Shuttle AK31V20: What The Reviews Don't Tell You

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UPDATE 8/15/01:

AK31V20 What The Reviewers Don’t Tell You: Update

Thanks to a very astute reader (icherub) you can find the S907 BIOS here. It’s only on Shuttle’s ftp site.

It also appears I upset at least one reviewer – this is an email I received:

“Subject: There is no such thing as a freebie shuttle motherboard, they get them all back
Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2001 16:23:24 -0500
From: Chris Tom – AMD Zone
To: John R. Abaray

Typically motherboard makers give out newer versions of their bios to reviewers that are not thoroughly tested. When they are tested they are released to the net. Otherwise you have a potential nightmare. If you only release the new bios to the reviewers and problems crop up then you don’t have thousands of people to deal with. That is the way it is done, and has been for the 2 years I’ve been reviewing Athlon boards.”

This is my reply:

“Subject: Re: there is no such thing as a freebie shuttle motherboard, they get them all back
Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2001 18:23:28 -0500
From: John R. Abaray
To: Chris Tom – AMD Zone

What I am saying Chris is you don’t have to buy it to test it. So what if you have to send it back. Not so about bios. There are beta bios releases all the time. You can always find the new beta bios for Asus at their .de site. S907 is at the Shuttle ftp site if anybody wants it. You just have to dig for it.

Also a lot of reviewers never mentioned the S907 bios. This lead users to believe they could get the same alu/fpu numbers. A question of honesty or lack of detail?

Like your site and wish you well. Know your caught in the revenue crunch like everyone else.

Chill out Chris nothing personal.

John”

Since Chris posts new BIOS releases at his Socket A site, I thought I would let him know S907 is available. It’s no secret Chris is between a rock and a hard spot these days, so it’s understandable he’s a bit overly sensitive. He’s asking for donations, so help him out if you can.

Chris did post a link to one of my articles – Thanks Chris! Oh well, no more links to my articles.

John R. Abaray

First Words

I am not easily impressed or prone to exaggeration. I’ll tell you right up front: this is a very fast board. At this time, it easily outperforms the expensive Big Brand boards in the memory Alu/Fpu area. I’ll also tell you right up front, if you push it over the edge, it will bite you.

New technology requires new learning. There are no shortcuts. You don’t get something for nothing.

Early this year, I bought a A7V133 because it was obvious the new DDR boards were poor performers with expensive RAM. That was then and this is now. The KT133a chipset is fading into history and DDR memory is cheap as dirt.

The newer DDR boards are starting to show the potential of DDR memory. The Shuttle AK31V20 is one of them. I feel the best it yet to come but, I wanted to learn about DDR boards and the AK31V20 looked most promising.

Reviewers

I have a problem with reviewers: When a hot board hits the market everybody does a review. Most all use the same cookie cutter format; pages of pictures and specs I’ve already gotten from the manufacturer’s site. It’s what I call filler material.

What I look for is the test setup and benchmarks. A lot of the reviews don’t let me jump ahead to the part I want and I have to go through pages of the same old stuff. Many times the test setup lacks the detail I’m looking for.

There is little or no information on the problems they experienced. They also like to do a little bit of meaningless nitpicking so it seems like they are impartial. In the end, you have seventy to eight percent filler and twenty or thirty percent of somewhat useful information.

There are two sides to this coin. On one side, the reviewer has a limited time to spend on a board before moving on. They can’t spend three weeks beating up on a board like I have. Actually the board beat up on me most of the time until I got onto it.

On the other side is the all to familiar phrase “Politically Correct”. It was always there; however, with the ever increasing revenue crunch on hardware sites, it is coming into play more than before. “If you don’t say good things about my mobo, no more freebie mobo for you to test”.

What You Need To Know

There are the original, poor performing versions of this board still floating around in the marketplace. It wouldn’t surprise me if some buyers got burned thinking they got the new version. If you look in the lower left hand corner, you will see in small white letters AK31V20. This is the one you want.

When the new version came out, rumors began circulating that some reviewers were getting a superBIOS not available in the retail version. It turned out to be true. With my usual resourcefulness, I managed to get a copy. There was no mention of this by the reviewers, with the recent exception of a review at Penstarsys.com; he also says not to ask him for a copy¹.

While it is was no secret to those in the know, I wonder if Shuttle is going to be happy with him saying it. Maybe no more freebie mobo for him. It’s easy to tell which reviewer has this bios by the alu/fpu numbers. If the numbers are in the 700/900 range, this is what they are using.

I sent an email to Shuttle requesting this BIOS but received no reply. It’s circulating over at AMDMB forum, and if you ask for it in a nice way, I’m sure you”ll get it. Use it at your own risk. It’s the S907 BIOS. Shuttle has sent a BIOS to some of those requesting it, but it’s a different BIOS named S20B. At this time, S907 hasn’t been released. In the future? Your guess is as good as mine.

On To The Next One

If you are new to DDR your going to have to do some rethinking as to BIOS settings, stability, and performance. For months I’ve been reading every article I could find on DDR memory.

I thought I understood what they said, but I really didn’t know what they meant.

Actually, it was only after installing my OS for about the seventh time I figured out there was something I didn’t know and needed to know. I found it at LostCircuits – an excellent article on high performance DDR memory, and my suggestion is you read it at least twice. It’s written by Michael Schuette, who is an engineer for Mushkin – I read it three times.

Aggressive Memory Settings

If you use the 1T command at high FSB speeds when you’re maxing the board out, it will bite you. I’ve lost data with crashes when maxing out a board, but not like this. I found the contents of my hard drive scattered from one end to the other, with severe corruption of the registry and, at times, everything in between.

I thought I could get around this by making a backup copy of the registry, but I soon found out it didn’t work. There was no way around it. Format and install time.

Initially, I thought I could get around it with a BIOS tweak. What lead me astray was I could benchmark with SiSoft Sandra no problem, but 3dMark would crash every time. Not only was the registry corrupted, but 3DMark would also be corrupted and unusable. The same thing would happen when I tried to use Quake timedemo.

Low Memory Scores in SiSoft Sandra

One reason could be you have ECC checking enabled in Advanced BIOS settings. Disable it and you will see an instant improvement.

Your FSB speeds may be limited by the type of memory you have, and I don’t mean brand names. If you get a 256mb double sided stick (chips back to back), it will not run as fast as a single sided stick regardless of CAS rating. The easiest way to explain it is you are adding additional capacitance.

If you fill all the DIMM slots, it will also limit the FSB speed. You’re adding all the trace lengths. With a 128mb single sided stick (in the first slot), I was able to get all the way to 166FSB by disabling four bank interleave and all the memory settings backed off. It was interesting, but not useful, because I could get much higher memory scores at lower FSB speeds with four bank interleave enabled.

It is my understanding there will be a single sided 256mb stick available in the near future. How good it will be I don’t know.

AGP Wait States

If you want to get the most out of this board, your BIOS knowledge will be tested. This can be a little tricky. In some cases, AGP master 1ws read and write, when enabled, will give you one wait state. Pc 11 and 12 master 0 ws write, when enabled, will give you no wait state. Just the opposite.

Read the manual before you change anything. I did best at high FSB speeds with no wait states. If all this sounds confusing, just use 133 FSB and take the time to educate yourself. You will still get reasonably good performance.

Failsafe Mode

A few surprises if you don’t pay attention:

  • It disables the floppy so you will have to go back into BIOS and enable it if you want to use a Win 98 boot disk.
  • ECC checking is also enabled, which will hurt your memory scores.
  • The virus warning is enabled, so it will go off when loading Windows.
Last Words

This was going to be part of another article I’m working on, but I thought if I passed this on now, there may be those who could use it sooner rather than later.

I have an R&D background in an unrelated field – once a Lab Rat, always a Lab Rat. I do this because I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. With my background, I know there is a price to be paid for knowledge. Unlike some of my R&D peers, I believe in sharing my experience.

No, I am not a latent masochist. This is what I enjoy doing, although it may sound crazy to some of you.

If you want to get your board performing at a level of excellence, I suggest you take what I’ve told you seriously if you want to save yourself some grief. To quote an old cliche “You have been warned”.

John R. Abaray

NOTE: The views expressed herein are those of the author, an independent contributor, and not those of Overclockers.com or its staff.

¹“The BIOS is perhaps the most interesting part of this board. Since the board is essentially jumperless, all settings need to be accessed through the BIOS. This is probably one of the most well-apportioned BIOS I have had the experience of working with. My particular board came with the 907 BIOS, which is not listed on Shuttle’s site. This particular BIOS allows complete control over the memory timings, and gives the user ample room to make this board extremely unstable! Most of these boards come with the older 207 BIOS which does not allow as much flexibility, so it is good to watch out for this. I am not sure what Shuttle’s policy is for this BIOS, so please don’t ask me to provide the 907!!!”

Source: Page 2 of the Penstarsys.com review.

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