- Expansion Layout
The Shuttle AK31 uses a 1/6/1 (AGP/PCI/CNR) layout. Most VIA KT266 motherboards should come with 6 PCI slots as the VIA KT266 chipset has support for 6 PCI Busmaster slots. With the current rate of expansion for motherboards, anything less than 5 PCI slots makes a board a rather waste of money. Lets consider, we have either a PCI NIC for broadband internet or PCI modem, we have PCI sound cards, some of us have PCI DVD Cards or TV or DVI capture cards, thats 3 PCI down, with a 4 PCI slot solution we are left up the creek. Shuttle's AK31's IRQ assignments for the PCI slots is rather well thought out too. We experienced no conflicts with our test hardware.
- AGP4x Retention Mechanism
Once again we see the nifty AGP retention mechanism pop up on the Shuttle AK31. This is a rather handy little gadget when it comes to the users transporting their PC's to and from LAN parties. This baby ensures that your AGP video card will stay in its slot no matter what.
- VIA KT266 Chipset, the new force in DDR
Driving the AK31 into the DDR platform is VIA's new KT266 chipset. the KT266 chipset is comprised of the VIA VT8366 Northbridge chipset and the VT8233 Southbridge chipsets. The new KT266, like the Apollo Pro266 chipset uses the V-Link communication bus to connect the Southbridge to the Northbridge. So I hear you ask "What is V-Link"?
V-Link is the new method of communication for the North and South bridges for VIA chipsets. Traditionally, the North and South bridges were connected via the PCI bus. While this was an easy standard to use, it does tend to cramp the PCI bus when you have 6 high-speed PCI devices, 4 IDE devices and 4 USB devices all trying to share a bus that delivers a maximum of 133MB/s. V-Link changes this by giving the PCI bus its own dedicated bus system and still has and extra 133MB/s for the IDE and USB devices. V-Link is similar to Intel's Hub Architecture.
Along with those noteworthy features, there is another major feature of this board that we haven't seen on many other KT266 boards; 4 DDR DIMM's. that's right 4. The AK31 is one of the very, very few boards out there supporting 4 DDR DIMM's for up to 2GB PC1600/2100 memory. And yes; like all of VIA's 133 series chipsets the DRAM/Host clock is asyncronous so you can have the memory run faster or slower or at the same speed as the FSB clock. This comes in handy if you have PC2100 SDRAM but only a 100Mhz FSB CPU. You can increase the RAM speed to gain that extra performance, or if you have a 133FSB CPU and only PC1600 RAM you can slow the RAM clock down to keep the memory in specs.
The AK31 motherboard is an overclockers delight. Within the BIOS you can just about set anything you wish to. Under the frequency/voltage menu in the AWARD BIOS you have the option to set the FSB from 100MHz up to 166MHz in 1MHz increments allowing you to get the maximum out of your CPU. Along with this you can also change the CPU multiplier from 5x up to 13x. Add Vcore adjustments up to 1.85v and VIO adjustments up to 2.8v (remembering that DDR uses a default VIO of 2.5) and you'll see that this board is well packed. Tweaking the memory settings is also possible. Quite a few options for memory optimization are located in the advanced chipset features. With all this said, we were able to get 155Mhz max out of this board.