definitely explore this feature in more detail later.|
|Network||A 10/100 Ethernet port is included on-board.|
That makes it easy to remember, doesn't it? Soyo has a real, live design philosophy they've brought to bear here; the DRAGON Plus has many of the things that an enthusiast would add, such as a network interface and decent sound, while skipping out on things that would go unused, such as on-board video. It all looks great in theory, but let's crack the box open and see how the execution holds up.
Unpacking the box
Before we even get to unpacking it, let's talk about the box. The thing that struck me first was the depth of it. Think ocean trench. When I first saw it, I figured that the depth was just to make it look more impressive from the outside, and opening it would reveal a cardboard shelf taking up half the space.
But I was wrong. The box is that big because it needs to be to contain the plethora of stuff inside it. Oh, sure, you have the standard fare: the motherboard itself, a manual, a driver CD and drive cables. But take a look at some of the other inclusions. An ATX connector plate designed specifically for the board's multitude of ports. An expansion header for the on-board audio that includes both optical and coaxial digital inputs and outputs. A separate box with a 3.5" drive plate (with 5.25" adapter) that has two USB ports and a smartcard reader. Very quickly, one begins to realize that the Dragon Plus is different from most motherboards.
Also included is an applications CD that contains some useful utilities, including Norton AntiVirus 2001, Norton Ghost, Adobe ActiveShare and a trial version of WinDVD. Finally, perhaps in a nod to the board's target consumer, Soyo even throws in a small package of heatsink paste. Thermal pad? We don' need no steenking thermal pad.
There was one omission that was a little annoying. The board includes a total of six USB portstwo mounted on the motherboard near the mouse and keyboard ports, and four more implemented through two headers on the board. One of these headers is utilized by the aforementioned 3.5" drive plate, but there is no hardware included to make use of the final USB header. If you're going to put two headers on the board (and if you're going to list six USB ports as a feature), you should include the hardware to utilize both headers.
I mentioned a manual earlier, but I need to expand on that a bit. The SY-K7V's manual is hands down the best motherboard manual I've ever laid eyes on. It's nearly 200 pages long and covers both the motherboard and the on-board RAID controller in lots of detail. It's very impressive.