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Soltek's SL-K890PRO-939 motherboard

The K8T890 arrives in the flesh

Price (street)

WE FIRST PREVIEWED VIA's K8T890 chipset all the way back in September of last year. At the time, VIA seemed poised for victory in the race to bring PCI Express to the Athlon 64. Unfortunately, VIA had some problems with PCI-E, delaying production boards based on the chipset. K8T890 boards are only now hitting the market, some six months after our initial chipset preview.

Had it been released earlier, a board like Soltek's K8T890-based SL-K890PRO-939 could have been among the first PCI Express platforms for the Athlon 64. Now it faces a market filled with motherboards based on NVIDIA's nForce4 chipset family that have raised our expectations for the marriage of PCI-E and AMD64. Read on to see if the SL-K890PRO-939 measures up.

The specs
As usual, we'll kick things off with a look at the SL-K890PRO-939's spec sheet. Much of what we'll be covering is surprisingly familiar territory.

CPU supportSocket 939-based Athlon 64 processors
ChipsetVIA K8T890
North bridgeVIA K8T890
South bridgeVIA VT8237
Interconnect8x V-Link (533MB/sec)
Expansion slots1 PCI Express x16
3 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz
Memory4 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 4GB of DDR266/333/400 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
2 channels ATA/133 via VT8237
1 channel ATA/133
with RAID 0, 1 support via PDC20579
2 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1 support via VT8237
2 channels Serial ATA with
RAID 0, 1 support via PDC20579
Audio8-channel audio via VT8237 integrated audio and ALC850 codec
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 serial
USB 2.0 with headers for 4 more
1 Firewire via VIA VT6307 with headers for 1 more
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via Realtek RTL8110SB

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog surround out
1 analog rear out
1 analog line in (shared with surround out)
1 analog mic in
1 digital S/PDIF output (TOS-Link)
1 digital S/PDIF input (TOS-Link)
BIOSPhoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speedsCPU: 200-300MHz in 1MHz increments
PCI-E: 100-150MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus dividersHT: auto, 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x
VoltagesCPU: default, 0.8-1.7V in 0.025V increments
DDR: default, 2.6-2.75V in 0.05V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlNone

VIA's K8T890 chipset is based on a north bridge chip of the same name. This chip serves up 20 lanes of PCI Express, which Soltek spreads across one PCI-E x16 slot and three x1s on the SL-K890PRO-939. Because all of the board's PCI Express slots hang directly off the north bridge, they won't contend for limited chipset interconnect bandwidth, which is a very good thing.

Following the K8T890's 8x V-Link interconnect leads us to VIA's familiar VT8237 south bridge, a chip whose origins can be traced all the way back to the Socket A KT600. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with the VT8237, but its feature set is undeniably dated.

In the storage department, the VT8237 only does Serial ATA RAID. The chip actually supports up to four Serial ATA devices, but like every other VT8237 implementation we've seen, the SL-K890PRO-939 only connects two Serial ATA ports to the south bridge. Soltek pads the board's storage capabilities with Promise's PDC20579 RAID controller, which adds ATA/133 RAID and additional channels for Serial ATA RAID.

The Promise PDC20579 is bound to the SL-K890PRO-939's PCI bus, where it will have to share 133MB/sec of bandwidth with the board's Realtek RTL8110SB Gigabit Ethernet controller. The VT8237's lack of integrated GigE forces Soltek to seek out a third party-networking chip to provide Gigabit speeds, but a PCI Express-based Gigabit Ethernet chip would have been a much better choice. Heck, the north bridge even has a spare PCI Express lane for it.

In addition to tapping the crab for its Gigabit Ethernet controller, Soltek also uses Realtek's eight-channel ALC850 audio codec. The ALC850 doesn't do high-definition sampling rates or resolutions, but it's become the de facto standard for new Athlon 64 boards.