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Soyo's KT333 Dragon Ultra motherboard

The dragon roars again

Manufacturer Soyo
Model KT333 DRAGON Ultra
Price (street) US$140
Availability Now

ONE OF THE MORE INNOVATIVE motherboards in recent memory is Soyo's SY-K7V DRAGON Plus. When I reviewed that board in January, I argued that Soyo had created not only a motherboard but also a design philosophy that could be applied to future products. The crux of that philosophy is summed up in the word DRAGON, which Soyo uses as an acronym describing the core features: DDR memory, RAID, Audio, Graphics (via an AGP Pro slot), Overclocking and Network.

Since the debut of the DRAGON Plus (an Athlon motherboard), Soyo has released several Pentium 4 boards under the DRAGON name, all of them continuing the philosophy. Now, Soyo has returned to the Athlon side to bring you the KT333 DRAGON Ultra, a board that bears a striking resemblance to the DRAGON Plus, but now features a KT333 chipset with support for DDR333 memory. But Soyo wasn't just content to swap out a chipset; they've made other changes, as well. Read on for the details.

The specs
First off, let's arrange all the pertinent stuff into a nice-looking table, so it's all right here in, err, blue and white:

CPU support Socket 462-based CPUs, including AMD Duron, Athlon and Athlon XP processors
Form factor ATX
Chipset VIA KT333 (VT8367 North Bridge,
VT8233A South Bridge)
PCI slots 5
AGP slots 1, 2X/4X AGP Pro
Memory 3 184-pin DIMM sockets for PC1600/PC2100/PC2700 DDR SDRAM
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA-100
Highpoint HPT372 RAID controller
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse,
2 serial, 1 parallel, 2 USB 1.1,
2 additional USB 1.1 via expansion headers,
4 USB 2.0 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
Bus speeds 100MHz-233MHz
(official support for 100 & 133MHz)
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

This is a pretty substantial list, and newcomers to the DRAGON line are probably as blown away by it as I was the first time I saw it. Those who are more familiar with the DRAGON series might have skipped over the above specs entirely, but pay attention—there are a few important differences. We'll get to those in a second, but first...

What hasn't changed
The way I see it, the KT333 DRAGON Ultra is basically an evolution of the SY-K7V DRAGON Plus. Now I'm sure that the vast majority of you have already read my DRAGON Plus review, but if you haven't read it, you're going to go read it right now, because it's just that damn good. However, for those of you who are, say, reading this review from within a burning building and don't have time to read another review before fleeing to safety, I'm going to go over the similarities between the DRAGON Plus and the DRAGON Ultra.

First, as discussed previously, the core philosophy of the board hasn't changed at all. The DRAGON Ultra still combines many of the features desired by enthusiasts onto one board, including on-board RAID, quality on-board audio, overclocking capabilities and a 10/100 network port.

The audio on the board got special mention in the Plus review, and I'll mention it again here: This is not your father's AC'97 audio. Rather, Soyo uses a C-Media CMI-8738 chip like the one found on the Hercules Gamesurround Muse XL sound card. On the Soyo boards, the CMI-8738 has six-channel audio support as well as digital input and output via optical and coaxial connectors on a separate (but included) backplate. Most importantly, the C-Media chip sounds one heck of a lot better than most on-board audio solutions. Subjectively speaking, of course.

In my review of the DRAGON Plus, I said its manual was "hands down the best motherboard manual I've ever laid eyes on." The DRAGON Ultra continues that tradition with a beefy manual that covers all of the board's features in detail, and also includes (among other things) installation instructions for the LAN, audio, and RAID drivers.

Finally, there were the little details that made the DRAGON Plus attractive, such as a pack of heatsink paste and a special cover plate for the board's unique port layout. Soyo even threw in an applications CD with Norton Ghost and WinDVD. All of these things are still there on the DRAGON Ultra.