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Albatron’s K8X800 Pro II motherboard

Geoff Gasior Former Managing Editor Author expertise
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Manufacturer Albatron
Model K8X800 Pro II
Price (street) $125
Availability Now

I LOVE TO see manufacturers pack in all sorts of extra goodies with their mainboards as much as—or maybe even more than—the next guy, but not everyone needs rounded IDE cables, case straps, multiple Serial ATA and IDE RAID options, MOSFET cooling, or on-the-fly hard drive encryption capabilities. All those bundled goodies and extra peripherals are great, but they raise the price of the board and are really a waste if unused.

As the Athlon 64 3000+ hits a price/performance sweet spot for budget-conscious enthusiasts, the outlook is good for Athlon 64 boards that trade bundled bells and whistles for lower price tags. One of these more affordable Athlon 64 boards is Albatron’s K8X800 Pro II, which has all the essentials without the frilly extras. Is the K8X800 Pro II worthy of an Athlon 64 3000+? Read on to find out.

The specs
The K8X800 Pro II isn’t loaded with every conceivable extra, but it does have everything most users will need.

CPU support Socket 754-based Athlon 64 processors
Form factor ATX
North bridge VIA K8T800
South bridge VIA VT8237
Interconnect HyperTransport (3.6GB/s)
PCI slots 6 32-bit/33MHz
AGP slots 1 4x/8x (1.5V only)
AMR/CNR slots None
Memory 3 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 2GB of DDR266/333/400 SDRAM
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
Serial ATA 2 Serial ATA channels via VT8237 south bridge
RAID RAID 0, 1 support via VT8237 V-RAID
Legacy ports 1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse, serial and parallel ports
USB 2 USB 2.0 ports
Additional 4 USB ports via
PCI expansion header
Firewire 2  IEEE 1394 Firewire port via VT6307 Firewire controller
Audio 7.1-channel audio via VIA Envy24PT audio controller
analog front, rear, surround, and center outputs
analog line and microphone inputs
digital S/PDIF input and output ports (coaxial and Tos-Link)
Video None
Ethernet 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via 3COM 940-MV00
BIOS Phoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speeds CPU: 200-300MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: auto, 100, 133, 166, and 200MHz
Bus dividers None
Voltages CPU:  0.8-1.9V in 0.05V increments
AGP:  1.5-1.8V in 0.1V increments
DIMM:  2.6-2.9 in 0.1V increments
Northbridge:  2.5-2.8V in 0.1V increments
Southbridge: 
2.5-2.8V in 0.1V increments
LDT:  1.2-1.3 in 0.1V increments
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

As far as integrated features go, the K8X800 Pro II is really only missing IDE RAID. Not bad for one of the most affordable Athlon 64 boards on the market.

 

Board layout
Albatron seems to have settled on a bluish-turquoise color for its mainboards, which isn’t terribly unique. Still, the board’s coloring isn’t too garish for more conservative types, or too dull for those with case windows.

The K8X800 Pro II’s primary power plug is nicely located along the edge of the board, and there’s enough room between the secondary four-pin plug and the CPU socket to ensure power cables don’t interfere with air flow.

Users may have a hard time, however, routing a ribbon cable to the board’s floppy port, which is buried about as far away from a typical case’s external 3.5″ bay as possible. Thankfully, floppy drives are on their way out, so the awkward placement shouldn’t inconvenience too many users.

Next to its floppy port, the K8X800 Pro II sports six PCI slots that offer plenty of capacity to add peripherals. However, considering that the board has Gigabit Ethernet, 7.1-channel audio, and Serial ATA RAID out of the box, I suspect few users will take advantage of even half of the available PCI slots.

Boards with six PCI slots typically experience clearance conflicts between AGP cards and DIMM slot retention tabs, and the K8X800 Pro II is no exception. Longer AGP cards can get in the way of the board’s DIMM slot tabs, so some users may have to remove their graphics card to swap out memory modules.

Speaking of memory, the K8X800 Pro II has three DIMM slots that can hold up to a gigabyte of memory each. Only two of the board’s DIMM slots can be used with memory running above 166MHz, limiting the K8X800 Pro II’s maximum DDR400 capacity to 2GB. This limit is nothing new for Athlon 64 boards—I’ve yet to see a Socket 754 board support more than 2GB of DDR400 memory. Still, it’s odd to see 2 and 3GB memory capacity limits on such boards given the Athlon 64’s ability to address more than 4GB of memory.

The K8X800 Pro II’s 754-pin CPU socket can host any of AMD’s current Athlon 64 chips, with the exception of the expensive Athlon 64 FX models. Though it’s not pictured here, the K8X800 Pro II comes with the necessary retention bracket and back plate to secure standard Athlon 64 heat sinks. Not every manufacturer is bundling boards with a retention bracket, so Albatron gets a couple of bonus points here.

On the storage front, the K8X800 Pro II comes with a couple of ATA/133 and Serial ATA ports. The ports are conveniently located along the edge of the board and should have no problem reaching drives in even the tallest ATX cases.

Around the rear, the K8X800 Pro II is peppered with an assortment of peripheral ports. In addition to PS/2, serial, and parallel ports, the port cluster includes an assortment of analog audio jacks, an Ethernet port, and a couple of USB ports. But that’s not all.

Albatron also provides access to a game port, another serial port, two Firewire ports, and four more USB ports via PCI expansion headers. Wait, there’s more.

If those analog audio ports weren’t enough, the K8X800 Pro II also comes with a PCI slot cover filled with Tos-Link and coaxial digital S/PDIF input and output ports.

I really appreciate the fact that Albatron is giving users access to a wide range of expansion ports, but having this many PCI slot covers is silly, because the expansion ports end up blocking PCI slots. Chaintech, DFI, and Soyo incorporate extra expansion ports into 3.5″ and 5.25″ drive bay inserts, which avoid blocking PCI slots and give users easier access to oft-used expansion ports. Albatron should do the same.

 
The chips that drive the board
Albatron uses VIA’s popular K8T800 to power the K8X800 Pro II, which is a wise choice considering the chipset’s solid performance and integrated features. Unlike NVIDIA’s single-chip nForce3, the K8T800 uses a more traditional two-chip configuration with north and south bridge components.

Since the Athlon 64’s memory controller resides on the processor, the K8T800’s north bridge chip houses only the chipset’s AGP 8X interface and HyperTransport processor link. The K8T800’s HyperTransport upstream and downstream links are 16 bits wide and run at 800MHz, providing 1.6GB/sec of bandwidth in each direction. By comparison, the nForce3’s HyperTransport implementation uses an 8-bit upstream link and a 16-bit downstream link, both running at 600MHz. The upstream link provides 600MB/sec of bandwidth, and the downstream 1.2GB/sec.

Speaking of links, VIA uses its proprietary V-Link interconnect to hook together the K8T800’s north and south bridge chips. This latest V-Link offers 1.06GB/sec of bandwidth, which gives the chips a nice big pipe to feed data through.

At the south bridge, we have VIA’s VT8237, which the K8T800 shares with VIA’s KT600, PT800, and PT880 chipsets. Because it sees action paired with a wide range of north bridge chips targeted at different market segments, the VT8237 does a little bit of everything. For starters, the chipset supports up to eight USB ports, though Albatron only provides external access to six of those ports on the K8X800 Pro II. The VT8237 also supports two channels of ATA/133 and a couple of Serial ATA ports. VIA has a nifty V-RAID software that can span RAID 0 or 1 arrays across drives connected to the VT8237’s Serial ATA ports, but RAID isn’t supported for “parallel” ATA drives.

While we’re on the topic of Serial ATA and RAID, it’s important to note a distinct advantage that the VT8237’s SATA controller has over third party SATA chips that reside on the PCI bus. Because it’s integrated directly into the south bridge chip, the VT8237’s SATA controller doesn’t have to share limited PCI bus bandwidth with other devices, which can potentially improve performance in environments where numerous PCI devices are present.

The K8X800 Pro II’s PCI bus is still shared between the board’s six PCI slots and its Ethernet, Firewire, and audio implementations. Albatron uses 3Com’s Marvell 940-MV00 Gigabit Ethernet chip to cover the board’s networking needs, and VIA’s VT6307 for the board’s IEEE 1394 Firewire ports.

On the audio front, the K8X800 Pro II taps VIA’s Envy24PT audio controller, which feeds 7.1 output channels with a little help from VIA’s VT1616 codec and Wolfson’s WM8720 DAC. Though both the Envy24PT and WM8720 support 24-bit audio at sampling rates of at least 96kHz, VIA’s VT1616 can only sample 18-bit audio at up to 48kHz. The VT1616’s lack of 24-bit audio support wouldn’t be a big deal if the Envy24PT’s front output channels were routed through the Wolfson DAC, which would at least let users enjoy 24-bit audio through a set of stereo speakers or headphones. However the K8X800 Pro II runs the Envy24PT’s front output channels through the VT1616 instead; the only way to get at the Envy24PT’s 24-bit audio is to bypass the VT1616 and use the board’s digital S/PDIF ports.

To be fair, the VT1616’s sampling rate and resolution limitations really aren’t Albatron’s fault; VIA’s Envy24PT reference design specifies which outputs are run through which codec, and I’ve yet to see an Envy24PT implementation deviate from this design. Since the K8X800 Pro II has both coaxial and Tos-Link S/PDIF input and output ports, Albatron has given users plenty of ways to skirt the VT1616 and tap directly into the Envy24PT’s 24-bit capabilities.


VIA’s K8T800 north bridge


The VT8237 south bridge


GigE by 3Com


VIA’s VT6307 Firewire chip


Envy24PT audio


VIA’s VT1616 codec


Wolfson’s WM8720 DAC
 

The BIOS
So far, it looks like Albatron’s K8X800 Pro II has enough integrated features to keep enthusiasts happy, but what about the BIOS?

As far as overclocking goes, the K8X800 Pro II’s BIOS is stacked. For starters, the board’s processor bus can be set between 200 and 300MHz in 1MHz increments. Users also have control over the Athlon 64’s multiplier in case someone ever figures out how to unlock AMD’s 754-pin chips.

In addition to bus and multiplier modifiers, the K8X800 Pro II’s BIOS also yields a staggering array of voltage options. Users can set the processor voltage between 0.8 and 1.9V in 0.05V increments, which should give overclockers plenty of juice to play with. The board’s AGP, DIMM, north and south bridge, and LDT (HyperTransport) voltages can also be adjusted between various values, all in 0.1V increments.

If you’re more of a tweaker than an overclocker, the K8X800 Pro II also has you covered. The board yields all the usual choices for memory timings and AGP settings, and users can even throttle the HyperTransport link’s bus width to poke fun at the nForce3.

In the safety department, Albatron’s BIOSes are making a little progress, but not as much as I’d like. The board’s BIOS has a CPU warning temperature, but no temperature-based shutdown condition. The BIOS also lacks fan failure-based alarm and shutdown conditions.

The K8X800 Pro II does offer a little extra BIOS protection thanks to a backup BIOS chip. Flipping a jumper switches the K8X800 Pro II between its primary and secondary BIOS chips, which could save the day if a BIOS flash is interrupted by a power outage, a corrupt BIOS file, or some other problem. Most users will likely never need the board’s backup BIOS, but it will be a godsend for those who do.

 

Our testing methods
All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged, using the following test systems.

  KV8-MAX3 K8X800 Pro II Zenith ZNF3-150 AN50R
Processor Athlon 64 3200+ 2.0GHz
Front-side bus HT 16-bit/800MHz downstream
HT 16-bit/800MHz upstream
HT 16-bit/600MHz downstream
HT 8-bit/600MHz upstream
Motherboard Abit KV8-MAX3 Albatron K8X800 Pro II Chaintech Zenith ZNF3-150 Shuttle AN50R
North bridge VIA K8T800 NVIDIA nForce3 150
South bridge VIA VT8237
Chipset driver Hyperion 4.51 Forceware 3.13
Memory size 512MB (1 DIMM)
Memory type Corsair XMS3500 PC3000 DDR SDRAM
Graphics ATI Radeon 9700 Pro
Graphics driver CATALYST 3.9
Storage

Maxtor 740X-6L 40GB 7200RPM ATA/133 hard drive
Western Digital Raptor WD360GD

Operating System Windows XP Professional
Service Pack 1 and DirectX 9.0b

Today we’ll be looking at the K8X800 Pro II’s performance against Athlon 64 boards from Abit, Chaintech, and Shuttle. Abit’s KV8-MAX3 uses the same K8T800 chipset as the K8X800 Pro II, while Chaintech’s Zenith ZNF3-150 and Shuttle’s AN50R both use NVIDIA’s nForce3 150.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1024×768 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests. Most of the 3D gaming tests used the high detail image quality settings, with the exception that the resolution was set to 640×480 in 32-bit color.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

 

Memory performance

All the boards are closely matched in Sandra’s memory bandwidth test. However, the K8T800-powered K8X800 Pro II and KV8-MAX3 have a pronounced lead in Cachemem’s memory latency test.

Disk controller performance
Our disk controller performance tests use a Maxtor 740X-6L 7,200RPM hard drive for “parallel” ATA (PATA) and a Western Digital Raptor WD360GD 10,000RPM hard drive for Serial ATA (SATA). Because we use different drives for PATA and SATA, scores aren’t comparable between the two. PATA scores should only be compared with each other. The same goes for SATA scores.

The K8X800 Pro II performs well in our disk controller tests, though the CPU utilization of its Serial ATA controller is a little troubling.

 

Office productivity

The Winstone tests are all quite close, and the K8X800 Pro II is right in the thick of things. Unfortunately, the KV8-MAX3’s lack of a parallel port prevents it from completing the Multimedia Content Creation test.

Gaming

The K8X800 Pro II wins nearly all of our gaming tests, which is pretty impressive considering it’s the cheapest mobo of the lot.

 

Cinebench rendering

The K8X800 Pro II continues to lead throughout Cinebench 2003.

Sphinx speech recognition

But it has to settle for second place, by hair, in our Sphinx speech recognition test.

 

Audio performance

The K8X800 Pro II’s audio performance closely mirrors the Envy24PT-equipped Zenith ZNF3-150, though the latter offers slightly lower CPU utilization in RightMark’s 3D hardware tests. Note the K8X800 Pro II’s lower CPU utilization when compared with the KV8-MAX3, which uses the VT8237 south bridge’s audio.

Audio quality
For RightMark’s audio quality tests, I used a Terratec DMX 6fire 24/96 for recording. Analog output ports were used on all systems. To keep things simple, I’ve translated RightMark’s word-based quality scale to numbers. Higher scores reflect better audio quality, and the scale tops out at 6, which corresponds to an “Excellent” rating in RightMark.

Though it’s in the middle of the middle of the pack in RightMark’s dynamic range test, the K8X800 Pro II’s Envy24PT audio offers the best frequency response of the boards tested.

 

Peripheral speed
Our USB and Firewire transfer speed tests involve transferring a 1.07GB file to and from a USB 2.0/Firewire external hard drive enclosure. The hard drive enclosure is connected to a 7200RPM Maxtor 740X-6L hard drive.

The K8X800 Pro II’s USB and Firewire performances are nothing to write home about, but they’re solid.

Our Ethernet throughput tests are limited by my 10/100 Fast Ethernet switch.

Update 6/13/2005 — We recently discovered that the ntttcp CPU utilization results included in this review were incorrect. The CPU utilization results have been removed, but they didn’t factor prominently into our overall conclusion, so that remains unchanged. A full explanation can be found here.

Overclocking
Proving that there are always risks associated with overclocking, I fried the K8X800 Pro II trying to run my Athlon 64 3200+ on a 215MHz front-side bus. The processor runs comfortably with a 215MHz bus on a Chaintech Zenith ZNF3-150, and it would at least boot at that speed on an Abit KV8-MAX3, but 215MHz and 1.8V toasted the K8X800 Pro II.

There are a couple of lessons to be learned here, folks. First, overclocking success is never guaranteed. Second, it’s easy to ruin perfectly good hardware by running it out of spec. Of course, your mileage may vary.

 

Conclusions
Without innovative new features or a suite of bundled with extras, the K8X800 Pro II isn’t as chic as some of the high-end Athlon 64 boards currently on the market. Still, the board’s 7.1 channel audio, Serial ATA RAID, Gigabit Ethernet, and impressive performance give the K8X800 Pro II a decidedly high-end feel without a high-end price tag. At only $125 online, the K8X800 Pro II is one of the most affordable Athlon 64 boards around, and you get a lot for your money.

Of course, the K8X800 Pro II has a few flaws that, while minor, are impossible to ignore. First, the BIOS could really use some fan failure-based alarm and shutdown conditions. I’d also like to see Albatron do something with the board’s four PCI slot covers. A couple of these things is reasonable, but four is ridiculous, especially when there’s room to spare in the board’s port cluster. Moving those Firewire and USB ports into a 3.5″ or 5.25″ drive bay insert would free up a couple of PCI slots and make the expansion ports more accessible to users. A drive bay insert would also be a great place for the board’s mic and headphone jacks.

It’s also worth reiterating the fact that my relatively mild overclocking experiment, at speeds and voltages that have been stable on other Athlon 64 boards, not only wouldn’t run on the K8X800 Pro II, but also rendered the board lifeless. Perhaps it was just luck, or a lack thereof, but my dead K8X800 Pro II doesn’t leave me impressed with the board’s overclocking potential. As always, there are no guarantees when pushing a product beyond stock speeds and voltages, but I expected the K8X800 Pro II to survive an unsuccessful overclock with a proven processor.

At the end of the day, the K8X800 Pro II isn’t the best board for overclockers who hate PCI expansion slots and love bundled extras, but it’s pretty sweet option for anyone else. 

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Geoff Gasior Former Managing Editor

Geoff Gasior Former Managing Editor

Geoff Gasior, a seasoned tech marketing expert with over 20 years of experience, specializes in crafting engaging narratives that connect people with technology. At Tech Report, he excelled in editorial management, covering all aspects of computer hardware and software and much more.

Gasior's deep expertise in this field allows him to effectively communicate complex concepts to a wide range of audiences, making technology accessible and engaging for everyone