Abit VA6 VIA Apollo Pro 133 - Page 1

By Wilfred
Hardware One

VIA has been quietly but definitely improving on their chipsets to become a viable competitor to Intel. With the recent shortage of BX chipsets from the Santa Clara giant, and its deaf ear to support the PC133 SDRAM standard, VIA was sought after for its Apollo Pro 133 chipset. Having solved the teething problems in the early Apollo Pro and Apollo Pro Plus, VIA now has a stable and mature platform that offers in addition to Ultra DMA 66 support, the ability to use the 133Mhz memory bus speed.

What is a better indication that VIA has come a long way, than the acceptance by key motherboard makers such as AOpen, Soyo and Abit?

Today, we take a look at this new member in Abit’s family of Intel compatible boards, the Abit VA6. Mysteriously enough, this member did not see a splash party introduction and it is not even mentioned on the company’s website – a clear sign of pressure faced by the manufacturers. In any case, it is not my duty to dwell upon the politics of sales and corporate management. What you want to know is if this retail product is going into your system?

Features and Specifications

1. CPU

  • Supports Intel Pentium III 450 ~ 600 MHz Processor cartridge.

  • Supports Intel Pentium II 233 ~ 450 MHz Processor cartridge. 

  • Supports Intel Celeron™ 266 ~ 533MHz processors (Based on 66MHz PPGA package)
  • Supports 66, 100 and 133MHz CPU external clock speeds

  • Reserves support for future Intel Pentium III processors

2. Chipset

  • VIA Apollo Pro 133 chipset  (VT82C693A and VT82C686A)

  • Supports Ultra DMA/33 and Ultra DMA/66 IDE protocol

  • Supports Advanced Configuration and Power Management Interface (ACPI)
  • Accelerated Graphics Port connector supports AGP 1x and 2x mode (Sideband) 3.3V device

3. Memory (System Memory)

  • Three 168-pin DIMM sockets support SDRAM modules
  • Supports up to 768MB MAX. (8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 MB SDRAM)
  • Supports ECC

4. System BIOS

  • CPU SOFT MENUII, can easily set the processor parameters

  • Award Plug and Play BIOS supports APM and DMI

  • Write-Protect Anti-Virus function by AWARD BIOS

  • Year 2000 compliant

5. Multi I/O Functions 

  • Two Channels of Bus Master IDE Ports supporting up to four Ultra DMA 33/66 devices

  • PS/2 keyboard and PS/2 mouse connectors

  • One floppy port connector  ( up to 2.88MB)   

  • One parallel port connector (EPP/ECP)

  • Two serial ports connectors

  • Two USB connectors

  • On board USB header for two expend USB channels

  • Audio/Game connectors (Line-in, Line-out, MIC-in, and Game Port connectors)

6. Audio CODEC Features

  • AC ’97 2.1 compliant
  • Integrated hardware Sound Blaster ProÒ AC ‘97 digital audio controller

7. Miscellaneous

  • ATX form factor

  • One AGP slot, five PCI slots and two ISA slots

  • Built-in Wake on LAN header

  • Built-in IrDA TX/RX header

  • Built-in Wake On Modem header

  • Built-in SM bus header

  • Hardware monitoring

  • Board size: 305 x 190 mm

First Impressions
I was apprehensive about taking home a board with this deviant chipset, away from the BX I have so loved. But coming from a renowned motherboard maker set my heart at ease, a little.

The board is a good 2 inches smaller than my trusty BX6-II. At first glance, the layout looked clean and functional, featuring the older 5/2/1 slot configuration and 3 DIMMs. Nothing out of the ordinary. This is similar to the configuration found on Aopen’s AX63, while 1 DIMM slot short of the Soyo SY-6VBA133.

On closer inspection, you will notice a plethora of colourful ports, plenty more than the usual –  and what that means? Onboard audio and gameport! Ok. I am not particularly impressed, but I understand that some could have uses for it. So I leave it to be.

The power connector, like many of Abit’s boards, is placed behind the Slot-1 and forces you to pull the cable over the CPU and the memory DIMMs. A minor annoyance for increasing the clutter of cables.

Next, the board also comes with many miscellaneous connectors like the CDROM drive audio-in header (for the onboard audio), 1 InfraRed, 1 SM Bus, 1 Wake-On-Lan (WOL), 1 Wake-One-Modem (WOM), 2 thermistor and 3 fan headers. If that is not enough, it also has a USB header for further expansion if you intend to get 2 additional USB plugs for the machine.

Aside from the above, a major feature is the support of UDMA/66 in addition to UDMA/33, both of which are handled by the South Bridge VT82C686B.

The manual was comprehensive and covered both new and old features, how to set them up and also details the zillions of BIOS settings. The explanations are concise and clear, and the default almost always worked. So let’s get down to it!

For comparison with my BX6-II, the VA6 was test with components such as PC100 DIMMS and ATA/33 HDDs.

System Specifications

  • Intel Celeron 300A SL36A
  • 2 X LGS PC100 SDRAM
  • IBM Deskstar 10 10.1Gb HDD (ATA/33)
  • IBM Deskstar 8 8.4 Gb HDD (ATA/33)
  • Asus 40X CDROM Drive (ATA/33)
  • Sony 6X DVDROM Drive (ATA/33)
  • Creative 3D Blaster GeForce SDR (3.53 reference nVidia drivers)
  • Sound Blaster Live!
  • Efficient Networks ENI-25P ATM card
  • D-Link 940TX 10/100Mbps Ethernet card
  • Generic USB Hub
  • Epson Stylus Photo 750 USB

Now do you think installing a motherboard can EVER be a painless thing? No. Big NO NO! It is always painful, the hassle alone can ruin your entire weekend. I took apart my system for the second time in the week, displaced all the necessary stuffs and reloaded it with the VA6. Up to this point, not too bad. The smaller board fitted snugly and it actually took me less time to put it in than taking out the larger BX6-2.

My first round of test was with a Celeron 300A CPU and PC100 DIMMS. Therefore, next to go in were my DIMMs, CPU, GeForce, ATM card and ethernet card taking up their usual positions. With all the cables properly attached, I crossed my fingers and booted the system. Not a hitch!

The BIOS and Overclocking!

Why SoftMenu II and Not III?!?!
Straightaway, I hit the DEL key and was in the BIOS setup. To my disappointment, splashed on the screen was SoftMenu II and not III which is already found on the BF6 and BE6-II. Damn, had to pass the delight of Mhz-by-Mhz overclocking. Bummer.

Forget the Mhz-by-Mhz thrill, I went to check the steppings I could take the Celeron 300A knowing that Abit will still have a decent bunch of useful FSBs I could use. I saw these: 66 (1/2), 75 (1/2), 83 (1/2), 100 (1/3), 103 (1/3), 105 (1/3), 110 (1/3), 112 (1/3), 115 (1/3), 120 (1/3), 124 (1/3), 133 (1/4), 140 (1/4) and 150 (1/4). And as for multipliers, you will find: 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.5, 6.0, 6.5, 7.0, 7.5 and 8.0.

So we have 14 FSB settings and 13 multipliers to play with.

Well still, I was a little disappointed at what I saw. The SL36A was a chip I tested through and through, and I was sure I could achieve a 4.5 x 117Mhz (with a ¼ divider, higher results in data corruption in my IBM harddisks), but the options jumped from 112 Mhz (1/3) to 115 Mhz (1/3) to 120 Mhz (1/3)… I was aware of the risks of corrupting the data on my HDD, but I took the chance and ran 115 (1/3) for a 38.3Mhz and 76.6Mhz PCI and AGP bus speeds respectively. Hopefully, no premature harddisk failure and the higher bus speeds will compensate for the 10Mhz drop in processor speed.

Features Galore
Interestingly, there were many other new options that I had not been aware of on my older Abit. Under Chipset Features Setup, you can change the DRAM timings of the individual memory bank, with values like SDRAM 10ns, 8ns, Normal, Medium, Fast and Turbo. Turbo sounded good to me, so I used it! =)

Options such as Enabling and Disable AGP2X and OnChip Sound were some of the newer things I came across. No AGP4X you say?!

Others, such as support for ½ AGP multiplier and the ability to run the memory asynchronously with the FSB (either run at FSB speed, or at a fixed 66Mhz) are features unique to the Apollo Pro 133 chipset. The ½ AGP multiplier is a crucial determinant for overclocking success when we try to use FSB speeds of 133Mhz and above. The BX allows for only 1/1 and 2/3 multipliers, and even using a 2/3 multiplier gives a very high 89Mhz AGP bus speed that puts tremendous stress on the component; therefore, it is usually a rarity that to achieve a stable system at such high FSB speeds. Now, with the Apollo Pro 133 and the advent of PC133 SDRAM, we should hear of more success stories.

For the 300A that I am using, locked at a 4.5 multiplier, 115Mhz was about the best I can push it with the PC100 RAM. Windows booted and reconfigured itself for the new platform. Immediately upon hitting the desktop, I installed the drivers for the onboard PCI audio and the VIA 4.13 Service pack with its own AGP driver and UDMA tools.


ZD WinBench 99 Scores
The VA6 was compared against the venerable BX6-II at 450Mhz as well as the highest speed the individual boards could bring to offer with the C300A.

  BX62 450Mhz. PC100 RAM. SDR 130/175mhz. ATA/33 BX62 527Mhz. PC100 RAM. SDR 130/175mhz. ATA/33 VA6 450Mhz. PC100 RAM. SDR 130/175mhz. ATA/33 VA6 517Mhz. PC100 RAM. SDR 130/175mhz. ATA/33
WinBench 99/Business Graphics WinMark 99 183 216 163 190
WinBench 99/Business Disk WinMark 99 (Thousand Bytes/Sec) 1920 1990 1920 1950
WinBench 99/High-End Graphics WinMark 99 529 617 473 552
WinBench 99/High-End Disk WinMark 99 (Thousand Bytes/Sec) 6370 6690 6420 6380
WinBench 99/CPUmark 99 36.3 41.5 30.6 35.6
WinBench 99/FPU WinMark 2400 2800 2390 2730
WinBench 99/Disk Playback/Bus:Overall (Thousand Bytes/Sec) 1920 1990 1920 1950
WinBench 99/Disk Playback/HE:AVS/Express 3.4 (Thousand Bytes/Sec) 5740 5730 5670 5680
WinBench 99/Disk Playback/HE:FrontPage 98 (Thousand Bytes/Sec) 32200 33100 29900 31100
WinBench 99/Disk Playback/HE:MicroStation SE (Thousand Bytes/Sec) 6800 7710 6920 7060
WinBench 99/Disk Playback/HE:Overall (Thousand Bytes/Sec) 6370 6690 6420 6380
WinBench 99/Disk Playback/HE:Photoshop 4.0 (Thousand Bytes/Sec) 4930 4980 4990 5010
WinBench 99/Disk Playback/HE:Premiere 4.2 (Thousand Bytes/Sec) 5650 5750 5610 5660
WinBench 99/Disk Playback/HE:Sound Forge 4.0 (Thousand Bytes/Sec) 5390 5770 5640 5290
WinBench 99/Disk Playback/HE:Visual C++ 5.0 (Thousand Bytes/Sec) 5500 6120 5540 5500
WinBench 99/GDI Playback/HE/AVS/Express 3.4 46.7 55.2 39.6 46.3
WinBench 99/GDI Playback/HE/FrontPage 98 126 143 105 123
WinBench 99/GDI Playback/HE/MicroStation SE 16.5 19.1 15.5 17.9
WinBench 99/GDI Playback/HE/Photoshop 4.0 68.3 79.9 56.6 66.3
WinBench 99/GDI Playback/HE/Premiere 4.2 61.6 72.3 54 64.3
WinBench 99/GDI Playback/HE/Sound Forge 4.0 134 160 126 148
WinBench 99/GDI Playback/HE/Visual C++ 5.0 252 295 223 265

You will notice that on equal terms, the BX still performs a tiny notch better than the VIA Apollo Pro 133 in almost every respect. However, all this fuss about benchmarks are not really justified for I can assure you I couldn’t detect any difference in performance between the two boards. Both are stable and chugged along just fine.

ZD 3D WinBench 2000 Scores
Similarly, the boards took turns at 3D WinBench 2000 here. The VA6 does not support AGP4X and both compete with AGP2X enabled.

BX62 450Mhz. PC100 RAM. SDR 130/175mhz. ATA/33 BX62 527Mhz. PC100 RAM. SDR 130/175mhz. ATA/33 VA6 450Mhz. PC100 RAM. SDR 130/175mhz. ATA/33 VA6 517 Mhz. PC100 RAM. SDR 130/175mhz. ATA/33
3D WinBench 2000/3D WinBench 2000 Processor Test 0.589 0.687 0.506 0.569
3D WinBench 2000/3D WinMark 2000 (Frames/Sec) 54.9 56 49.7 53.9
3D WinBench 2000/3D WinMark/1/Speedway (Frames/Sec) 27.5 28.1 24 26
3D WinBench 2000/3D WinMark/2/Hangar (Frames/Sec) 33 33.2 30.5 32.9
3D WinBench 2000/3D WinMark/3/RustValley (Frames/Sec) 62.5 62.8 58.1 62.5
3D WinBench 2000/3D WinMark/4/Canyon (Frames/Sec) 56.5 57.1 52.4 56.7
3D WinBench 2000/3D WinMark/5/Chamber (Frames/Sec) 65 65.1 60.8 65.4
3D WinBench 2000/3D WinMark/6/Stations (Frames/Sec) 54.6 59.8 45.1 50.1
3D WinBench 2000/3D WinMark/7/Islands (Frames/Sec) 65.4 68.1 56.2 61
3D WinBench 2000/3D WinMark/8/RaceTrack (Frames/Sec) 73 73.2 67.9 73.5
3D WinBench 2000/3D WinMark/9/Chapel (Frames/Sec) 56.6 56.7 52.7 56.8
3D WinBench 2000/Buffer/1/Double, Front (Frames/Sec) 63.2 63.6 59.4 63.5
3D WinBench 2000/Buffer/2/Double, Back (Frames/Sec) 63.6 63.7 59.5 63.5
3D WinBench 2000/Buffer/3/Double, Flip, V-sync Off (Frames/Sec) 63.2 63.3 59.1 63.5
3D WinBench 2000/Buffer/4/Double, Flip, V-sync On (Frames/Sec) 40.6 40.6 38.6 40.6
3D WinBench 2000/Buffer/5/Triple, Flip, V-sync On (Frames/Sec) 62.9 63 59.2 62.9
3D WinBench 2000/Buffer/6/Triple, Flip, V-sync On, Stereo (Frames/Sec) NoResult NoResult NoResult NoResult
3D WinBench 2000/Buffer/7/Double, Flip, V-sync On, Stereo (Frames/Sec) NoResult NoResult NoResult NoResult
3D WinBench 2000/Feature/1/Specular Highlights (Frames/Sec) 59.4 59.4 55.7 59.5
3D WinBench 2000/Feature/2/Fog (Frames/Sec) 58.2 58.2 54.6 58.3
3D WinBench 2000/Feature/3/Anti-aliasing (Frames/Sec) NoResult NoResult NoResult NoResult
3D WinBench 2000/Filter/1/Nearest (Frames/Sec) 59.4 59.4 55.7 59.4
3D WinBench 2000/Filter/2/Linear (Frames/Sec) 59.1 59.1 55.5 59.2
3D WinBench 2000/Filter/3/Anisotropic (Frames/Sec) 54.4 54.4 51 54.4
3D WinBench 2000/Filter/4/Nearest Mipmap Nearest (Frames/Sec) 91.3 91.5 85.3 91.4
3D WinBench 2000/Filter/5/Nearest Mipmap Linear (Frames/Sec) 90.7 90.9 84.8 90.8
3D WinBench 2000/Filter/6/Linear Mipmap Nearest (Frames/Sec) 86.1 86.3 80.5 86.1
3D WinBench 2000/Filter/7/Linear Mipmap Linear (Frames/Sec) 85.3 85.4 79.7 85.3
3D WinBench 2000/Filter/8/Linear Mipmap Anisotropic (Frames/Sec) 75.1 75.2 70.4 75.2
3D WinBench 2000/Processor/1/Speedway 0.385 0.451 0.353 0.399
3D WinBench 2000/Processor/2/Hangar 0.356 0.418 0.325 0.367
3D WinBench 2000/Processor/3/RustValley 0.614 0.696 0.498 0.552
3D WinBench 2000/Processor/4/Canyon 1.42 1.66 1.16 1.28
3D WinBench 2000/Processor/5/Chamber 0.537 0.627 0.439 0.501
3D WinBench 2000/Processor/6/Stations 0.77 0.908 0.647 0.722
3D WinBench 2000/Processor/7/Islands 0.752 0.874 0.604 0.671
3D WinBench 2000/Processor/8/RaceTrack 0.777 0.914 0.643 0.733
3D WinBench 2000/Processor/9/Chapel 0.567 0.663 0.506 0.571
3D WinBench 2000/Resolution/ 1/640x480,16 bpp (Frames/Sec) 149 153 124 142
3D WinBench 2000/Resolution/ 2/800x600,16 bpp (Frames/Sec) 129 129 116 123
3D WinBench 2000/Resolution/ 3/1024x768,16 bpp (Frames/Sec) 102 102 96.5 103
3D WinBench 2000/Resolution/ 4/1280x1024,16 bpp (Frames/Sec) 74.9 75 70.2 75
3D WinBench 2000/Resolution/ 5/1600x1200,16 bpp (Frames/Sec) 57.7 57.7 53.9 57.7
3D WinBench 2000/Resolution/ 6/640x480,32 bpp (Frames/Sec) 102 102 95.5 101
3D WinBench 2000/Resolution/ 7/800x600,32 bpp (Frames/Sec) 80.1 80.1 75.3 80.1
3D WinBench 2000/Resolution/ 8/1024x768,32 bpp (Frames/Sec) 59.4 59.4 55.7 59.5
3D WinBench 2000/Resolution/ 9/1280x1024,32 bpp (Frames/Sec) 39.6 39.6 36.9 39.6
3D WinBench 2000/Resolution/10/1600x1200,32 bpp (Frames/Sec) 28.1 28.1 26 28.1
3D WinBench 2000/Resolution/11/640x480,Window (Frames/Sec) 138 138 121 135
3D WinBench 2000/Texture Size/1/Small (Frames/Sec) 86.7 86.8 81.2 86.7
3D WinBench 2000/Texture Size/2/Medium (Frames/Sec) 60.8 60.8 57 60.8
3D WinBench 2000/Texture Size/3/Large (Frames/Sec) 60.9 60.9 57.1 60.9
3D WinBench 2000/Texture Size/4/Small Mipmaps (Frames/Sec) 110 110 103 110
3D WinBench 2000/Texture Size/5/Medium Mipmaps (Frames/Sec) 109 109 102 109
3D WinBench 2000/Texture Size/6/Large Mipmaps (Frames/Sec) 110 110 103 110
3D WinBench 2000/Texture Size/7/Large Compressed Mipmaps (Frames/Sec) 118 119 111 118

Interestingly enough, the Creative GeForce SDR fared better on the BX6-II and we see the scores of at 450Mhz equaling that of a VA6 at 517Mhz.

Quake 3 Demo Test 1.09
With everything set to highest detail, I ran the benchmarks for Demo 1 at 1024x768 Bilinear filtering.

It looks like to me the AGP drivers for VIA would need more fine-tuning. Whilst there was a clear 5 fps difference in 32-bit mode, the disparity is even more pronounced at 16-bit, the BX6-II scoring a 10 fps lead over the VA6.

After days of use, I was comfortable with the board in the system and everything worked as it should have. Games like Unreal Tournament and Q3A performed with no unexpected glitches whatsoever and Windows applications worked just great.

Retailing at about S$168 in Singapore, this is one cheap board to own, coming with onboard audio and support for ATA/66, as well as PC133 SDRAM.

It is a pity that the VIA Apollo Pro 133 chipset is still unpolished in terms of delivering fast game performance, as both synthetic and real-world benchmark show. Nevertheless, this is a viable alternative to the BX chipset and its stability and low price will be its selling point.

There are absolutely NO compelling reasons to get this if you already use a BX board (which is plenty good!). Then, if you are in the market in search for a new board and you have a suitable CPU that can possibly utilize the 133Mhz FSB, the VA6 is a safe bet.

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  • Introduction