The business end of the MS-6309
The motherboard situation
Since we last saw them at Comdex, we've been eagerly awaiting motherboards based on VIA's Apollo Pro 133A chipset. Specifically, the VT82C694X North Bridge.
With support for Intel's latest processors, (yes that includes Coppermine) 133MHz front side bus speed, and the AGP4X interface, the VIA 694X supports every new technology a true Power PC needs for maximum performance. Well, almost that is. The 694X offers no support for Rambus RDRAM memory.
To many this isn't a setback, as anyone who has priced RDRAM lately knows that an 800MHz 128MB RDRAM RIMM sells for well over $900, and most vendors won't have sufficient quantities of RIMM's in stock until later this month. For the immediate future, we anticipate many consumers will pass on RDRAM until it's significantly cheaper than it is today.
For those who are less patient to wait on RDRAM price drops, motherboard manufacturers have already announced 820 motherboards that ship with DIMM's for support of PC100/133MHz memory. Unfortunately the 820 chipset doesn't natively support SDRAM, these motherboards support SDRAM via an Intel memory translator hub. In our testing of one of these 820 motherboards with the MTH - the ASUS P3C2000 - we found the performance hit incurred to be quite significant, bringing the overall system performance to below that of a typical BX system.
Before we discuss the MS-6309 and MSI in general we'd like to talk a little more about the chip behind it, the VIA 694X. While we realize this is a review of the MS-6309 and not the 694X this is our first review of a product based on this chipset and we'd like to provide a little background info on it as well. Don't worry; we'll try to make it as painless as possible!
A little history
Before there was an 820 or an Apollo Pro133A, there was VIA's original Apollo Pro133. As the world's first chipset to officially support the 133MHz front side bus, another notable feature included on the Apollo Pro133 was full support for ATA-66 operation. In fact, the Apollo Pro133A uses the same South Bridge as the Apollo Pro133, the VT82C596B.
While the Apollo Pro133 offered many great features, overall performance was slower overall than a typical BX motherboard.