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Review: VIA KT600 / EPoX 8KRA2

by Tarinder Sandhu on 26 June 2003, 00:00

Tags: AMD (NYSE:AMD), VIA Technologies (TPE:2388), EPoX

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Look who's back !

Being cast out into the wilderness by a relative upstart must hurt. VIA Technologies could do little wrong in general consumers and AMD's eyes back in '01 and '02. The performance-busting KT266A chipset, launched in September 2001, gave the then KT266, AMD760, and SiS735 a performance slap in the face. Improved memory controller efficiency, amongst other hidden enhancements, gave the KT266A a definitive and sustainable advantage that lasted for some considerable length of time.

NVIDIA felt that they could have a real go at dislodging VIA's darling. The original nForce chipset was a marvel of technical excellence with its dual channel memory operation, but, and a big but it is, it wasn't quite up to a well-tuned VIA KT266A's performance levels. It, though, seemed perfect for those that wanted an all-in-one solution, for it carried an integrated video option. The KT333 was merely a slight update to a proven design. VIA were happy. However, unbeknownst to many of us, NVIDIA were busy preparing a successor to the promising nForce chipset. The nForce2 was launched last July to generally critical acclaim. It took the best bits out of the original design, added some tasty Southbridge features, beefed up the Northbridge and voila, a KT333-beater was born. Not only this, it also featured an enhanced IGP variant that made the most of the prodigious 6.4GB/s bandwidth that the dual DDR-400-capable memory controllers theoretically pushed out. The nForce2 has seen a makeover in recent weeks. Now we have support for the very fastest 200FSB Bartons, and it keeps enthusiasts happy.

The nForce2 hit retail shelves last autumn. You wouldn't think that VIA, who had their way for so long in the AMD ranks, would give up without a bloody fight. So VIA launched their KT400 and 400A boards that were meant to rival and displace the nForce2 as performance and features champion. The KT400A further improved on the KT400 by refining the memory controller but it remained officially limited to a 166FSB and made no provision for on-chip S-ATA, unlike Intel with their i865 / 875 chipsets. Further, by keeping the KT400A fed by a single channel memory controller, the performance wasn't quite as good as NVIDIA's. VIA are at it again. Another challenger has been born to threaten the nForce2 Ultra and non-Ultra 400's performance and features dominance. KT400B would have been a boring name. VIA opted for KT600. It boasts full support for the new 200FSB XP3200 and should ship with the all-new VT8237 Southbridge with on-chip S-ATA RAID controller and 8 USB2.0 ports as standard.

VIA need to raise the specifications bar this time around. Let's now see if the KT600 can pose a the nForce2 some serious questions.