In our third Comdex report back in November, we suggested that VIA's KT133A chipset could end up as the sleeper hit for 2001. Back when the chipset was launched, everyone was focused on DDR chipsets from ALi, AMD, and VIA, the KT133A was hardly noticed by anyone in the industry.
Once performance numbers with overclocked KT133 chipsets began to sprinkle in (yes, believe it or not, some people were fortunate enough to overclock their KT133-based motherboards to 133MHz front side bus (FSB)), the KT133A chipset began to look very attractive - overclocked KT133 systems performed within a few percentage points of 760 systems equipped with PC2100 DDR memory.
Just what is the KT133A chipset? Essentially, it's nothing more than KT133 with official support for the new 266MHz FSB. Currently, AMD has three Athlon processors based on this new system bus, operating at speeds of 1.0GHz, 1.13GHz, and 1.2GHz. Some 200MHz Athlons and Durons can also operate at this bus speed, but keep in mind that it's still considered overclocking and won't work in all cases.
Just in case you already have a 200MHz Athlon or Duron processor, KT133A still supports these CPUs. Furthermore, to provide a seamless transition for motherboard manufacturers, the KT133A chipset is pin-to-pin compatible with KT133. Therefore, motherboard manufacturers can easily replace their existing KT133 products with the KT133A chipset: simply replace the VT8363 North Bridge with the newer VT8363A chip, slap a new name on the motherboard, and you're good to go.
This brings us to ABIT and the KT7A-RAID motherboard we're reviewing today. If you recall our original KT7-RAID review, we were captivated with the combination of performance, features, and reliability ABIT offered with the KT7-RAID. We've been using a handful of KT7-RAID motherboards on our testbeds as the KT133 reference platform for the past five months and still haven't run into any major problems with a single one of them. Considering the daily wear these boards go through (in both overclocked and non-overclocked configurations), and the wide variety of hardware and software that's been mixed and matched on our testbeds, that's saying a lot for the durability of the KT7-RAID.
With the added 266MHz FSB provided by the KT133A chipset, one of the fastest Socket A motherboards on the market just got faster. At least, that's the thought that entered the minds of the engineers and marketing team at ABIT when they came up with the KT7A-RAID; make an already excellent product even better. But did they accomplish this task? Let's find out!