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VIA's P4PB Ultra motherboard

VIA's renegade mobo is loaded for bear

Manufacturer VIA
Model P4PB Ultra
Price (street) US$148
Availability Now

THERE'S BEEN A RECENT TREND among motherboard manufacturers to get wild and crazy.

Well, wild and crazy for motherboard manufacturers, anyway.

Concerned that their products have become a commodity item, many companies are trying to distinguish their mobos with inclusions that would have been considered radical a year or two ago. A classic example is Soyo's DRAGON line, which we have reviewed extensively. A more recent example is Abit's MAX line, which we have also looked at in detail. These boards bundle in on-board RAID, Ethernet and audio, gobs of USB ports, and in some cases even 3.5" bay media readers. This is not your father's motherboard.

Now VIA, known best for the chipsets that go on the motherboards, is getting into the act, as well. The P4PB Ultra is a Pentium 4 board based on VIA's P4X400 chipset. In addition to the fun that the P4X400 brings to the table (8X AGP, ATA-133, USB 2.0 and even unofficial DDR400 support) the P4PB Ultra offers up its own frivolity in the form of extra bundled goodies. But is the package enough to make the P4PB Ultra competitive in the crowded motherboard market? Read on to find out.

The specs
Though many of the P4PB Ultra's impressive extras are bundled with the motherboard rather than living on it, there are still a few interesting items on the board itself. Therefore, we'll start out by taking a look at the board's capabilities and then look at the bundled extras. Here are the stats on the board:

CPU support Socket 478-based Intel Pentium 4 processors
Form factor ATX
Chipset VIA P4X400
North bridge VIA VT8754
South bridge VIA VT8235
Interconnect V-Link (533MB/s)
PCI slots 6 32-bit/33MHz
AGP slots 2X/4X/8X AGP (1.5V only)
AMR/CNR slots 1 CNR
Memory 3 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 3GB of DDR333/266/200 SDRAM
(Unofficial DDR400 support)
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
RAID Promise PDC20276
2 channels ATA/133 IDE RAID 0, 1 (no 0+1)
Legacy ports 1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse, Serial and Parallel ports
USB 2 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
4 additional USB 2.0/1.1 ports via included back plate

Support for 10 total USB 2.0/1.1 ports
Audio C-Media CMI8738-MX 6-channel audio
standard audio jacks
S/PDIF output ports (optical and coaxial) via included back plate expansion header
Ethernet VIA VT8235 10/100 Ethernet
BIOS Phoenix - AwardBIOS
Bus speeds 100-132MHz in 1MHz increments (for 100MHz FSB CPUs)
133-200MHz in 1MHz increments (for 133MHz FSB CPUs)
Bus dividers None
Voltages CPU: -0.1V to +0.1V from default in 0.025V increments
DRAM: 2.5-2.8V in 0.1V increments
AGP: 1.5-1.8V in 0.1V increments
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

If you read a lot of motherboard reviews, you've probably seen any one of the above features on other boards. However, when you look at them as a whole, finding another board that has all of them might prove difficult. Next we'll take a more detailed look at the board and its features, as well as those extras I keep talking about.