VIA PT880 Pro
The first chipset out of the three we are taking a look at is the VIA PT880 Pro which should prove to be the ultimate and most flexible upgrader's platform for the Pentium 4 this year.
So, why do we think it will be the upgrader's choice for 2005? The reasons are clear:
1) Motherboard manufacturers can choose to support DDR, DDR-II or both providing a very flexible platform for users unclear about what they want or need or who just cannot afford or justify to use newer and more expensive DDR-II memory, which is only a little quicker at this point in time, when they may have just bought DDR memory.
2) As with the memory, motherboard manufacturers can choose to create retail boards with both full AGP 8x and PCI Express slots. As VIA say, this provides a very solid stepping stone for users who are unsure if they really need or want a PCI Express graphics card at this stage or who don't have the ability to spend the money to buy a new graphics cards.
And if that wasn't enough for you, we saw an early PT880 Pro reference board running both an AGP and PCI Express card at the same time in Windows XP. You read correctly - an AGP and PCI Express graphics card working together at the same time providing support for 4 monitor display output but keep in mind this is not SLI, just dual graphics. While this type of setup won't be common (and it wasn't a setup VIA engineers intended to pioneer in the initial stages), it's nice to know that people who are fans of multiple displays can still make use of their old AGP graphics cards on this platform.
We fired up Doom 3 and spanned the game across all four monitors slowly and carefully and watched in amazement not expecting it to work - it worked but the average frame rate was about 10FPS. Throw a couple Radeon X800's or GeForce 6800's into the fray and it might be a different story. Very cool nevertheless and very handy for game developers or programmers or artists who need lots of desktop space!
First up we installed an ATI Radeon X600XT in the PCI Express slot and Radeon 9600 in the AGP slot and both cards worked perfectly together. However, when trying to make an ATI and nVidia card work together, it wouldn't install correctly but as was mentioned, you wouldn't expect either ATI or nVidia to make their drivers work for dual graphics from another company.
As far as overall chipset performance goes, VIA state that the PT880 Pro should provide similar results as the Intel 915P chipset with regular DDR memory - we were unable to run any benchmarks so we are unable to clarify this but the claims seem fair enough to us. Performance numbers aside, the VIA PT880 will be a dream for DDR and DDR-II / AGP and PCI Express upgraders just as long as the right motherboard manufacturers get hold of this perfect transitional chipset and create retail boards with the budget conscious end-user in mind and if they do this chipset will surely be a solid bread winner for VIA and the motherboard companies who design their boards right.
If you are one of the end-users in a predicament about upgrading your system from DDR and AGP, retail boards based on the VIA PT880 Pro chipset should make life easier and much more flexible for you.
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