I first got into computers in the 8088 days, but I started to do it professionally when Socket 5 was transitioning to Socket 7. The Pentium 133 based Quantex system I bought after the Atlanta Olympics catapulted me into the modern computer age (I was previously using an Intel 386SX-16 MHz system from DAK… don’t get me started on that company). It was also when AOL was the only internet service in Laramie, WY. I started browsing hardware retailers and then moved onto independent review sites that were only then just popping up. Tom’s and Anandtech were very new and did not feature many pictures because digital cameras were still quite rare.
Remember when the 1/5/2 setup was considered optimal? It allowed for the good modem and good soundcard to be installed!
One of the big shifts of the time is when Intel abandoned Socket 7 and forged ahead with Slot 1. AMD had fit the K6 into the Socket 7 infrastructure, though it was initially designed for a proprietary socket. Intel had the Pentium II line and things were moving fast in those days. AMD was providing competition for Intel with excellent integer performance and adequate floating performance, as well as providing a socketed product that was cheaper to produce for both AMD and its motherboard partners. Socket 7 was then morphed into Super 7 with support for 100 MHz FSB speeds. This was a big jump for AMD as they spearheaded this move. Cyrix, IBM, and Winchip all went along for the ride, but they often supported oddball bus speeds that did not always translate well into bus dividers for AGP and PCI.
The first wave of AGP enabled chipsets that also supported bus speeds above 66 MHz finally hit the market, and one of the first was the SiS 5591. One of the first boards to support this chipset was the MTech R581A. The board showed jumper settings that supported 100 MHz, but it was far from stable at that speed. It did fully support 83.3 MHz, which gave many socket 7 users a nice boost when overclocking. The first true 100 MHz chips were the VIA MVP-3 and the ALi M1571 (Aladdin V). These natively supported the 100 MHz bus and ran it perfectly fine. These chipsets allowed the later K6-2 and K6-3 chips to exist and compete successfully with the 100 MHz based Pentium IIs.
This particular model included the onboard ESS sound chip. Pretty posh for the time. Oh yes, there was a time before USB 2.0…
I had a heck of a time getting a hold of a VIA MVP-3 based motherboard at first, and I never actually laid hands upon any Aladdin V based unit during that time. There was no Newegg or Tiger Direct back then, and most major distributors like Tech Data did not always stock a wide selection of products. I was also not making a whole lot of money. I was particularly jealous of all these other sites getting access to review hardware, but then again at this time I had only a handful of articles out and I had not even started Penstarsys.com yet. So when guys like Tom and Anand got their hands on the Asus P5A, it was most definitely must-read material.
This was one of the first 100 MHz Super 7 based boards out there, as VIA was having some real issues with their MVP-3 chipset. Eventually VIA fixed those issues, but not before ALi had a good couple of months’ lead on their primary competitor. Of great interest for this board was the ability to run at 120 MHz FSB. Very few boards could handle that speed well, but the 115 MHz setting seemed very stable. I/O performance was also a step above the VIA chipsets, but VIA was fairly well known for having strange I/O issues at that time (not to mention AGP compatibility issues). The Asus P5A was a great board for the time, and it did not suffer much from the AGP issues that plagued VIA. Oddly enough, though ALi had the better overall chipset, they did not sell as well as the VIA products. Asus still shipped a lot of them, so I guess that made up for the more limited selection.
That is a single phase power… array? Look at all that open space throughout the board!
Super 7 was a dying breed by 1999 with the introduction of the K7 Athlon, but the P5A sold very well throughout its entire lifespan. The board I acquired had the K6-2 500 in the socket, and a BIOS update would provide support for the later K6-3+ and K6-2+ processors. What perhaps strikes me most is the overall simplicity of the boards as compared to modern products. The P5A looks like it has a single power phase going to the CPU, does not feature integrated Ethernet or other amenities, and only has two ATA-33 ports. Interestingly enough, it does feature a ESS based audio codec. Rare for those days! Compare that to the monster products like the Crosshair V Formula Z or the G1.Sniper.3, I guess simplicity is overlooked these days?