ATI’s often-overlooked chipsets for the Athlon 64 CPUs got a serious lift this summer when AMD bought the Canadian graphics company. While we can’t guarantee that Nvidia will continue to support AMD in two years, we can predict that ATI is likely to support its new master. That’s a good thing for ECS’ KA3 MVP Extreme board.
The board uses ATI’s existing CrossFire Xpress 3200 north bridge, with a new SB600 south bridge. The board is priced as a budget mobo but boasts several non-budget features. The Xpress 3200 chipset includes dual x16 PCI Express slots, and does it using a single chip instead of the two that nVidia requires.
It’s amazing how tiny and cool the CrossFire Xpress 3200 chip is. The board also includes an “anti-burn” LED to let you know when it’s safe to pull the RAM, as well as LEDs to let you know when the PCI cards are firmly in place. ECS even bundles a spare BIOS chip that you can clip to the existing BIOS, if you fry it. The biggest cut is in the LAN department: This board sports just one Gigabit Ethernet port—the second port runs at a mere 100Mb/s.
But performance is what really matters, and that’s where the KA3 MVP Extreme lags slightly behind the two nForce boards. (Full disclosure time: We tested using a single GeForce 7900 GTX card to provide as apples-to-apples a test as possible, and the nVidia chipset might be better optimized for nVidia videocards in gaming benchmarks.) The only major hit is in hard drive performance. The KA3 MVP Extreme operated at a 7 percent deficit in PC Mark 2005’s drive benchmark. ATI’s original SB450 had a good reputation for disk I/O, so the slowdown surprised us. PC Mark isn’t the definitive test for hard drive performance, so we’ll delve deeper and report back.
While CrossFire isn’t our cup of tea, the KA3 MVP Extreme holds its head up high for the AMD/ATI crowd.
Month Reviewed: November 2006
+ MIKE AND IKE: A full dual x16 chipset without the heat; Nvidia, take heed.
- GOOD & PLENTY: Weak hard drive performance hurts teh KA3 MVP Extreme's rating.