SOYO 6BA +IV - A Contender

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Joe reviewed this board about a week ago (Below). I reviewed the Soyo SY6BA +III a couple of months ago HERE. PC Nut was nice enough to send one here for me to put through a tourture test and see if what I found on the SY6BA +III still held true.

The Test:

I own an Intel Engineering sample unlocked PII 400. This will run at any multiplier down to 2, letting me run some amazing bus speeds with the processor staying very stable. I have a stick of Corsair PC133, also provided by PC Nut that has run stable on the Asus P3B-F at 150 MHz bus speed.

I setup the board with a Western Digital 10.2 gig ATA 66 5400 RPM drive on the ATA 66 controller. Installed a Leadtek TNT2 card and Soundblaster Live Value and set the PII 400 at a bus speed of 140 and a 3x Multiplier. Booted into Windows just fine and ran Quake II Demo loop for 2 hours. So, I thought “why not?” Set the bus speed at 150 and the multiplier at 2.5x, booted into Windows just fine, loaded Quake II Demo loop and immediately had video problems. At 150 Bus, the AGP was at 100 MHz! I booted back in at 140 MHz bus, set the Leadtek TNT2 for 110 core and 120 Memory (Was at 125 and 140), rebooted the machine at 150 Bus, loaded Quake II Demo loop and let it run all night and let Prime 95 run all day today. Tried 155 Mhz bus tonight and it is not totally stable. Will run Quake II Timedemo for about 2 hrs, then will lock up – probably video card.

Conclusion:

Soyo does it again! This test says a lot for ALL the components in this system! 150 MHz bus stressed them all to their max. I had NO trouble at all with the ATA 66 controller and the board experienced no instability at even 150 MHz Bus speed!

Joe’s Review 10/7/99:

PC nut was kind enough to send us the latest BX board from SOYO – the 6BA+IV. This latest evolution of the 6BA line now includes support for ATA 66 hard drives. The following review will concentrate on my experiences with setting up and using this board from an overclockers perspective (what else?).

OVERCLOCKING FEATURES

The SOYO BIOS includes both bus speed (27 total) and voltage settings – the fundamental overclocking tools. However, the voltage can only be varied up to 10% over spec speed. I have not heard of a way to bump this higher as some do with ABIT boards, so 10% is it. The bus speed settings allow many choices (see listing below) and are linked to PCI dividers such that the PCI will range between 31 to 41 MHz – there is no option to vary the PCI independently of bus frequencies (Go HERE for detailed specs).

In addition, BIOS settings are available to vary the L2 cache latency settings and to protect the CPU from overheating. This latter feature is (I think) a first – if the CPU exceeds a temperature you set in BIOS, it slows the CPU down (sort of like engaging Waterfall or CPU Idle) so it generates less heat. For those of you that leave your PCs unattended for long periods of time, this could be a life-saver.

Temperature monitoring through Intel’s thermal diode is a built in feature as well as system monitoring. CPU thermal diode monitoring is so important to me that not having such a capability is a serious negative. What better way to evaluate your cooling efficiency than to see what’s happening inside the CPU, a key tool to determine what lapping is doing for you, for example.

This board includes support for ATA 66 drives. There are four slots for drives – you can have 8 ATA 33 drives or 4 ATA 33s and 4 ATA 66s, or 6 ATA33s and 2 ATA 66s. Note that if you use SCSI drives the BIOS will boot the ATA 66s before the SCSIs. I think you will see more boards with this mixed support for 8 drives. SOYO includes one ATA 66 cable and an ATA 33 and floppy cable with clips that hold them securely to the sockets – a nice touch. Installing the ATA 66 drivers was simple; however, you will see yellow exclamation marks in Device Manager before installing the drivers. You must install the ATA 66 drivers, delete the items with the yellow exclamation marks, restart and everything will be OK.

One complaint – the BX chip cooler (the “greenie”) has no thermal grease. I took it off and decided to lap it to see how flat these are. As I took off the green paint, I could see that the middle of the heatsink was concave enough so that using it without grease resulted in very little contact with the chip. I lapped it, applied grease and put it back on – I suggest at least applying grease as a matter of routine for all the “greenies” out there.

Finally, the paper manual was adequate for setting up the board, but the CD Manual was very good. There are explanations of many BIOS settings which help in better understanding what each setting can do for you.

SETUP

This is where I had some problems. Try as I might I could not get this board to light up – the board had power, the drives spun up but no video. I proceeded to change video cards, ram, CPUs and reseating all a number of times – same thing. Then I used an old ISA VGA card and the screen comes alive. Then I tried a Matrox Mystique PCI card and all is OK. Apparently the AGP slot is defective and the board is going back. However, this did not prevent me from using and performing a number of tests with the PCI video card.

UPDATE: Turns out the AGP Port was defective – PC Nut got a new board to me in 36 hours – nice!

I then tried to install the SOYO over a W98 version that was used for an ABIT BH6 and consequently had ABIT board drivers installed. Many problems – this is not the way to do this. I have had no problems installing newer ABIT boards this way, but I can’t recommend this approach with different manufacturers. My normal approach is to go into SYSTEM DEVICES and delete all the entries except Plug and Play, shut down, install the new board and reboot (obviously I violated this – wanted to see what would happen). Windows then installs the new drivers. I tried this retroactively but with no success.

The problems I had were not solvable (at least not by me) so I did a clean install of W98 SE. If you are faced with this, plan ahead: I partition my drives so that the OS has its own partition with programs and data on other partitions. This allows you to do a clean install of the OS without wiping out all data and programs. All you have to do after the install is reinstall the programs and usually it will not wipe the data or settings you have. Of course, before doing this always back-up your data, just in case.

Installing the CPU revealed a serious design flaw: The clearance between the Slot 1 retainer and the first DIMM slot is only 2 ¼ inches – this means that any large cooler, (Alpha P125, P3, Alpha PFH6035 and Global Win FDP32) will block at least one DIMM slot. In contrast, for example, the ABIT BX6-2’s clearance is 3 5/8 inches – no problems for large coolers. Considering that this board is squarely aimed at overclockers, this is a serious drawback for anyone intending to use all four DIMM slots – could be a deal killer.

RESULTS

After finally getting a clean install of W98 SE, I then proceeded to see what the SOYO could do. In testing the board, I used two CPUs: An SL2QG C266 week 26 and SL36C C366 week 25, both Malaysian. Both of these used ALPHA coolers, the C266 a P125 and the C366 an Alpha PFH 6035 with a slotket. The temps are from the thermal diode as reported by Motherboard Monitor (4.10) – the clock generator is IC Works 196. The Winbond chip also reports system temp and with Motherboard Monitor you can get a third temp report, but I have no idea where this temp is coming from – if anyone can tell me I would appreciate it.

UPDATE: Martin Levac tells me it is the temp of the Winbond chip. It is totally useless as it reads 50 C when the mobo is not even in a case…this is not system temp.

CELERON 266 SL2QG (LAPPED)

I chose this CPU to try out higher bus speeds. I was not disappointed. The following lists the bus speeds and thermal diode temps that were attained running Prime 95:

266 MHz @ 29 C
400 MHz @ 33 C
448 MHz @ 34 C
460 MHz @ 34 C
474 MHz @ 35 C

The C266 ran at 22 C at rest with Waterfall running. I used Soft FSB for all these settings @ 2.0 volts. I could make 488 but not stable (yet – have to play with this) even at 10% over spec voltage. Everything ran super cool and I had no problems varying bus speeds. I used Viking PC100 and it was super stable – I’m sure I could take it to 133 MHz if I had a chip to get there. Where the SOYO shines is in the selection of bus speeds – there are enough discrete speeds to get the max out of whatever chip you are running. This is in distinct contrast to the ABIT BX6-2 which has a 7 MHz gap between 117 and 124. The SDRAM controller is spec’d to 133 MHz, so there is plenty of growth potential.

CELERON 366 SL36C

I got a pair of these from PC Nut – real cherries! What I liked about the SOYO is that when you change CPUs, it does not force you into BIOS to change settings as do the ABITs. BIOS recognizes the new CPU and continues with the bus setting that you had before – a nice feature when you change out CPUs on a regular basis. I did not run as many bus speeds as for the C266 – I wanted to see what top speed I could hit. The following lists the bus speeds and thermal diode temps that were attained running Prime 95:

366 MHz @ 30.5 C
578 MHz @ 36.0 C

With the SOYO, I could get to 604 but not stable, even at 10% over spec voltage. I could not do this with the ABIT BX6-2 due to the gap in bus speeds between 103 and 112. At rest the C366 does 22 C cooled by the Alpha PFH 6035 (blocks one DIMM slot). Both of these tests were run at an ambient temp of 23 C. I was very pleased with this performance and feel that the SOYO may take you to stable speeds that few other boards can match.

CAUTION

SOYO include three programs with this board: Norton Anti Virus, Norton Ghost and a Virtual CD program (allows you to load a CD onto the hard drive and run it from the hard drive). After installing the virtual CD program, I could get W98 SE to boot only in SAFE mode – I kept getting this error message: “write fault error writing device AUX.” I had to reformat the C drive and reinstall W98 to get it running again. Maybe it’s me, maybe I did something wrong, but be careful with this one. The Norton programs are super – I just bought Ghost last week for $49, so seeing this as a SOYO freebie killed me!

CONCLUSIONS

The SOYO allowed me to run CPUs at higher speeds than my ABITs due to a more robust offering of bus speeds. I think the SOYO has an edge on features compared to the latest BX based ABITs. ATA 66 capable, able to support eight drives, thermal diode monitoring, super Norton software, voltage changes in BIOS (although only to 10% over spec), lots of bus speeds – what more could you ask for? SPACE FOR LARGE CPU COOLERS!!!

Folks, I am in a quandary about this board – I don’t need four DIMM slots, but with some coolers you are effectively limited to two slots. If this doesn’t bother you, or you are using a cooling solution that fits in less than 2 ¼ inches, the SOYO is a powerful choice. I can easily use this with the KryoTech Renegade, but for others with large CPU Coolers – up to you.

If I had to choose between the ABIT BE6 and the SOYO 6BA +IV, I’d go for the SOYO even considering the DIMM problem – this board supports more features than the ABIT. But the blocked DIMM slots still gets me.

Thanks again to PC Nut for letting us play with this and being a stand-up guy.

Reference Documents

IC Works datasheets for Bus Speed (W196) and SDRAM Controller (W40S11-23) chips.
WinBond datasheet for Temp Monitoring (W83782D) chip.

SOYO BUS SPEEDS

66 / 75 / 81 / 83 / 90 / 95 / 100 / 105 / 110 / 112 / 113 / 115 / 117 / 118 / 120 / 122 / 124 / 126 / 133 / 135 / 137 / 138 / 140 / 142 / 144 / 150 and last but not least – 155 MHz


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