Soyo K7AIA Motherboard Evaluation

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Test Results

Visual Inspection

The K7AIA has a standard ATX layout layout with 5 busmaster PCI slots, 2 ISA slots (1 shared) and 1 AGP slot, with all slots free from obstructions that might prevent full-length cards from being used. It has 3 DIMM slots, and will accept up to 768MB of SDRAM to be installed. There are headers for Wake-on-LAN, Wake-on-Modem and IrDA cables. It also has two USB headers at the front to allow up to 4 USB cables to be connected. The floppy and IDE connectors are located in front of the DIMM slots, putting them right next to the drive bays, and the ATX power plug is in front of the CPU slot, directly behind the DIMM slots.

All CPU settings are made via the BIOS menu item called ‘Soyo Combo Setup’. Though the CPU frequency is determined by the processor itself, the BIOS does have a host bus/PCI selection which allows the memory to be run at either 100MHz or 133MHz, while running the PCI bus at 33MHz. The Soyo website indicates (as of the time of this writing) that there are multiple host bus frequencies that can be selected, but this apparently is a typo, as there is no indication of this in the manual or in the BIOS itself.

Diagnostics

Verification:

We first tested the board with QuickTech Pro 2000 and RAM Stress Test diagnostics, from Ultra-X. QuickTech Pro is a system level diagnostic and burn-in tool which allows us to verify that the board has no obvious defects that would prevent a reliable evaluation (see our review of this software for more information). RAM Stress Test is a very intensive memory diagnostic that allows us to verify that any stability issues are not due to data integrity problems because of defective memory or bus timings that are too fast (refer to our review for details of this product). With three PC133 SDRAM DIMM modules installed, we saw absolutely no data integrity problems during a 1-hour RST test session, nor did we see any errors during an 8-hour burn-in with QuickTech Pro.

The next set of tests involved our standard circuit-level diagnostics using the PHD PCI and PHD Plus diagnostic cards, also from Ultra-X. These diagnostic cards measure the signals for all circuits (IRQ and DMA controllers, PCI and memory busses, system timer, etc.) against reference timings, and if there is even a small deviation, a ‘failure’ is reported. These tests were run 100 times in succession to make sure there were no intermittent errors. The only errors reported were in the 16-bit DMA transfer tests, which failed about half of the time. This does not necessarily indicate any real problem, but it does mean that there could be a compatibility problem with any ISA card which strictly conforms to timings for the ISA specification .

Stability and Reliability Tests

In order to test the reliability of the system we installed Windows 2000 and ran the Passmark Burn-in test for 36 hours. This is a multi-threaded burn-in program that puts a heavy load on various aspects of the system simultaneously, including the processor, graphics and I/O subsystems. There were no errors reported, nor were there any crashes or lockups. We also installed and ran Winstone 99 (both business and high-end) and Content Creation 2000 tests in Demo mode for 20 loops. The test settings were set to stop on any error, and to run without rebooting between loops. There were no errors at all, not even the normal ‘time outs’ that occasionally occur with the ZDBop tests when running multiple loops.

One thing we have come to expect from Soyo is stability. Though the lack of any kind of errors in Winstone may or may not be entirely due to the motherboard implementation, it did give the feeling that the board is very reliable and stable. There was no indication of any chipset or driver problems whatsoever (IDE and AGP drivers were installed for all tests).

Perfomance Optimizations

When using the ‘Load Setup Defaults’ option, the BIOS is set to ‘optimal’ performance. Of course, for Soyo, optimal is a little conservative with the host bus speed set to 100MHz. We did run benchmarks with the host bus at both 100MHz and 133MHz, but the differences were fairly minimal, as can be seen in the table below. As indicated previously, these tests included the Soyo K7AIA motherboard, Athlon 500MHz processor, Diamond Viper V770 Ultra video card (32MB), W.D. 8.4GB UDMA/66 HDD (no UDMA/66 cable used, however), 128MB Crucial Technology PC133 (CL3, 7.5ns) SDRAM, Windows 2000 and the AMD 750 AGP and IDE drivers for Windows 2000.

Benchmark/host bus speed100MHz133MHz
Winstone99 Business31.431.5
Winstone99 High-end35.836.3
Content Creation 200023.525.0

As can be seen, the high-end applications benefitted a bit from the faster memory bus, however the difference would be undetectable in ‘real world’ usage

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