VIA P4XB-RA P4X266A Motherboard Review
With no official support from Tier 1
motherboard manufacturers for the VIA Apollo P4X266A chipset VIA had to do something rather drastic for a chipset manufacturer - they had to start selling their own motherboards.
For a company with a focus
on silicon chips this is no small task, so while VIA began selling their
own motherboards they relied on partnerships with other companies to make
A handful of large and well known manufacturers are making VIA P4X266A motherboards, but as the boards are only sold to the public by VIA, they are for all intensive purposes VIA motherboards.
This was done because most of the
big boys didn't want to risk upsetting Intel which had gone to
court to try and squash the fledgling chipset which brought DDR
to the Pentium 4 ahead of all other chipets. Even now, with the host
of P4-DDR chipsets on the market, only a few smaller players
have openly accepted VIA's P4X266A chipset into their mainboard
The VIA P4XB-RA is based
on the VIA P4X266A chipset which supports Socket m478 400 MHz Pentium
4 CPU's (Williamette or Northwood) from 1.5 GHz to 2.2 GHz+. The
board has 3 DIMM slots supporting up to 3 GB of non-ECC PC1600/2100 DDR266 RAM (5
banks). While we don't have any 1 GB DIMM's to test with, we did
test the board with three 256 MB PC2400 DIMMs and saw no stability problems.
comes with onboard audio which surprisingly enough, doesn't employ our
favorite VIA AC'97 codec. Rather, VIA chose to give users
a higher quality sound chipset (no doubt to keep the board from being segmented
into the dull value markets) and stuck on the C-Media 8738 which supports 5.1 sound.
almost all motherboards entering the market this year, the VIA P4XB-RA has an
onboard IDE RAID controller care of the fine folks at Promise Technologies. The Promise Fast Trak
Lite (20265R) chipset validates RAID's 0 and 1 over the P4XB's Ultra/100 IDE interface. All this goes for a retail price of about $150 CDN, which is pretty good!
|VIA P4XB-RA Motherboard|
Ships with the following:
- 2x IDE ATA66/100 Cable
- FDD Cable
- Two port USB bracket
- Driver CD
- User Manual
On the rather bland brown PCB, we have a 4x AGP 2.0 slot, five
32 bit version 2.2 PCI's and a CNR. The CNR is pretty much useless since
it's almost impossible to buy CNR devices. I say almost because VIA is also targeting
the OEM market and large OEM's such as Compaq, IBM and HP, which can use
CNR's for cheap expansion peripherals.
The placement of the floppy and
IDE connectors are in great spots, right next to the DIMM slots so they won't
be in the way of any expansion cards. The Promise IDE connectors are down near
the 4th and 5th PCI slots which could pose a problem as the cables could potentially
interfere with longer PCI cards.
The AGP lock on the socket is interesting, and not like any we've seen before. Rather than
the usual little white 'switch' at the end of the AGP slot, the socket uses
a sliding lock. Basically, there is a piece of plastic that wraps around the entire
AGP slot, and when you want to lock the videocard into the slot, you slide
the lock to the left.
There are a total of two fan headers with one available
after CPU heatsink fan installation. Three is usually the accepted number since
many of us are using third party chipset/GPU coolers. The other fan header is
located at the bottom of the board for a system fan.
I mentioned previously, the onboard audio chipset is made by C-Media and is
a 5.1 based hardware solution. We've tested several of these built in soundcards and my conclusions about the onboard C-Media chips are that they offer sound quality on par with a Soundblaster Live! 5.1.
I'm not an audiophile but while playing games or
listening to MP3's the C-Media 8738 produced very good quality sound. The chipset
also has a 32 Ohm earphone buffer.
RAID seems to be all the hype these days and the P4XB-RA has that
on its check list of goodies. Relatively old, the Promise Fast Trak
Lite (PDC20265R) chipset allows RAID modes 0 and 1 with a maximum burst transfer rate of 100
While this is a great feature, the Promise IDE RAID solution can't
be used as a stand alone IDE controller like the Highpoint 372 or Award Megatrends IDE RAID controllers.
IDE RAID in
RAID 0 is not considered a
true RAID since, there's not data redundancy. RAId 0 takes two drives of the same size/configuration and stripes them, meaning it makes one big drive out of two equal ones.
This improves performance by cutting hard drive latency in half.
Since the data is divided equally and written on two hard drives it
also increases the data bandwidth by two. The reason it's not considered true RAID is because if one drive fails, all data is lost.
1 on the other hand mirrors two drives of the same size, so in theory if
one drive fails, the other will take over as the primary hard drive and
the system can continue to operate normally. This is what is supposed to happen
with a SCSI hard drive setup and it actually works pretty well
The IDE sub system doesn't allow hard drives
to be disconnected while the computer is still powered up and in
use like SCSI can unless you have a special HDD tray. Generally, when one IDE drive
fails the system usually locks up anyway. The data is safe since it's mirrored
on the other drive which is the real benefit. Promise has developed a special
IDE tray that is supposed to allow IDE hot swapping in case you're