Transcend TS-AKXA Motherboard Evaluation

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Test Results

Visual Inspection

The TS-AKXA is a single Slot A board, with 3 DIMM slots that will accept up to 1.5GB of either standard or Virtual Channel SDRAM. The clock chip used is the ICS 9248AF-114 , with available BIOS settings to run the FSB at 100, 102, 103, 107, 110, 113, 117 and 120MHz. Oddly, when I tested the 120MHz setting it actually ran at 90MHz, but since the chipset doesn’t actually function at this speed, this is not really an issue. There appears to be no way to manually set the vCore voltage for the processor, however there is a vIO voltage jumper that allows selecting either 3.3v (labeled ‘normal voltage’) or 3.4v (labeled ‘higher voltage’).

The expansion slots include 5 PCI, 1 ISA, 1 AGP and 1 AMR, however Transcend cleverly shared the AMR slot with the ISA slot rather than taking up the space of a PCI slot. While it can be argued that the AMR slot could have been a PCI slot instead, the real benefit of this is that the one can use an AMR device and still have 5 PCI slots available.

The standard PC99 compliant ATX connectors are present (parallel, serial, USB,PS/2 mouse and keyboard), as well as a game port and RCA connectors for AC97 audio provided by the on-board CODEC chip. The on-board audio can be disabled in the BIOS, under the ‘Advanced Chipset Features’ selection by setting the ‘On-Chip Sound’ option to ‘disabled’. This allows the use of a PCI or ISA Sound card. Headers for Wake-on-LAN and Wake-on-Modem connectors are present, as well as headers to connect the cables for two additional USB ports.

One noticeable aspect of this motherboard is the lack of heatsinks for the voltage regulator MOSFET chips, however these did not appear to be any hotter than the other KX133 motherboards that included these heatsinks (even with a 900MHz Athlon running with Content Creation 2000 in Demo mode). The use of the Fairchild RC5057 PWM controller provides for up to 18A of continuous load current for all typical processor voltages.

Verification Tests

In order to make sure that the motherboard has no low-level problems that would prevent the successful completion of the stability tests, I first run a burn-in test using Quick Tech Pro from Ultra-X. QuickTech Pro was run for 8 hours with all components being tested, including DMA/IRQ controllers and parallel/serial ports (with external loopbacks). No errors were recorded.

To ensure that there were no memory problems that might affect later tests, RAM Stress Test was run for 100 iterations (all 30 tests). With all DIMM slots populated with 128MB modules, there was only one failure of the ATS test (Algorithmic Test Sequence). This is in contrast to two other KX133 boards I’ve recently tested (Tyan Trinity K7 and Aopen AK72), which failed this test completely.

The next set of tests involves the standard circuit-level diagnostics I run 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. As one can guess from the name, the PHD PCI card plugs into any PCI slot, snooping the PCI bus to find all devices and the speed of the bus. The PHD Plus card plugs into an ISA slot, and performs very stringent tests on the DMA and IRQ controllers and channels. Failures in these tests could be a warning that some ISA cards that cannot tolerate any deviation from the spec may not function properly.

The TS-AKXA passed all tests on the PHD PCI card without any failures reported, but did have errors reported from the PHD Plus card. This included intermittent failures in DMA Page Register, Interrupt Controller Channels 0-7 and DMA Transfers. In my experience, the majority of motherboards experience some failures in this area so it generally isn’t a major issue. In this case, there were more errors that I normally see, so there does seem to be a greater possibility of problems in this area. Fortunately, more and more people are ditching their ISA cards in favor of PCI, so for many this should not be a problem at all.

Stability and Reliability Tests

I first installed Windows 2000, and ran the Passmark Burn-in test. 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. Burn-in Test was run for another 8 hours with all processes being active (except for the printer test), and set to 100% load. This test truly bogs down the system, and seems to be a good indicator of whether the system can handle a heavy load, particularly with a ‘slower’ processor such as the 500MHz Athlon. There were no failures or lockups recorded after 36 hours of continuous operation.

I then installed and ran Business/High-End Winstone 99 and Content Creation 2000 tests in Demo mode, with a loop count of 20 on all tests. In fact, Winstone 99 was run this way twice. The test settings were set to stop on any error. These tests completed without any errors whatsoever being recorded. I next installed Windows 98 and ran Winstone 99 Business and Content Creation 2000 were run in demo mode for another 24 hours each, rebooting after each run. Again, there were no failures recorded at all.

Performance Tweaks

Since Transcend used the ICS 9248AF-114 clock chip, there are a number of possible FSB settings available in the BIOS. These settings are found under the ‘Frequency / Voltage Control’ menu item. Despite what the name implies, there are no vCore voltage settings here, but the ‘Spread Spectrum Modulate’ option is, as is an ‘Auto Detect DIMM/PCI slot setting.

I found that the fastest this board (and likely, this chipset) would operate with is the 110MHz setting. This allowed the Athlon 500 to run at 550MHz – hardly an overclockers dream, but a nice 10% increase nonetheless. Unfortunately, this setting was not extremely stable, and I had to set the ‘Spread Spectrum Modulate’ option to ‘Enabled’ in order for this to even get past POST. Even slower settings, such as 107MHz and 103MHz had problems running without crashing or locking.

The BIOS that came with the board was the 1.03 version, which did not allow the DRAM clock setting in the BIOS to be set to anything except ‘Host Clock’. Since then, a newer (1.06) BIOS has become available which allows the user to select +33MHz and -33MHz.

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