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    The chipset market for Intel processors has had a very interesting history as of late. For the 66 and 100 MHz FSB (front-side bus) processors, Intel remains the performance leader with their aging BX chipset, but has been superceded somewhat by VIA in the features department. Intel continued to release new chipsets, like the i810, i810E and i820, but they did not receive the enthusiastic response of previous offerings. Both the i810 and i810E are positioned as integrated solutions, so they aren't exactly getting the performance crowd too excited. The i820 is actually a very good performer with a robust feature set, but it's tied to the expensive RDRAM memory. Intel did design a SDRAM memory translator hub for the i820, but a stability issue forced a recall of many of those motherboards.

    This really backed Intel into a corner, and VIA Technologies was more than happy to fulfill the market need for a new chipset with current features and technology. Their Apollo Pro 133 chipset burst onto the scene with features like ATA-66 and a true PC133 memory speed. The ability to run your processor at a 133 MHz FSB with standard AGP and PCI speeds was the most compelling reason to move to the VIA platform. With the next revision of the chipset, the Apollo Pro 133A, AGP 4X was added to complete the feature set.

    To help combat the VIA competition, Intel finally released the long-awaited i815 and i815E chipsets. Both are Intel SDRAM chipsets with full support for 66, 100 and 133 MHz FSB speeds. The i815E has simply been “Enhanced” to support emerging technologies like ATA-100, along with adding a few other features over the i815, such as quad USB ports. The most noticeable difference between the Intel and VIA Technologies offerings is that Intel seems to only support the FC-PGA processor format with either of the i815 chipsets, while VIA allows either Slot 1 or FC-PGA formats (or both) using their Apollo Pro 133 chipsets. This might not be a big deal if you are buying an entire i815 system, but should be noted by those who currently own a Slot 1 Pentium III and who may want to try it out on a new PC133 motherboard.

    If Slot 1 is more your style, there are a wealth of VIA Apollo Pro 133 and 133A choices out there. The ASUS P3V4X and ABIT VT6X4 certainly head the list, but other mainstream companies like MSI, Soyo and Iwill also produce competitive Apollo Pro 133A boards. Tyan even goes one step further and incorporates both the Slot 1 and FC-PGA interfaces into their Tyan S1854 Trinity 400 motherboard. Added to this list is the AOpen AX64 Pro, a Slot 1 solution supporting Slot 1 processors natively, and FC-PGA processors through the use of a Slocket adapter. The AX64 Pro follows AOpen's successful AX63 Pro, which was based on the older Apollo Pro 133 chipset.

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