In the layout department, ASUS have gone with a 1/5/0 (AGP/PCI/Riser) layout. ASUS has used this on most of their feature packed line of boards, so something tells me this board is going to be something special. While most of us would rather a 6th PCI slot, we will see that its pretty much not needed.
The chip that runs the show
Running things is VIA's KT333 chipset. New to the market, this chipset brings all the great features that the KT266A provided and a few extras. First off, the memory controller has been further tweaked to allow faster operations at 266MHz, and now with DDR-333 on the market, VIA adds their own support for DDR-333. Along with this, the new VIA VT8233A Southbridge brings a new revision USB controller to fix those annoying USB issues that plagued the VT8233 chipset and adds native ATA-133 IDE support, so if you want to run ATA-133 on the main Southbridge you now can.
Note that the revisions of the chipset on this sample are CD revisions. Just to clarify what the deal with CD and CE is, we rang VIA Australia to find out the main difference in CD and CE. CD was released for "Engineering Purposes" for companies like ASUS and ABIT and all those others to make early samples for reviewers to test and run. CE was supposed to be the official retail one that allows better overclocking; however, CD seems to be on a lot of boards at the moment. Must be trying to get rid of the older stock.
ATA-133 RAID, No board is complete without it these days
For any motherboard to be considered a real overclockers or hardcore users motherboard these days, it just has to have some sort of RAID controller onboard. ASUS have filled the bill with Promise's ATA-133 IDE RAID controller chip; Fast Track Lite. This chip adds basic RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 0+1 support. Optimized for VIA chipsets, it's an ultimate companion to the A7V333. You will note in the second image the IDE controller (the one on the right) are for the Promise RAID controller and the ones on the left are for the VIA Southbridge. In fact, they are in pretty good positions.
C-Media 6ch sound, ASUS never leaves home without it
Just about all of ASUS' hardcore boards coming from Taiwan now have the AC'97 Audio CODEC replaced with the C-Media's CMI8738-LX chip. This chip is PCI driven, so takes up one PCI master. This device supports 5.1 speakers and SPDIF interface (by optional bracket) allowing for superb sound quality. Though it can't replace an Audigy, it can do the same job as a SB Live:Value; even better.
USB 2.0, those features just keep on coming
I think I will have writers cramp after this review. ASUS has seen just how much USB 2.0 can make a difference to a board, and with VIA's introductions of the VT6206 USB 2.0 solution, why not throw it onboard. You get 4 USB 2.0 ports, one is located on the backplane (yes wait till you see this) and the other is done by expansion bracket. Between PCI slot 2 and 3 is a blue header for the extra 2 port cable.
If 400MB/s USB2.0 isn't enough for you, ASUS has added the Texas Instruments IEEE1394 Firewire controller chip onboard. This chip supports three IEE1394 compliant ports, however, ASUS' expansion bracket only has one port and the board only has one header. This is a little disappointing but nothing to cry about. Since Firewire uses a pass-through design to relay signals, you just have to plug your other Firewire devices into the back of each other. No biggie.
A few notables
Fisrt off under our notables section is the Flash media reader headers. Optional 3.5" drive bays can be purchased from your ASUS supplier for connecting SC, MD and SD memory readers. These allow you to connect the media directly to the PCI bus and transfer the data at the max speed of 133MB/s, providing the Flash memory you have runs at that speed.
Next is ASUS' Speech Diagnostics. This chip connects directly to the motherboards BIOS and CMOS system. Unlike other diagnostics systems that tell you in code what is wrong, this baby tells you in plain English what is wrong with your board. You can either have it output to the PC speaker or through the C-Media chip and out your speakers; excellent.
Here we see the backplane. Here is where all the connectors come together, and this backplane is laid out like Intel's Desktop boards. First is the PS/2 ports; nothing special here. Next you have 2 USB 1.1 ports. Next 2 serial and 1 parallel ports. Next we have 2 more USB ports, but these are the 2.0 ports I spoke of earlier. Then we have our Audio ports, 3 of them for the 3 connectors needed for 5.1 speaker setups.
Overclocking on this board was a dream. We unlocked our AMD Athlon XP 1600+ CPU and lowered the clock multiplier down so we could see just what the highest FSB obtainable was. We got 164MHz before our system started to play up. This is quite an achievement, but CE revisions are getting 180+MHz, so we can see how CD limits us in some aspects.
As for overclocking features, ASUS' standard features are here. You have FSB adjustments in 1MHz increments in the BIOS or a limited number via dipswitches. Vcore can be adjusted from 1.1v to 1.85v in the BIOS or from 1.7v to 1.85v via dipswitches. VDIMM is changeable from 2.5v to 2.7v via dipswitches only. No AGP voltage changes are available on this board and not likely to be in the future.
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