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Technical Considerations


Intel PCIset Guide

See also:

New Pentium II, Celeron and Xeon PCIsets

Suggested chip sets: ---This section has not been updated--

For single processor workstations the AMD Thunderbird CPUs on a motherboard with a Via chip like the ASUS A7V is the best bang for the buck. Performce is top-of-the-line with 4X AGP, a 200Mhz bus and up to 1.5GB of PC133 memory support. They definately outperform anything from Intel.

If you are a hard core Intel fan and you must have a Coppermine CPU you may prefer the The Via based boards like the ASUS CUV4X or the 815E Solano based boards like the ASUS CUSL2. They both offer 4X AGP, a 133Mhz bus and PC133 memory support. The 815E also has limited on board video. However, the Via supports 1.5GB of RAM while the 815E only supports 512MB of RAM. However, neither solution will match the performance of the AMD Thunderbird in our opinion.

For Dual processor workstations this isn't the best time to be buying a computer. You either need to go with an outdated dual processor 440BX or 440GX based board or go with a newer 840 based board. We are not happy with the 840 performance and we suggest waiting for the ServerWorks WS boards to come out in December. If you can't wait try the ASUS P2B-D(S) 440BX motherboard. It will support up to dual 800Mhz CPUs if you get the latest revision and it outperformance the 840 based boards.

For single processor servers the AMD Thunderbird is great *if* you are building a 3U or larger rack mount or tower platform. The AMD Thunderbird CPUs on a motherboard with a Via chip like the ASUS A7V is the best bang for the buck. Performce is top-of-the-line with 4X AGP, a 200Mhz bus and up to 1.5GB of PC133 memory support. They definately outperform anything from Intel. Or if you prefer Intel take a look at the CUV4X from ASUS with nearly identical specs (except only 133MHz FSB) and Intel Coppermine CPU support.

However, none of the extant Thunderbirds have Ethernet nor SCSI on board so we don't suggest them for 1U and 2U rack mount servers which require some integrated components. The i810E boards like the ASUS CUWE-FX and Intel CA810EAL work great for little 1U Rack mount systems with integrated ethernet and video. For better performance you may prefer the 815E Solano based boards like the ASUS CUSL2. They both offer 4X AGP, a 133Mhz bus and PC133 memory support. The 815E also has limited on board video. However the 815E and 810E only supports 512MB of RAM and, neither solution will match the performance of the AMD Thunderbird in our opinion.

Dual and Quad Processor Server boards. The new ServerWorks boards are now out from ASUS, SuperMicro and Tyan. They have been performing great. They support PC133 memory and a 133MHz FSB. The LE and HE based board have been released. They support up to 8GB of PC133 SDRAM and generally include on board SCSI, Ethernet and sometimes video (ASUS). For dual processor use the Pentium III Coppermine. For Quad use the Xeon 700Mhz CPUs. Keep in mind these are for servers not workstations and lack AGP support. The WS version should be out in December with AGP support for workstations.

Alternately the old L440GX from Intel using the 440GX is still kicking with support for up to dual 800Mhz  processors and up to 2GB of PC100 SDRAM and on board SCSI, Ethernet and video. It is tried and true and works like a charm.  The ASUS P2B-D(S) based on the 440BX is of the same genera and a favorite for dual processor systems with up to dual 800MHz CPUs and up to 1GB of PC100 SDRAM and optional SCSI on board.

Intel Coppermines and the Solano 815E chip set and the Via chip set: The Solano 815E chip set performs nearly as good as the Via chip set. Both support PC133 memory and a 133MHz FSB and 4X AGP. However, the AMD Thunderbirds are faster and just as stable.

Thunderbird Athlon K7: This is our first pick for single processor systems. The AMD Thunderbird CPUs and Via chip sets have been working great under Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, BSDi, Solaris and Windows. The Athlon outperforms all Intel CPUs both in fixed and floating point performance at a fraction of the price. The memory bandwidth is better than anything we've seen on a comparable Intel board.  We have had the best results with the ASUS A7V Via based motherboards which support 4X AGP and PC133 memory.    

i810e Whitney Chip Set: We now have many boards in stock with the i810e chip set. These boards have a 133MHz/100Mhz/66MHz front side bus supporting the older slot 1 CPUs, the new FCPGA Socketed Coppermine Pentium III CPUs and older PGA Celeron CPUs. This chip set is limited to a maximum of 512MB of non-ECC SDRAM. Only carefully chosen module combinations work on this chip set. AGP support is not available. Boards using this chip set feature on board video and audio and some have on board LAN. We are now using these boards in our new line of 1U 1.75" high rack mount Internet servers. See our system page for details. We have certified these boards for use with Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD and BSDi. Linux users using the Intel CA810EAL motherboard should remember to use a "mem=" statement in the lilo.conf file for 2.2.X kernels. Set "mem=" to 11MB less than the actual memory to account for memory allocated tot he graphics chip. This is not necessary for new 2.3.X and 2.4.X kernels. The ASUS and SuperMicro have a separate on board video cache so these boards may not require this step.  

i820 Camino Chip Set: The i840 server chip set is being phased out slowly. It will remain around for a few more months for RAMBUS based systems. The performance is not nearly as good as other alternatives. We have certified these boards for use with Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD and BSDi.  The major benefits of the i820 Camino chip set include a 133MHz front side bus, 4X AGP and support for 600-800MHz RAMBUS RIMMs. The i820 chip set does *not* support PC133 nor PC100 SDRAM except with a memory translator hub (MTH) which is problematic. The MTH only functions properly with certain SDRAM modules and certain power supplies. We don't suggest the 820 for use with SDRAM.

i840 Carmel Server Chip Set: The i840 server chip set is being phased out slowly. It will remain around for a few more months for RAMBUS based systems. The performance is not nearly as good as other alternatives. Systems featuring the SDRAM bridge are all but extinct. The 66MHz/64-bit PCI slots don't seem to work properly on this board. These feature 4X AGP, a 133MHz front side bus, memory interleaving, Up to 4GB of PC100 SDRAM support and 66MHz 64-bit PCI. Other 840 models will support RAMBUS

The good old BX, GX and NX: The 440BX, 440GX and 450NX chip sets are being phased out.

440BX PCIset Features:

On April 15th of 1998 440BX became the new high end worstation PCIset replacing the 440LX. This chip set is designed for 350MHz and 400MHz Pentium II processors with 100MHz front bus speeds. The new 100MHz bus speed will allow for faster 8ns (125MHz) SDRAM access, reducing bottlenecks. 100MHz boards will require high quality transitors and short traces for proper implementation. Designers will need to be careful of radio wave interference. The 440BX Will support dual processors, PC100 SDRAM, AGP, and the PIIX4 North Bridge with Ultra DMA 33. A later model will feature the new PIIX6 North Bridge which will support FireWire, UDMA 66 and I2O

Camino PCIset Features:

We don't know much about the Camino PCIset other than it will replace the 440BX chip set in the second quater of 1999. The Camino will be geared toward the Katmai CPU. It will feature 4X AGP, Direct Rambus DRAM (RDRAM) on a 133MHz bus, ATA66 and AC'97 digital link.

440EX PCIset Features:

On April 15th of 1998 440EX became the low end worstation PCIset replacing the 440TX. This chip set is designed for 233MHz and 333MHz Pentium II and Celeron processors with 66MHz front bus speeds. The 66MHz bus speed will allow for slower 10ns (100MHz) SDRAM access, but is compatible with PC100 SDRAM as well. The 440BX will not support dual processors. However, it does feature AGP, and the PIIX4 North Bridge with Ultra DMA 33. Boards are implemented with two DIMM slots for maximum of 256MBs of SDRAM.

Whitney PCIset Features:

We don't know much about the Whiney PCIset other than it will replace the 440EX chip set in the second quater of 1999. The Whiney will be geared toward the low-end Celeron-like CPUs. It will feature 440LX like features combined with an integrated i740 graphics chip core for low cost systems.

440NX PCIset Features:

The 440NX will be the new high end server and worstation PCIset replacing the Orion 450GX, 450KX PCIsets as well as the stop gap 440GX by October of 1998. The 440NX Will support Quad or Octal processing, up to 4GB of cached PC100 SDRAM and 100MHz bus speeds in addition to many of the advanced features of the Orion. The 440NX is optimized for the Pentium Pro heir apparent, the Xeon (Slot 2 Deschutes). The Slot 2 Xeon was intraduced with a core speed of 400MHz on a 100MHz bus. The Xeon CPU includes optionally 512KB, 1MB or 2MB's of L2 cache. The cache runs at the full speed of the processor core. Four way memory interleaving will be supported for maximum memory through-put. Pricing is very high (see the CPU page for 1998 CPU prices). This chip set will not support AGP.

440GX PCIset Features:

On July 1st of 1998, the 440GX was released to support the Xeon (Deschutes Slot 2) CPU. The 440GX is basically identical to the 440BX but will be utilized on Slot 2 boards. In addition, the 440GX will allow up to 2GBs of PC100 SDRAM, all cachable. This chip set is basically a stop gap allowing us to use the Xeon processor while we all wait for the new 440NX chip set.

Profusion PCIset

The Profusion PCIset is an Octascale architecture supporting eight-way Xeon, I-32 and I-64 SMP. It is based on technology created by a company called Corollary, aquired by Intel in October 1997.

Future PCIsets:

Future Katmai, Willemete and Merced CPU's will demand greater RAM through-put with lower latencies. In early 1999, 200MHz Double Data Rate (DDR) SDRAM is expected in Katmai and Willemete Intel PCIsets. By late 1999, 800MHz Direct RAMBus (RDRAM) RIMM's will probably be supported on high end Merced server chip sets. The Slot A will be introduced as an open standard for the Alpha and the AMD K7.

440BX Performance

Probably the most important features are the 100MHz memory bus speed and the support for 350MHz and 400MHz CPU's. Note the previous 440LX chip set only supports a 66MHz memory bus speed and CPU's up to 333MHz. The memory bus speed is particularly important as modern day CPU's are starved for data and waste many idle cycles waiting for data to be fetched from RAM. The 440BX defaults to a 66MHz bus speed when used with a 333MHz or slower Pentium II processor. It only uses the 100MHz bus speed for 350MHz and 400MHz processors. At 66MHz normal 10ns SDRAM is utilized. At 100MHz special PC100 certified SDRAM is specified by Intel. However, many vendors have found that normal 10ns SDRAM works just fine on the ASUS P2B 440BX motherboard running with a 400MHz processor and a 100MHz memory bus. They have even claimed that the cheaper 10ns SDRAM has no performance penalty. This is not the case. We concede that the standard 10ns SDRAM appears to work fine on the 100MHz bus. We have been running Linux and Windows NT with normal 10ns SDRAM at this speed for over two weeks without any stability problems. However, the performance is not as good as the same system running PC100 SDRAM. Let's look at some Stream results.

Chip Set and Processor RAM Transfer Rate in MB/S
440BX 400MHz Pentium II Fast PC100 SDRAM 307.1459
440BX 400MHz Pentium II 10ns SDRAM 277.6672
440BX 400MHz Pentium II Slow PC100 SDRAM 263.6705
440BX 400MHz Pentium II Premium BX SDRAM 255.8955
164LX 533MHz Alpha 21164 10ns SDRAM 239.8447
440LX 266MHz Pentium II 10ns SDRAM 174.0
Tyan Tiger 400MHz*** Fast PC100 SDRAM 149.6685
440FX266MHz Pentium II 60ns EDO RAM 98.3

We used Stream under Linux to test memory I/O. Our test setup for the 440BX included a Pentium II 400MHz CPU, 128MB's of SDRAM, two BusLogic 958's, a 3COM 3C905, Matrox Millennium II PCI video card (with Xi Graphics AX Server under Linux ), SB64 PnP and miscellaneous SCSI devices. Our test setup for the 440LX and 440FX included a Pentium II 266 CPU, 128MB's RAM (SDRAM for the LX and EDO RAM for the FX). The other devices were identical to the 440BX setup.

The PC100 SDRAM on the 440BX with a Pentium II 400MHz processor was the fastest by far and even faster than the 533MHz Alpha LX system. Standard 10ns SDRAM was stable but over 10.6% slower than PC100 SDRAM. So called Premium BX SDRAM sold by many vendors as BX compatible (but not PC100 certified) was even slower than the standard 10ns SDRAM. However, clearly memory intensive applications will get a huge boost using any of these types of SDRAM with the 440BX chip set.

The results of the 400MHz 440BX test machine are much better than anything posted for the DEC Alpha family, the SUN Ultra2 family or the HP 9000 series. You may want to compare these results with the Stream results table. The Stream results table compares Stream results obtained on a wide variety of architectures.

You may have also noticed that we have "slow" PC100 SDRAM listed in addition to the "fast" PC100 SDRAM. This is less expensive SDRAM that is about 16.5% slower than its more expensive cousin. We should note however, that the less expensive "slow" PC100 SDRAM is still PC100 compliant and is not of a lower quality. The slow memory is stable, all memory addresses check out and it is brand named. The only difference is the speed and the price tag. The slow PC100 SDRAM may be a good choice for folks on a budget who want a 440BX board with compatible PC100 SDRAM. This leaves an easy upgrade path to a high performance system down the road. In contrast, those looking for servers or workstations that are data intensive should probably take the leap and buy fast PC100 SDRAM.

***Note that the Tyan Tiger 100 (S1832DL) performs at about half the speed of the comparable ASUS and Intel boards when JP2 is set to factory default. JP2 is undocumented. Removing JP2 sets the queuing depth from 1 to 4. When removed this board benchmarks nearly identically to the other 440BX boards in its class. This may have been the cause of the bad review on Tom's Hardware guide.

Molecular Dynamics Results on the 440BX

MDBNCH: A molecular dynamics benchmark is an excellent benchmark for those interested in scientific calculations in general and molecular dynamics in particular. We used MDBNCH to compare our 400MHz 440BX configuration (as noted above) to our reference 440LX 266MHz machine.

Chip Set and Processor CP SECONDS
440BX 400MHz Pentium II PC100 SDRAM 14.420000
440LX 266MHz Pentium II 10ns SDRAM 21.550001

The results of the 400MHz Pentium II on the 440BX chip set are on par with the 333MHz DEC Alpha, the 200MHz Sun Ultra 2, the 266MHz PowerMac G3, and the Cray T90. You may want to compare these results with the MDBNCH results table. The MDBNCH results table compares MDBNCH results of obtained on a wide variety of architectures.

See all our data on the 440BX Page.

Old Pentium II and Pentium Pro Processor chip sets


Old Pentium II and Pentium Pro Processor chip sets



440FX 450GX 450KX
Host Processor
Pentiumr II
Pentiumr Pro
Processor/ Pentiumr II
Pentiumr Pro Processor
Pentiumr Pro Processor


Dual Processing Support


Up to Quad Processor
CAS-before- RAS RAS only or CAS-before- RAS
CAS-before- RAS
CAS-before- RAS
RAS Lines
8 8
64 Mbit Support
Yes Yes
Max Memory Size
1 GB EDO or 512MB SDRAM 1 GB
8 GB
1 GB
Memory Types
Memory Interleave
No No
4-way, 2-way, non
2-way, non
Yes Yes
PCI Support
PCI 2.1 PCI 2.1
PCI 2.0
PCI 2.0
Concurrent PCI
Yes Yes
SMBA Support
No No
AGP Support
Yes 1x and 2x PIPE and SEA No
Not Included
Not Included
USB Support
Yes Yes
Integrated External
Power Mgt.
I/O Mgt.
SMBus/GP10 N/A


440LX PCIset Features:

The 440LX is optimized for the Pentium II (Klamath) running at 233MHz to 333MHz with a 66MHz bus speed. The 440LX distinguished itself from the 440FX with the introduction of SDRAM support for the P6 family. Minor improvements included the PIIX4 PCI/ISA North Bridge including Ultra DMA 33 support. The Accelerated Graphics Port has had a minimal impact due to lagging operating system support.

440FX (Natoma "Workstation") PCIset Features:

The Natoma 440FX was replaced by the 440LX in August of 1997. The 440LX has many of the same features plus support for SDRAM, an Accelerated Graphics Port and Ultra DMA.

450GX (The Orion ST "Server" edition) PCIset Features:

The Orion chip set has been discontinued and will be replaced by the 440NX PCIset in mid 1998. The 440NX Will support Quad processors, SDRAM and 100MHz bus speeds in addition to many of the advanced features of the Orion. The 440NX is optimized for the Pentium Pro heir apparent, the Deschutes.

450KX (The Orion DT "Workstation" edition) PCIset Features:

This chip set is very similar to the Orion ST chip set and it has also been discontinued.

Orion Bugs:

The older A2 stepping used on the -701 model had the PCI write disabled due to data corruption issues. This slowed down video and disk writes severely. However, the later versions were fixed. The newer fixed BO Stepping of the Orion 82450 Chip set on the newer -702 and later Intel Motherboards.

To identify the fixed chip set look at the largest of the seven chips, the 82454 OBP (Bridge Chip). For the BO stepping you will see and SU code of SU059,SU063 or SU064, these are fixed. In contrast, SU022,024,028,030,042, and 044 are all of the A2 stepping.

440LX Performance under Linux 2.0.30 and Windows NT Server 4.0

Our test setup included a Pentium II 266 CPU, 128MB's of SDRAM, two BusLogic 958's, a 3COM 3C905, Matrox Millennium II PCI video card (with Xi Graphics AX Server and CDE under Linux ), SB32 PnP and miscellaneous SCSI devices.

Controlling for all other hardware we compared this setup with an ASUS KN97-X 440FX with 128MB's EDO RAM. We used Stream under Linux to test memory I/O. The 440LX averaged 174.0MB/S while the 440FX measured 98.3MB/S. That's a 77% improvement in the newer 440LX technology! Data indicate a 3-9% improvement in ability to calculate molecular dynamic equations per MDBNCH (A molecular dynamics benchmark) under Linux. Using Bonnie under Linux to test disk I/O we found the 440LX tested 1.7% slower than the 440FX. This difference is fairly trivial and may be a statistcal artifact.

Byte UNIX Benchmarks for Linux (Linux ELF, native mode, beta version 2) yielded results indicating that the 440LX is less than 1% faster. These tests mainly confirm that the basic design of the board is sound. Since these benchmarks mainly measure CPU performance we didn't expect to see much difference between the two systems based on Byte's tests. Finally compiles have been running smoothly which indicates the system is stable. The 440LX w/SDRAM boasts a ~1.5% performance lead doing compiles. To summerize the 440LX looks very solid under Linux.

Running Java Stream Under NT to measure memory performance indicated that the 440LX is 25.4% faster than the 440FX. The entensive data from Winbench 97 indicates the 440LX was faster than the 440FX except in the areas of Business Disk WinMark 97, Several areas of Disk Playback, AVS, Visual C++, Picture Publisher, and some GDI graphics.

See our Full Test Results

Pentium, Pentium MMX, K6, M2 and WinChip Chip Sets


INTEL 430FX/HX/VX/TX PCIset Feature Comparison

Interface 430FX
(Triton I)
(Triton II)
430VX 430TX
Max RAM 128M 512M 128M 256M
IDE MODE 4 4/5 4/5 4/5
Ultra 33


Introduction to Intel's Pentium PCIsets

The purpose of this guide is to introduce features of the following five Intel PCIsets:

The 430FX was replaced early on by three complementary PCIsets: The 430HX, 430VX and 430MX. The 430HX was designed for high end Pentium servers. The 430VX was designed for low cost home machines, while the 430MX was designed for notebooks and other mobile applications. Ultimately all of these will be replaced by the 430TX PCIset.

For more general information on PCIsets see:

430TX Intel PCIset

The 430TX PCIset was the latest socket PCIset designed to replace the 430HX, 430VX and 430MX (Mobile) series. It was discontinued on June 29th, 1998. It was an attempt to consolidate all Pentium chip sets including desktop and mobile solutions into one design thus lowering production costs. The 430VX and 430MX are currently out of production. The 430HX, was phased out earlier.

This PCIset includes two 324-pin chips packaged in a Ball Grid Array (BGA). These include the 82439TX System Controller chip (MTXC) and the 82371AB PCI I/O ISA/IDE Xcelerator chip (PCIIX4). The two chip design is not only cheaper to produce but also requires less contact points and has a lower failure rate.

The 430TX introduced a few novel features. Ultra DMA is an entirely new feature of the 430TX allowing 33MB/s access to EIDE devices. It's unlikely that this will be a big win since most EIDE devices can't do more than 2MB/S anyway. This feature probably serves more as marketing hype aimed to prey on the technologically ignorant that actually believe that 4500RPM EIDE hard disks achieve 33MB/S sustained transfer rates!

Another more interesting new feature is the System Management Bus (SMBus). This allows access to the chip sets core logic via a 3 wire interface for the purpose of monitoring such things as thermal properties and battery charge. A Serial Presence Detect (SPD) interface is used to monitor DRAM sizing. In addition, the 430TX incorporates Intel's new Dynamic Power Management Architecture (DPMA) which poles devices and may shut them down if they are not in use. Integrating these new features with the ATX power system allows systems to do interesting things like shut down when the system overheats or turn on when the system is called from a remote site. Other uses are sure to be devised by clever motherboard manufacturers.

In some respects the 430TX retains some of the best features of the 430VX and 430HX. Like the 430VX, the 430TX supports SDRAM (in addition to FPM or mixed SDRAM/EDO). It also retains Concurrent PCI (PCI 2.1) and USB. Fortunately it does away with the Shared Memory Buffer Architecture (SMBA) that so plagued the 430VX PCIset.

However the 430TX also represents Intel's attempt to position the Pentium as a low end, low cost processor. Only 6 RAS lines (256MB's of main memory) are supported by the 430TX as compared to 8 RAS lines (512MB's) by the 430HX and 4 RAS lines (128MB's) by the 430VX. Applications requiring more than 256MB's will require Pentium Pro, Pentium II or Deschutes technology. Only the first 64MB's of RAM are cacheable on the 430TX as compared to 512MB's with the 430HX. Only 256K or 512K cache may be used. However, burst timings are still very good at 3-1-1-1 or back-to-back at 3-1-1-1-1-1-1-1. Parity RAM is not supported and for loading reasons should not be used.

The 430TX will allow the low cost mass production of some fairly fast Pentium boxes. However, it is not a full featured PCIset for high-end applications. It's aimed squarely at the home and business desktop markets. For such applications it's a good bang for the buck. But it's also Intel's way of giving us notice. If you want features like large memory capacity, parity or ECC, caching over 64MB's and SMP, then it's time to look up at the P6 platform. The Pentium II (formerly code named Klamath) is the heir apparent to the Pentium and the Pentium's time as the high-end chip is coming to a close. The Socket 7 technology will be trivialized by the upcoming generation of Pentium II and Deschutes SEC technology, thus making AMD and Cyrix socket 7 devices irrelevant, or so Intel hopes...

If you like, you may download the 430TX Product Data Sheet; 29055901.pdf 694256 bytes

See also Intel's page on the 430TX:

430VX and 430HX Novel Shared Features

The 430VX and 430HX PCIsets share three features not available in the 430MX and 430FX. These Include Universal Serial Bus or USB (See above). Bus Master EIDE with DMA transfer (not discussed here) and Concurrent PCI.

Concurrent PCI enables CPU, PCI and ISA buses to fully execute transactions simultaneously with no lag time. As a result, processing time improves in I/O-intensive applications such as multimedia. For more information on Concurrent PCI see:

For a good comparison of the 430VX and 430TX features see:

430HX PCIset Features

For more information on the 430HX chip set see:

430VX PCIset Features

For more information on the 430VX chip set see:


Samsung's Alpha

Due to the recent buy-out of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) by Compaq and Intel, Digital has closed down its normal Alpha distribution chain. Compaq plans to sell complete Alpha workstations and servers through its normal channels. Digital will shift its focus to support and service. One of its main tasks will be as a support branch of Compaq. Intel will continue production of the Alpha for Compaq, until Samsung takes over, but has no plans to produce Alphas for other system integrators.

Samsung just released a line of Alpha processors and motherboards under a licensing agreement with Digital. Samsung Alpha boards and processors are already available as samples. Reportedly Polywell is already testing the Samsung Alpha. The Samsung Alpha should be widely available to system integrators. We hope to carry the Samsung Alpha product line soon. In our opinion it will be worthwhile to hold out for the new Samsung technology. For more information on Samsung products visit the Samsung Alpha home page. Below we have tabulated the Samsung product line.

Samsung Alpha 21164 Processors 433-633MHz

Part Number Speed (MHz) Package Vcc (Core) I/O L1 Cache (KB) L2 Cache (KB) Mem Data Width (BIT)
KP21164-433CN   433  587CPGA  3.3  8KB ICache
8KB DCache 
96  128 
KP21164-500CN   500  587CPGA  3.3  8KB ICache
8KB DCache 
96  128 
KP21164-533CN   533  587CPGA  3.3  8KB ICache
8KB DCache 
96  128 
KP21164-600CN   600  587CPGA  3.3  8KB ICache
8KB DCache 
96  128 
KP21164-633CN   633  587CPGA  3.3  8KB ICache
8KB DCache 
96  128 


Samsung Alpha 21A04 and SMB164 Motherboards

Part Number Speed (MHz) BCache (MB) Chipset Memory # of PCI Slots # of ISA Slots # of Memory Slots
21A04-AB   400 - 600  21174  32MB - 512MB 
21A04-B2   400 - 600  21174  32MB - 512BM 
21A04-BO   400 - 600  21174  32MB - 512MB 
21A04-CO   400 - 600  21174  32MB - 512MB 
SMB164-BX2   300 - 800  21174  32MB - 1.5GB 
SMB164-LX2   400 - 600  21174  32MB - 512MB 
SMB164-UX2   300 - 800  21174  32MB - 1.5GB 
SMB164-UX4   300 - 800  21174  32MB - 1.5GB  6


Samsung Semiconductor has introduced a series of entry-level server soulutions based on its KP21164 family of Alpha processors, with performance ranging from 500MHz to 633MHz. The new SMB-UXB entry-level server platform series comes with 64MB of main memory, 2MB or 4MB level-3 cache, power supply, Entry-level Server Tower Chassis and a choice of 500MHz, 566MHz or 633MHz KP21164 Alpha Processor.

Samsung also introduced its new SMB-UX motherboards and processors designed for final assembly by system OEMs. All SMB-UXB/UX motherboards come with integrated Ultra-II Symbios SCSI and 10/100Mbs Ethernet controllers, and are priced from $1,099 to $3,610, suggested retail. The board-level solutions offer 13.5 SPECint95/20 SPECfp95 to 18 SPECint95/27 SPECfp95. The boards also feature six PCI slots and can accommodate 1.5GB of main memory using 256MB DIMMs while many other entry-level servers can only accommodate 512MB of main memory.

SMB-UXB/UX Platform Features
All UXB and UX motherboards feature:

Performance and Product Offerings

SPECint95 SPECfp95
SMB-UX2B/UX2 with KP21164 500MHz 13.5 20.0
SMB-UX2B/UX2 with KP21164 566MHz 15.5 23.0
SMB-UX4B/UX4 with KP21164 633MHz 17.0 25.0
SMB-UX4B/UX4 with KP21164 633MHz 18.0 27.0

Pricing and Availability
     All SMB-UXB server platforms will be available from May 1998. Samsung is currently taking orders for May delivery. Suggested retail prices for quantities of 1,000 are as follows:

SMB-UX2B with KP21164-500CN $1,499 2MB Level-3 Cache on board
SMB-UX2B with KP21164-566CN $1,905 2MB Level-3 Cache on board
SMB-UX2B with KP21164-633CN $3,265 2MB Level-3 Cache on board
SMB-UX4B with KP21164-633CN $3,610 4MB Level-3 Cache on board

    Samsung also updates its UX/BX Motherboard and Processor Bundle Pricing targeted for Alpha System OEMs. Samsung is currently taking UX/BX orders for the May delivery. The distributor suggested retail prices for quantities of 1,000 are as follows:

SMB-UX2B with KP21164-500CN $1,199 2MB Level-3 Cache on board
SMB-UX2B with KP21164-566CN $1,605 2MB Level-3 Cache on board
SMB-UX2B with KP21164-633CN $2,965 2MB Level-3 Cache on board
SMB-UX4B with KP21164-633CN $3,310 4MB Level-3 Cache on board

Mitsubishi planned to also sell Alpha processors later in 1998. However, Mitsubishi seems to be reversing this decision. They have currently suspended their partnership with Digital to develop the Alpha. In an official statement Mitsubishi reported:

"As for our position on the Alpha, although our joint development contract with Digital Equipment Corp. is still in effect, we have delayed the next phase of the development process. The primary reason for this delay is the fact that we are currently conducting a general review of our microcontroller business as a whole."

In 1999, a slot A (a.k.a. EV6) version of the Alpha will be released. The slot A will by physically, but not electrically compatible with the Slot 1. The K7 will also be released in a slot A format according to AMD.

See Also:

Samsung Alpha home page

Samsung And Digital Work On Alpha MPU Agreement

Samsung Charts Alpha Future

Samsung to show Alpha-based motherboards at Comdex show -- Going after personal-workstation, PC-server markets, company says

Samsung Rolls Out Motherboard Line

Is Alpha In Jeopardy? -- Channel Can Play Both Sides In Digital/Intel Settlement

Alpha processor faces uncertain future -- Digital And Intel Resolve Rift

Samsung picks up the Alpha banner

Digital-Intel deal casts new doubts about Alpha

Intel's Digital Deal Raises Questions

Compaq, DEC & The Channel

Digital Alpha Specs

The 21164 Alpha microprocessor (referred to as the 21164) is a high-performance implementation designed for Windows NT desktop PCs and workstations. The 21164 has a superscalar design capable of issuing four instructions every clock cycle. The integration of an instruction cache, data cache, and second-level cache unrivaled microprocessor performance. The 21164 uses a high-performance interface to access main memory, data buses, and an optional board-level cache.
  • Designed for the future using the 64-bit Alpha architecture
  • Increased engineering and business productivity
  • Newest member of the award-winning 21164 family
  • Highest performance Windows NT systems
  • ATX motherboard turnkey OEM solution is available for quick time to market
  • 100% Windows Compatible

    -Thousands of native applications
    -High performance translation technology for x86 application

  • Host-based DVD playback
  • Designed to meet the needs of the computerindustry

    - Standard cooling

  • Fully pipelined 64-bit advanced RISC(reduced instruction set computing) architecture
  • Best-in-class performance
    - 500MHz: 15.6 SPECint95, 21.1 SPECfp95
    - 533HMz: 16.1 SPECint95, 22.5 SPECfp95
    - 600MHz: 18.0 SPECint95, 27.0 SPECfp95
  • Superscalar (4-way instruction issue)
  • 0.35um CMOS technology
  • Onchip, 8KB, direct-mapped L1 instruction cache
  • Onchip, 8KB, direct-mapped,write-through L1 data cache
  • Onchip, 96Kb, 3-way, set-associative, write-back L2 unified instruction and data cache
  • Memory-management unit
  • Flexible high-performance interface
    - 128-bit memory data path
    - 3.3-V I/O
  • Selectable parity protection or error correction code (ECC) on data
    - Programmable system interface; one-third to one-fifteenth of clock speed
    - Control for optional offchip L3 cache, with multiple timing options for industry-standard synchronous and asyn-chronous SRAMs
  • Serial ROM interface for initialization
  • Chip-and module-level test supports JTAG(IEEE 1149.1)
  • 499-pin ceramic interstitial pin grid array (IPGA) package
  • Enhancements:
    - Support for byte and word data types
    - 2.0-V core for reduced power consumption
21164 Microarchitecture

The 21164 consists of five independent functional units: the insruction fetch, decode, and branch unit; the integer execution unit; the memory-management unit; the cahe control and bus interface unit; and the floating-point uint. There are three on-chip caches: the instruction cache, the data cache, and the second-level cache.
Thermal Management

The 21164 dissipates approximately 43W at 500 MHz. Conventional forced air cooling methods are sufficient to remove heat and maintain the highest levels of reliability. The user may also define an application-specific heat sink.
  • Power Suppply
: VSS=0.0V, Vdd=3.3V+5% or -5%, Vddi=2.5V+0.1V or -0.1V
  • Environmental

    Operating temperature
    Storage temperature range

Ta=50'C maximum(122'C )
Tj=85'C maximum(185'C )
-55'Cto +125'C(-67'F to 257'F )
  • Power dissipation
: 43W maximum
@ Vdd=3.3V, Vddi=2.5V, Frequency=500MHz
  • Package
: 499- pin IPGA


A few Benchmarks to Consider

Unix Bytemarks of the Intel and Sparc Systems:

There is a lot of confusion about the relative speeds associated with all the new chip sets. Therefore we are presenting a few selected benchmarks for comparison. These results were obtained running Solaris 2.5 and Byte's UNIX Benchmark 3.2. All systems had identical architectures (Except the more expensive Sparc). These benchmarks can not be used to compare other systems since they are highly dependent on the components used. However, they serve well as a relative comparison (Higher numbers are faster):

System Bytemarks
Sun Sparc Ultra 167MHz System 13.7
Pentium Pro 200MHz with an Orion 450GX Chip Set 13.5
Pentium Pro 200MHz with a Natoma 440FX Chip Set 12.5
Pentium 133MHz with a Triton-II 430HX Chip Set 6.2

The CPU speeds were faster on the Pentium Pro systems than on the Sparc Ultra. However, The Pentium Pros were slower at file access. Indeed, the Pentium Pros could probably beat the Sparc Ultra on both file access and overall Bytemark if we had used a Mylex RAID instead of a BusLogic controller.

The Natoma was faster than the Orion on Drystones with registers, floating math, System Calls and shells. Orion was faster at Drystones w/o registers, Integer math, pipe-through and most important file writes and copies. Since the Orion supports memory interleaving, it is not surprising that it yielded a better file I/O.

Byte UNIX Benchmark 3.2 for OS Comparison:

In addition we are presenting these Byte UNIX Benchmark 3.2 results for comparing the relative speeds of three popular UNIX/UNIX-Clone OS's. Tests were conducted on Pentium 133MHz machines with 32MB's of RAM, the Triton-II 430HX chip set and a BusLogic SCSI controller:

System Bytemarks
Linux on a Pentium 133MHz 12.2
BSD on a Pentium 133MHz 9.8
Solaris 2.5 on a Pentium 133MHz 6.2
Solaris on a Sun Sparc-II Ultra 167MHz System 13.7
Solaris 2.5 on an Orion Pentium Pro 200MHz 13.5

From these results we can see that Linux is a very efficient OS. Scores for Linux on the Pentium 133 were nearly as fast as Solaris 2.5 on a 167MHz Sparc Ultra or a 200MHz Pentium Pro!!!

430TX versus the 430HX:

Initial tests of the new ASUS TX96-X 430TX PCIset based boards with 64MB's of SDRAM tested overall about 13% faster than the XP5T2P4 430HX PCIset based boards with 64MB's of EDO RAM. However, there was a large range of values obtained for different types of benchmarks. Memory access accounted for most of the difference. Oddly some graphics test were not as good on the TX97-X as they were on the XP55T2P4. Keep in mind that the TX96-X only caches up to 64MB's of RAM. So our test was biased towards systems with 64MB's of RAM or less.

Comparing various motherboards

Over the years ASUS and Intel have consistently released some of the highest quality boards on the market. They excel in both performance, technical design and durability. ASUS in particular has refused to release a product until it is perfect. AMI and Micronics make some great boards but they tend to be overpriced. Recently AIR has also released some excellent motherboards. In contrast almost every other brand we have tested has had consistent problems and inferior quality control. We won't embarrass these companies by listing their names here. We spend a lot of time testing new motherboards from all the major motherboard manufacturers as they are released. Most of these boards fail our tests for quality control and performance. We only sell those boards that pass our tests. Year after year, it boils down to a fairly short list. This is unfortunate and we would like to see more competition in the motherboard market. But year after year many companies come out with just plain old bad motherboards.

If you're on a budget do not try to save money on your motherboard purchase. I do not know how to emphasize this enough. The most frequent cause of system problems is a poor quality motherboard. I can not tell you the number of times I've seen people wallow in weeks of agony trying to debug motherboard problems. This is usually followed by months of poor service and denial from the motherboard manufacturer. Don't put yourself through this. There are other ways to save money. Your motherboard is your key component and as such it should be purchased without compromise. You can always cut back on other peripheral devices. Getting a good quality motherboard is key to a successful system. There are a lot of cheap boards that will corrupt data, crash and die. Buy a good name brand board from a company with a good track record for quality control. A "Made is USA" label has nothing to do with the quality of a board. What is important is the company behind it. Please take this advice to heart.

Our philosophy is that posting extensive benchmark comparisons of motherboards is misguided. What is important is comparing chip sets performance. If a motherboard is made properly it is the chip set that determines a motherboards performance and stability. A poorly made board will often cripple some aspect of the chip sets optimal performance. So if you compare an ASUS and an Intel board chances are you'll see nearly identical benchmarks if they are based on the same chip set. Hence we try to emphasize the chip set features in our treatment of motherboards.

There are many complex decisions that must be made when designing a good motherboard. Many motherboards use linear series voltage regulators with tiny heat sinks. Using linear voltage regulators saves money because they produce less voltage spiking and fewer capacitors need to be used to filter out the power source. However, these can generate temperatures in excess of 230F. Many better quality motherboards use switching voltage regulators with larger heat sinks which can remain quite cool (below 150F). This is important for CPU's that draw a lot of amps like the K6, M2 and Pentium II CPU's. However, this requires more decoupling capacitors to filter voltage spikes (L di/dt noise).

In order to make a really good board the number and quality of the capacitors must be chosen carefully. Manufacturers must choose between tantalum capacitors or aluminum electrolytic capacitors. The former are higher quality in general and tend to last longer. However, Tantalum capacitors range in quality from low cost epoxy dipped models up to high quality Mil-Spec JAN or JANTX models. A Tantalum capacitor's ESR (effective series resistance) varies less with temperature than an electrolytic capacitor. Aluminum electrolytic capacitors also come in a variety of flavors including regular duty electrolytics, high-frequency electrolytics, low-frequency electrolytics, tantalum substitute electrolytics and others. Motherboard manufacturers must choose the proper electrolytics with the proper time and temperature ratings. However, frequently they choose the wrong capacitor, use too few capacitors or use inferior quality capacitors. Poor quality electrolytics tend to dry out in the high temperatures found in many computer chassis. However, this "aging" is very slow and tends not to occur during the useful life of the board (Taking into account that a motherboard is frequently obsolete in about two years). An electrolytic capacitor's ESR increases at low temperature and decreases at high temperature. Therefore the decoupling properties can vary in different environments. However, there are some top notch designs using electrolytic capacitors and there are some very bad desings using Tantalum capacitors. What is important is picking the correct part for the job.

Some manufacturers push the timings too far and cause the boards to because unstable. A board may yield a great benchmark but may crash and corrupt data. The capacitance of the components must be carefully matched as well for timings to work properly. The "Buffered RAM and Voltage" section of our CPU page covers this topic in more depth.

There is no one best design nor one single best set of components that a motherboard manufacturer can use. In the final analysis it's the operation of the whole unit that matters. If components are not properly matched than the full potential of the chip set will not be utilized. That is why good quality boards like AIR, Intel and ASUS will frequently yield similar benchmarks while other boards (names withheld) will benchmark 5-30% slower.

I would also submit that there is more to a motherboard purchase than just the board itself. You must also consider how a manufacturer will deal with problems as they arise. Some manufacturers will cover up problems and deny they have problems even in the face of clear evidence. They survive because there is a large number of unwary and uneducated consumers. Consider that fact that you will need BIOS updates to support new products and new software features. Good motherboard companies will provide frequent BIOS updates which you can download from the WWW and install on your motherboard. So don't just look at the board itself. Look at the whole package. To sum, choose wisely.


From the earliest days of the 386 until the advent of the Pentium Pro all Intel, AMD and Cyrix CPUs have used a Pin Grid Array (PGA) packaging that has plugged into a socket. This socket has evolved from a cumbersome kludge to the Zero Insertion Force (ZIF) socket which we all know and love. Up until the Socket 8 ZIF all ZIF sockets had been an open standard meaning all manufacturers could plug in their CPU's to a given board allowing for head on competition.

Recently Intel has Patented the Socket 8 and now plans to release the Pentium II (Klamath) and the Deschutes in a new format call Single Edge Contact (SEC). This new format is functionally similar to PCI or ISA. It allows for the use of a CPU card that plugs into the SEC socket called "Slot One."

So why change socket types mid-stream? Indeed, Slot One has no new features of advantages to offer to the end user nor to system integrators. The Computing community is charging that Intel is creating a new proprietary standard for the sole purpose of excluding the use of AMD and Cyrix CPU's in mainstream PC's. When one examines the new 430TX chip set and the plans to phase out the 430HX one certainly gets the picture that Intel wants Socket 7 boards to be marginal low end devices.

Multi-Media Extended (MMX) Processors

If you want to use the one of the new Intel MMX processors in an ASUS Pentium motherboard please consult: for information on which motherboard will work with these CPU's.

The new MMX P166 and MMX P200 Pentium P55C processors include 57 new instructions called Multi-Media Extensions or MMX. In addition they sport an internal 32 KB quad-associative L1 cache which is double the size of the L1 cache in non-MMX Pentium CPU's.

The new MMX will send out up to 16 requests before it must have a response back. In contrast non-MMX Pentiums and Pentium Pro's allow one request and up to 8 requests respectively before the processor receives a response.

These changes add up to about a 8-12% performance increase under Win95. However, on a few particular applications increases as high as 20% have been measured.

Intel will release MMX versions of the Pentium Pro starting in May, 1997 (Klamath or Pentium II). These chips will not include a fast 256K or 512K internal L2 cache like the current Pentium Pro's. They will only have 32K of L1 cache. Therefore there is some debate about the actual performance of the new Processor.

For more information see:

Cyrix or AMD Processors

If you want to use the a Cyrix or AMD processor in an ASUS Pentium motherboard please consult: for more information. If you buy Cyrix you should buy a rev. 2.7 processor or later.

The ATX Form Factor

For the last several years the PC industry has been using an antiquated form factor called AT. Recently a new form factor, ATX has been introduced that will replace AT. The form factor defines properties and wiring for the power supply, as well as chassis and motherboard design. The two standards are not compatible. If you buy an AT motherboard for example, you can not mount it in an ATX case or use it with an ATX power source.

ATX introduces several new design features including:

Universal Serial Bus (USB)

Universal Serial Bus (USB): defines a single, standard connector to replace the myriad of peripheral connectors currently found in PCs such as keyboard parallel and serial ports. It has a reasonable transfer rate of 12Mbit/sec and supports up to 63 devices. Devices are hot swappable. The same connector type may eventually be used by mice, keyboards and telephony connections such as PBX, Digital phone lines and ISDN. USB Chip Set Support is integrated into the motherboard chip set. Some Triton-II motherboards have USB working via the chip marked 82371SB. The current A-1 stepping of the 82371SB chip does not fully implement this feature. The 82371SB A-1 stepping can be identified by these marks: SB, 82371 SB S U052. The B-O stepping does support USB and has the markings: SB, 82371SB S U093. Many of the 440FX and 430TX motherboards now include USB ports. See also:


Shared Memory Bus Architecture (SMBA), also called UMA (Unified Memory Architecture), allows a graphics controller to share the main memory bus. This kills 5-8% of the system performance. This is a very bad feature of 430VX chip set. It was geared toward ultra low end desktop boxes as a cost saving measure.

Alternately the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) is a better design that bypasses the PCI bus and connects directly to a new graphics bus running at 60 or 66MHz. This design shares some main system memory for 3D Z and alpha-buffering. The host processor assists with geometry, rotations, scaling, translating, lighting clipping and culling. The Graphics chip will mainly handle rendering. This will allow low cost 3D without a performance hit.


Synchronous Dynamic RAM (SDRAM)is packaged as a 3.3v DIMM that can handle 528MB/S and increases speeds by 3-7% on cacheless systems. Gains are accomplished with two equal banks allowing data to be accessed in one bank while the other is pre-charged.

Dual In-line Memory Modules (DIMMs) provide 64-bit or 72-bit (with parity) data paths per module. This is double the 32-bit (or 36-bit) data path of a current Single In-line Memory Module (SIMM). This increases memory density and will allow the use of a single module on a 64-bit bus.

Burst Extended Data Output (BEDO) is 3-7% faster than EDO memory because it allows burst access during both read and write cycles.

See our CPU and RAM page for more information.

Cache Modules

Current models of Pentium motherboards use Pipeline burst cache which is either soldered to the mother board or comes packaged in the form of a COAST (Cache On A stick) that fits into a CELP (Card Edge Low Profile) socket. These modules are defined by three major standards:
COAST 1.X which works on older ASUS P55TP4XE boards.
COAST 2.0 which has an extra pin and works on the P55TP4N.
COAST 2.1 which works on all motherboards: XE, N and Triton-II.

Your COAST module should be marked with this version number. There have been some reports of Cache problems in the past. Almost all of these errors have been due to using the wrong version of the COAST module.

Current Pentium Pro 150, 180 and 200MHz CPUs have an integrated 256K/512K L2 cache in the CPU. Thus there is no cache on the mother board. Cache is very important for SMP.

Shared Slots

"Shared" is a term that was coined to describe and ISA and PCI slot that are so close that they can not be used at the same time. This is because the PCI slots are upside-down relative to the ISA slots. Thus the back plates overlap. For Example, the P55TP4N has 3 ISA and 4 PCI slots but one pair is shared. Therefore you can only use 2 ISA and 4 PCI -or- 3ISA and 3PCI cards max.

DMI, CD-BOOT and HD Auto-detect BIOS Functions

The DMI (Desktop Management Interface) support and browser utility allows a system to be managed through network remotely.

Many new systems can now boot directly from CD-ROM. This will be used with news operating systems and for booting off game CD's.

You may also auto-detect hard disk while boot, saving configuration time

The AMI BIOS Bug is Fixed

The AMI BIOS PnP bug has been fixed thanks to the diligent efforts of AIR and AMI. AIR engineers worked closely with the AMI staff to find the bug that caused problems on many motherboards using the AMI BIOS. AIR is now releasing boards with the fixed BIOS. We have not yet received word from Intel when they will update the BIOS on their Venus motherboard.

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