FIC seemed to hold the AMD K6 market with the release of two VIA VP2 based motherboards, however a lack of support for the 83.3MHz bus speed and quality control problems eventually prevented the PA-2007 or PA-2011 from becoming the most popular Socket-7 Motherboard.  Instead, they took a backseat to many faster and more stable TX based motherboards including FIC's own PT-2007 as well as Shuttle's 56x series.  Nevertheless FIC pretty much dominated the VP2 market...until now.  With the release of the AMD640 chipset, a solution derived closely from VIA's Apollo VP2 Chipset a competitor to Intel's TX Chipset and superior to it in many respects, Shuttle quickly announced their work on a AMD640 based motherboard called the HOT-601.  Back in July the HOT-601 was renamed the HOT-603, however we still didn't see the mass produced model we expected.  Many gave up on the thought of ever owning an elusive HOT-603 and went out and bought other more popular TX motherboards, however to those that waited the final arrival of the HOT-603, as expected, has taken us all by storm.  Or has it?


Motherboard Specifications

Socket Style: Socket 7
Chipset: AMD640 (VIA Apollo VP2)
Cache: 1024KB
Form Factor: AT (w/ AT & ATX PS Connectors)
BUS Speeds: 50 / 55 / 60 / 66 / 75 / 83 MHz
Clock Multipliers: 1.5x / 2.0x / 2.5x / 3.0x / 3.5x / 4.0x / 4.5x / 5.0x / 5.5x
Voltages Supported: 2.1v / 2.8v / 2.9v / 3.2v / 3.3v / 3.52v
RAM Slots: 4 72pin SIMM Slots (EDO/FPM)
2 168pin DIMM Slots (SDRAM/EDO/FPM)
PCI/ISA Slots: 4 PCI Slots
3 ISA Slots (1 Shared / 1 Full Length)
BIOS: AWARD PnP BIOS
PCI EIDE Controller: Super I/O
2 EIDE Channels
1 FDD Channel
2 Serial /1 EPP

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The Good

Shuttle has been recognized numerous times for producing products that excel in quality, performance, as well as the features they provide the user with.  Following in the footsteps of its ancestors, the newly released Shuttle HOT-603 (more or less) boasts excellent quality, performance, and definitely a knockout feature set.

The most highly anticipated Socket-7 Chipset of this year was most likely the AMD640 chipset, unfortunately manufacturing problems and conflicts between AMD and the original equipment manufacturer of the chipset VIA caused the actual implementation of the chipset to be delayed for quite some time.  If you aren't already aware of the fact, the AMD640 chipset is nothing more than an OEM version of the highly acclaimed VIA Apollo VP2 chipset, which is at the heart of the Shuttle HOT-603.  The AMD640 chipset, seen here in all of its glory, provides for the HOT-603's "Pentium II like" feature-set.  This amazing feature-set includes, a cacheable memory area of 512MB (equivalent to the cacheable memory area on a single processor Pentium II system), support for SDRAM, support for UltraDMA Hard Drives with a theoretical transfer rate of 33.3MB/s, support for Linear Burst mode for use with Cyrix/IBM processors, and advanced power management support identical to that found in Intel's TX chipset.  And unlike some other "competitors of the Intel chipset" the performance of the AMD640 (or the VIA VP2) is more or less on par with that of a TX based motherboard.  The 1MB of onboard L2 cache gives the Shuttle HOT-603 the extra edge over the competition, especially when using > 96MB of RAM in memory intensive applications such as Photoshop or NT environments.  Although the AMD640 theoretically supports up to 2MB of L2 cache, Shuttle doesn't provide for this with the HOT-603 making 1MB the absolute limit...ah well =)

The layout and manufacturing quality of the HOT-603 isn't the best it could be, however it is above the "average" for a product of this caliber.  Shuttle is the type of manufacturer that won't stop at the bare minimum when producing a motherboard, this philosophy is evident with the HOT-603.   For an AT motherboard Shuttle managed to pack the 603 with 4 PCI slots and 3 ISA slots in addition to the 4 SIMM and 2 DIMM slots.  Yes, that's TWO DIMM slots!   Although the manual and Shuttle's website mentions that the HOT-603 comes with 3 DIMM slots the model that was tested was only equipped with 2 DIMM slots, which could be a downside if you're looking to use above 128MB of SDRAM with the 603.  The classic "ABIT-style" triple switching voltage regulator setup found its way onto the HOT-603 which is very peculiar considering most TX Shuttle motherboards are missing this feature.  All three heatsinks easily dissipate from the physical regulator which adds to the 603's incredible stability when normally clocked and even when overclocked (to some extent). 

Shuttle's decision to include an ATX power connector in addition to an AT power connector gives the HOT-603 a slight layout advantage over its FIC counterpart and also makes it more versatile than the PA-2007 via the uncapping of one jumper to enable support for ATX power supplies. Early reports on the HOT-603 indicated problems with certain power supply units however in the tests conducted I didn't experience any problems with the HOT-603 which could be caused directly by an incompatibility with the power supply of the case (the test case was an InWin G500).   The easy to configure jumpers on the HOT-603 make switching between bus speeds and clock multipliers almost instantaneous.  Shuttle includes and uses a few of their trademark 'jumpers with handles' in the HOT-603 package which make accessing and changing the Voltage and Bus Speed settings a breeze.  The clock multiplier is controlled via three easy to access jumpers located close enough to the CPU to be recognized, but far away enough to make capping them simple. 

Like most newer Shuttle motherboards, the HOT-603 doesn't come with a bulky manual one must thumb through in order to find a few jumper settings, instead it comes with a multi-part documentation system.  Included with the HOT-603 package is a quick reference card, found in other manufacturer's products such as MTech, which completely documents the proper CPU settings (including the 75/83MHz bus speed settings) as well as other useful settings (including the 2.1v core voltage setting for use with the upcoming AMD K6/266 and 300 which the HOT-603 fully supports courtesy of its > 4.0x clkmul ability).  The second part of the HOT-603's documentation is the bundled CDROM which contains such items like the full manual in PDF format, a Shuttle screen saver, as well as useful patches and BIOS updates not only for the HOT-603 but for every single board in Shuttle's recent line of products. 

The setup and configuration of the 603, being a non-Intel chipset based motherboard, is easier than one would expect.  In fact, the configuration of VIA's Bus Mastering EIDE drivers is easier than the horribly incompatible and erratic Intel BMIDE 3.01 drivers.  For those of you having problems finding the drivers, you can download them here.  Upon the initial bootup, the AWARD PnP BIOS Setup utility can be invoked and comfortably configured to the maximum memory timings without many problems if any, the Cache timings can even be taken down to 2-1-1-1 which was nearly impossible with the FIC PA-2007.  The performance of the HOT-603 is excellent overall, making it the new holder of the Best Overall Socket-7 Motherboard Award on Anand's Hardware Tech Page.  With the AMD K6, the performance is unmatched by most competitors and is among the best of the best scoring well above the average in most cases.  The weak-point of the HOT-603 is definitely its Pentium MMX performance, however even with a Pentium MMX 233 clocked at 262.5 the 603 manages to pump out a Business Winstone 97 score of 57.0.  Due to the AMD640's support for Linear Burst Mode, Cyrix/IBM 6x86MX users (as well as older 6x86 users) will be able to enjoy the comfort of an extra 2 - 3% increase in performance as a result of support for this mode.  

For the most part the HOT-603 is an excellent motherboard, however it does have its own share of flaws to deal with.

The Bad

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