Soltek SL-K890Pro-939 review

Price when reviewed

For all of the hype generated by nVidia’s nForce4 chipset, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was the only AMD platform available with PCI Express. But VIA makes a PCI Express chipset as well, and Soltek’s K890Pro is the first motherboard we’ve seen based on the K8T890.

Soltek SL-K890Pro-939 review

Everything about the board feels a bit conservative compared to the nForce4 Ultra-based Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-9, our current Athlon 64 board of choice. Running with the same set of components, the Soltek board managed a score of 2.09 – about 5 per cent slower than the nForce4 chipset.

However, the K8TPro-939 (Soltek’s non-PCI Express 939 board) was popular because of the overclocking options available, and the K890Pro is clearly from the same stable. It might not be as easy to overclock as nForce4 boards, with nVidia’s nTune utility, but the ability to change the memory divider ratio and memory timings through the BIOS are useful options for those who can’t resist tweaking. You’re unlikely to make up all the shortfall on the nForce4, though.

Features-wise, there’s nothing significant missing from the K890Pro, although once again it looks lacking when compared to most of the nForce4 boards that have been through our labs. There are two RAID controllers, but only two physical SATA ports for each. The Promise PDC20579 also controls one of the three Ultra ATA/133 ports, so RAID0+1 isn’t out of the question, although you won’t necessarily get the speed of an all-Serial-ATA configuration. A lone Realtek 8110 chip offers a single gigabit Ethernet socket, ruling out the board for use in a hardware firewall system. Realtek is also responsible for the eight-channel sound, which is supplied via the six 3.5mm jacks on the backplane. You’ll find both S/PDIF in and out ports – a welcome inclusion at this price.

In an increasingly common move, the legacy parallel port has been moved from the backplane to a supplied backplate, although the serial port is left in its usual place. Case-mounted USB ports are supported by a pair of USB risers, with a grand total of eight being supported by the chipset. It’s slightly annoying that these risers aren’t enclosed, as it will make installing new ports onto a board that’s already fitted in a case exceedingly fiddly. The lone FireWire riser is similarly unenclosed.

We’re underwhelmed by the slightly haphazard layout of the board too. The two USB risers are in middle of the board, two-thirds of the way down, while the floppy disk connector is set well away from the three parallel ATA ports. Likewise, one of the Serial ATA ports is offset from the other three: plug all of the backplates and a set of disks in, and you can expect a virtually unmanageable tangle of wires. Some forward planning will be needed before you start building a system around this board.

But the trouble for the Soltek is that for just £9 more you can buy the Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-9, which is not only significantly faster, but far better featured.

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