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Soyo's SY-KT400 DRAGON Ultra motherboard


ModelSY-KT400 DRAGON Ultra
Price (street)US$169

REGULAR READERS OF THIS SITE will know that Soyo's DRAGON line of Athlon boards is pretty popular around here. We previously reviewed the DRAGON Plus as well as the DRAGON Ultra, and we had many positive things to say about each of them. The DRAGON boards pack a substantial number of features, along with a tradition of extras that typically aren't even available on other boards.

Today we'll look at the SY-KT400 DRAGON Ultra, the latest in the DRAGON line of Athlon boards. Once again Soyo has put together an intriguing batch of features for enthusiasts. While some of the new toys are thanks to Soyo alone, others come courtesy of VIA's KT400 chipset, and since this is our first review of a KT400 board, we'll be taking a look at VIA's latest Athlon chipset as well. Finally, we'll run the board through our new test suite using a variety of bus and memory speeds.

What's the 400 stand for?
The heart of the SY-KT400 DRAGON Ultra is, of course, VIA's new KT400 chipset. The new chipset consists of the VT8377 north bridge and a VT8235 south bridge. At one time, the 400 in the KT400's name was to represent support for DDR400 memory, but VIA has since backed off that claim. Although the VT8377's memory controller has been upgraded with an eye towards reliable support for DDR400, the fact remains that JEDEC hasn't finalized the DDR400 standard yet. And you can't officially support something that doesn't officially exist. It's entirely possible that once JEDEC finalizes the spec, the KT400 chipset will work with the new RAM with no further modifications necessary, but only time will tell.

In the meantime, however, there are plenty of other reasons to recommend the KT400. Let's start off with a block diagram shamelessly ripped off from VIA's web site:

The astute chipset nerds out there will notice the differences between the KT400 and the KT333 immediately, but for the benefit of everybody else I'll go over them one at a time. First up is support for AGP 8X in the VT8377 north bridge, which allows for up to 2.1GB/s of bandwidth for that swank new AGP 8X card you've been eyeing.

Moving on to the VT8235 south bridge, the key difference is the inclusion of three USB 2.0 controllers with up to six ports, as opposed to the USB 1.1 controllers in the KT333. If you're interested in external peripherals like hard drives or CD recorders, this is A Big Deal, since USB 2.0 is literally 40 times faster than USB 1.1 while maintaining compatibility with USB 1.1 devices.

A final change from the KT333 is the V-Link interconnect between the north and south bridge chips. The KT400 interconnect transfers data at up to 533MB/s, doubling the KT333's maximum transfer rate of 266MB/s. This certainly opens things up between the two chips, and ensures that the ATA-133, PCI and USB 2.0 interfaces won't run into any traffic jams getting off the south bridge.