Special Thanks to Bighammer & MS of Home of Lost Circuits for their extensive research on the P5A Thanks a million guys ;)

1998 has been the year of returns to the lime light for computer hardware manufacturers, S3, Matrox and Number Nine have made their presence known once again and, following in the footsteps of their video counterparts, ASUS has accomplished a successful comeback in the Socket-7 Motherboard Arena. 

Is the Super7 standard dead now that Intel's Celeron boasts 128KB of integrated L2 cache?  Not completely, and if you are set on a Super7 system, for whatever reason, ASUS has the solution you may be looking for. 


Anand Tech Report Card Rating
95/A

Motherboard Specifications

CPU Interface Socket-7
Chipset ALi Aladdin V
L2 Cache 512KB
Form Factor ATX - P5A
AT - P5A-B
Bus Speeds 66 / 68 / 75 / 83 / 95 / 100 / 105 / 110 / 115 / 120 MHz
Clock Multipliers 1.5x - 5.0x
Voltages Supported 2.0v - 3.5v (0.1v increments)
Memory Slots 3 168pin DIMM Slots (EDO/SDRAM)
Expansion Slots 1 AGP Slot
5 PCI Slots (5 Full Length) - P5A
3 PCI Slots (3 Full Length)
P5A-B
2 ISA Slots (1 Shared / 1 Full Length) - P5A/
P5A-B
BIOS Award BIOS

The Good

Available in two distinct flavors, the Baskin Robbins of Motherboards, ASUS provides their latest Super7 motherboard in both an ATX and AT form factor.  The ATX version, named the P5A, features a desirable 5/2/1 expansion slot configuration (PCI/ISA/AGP) with all slots capable of accepting full length cards, although the first ISA slot lies directly in the path of the front panel connectors.   The P5A-B, the P5A's AT counterpart, is available in a Baby AT layout which supports a mere 3 PCI slots, 2 ISA and of course, the single AGP slot.  The beauty of both layouts, once again, is their ability to hold full length peripheral cards in virtually all slots, a problem present in quite a few Super7 mainboards.  ASUS P5A

Both boards feature 3 DIMM slots which allow for memory expansion, officially, up to 768MB of SDRAM.  Unfortunately, the current design of the ALi Aladdin V Chipset only allows for the first 128MB of RAM to be cached, meaning anything above that would end up slowing you down more than it could possible speed you up.  As stated, the P5A/-B is based on the ALi Aladdin V Chipset which is one of the two official Super7 chipsets on the market currently.  The Aladdin V supports virtually all of the same features as the VIA MVP3 chipset (with the exception of the ability to run your SDRAM at your AGP clock, a feature which isn't present among Aladdin V boards) including a full implementation of AGP 2X support.  Using the latest drivers and patches, the tests on the P5A completed with outstanding success, something which was once thought to be impossible on a non-Intel AGP board.

The initial setup of the P5A wasn't a problem at all, generally speaking, the jumper setup on Aladdin V boards is usually much less complex than that on MVP3 based boards simply because of the differences in features.   Using ASUS' beautifully designed User's Manual, which aids you in the installation of your new motherboard with multiple diagrams and clear pictures, the jumper settings were plainly described with their relative positions illustrated quite accurately.   Using the User's Manual, or even the markings on the P5A's printed circuit board, a wide variety of core voltage selections were made possible.  Stepping through the 2.0v to 3.5v range in 0.1v increments makes the P5A a definite overclocker's choice, and the ability to up the I/O voltage to 3.6v for added stability makes the P5A a unique board in the making. 

While higher FSB frequencies have been absent on all Aladdin V boards until now, the P5A (as well as its AT counterpart) bring to the table a massive selection of FSB speeds ranging from 60MHz to 133MHz.  More specifically, the P5A supports, albeit unofficially, FSB settings including 105/110/115/120/125/133MHz.  Unfortunately the last two settings, 125/133MHz aren't stable enough to be considered viable options for normal operation.  If you do choose to take advantage of the higher overclocked settings, you will want to uncap the jumper labeled "oftest" as it raises the I/O voltage to dangerously high levels as discovered by Bighammer and MS in their initial review of the P5A.   To top things off, as any good Super7 motherboard should, the P5A supports clock multipliers up to 5.0x for a well rounded feature set (also to take advantage of the clock-unlocked K6-2 processors AMD has been shipping since day one).

The stability of the P5A couldn't have been any better, it remains competitive with the best of them in terms of overall performance and reliability.  The board itself was designed to make efficient use of the electrolytic capacitors that did make it into the design, as they surround the key components of the PCB such as the Socket-7 interface and the DIMM slots.  Overall, a well designed successor to the age old T2P4 that raised so much commotion about overclocking in the days of the 430HX chipset.

The Bad

In spite of its great layout, the P5A's positioning of the FSB selection jumpers requires the removal of any AGP cards which may occupy the board's AGP slot in order to alter the settings.  This can be a pain, especially during the trial and error period when you're trying to figure out which overclocked setting will work best for you.

On a more interesting note, the P5A didn't come with a Clear CMOS Jumper soldered onto the motherboard, so you're going to have to either pop the battery out of its socket or simply unplug the ATX power supply and do it the old fashioned way.  In either situation, it is definitely an odd thing to leave out. 

The final complaint for ASUS new Super7 boards is directed towards the P5A-B whose poor expansion slot configuration (3/2/1) virtually takes the board out of the race for best overall AT Super7, leaving the P5A to take in the benefits of being such a well made motherboard.

 


USB Compatibility

  • Number of Universal Serial Bus Root Ports: 2

  • USB IRQ Enable/Disable in BIOS: Yes

  • USB Keyboard Support in BIOS: Yes

 


Recommended SDRAM

Recommended SDRAM: Mushkin CAS-2 PC100 SDRAM; Memory Man PC100 SDRAM
SDRAM Tested: 1 x 64MB Mushkin CAS-2 PC100 SDRAM; 1 x 64MB Memory-Man PC100 SDRAM

Manufacturer: Mushkin Memory
Purchase Web-Site: http://www.mushkin.com

Manufacturer: The Memory Man
Purchase Web-Site: http://www.memory-man.com

 


The Test

In recent times, choosing a motherboard cannot be completely determined by a Winstone score. Now, many boards come within one Winstone point of each other and therefore the need to benchmark boards against each other falls. Therefore you shouldn't base your decision entirely on the benchmarks you see here, but also on the technical features and advantages of this particular board, seeing as that will probably make the greatest difference in your overall experience.

How I Tested

  • Each benchmark was run a minimum of 2 times and a maximum of 5 times, if the motherboard failed to complete a single test within the 5 allocated test runs the OS/Software was re-installed on a freshly formatted Hard Drive and the BIOS settings were adjusted to prevent the test from failing again.  All such encounters were noted at the exact time of their occurrence.

  • Business Winstone 98 & 3D Winbench 98 was run at each individually tested clock speed, if reliable scores were achieved with the first two test runs of the suite an average of the two was taken and recorded as the final score at that clock speed.  If the test system displayed erratic behavior while the tests were running or the results were incredibly low/high the tests were re-run up to 5 times and an average of all the test runs was taken and recorded at the final score at that clock speed

  • All video tests were conducted using an AGP video accelerator

  • No foreign drivers were present in the test system other than those required for the system to function to the best of its ability

  • All foreign installation files were moved to a separate partition during the test as to prevent them from effecting the test results

  • All tests were conducted at 1024 x 768 x 16-bit color

  • 3D Winbench 98 tests were double buffered and conducted at 800 x 600 x 16-bit color

Test Configuration

Processor(s): AMD K6-2 333 AFR
Intel Pentium MMX 233
Cyrix M-II 300
RAM: 1 - 64MB Mushkin CAS-2 PC100 SDRAM DIMM
1 - 64MB Memory Man PC100 SDRAM DIMM
Hard Drive(s): Western Digital Caviar AC35100 - UltraATA
Video Card(s): Matrox Millennium G200 (8MB SGRAM - AGP)
Bus Master Drivers: Microsoft Win98 DMA Drivers
Video Drivers: MGA Millennium G200 Release 1677-411
Operation System(s): Windows 98
Motherboard Revision(s): ASUS P5A 1.03 / ASUS P5A-B 1.03

 

Ziff Davis Winstone - Windows 95 Performance

Winstone 98
Business
AMD K6-2 300 - 100MHz x 3.0 23.9
AMD K6-2 300 - 66MHz x 4.5 20.4
AMD K6-2 315 - 105MHz x 3.0 24.5
AMD K6-2 330 - 110MHz x 3.0 24.5
AMD K6-2 333 - 95MHz x 3.5 24.2
AMD K6-2 345 - 115MHz x 3.0 24.8
Intel Pentium MMX 233 - 66MHz x 3.5 18.8
Cyrix M-II 300 66MHz x 3.5 21.3

 


The Final Decision

As long as you're not limiting yourself to the VIA MVP3 Chipset, the ASUS P5A easily carries its weight among the three most recommended ATX Super7 Motherboards.  How well will the sales of the PA-2013 and the Photon 100HC fare now that the P5A is a part of the show?  There is no way to predict, but be aware of the fact that ASUS has done a tremendous job with their newly released Super7 line of motherboards.  Let's just hope that the release of the P5A/-B isn't too late to help AMD's K6-2 sales.

 

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