Abit KG7-RAID MotherboardSep 14th, 2001 | By Archive
Abit KG7-RAID Motherboard
: 09/14/01 – 03:06:48 AM
Page 1 : Introduction
After hearing rumours about this KG7 here and there, the great moment finally came: the KG7 RAID was released to the public and a few days later I had the board up and running in the O testlabs. With the KG7, Abit has its first attempt at building a socketA motherboard featuring DDR memory. As you may or may not know, Abit plans to carry two socketA motherboards with DDR support: the KG7 which we are looking at today, and the KR7 which is still under developement and should be out within the next few weeks.
So what is the big difference between these two boards? The KG7 is equiped with AMD’s 761 northbridge while the KR7 will be using VIA’s KT266A northbridge chipset. Both motherboards will be using the VIA 686B southbridge which controls i.e. the IDE channels. Although AMD also has a southbridge available for the socketA boards, Abit decide against it probably because of the higher price tag that would come with it. By the way, since some of you are confusing the AMD760 term with the AMD761 term, let me give you a brief explanation. When reviewers like myself talk about the AMD760 chipset, it means that the motherboard we are discussing is using the AMD761 northbridge and the AMD766 southbridge. Like I said before, most manufacturers are only using the AMD761 northbridge and are taking the VIA 686B southbridge because it is cheaper. So the AMD761 is a part of the AMD760 chipset. I hope this cleared the situation :).
To conclude our introduction, I want to say something about the different versions of this motherboard. Abit has decided to release three different versions of the KG7, each targeted at its own market. The cheapest one that will be aimed at the low budget value market is called the KG7-LITE and will only have 2 memory slots instead of 4 and have no onboard RAID. The second version will be the KG7, which will have 4 memory banks but no RAID. The last and also most expensive board is the one we are looking at today and is aimed towards the high end market and power users : the KG7-RAID.
Page 2 : Specs
Let’s see what can be found underneath the hood of Abit’s new state of the art socketA mobo:
-Support AMD Athlon/Duron 700MHz ~ 1.4GHz or future Socket A Processors based on 200/266 MHz(100MHz/133MHz Double Data Rate)
-Four 184-pin DIMM sockets support up to 4 GB PC1600/PC2100 DDR SDRAM module
-SoftMenuIII Technology to set CPU parameters
-Four channels of Bus Master IDE Ports supporting up to 8 Ultra DMA 33/66/100( RAID 0 /1/0+1).
-1 AGP slot, 6 PCI slots.
-Ultra DMA 100/RAID
-High Point HTP370 IDE Controller
-AMD Socket A Based ATXMainboard Four PC1600/PC2100 DDR DRAM & RAID 0,1,1/0 SoftMenuTMIII Technology
The KG7-RAID is quite a showcase if you think about it … The board is just loaded with features and comes with almost every single gadget you can possibly think of: 4 memory slots, onboard RAID, SoftMenu III BIOS, 4 USB ports, 6 PCI slots … you name it, the KG7 has it.
Of course you can use all existing socketA processors on this motherboard, but it is also important to know that future CPUs like the upcoming AMD ‘Palomino’ Athlon will be 100% compatible with the KG7 (it is possible you need to do a BIOS upgrade though). The new Duron CPU, codenamed ‘Morgan’, works perfectly as well on the KG7 (we tested this ourselves).
Like we are used to, the KG7 comes with the popular SoftMenuIII BIOS, but I’ll tell you more about that later on.
The KG7 and the KG7-RAID are the only socketA motherboards using the AMD761 northbridge currently available which come with 4 memory slots. All the other contenders only have 2 memory slots. Why? Although it is rather complex, I will do my best to explain it in a simple way. The specifications for the AMD761 northbridge say that you can only have 4 memory banks when using non-ECC memory or 8 banks when you are using ECC memory. When you are using memory sticks with chips on both sides of the DIMM, all four banks are filled while you are only using 2 memory slots. So you can only use all four memory slots if you happen to have 4 DIMM’s with the RAM chips sitting on one side only. When using ECC memory, you can put double sided DIMM’s in all slots, good for a total of 4GB DDR RAM!!
We did try to use the board with non-ECC memory with all banks filled, and it did work but not stable. In fact as long as we kept the front side bus at 100MHz, everything worked fine, but as soon as we took it higher instabilities started to occur. We tried with mixed brands, but also with one brand only … no difference.
What cought my attention the first time I used the KG7 was the fact that you have to install your memory in the right order: you have to start from the right bank and evolve to the left side (closer to the CPU). When I first booted the KG7, I got an error message I had never seen before: apparently I had installed my DIMM’s from left to right instead of the other way round … the board kindly brought this to my attention and demanded that I reinstalled the DIMM’s. After doing that everything was ok and the board was ready to roll!
Just like the other high end motherboards from Abit, the KG7-RAID comes with an onboard RAID controller made by High Point. The controller that was used is the famous HTP370 controller and lets you connect up to 4 extra hard drives. You can choose between RAID0, RAID1 or a combination of both. Of course you can also decide not to use the RAID features and simply connect the hard drives as normal drives. No problem for the KG7 ;).
Of course Abit wouldn’t be Abit if the KG7 didn’t feature 6 PCI slots … expansion shouldn’t be a problem with this powerboard, and that is what it is … a powerboard targeted at high-end users who demand the most from their motherboard.
Page 3 : Layout
Abit has always been one of the manufacturers who listens to its audience which results in their excellent motherboard layouts (most of the time anyway). With the KG7 this is no different as it seems all components got the best possible location on the PCB.
Something which they have done different when comparing to previous Abit boards, is the location of the IDE connectors. The two first IDE channels are situated on the right side, close the the border of the board. Nothing weird here … But with the additional RAID IDE connectors, Abit took another lane. Along with the floppy connector, the RAID connectors are placed at the right bottom of the board, next to the connectors for the LED’s, powerbutton, resetswitch, … And they are not placed vertically, but horizontally. This is a good thing since putting the connectors vertically means you have to twist your IDE cable, which results in the loss of a few inches of cable and it also stands in the way of the airflow. Some folks might run into problems with the floppy and RAID connectors, especially those who use extra large cases. If you own, i.e. an AOpen HQ08 where the floppy sits at the top of the case, you’d better get an extra long floppy cable out of your closet!
To continue our layout discussion, let’s look at the memory slots. Abit has put these as close to the right side border as possible, especially since there are 4 of them. The first two memory slots will be hard to use after you installed a videocard into the AGP slot, as the card will inhibit you from opening the bottom levers. Of course this is no problem when you install the memory first, but for tweakers who like to swap out memory every now and then, this could be something to think about.
Next to the memory banks, on the left side, is the ATX power connector. Unlike other Abit boards, the connector stands vertically on the KG7. Abit did a good job with putting the connector over there so the power cable will not cross the CPU/heatsink which not only disturbs airflow, but also looks bad in modded cases (I’m thinking about window mods here).
Now that we covered almost everything about the layout, there’s still one major piece I want to talk about: the CPU socket … Since Abit is aiming towards the overclocking and power-user community with the KG7, it is obvious that these people will not install a ‘tiny’ OEM heatsink, but will opt for the better models out there like the Swiftech 462A, the Vantec CCK-6035D and the Thermaltake Dragon Orb3. Some of these monsters are pretty big (not to say huge), and with some of them you might run into troubles.
Why? Well because there are some capacitators at the bottom of the socket that are pretty close to it. This resembles the situation with the KT7(A) which also gave many people headaches … Fortunately, the KG7 has a few extra millimeters over the KT7(A) which means you should be able to install your desired heatsink … I tested the KG7 with both the Vantec and the Dragon Orb, and both fitted fine. The Dragon Orb was a tight fit but with some patience and a steady hand, everything should go fine.
Abit has chosen to equip the KG7 with no less than 4 fan headers!! Indeed four! Two are located at the CPU, one above the AGP card and the fourth one at the right bottom.
Speaking about luxury …
That’s about it for the layout peeps … do note that the KG7 comes with a bunch of HUGE capacitators that are there to make sure your rig remains 100% stable when overclocked to the max. The KG7 is lacking those annoying CNR/AMR slots which is a very good thing since noone uses these anyway … and those who do want them won’t look for a board like the KG7.
Page 4 : BIOS
The most basic form of software found on your computer is the BIOS, which is short for Basic Input Output System. With that said, be aware of the fact that the BIOS is probably the most important piece of software on your setup. Without the BIOS, your computer won’t do much besides look good because the BIOS controls all vital functions on the board. That’s why it is very important to get a stable BIOS that offers support for everything you might need and still be very user friendly.
Abit is very much aware of these needs, and ever since the release of the original SoftMenu BIOS on the BX6 and the BH6, Abit has been my favorite BIOS builder. Today we are looking at SoftMenu III, which is actually the bigger brother of the original SoftMenu, offering more features like 1MHz increments for the FSB.
The KG7 comes with the SMIII as well, and that is also one of the main reasons why we like the KG7 as much as we do. The BIOS lets you control every single function and feature available on the board, resulting in total user control. Also note that the SMIII is a true jumperless BIOS so no more jumpers or dipswitches on the board that need to be set to get the desired voltage or speed setting. What more can you ask for?
The SMIII gives the KG7 a very big overclocking potential, offering all the adjustements and settings you could ask for. You can set the front side bus to any speed you like, as long as it is a value between 100 and 200MHz. Up to now, the highest speedsetting we managed to achieve was 175MHz. At 180MHz the board would post but not boot into Windows … whether this is a memory or a chipset limitation, I am not aware of … but I’m sure you guys won’t complain with a FSB of 175MHz. Note that we had to use the slowest memory settings to achieve this kind of speed … I am aware that this means that a lower speed settings with faster memory settings will outperform the 175MHz setting, but the goal was to see how high we could run the board, and that’s what we did. As soon as faster DDR memory becomes available, I’ll give it another go.
As I said, I used the slowest memory settings available to run at 175MHz. The KG7 comes with a truckload of memory settings … and when I say truckload I really mean it.
Over 20 memory options are available!! In case you don’t know what settings are best, Abit also gives you the option to use their presets: Auto, Manual, Normal, Fast, Turbo and Ultra. Up to 140-145MHz All settings besides Ultra were usable, but as soon as we hit the 150MHz mark, the only stable setting was Auto. This lets the board control all the settings depending on your memory. Of course you can always use the Manual setting to set each value yourself, but unless you know what you are doing, I would highly suggest not using this setting. Paul’s Unofficial KG7 FAQ gives you a brief explanation of all these settings and also which one is best, as the KG7 manual does explain these functions but it does not say which value results in the best performance.
Something I found weird was the fact that the Ultra setting resulted in a blue screen every time … even when not overclocked. I hope Abit can fix this is a BIOS update as I think we’ll get another nice memory speed boost when using that setting.
Overclocking a processor or memory usually means we need to increase the voltage supplied to the overclocked components. Luckily Abit comes forward and offers several voltage options. The CPU core voltage can be increased up to 1.85v, just like any other board out there. Unfortunately this is a bit too ‘friendly’ as many users would love to see voltage increasements up to 2.05v. Of course this means supercooling like watercooling or peltiers are needed, but people who use that kind of cooling are the same ones who will buy a board like the KG7. Abit knows this too, and that is why they are planning on releasing Abit Engineered motherboards, that will offer just that. I doubt it that the KG7 will be able to become Abit Engineered with a BIOS patch, but you never know …
The I/O voltage can be set to 3.50v or 3.65v, which should be enough to get that extra speed bump but again a little more voltage would be welcome! The DDR memory voltage can be altered as well, all the way up to 3.00v!! If you are aware that the default voltage is 2.65v, it is obvious that Abit took it a bit further here … now if they did this with the other two voltage settings, all would be great :).
To conclude the BIOS talk, I want to point out that Abit also includes their usual monitor options for the voltages, temperatures, … and so on. Nothing out of the ordinary here. And one more thing: We used the KG7_33.bin BETA BIOS and the newly released BIOS that can be found on Abit’s website. The newer one did increase stability and made the KG7 a rockstable board.
Enough rambling … let’s take a look at some overclocking power shall we?
Page 5 : Overclocking
Of course this would not be an Abit board if it wouldn’t offer sweet overclocking results would it …? The AMD761 northbridge, which is used on the KG7 but was also spotted on other great overclocking boards like the EPoX 8K7A, has a great overclocking potential as many users who use boards with this chipset are reporting speeds up to 166MHz+!! Mix these speeds with DDR memory and you can bet your @ss that you will see magnificent memory numbers!
The KG7 is no different from the other AMD761 based boards, and manages to run stable up to 175MHz front side bus! Like I already said, I had to set the memory timings to the slowest available to achieve this kind of speed but I’m pretty sure that we are looking at a memory bottleneck here and not at a chipset problem. I don’t know about you guys, but I am amazed by such good overclocking results!
Abit implemented everything you need to overclock: multiplier adjustements, FSB settings in 1MHz increments, core voltage up to 1.85v, memory voltage up to 3.00v, … you name it, the KG7 got it! As I said before, I would have loved to see core voltage settings up to 2.05v but besides that the KG7 is perfect. Be aware of the fact that no motherboard currently available offers a setting over 1.85v for the cpu core voltage … so Abit is not the only one with this ‘inconvienence’.
Our test cpu reached the same speeds it was able to get on other boards, and stability was top notch according to our favorite torture program: prime95. After running this sweety for over 24 hours, I feel safe to announce that the KG7 is a rockstable motherboard when pushed to the limits.
On to the benchmarks!
Page 6 : Benchmarking
After using the board for over 3 weeks, I am pretty confident that the numbers we are presenting you below are a reflection of real-life utilisation of the KG7. Of course many benchmarks are synthetic benchmarks and can only be used to give a comparative look on the board. Enjoy the graphs peeps!
Sisoft Sandra Benchmark Suite
MadOnion 3D Mark 2001
What more can I say? The figures speak for themselves don’t they? The KG7 performs great and is on pair with its biggest contender: the EPoX 8K7A. DDR memory is showing its true powers and MadOnion’s 3D Mark 2001 seems to dig it eh ;). Also look at the memory benchmarks: I have run these at every possible (common) front side bus, switching between all the memory presets the KG7 offers. After that I re-ran all test with the CAS timing set to 2 instead of 2.5. Suprising results is the least I can say. The Crucial memory sticks runs just as good at CAS 2 as it does at CAS 2.5 … oh well, we all know that Crucial delivers great material at good prices :).
Page 7 : Conclusion
With DDR memory becoming widely available at affordable prices, motherboards using this kind of memory are becoming very popular very fast. The Abit KG7-RAID which we reviewed today is one of the most intresting DDR boards currently available, offering good performance teamed up with a wide variety of features. The BIOS offers a lot of tweaks and settings to get the most out of the board, resulting in one of the best overclocking/tweaking motherboards for the socketA platform. Since the KG7 has native support for both the Duron ‘Morgan’ and the Athlon ‘Palomino’ processors, AMD’s new breed, the KG7 offers you a good upgrade path as well. All the above linked together makes us conclude that the Abit KG7-RAID is the new king for the socketA platform and with that said it is also the first motherboard to be awarded with our very own
O Power Award
. This award means that O stands behind the product all the way for all the previous reasons, and that you won’t be dissapointed when you put down $$$ for this product.