The MSI KT3 Ultra ARU Motherboard Review
KT333 Muscle and All the Trimmings!

By, Jeff Bouton
March 24, 2002



This evening we will be taking a look at the new KT3 Ultra ARU motherboard from MSI.  This is the first of what will surely become a long line of motherboards to incorporate the new
VIA KT333 chipset.  The new chipset offers a number of new features to help propel its performance beyond that of the popular KT266A.  In addition, the system comes with the VIA VT8233A Southbridge chipset which brings a number of new standards to the table as well. 

The main claim to fame of the new VIA KT333 Chipset is the added support for PC2700 DDR RAM, allowing for 2.7GB of memory bandwidth at 333MHz.  Coupled with the Northbridge, the VIA VT8233A Southbridge offers support for USB 2.0, which increases transfers from 12Mb per second with USB 1.1 to 400Mb per second with USB 2.0.  The new ATA133 standard is also incorporated into the Southbridge, providing IDE burst rates of up to 133MBs per second with ATA133 compliant hard drives installed. 
 
MSI is one of the first motherboard manufacturers to incorporate VIA's new chipset.  What they came up with is a motherboard that offers both performance and new features that should make it a stand-out product in an otherwise crowded market.   It's quite obvious from the start that MSI has taken great strides to put together a complete system.  So, let's take a look at the details of this new KT333 based motherboard and then we'll go over its features in more details.

Specifications of the MSI KT3 Ultra-ARU  Motherboard
A Real Gem....

Special Features
Supports DDR266/333 (PC 2100/2700)
Supports ATA-133 IDE Hard Drive
Live BIOS
Fuzzy Logic 3
Live Driver
Promise IDE RAID
USB 2.0
Integrated Audio (6-channel codec)

CPU
Socket A (Socket 462) for AMD Athlon/ Athlon XP / Duron Processor.
Support 600MHz up to 2000+ MHz processor and higher

Chipset
VIA KT333 chipset. (North-Bridge 552 BGA)
200/266MHz FSB
AGP 4x and PCI Advanced high performance memory controller.
VIA VT8233A chipset. (South-Bridge 376 BGA)
High Bandwidth V-link Client controller.
Integrated Faster Ethernet LPC. (Optional CNR card support)
Integrated Hardware SoundBlaster/Direct Sound AC97 audio.
Ultra DMA 66/100/133 master mode PCI EIDE controller.
ACPI

FSB
Supports 100/133/166 MHz FSB

Main Memory
Three 184-pin DDR DIMM.
Maximum memory size up to 3GB.
Supports 2.5v DDR SDRAM DIMM.

Promise 20276 RAID On-Board Controller
Support ATA133 IDE RAID 0 or 1
The two IDE RAID connectors support hard drives only.
Note: only two hard disk drives will adopt RAID function.
Slots
One CNR (Communication Network Riser).
One AGP 4X slot.
Five PCI 2.2 32-bit Master PCI bus slots.
Supports 3.3v/5v PCI bus interface.

On-Board IDE
An IDE controller on the VIA VT8233A chipset provides IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO, Bus Master and Ultra DMA 66/100/133 operation modes.
Can connect up to four IDE devices.

Audio
Chip Integrated (6-channel S/W audio).
Direct Sound AC'97 Audio.
6-channel analog output.
SPDIF interface.

On-Board Peripherals
1 Floppy port supports 2 FDD with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88Mbytes.
2 Serial ports (COM A + COM B), 1 Parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode.
1 IrDA connector for SIR/ASKIR/HPSIR.
1 Audio/Game port.
1 D-Bracket pinheader.
1 S-Bracket pinheader.

USB Interface
4x USB 2.0 ports
4x USB 1.1 ports

BIOS
The mainboard BIOS provides AMI "Plug & Play" Flash BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
The mainboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI) function which records your mainboard specifications.

Dimension
ATX Form Factor.

 

Below is a list of the items that accompany the MSI KT3 Ultra-ARU  Motherboard

1 - 40-pin 80 Conductor UDMA 100 Ribbon Cable
1 - Floppy Ribbon Cable
2 - MSI Support CDs with Drivers and Utilities
1 - MSI DVD 5.1CH CD
1 - Audio S-Bracket Analog/SPDIF outputs
1 - 2 Port USB D-Bracket w/LED
1 - 4 Port USB 2.0 Bracket
1 - Quick User's Guide
1 - D-LED Guide
1 - MSI Case Badge

Setup Utility:
 

The MSI KT3 Ultra-ARU is one impressive board right out of the gate.  With a plethora of features and a spiffy red PCB, the board immediately grabs your attention with its quality appearance and craftsmanship.  It is clear that MSI has taken the extra step here to assure customer satisfaction.  The package comes with a good complement of utilities and support software as well as all hardware needed to take full advantage of the system's potential.  The Drivers/Software CD has a clean and easy to follow menu that gives you easy access to all of the software on the disk.  Whether you need to install drivers or want to try some of the utilities included on the disk, it is all easily accessed through an intuitive menu.

 

Click Images to Enlarge

    

    

Live Update BIOS Flash Utility:

One of the more helpful applications included on the CD is the MSI Live Update Utility.  Live Update checks the systems current BIOS and driver versions and notifies you if any updated versions are available.  With a simple click, all of the files needed are downloaded and installed in one smooth operation.

I must say that I do have mixed feelings about this.  Downloading drivers is one thing, but downloading and updating the BIOS through Windows sounds a bit risky to me.  When you flash the BIOS from a boot disk, minimal system functions are running, minimizing the potential for something to go wrong.  If the BIOS is updated while Windows is running, there are a lot of variables that could effect the flash, which would render the board useless.  We did run the Live Update during testing and it worked flawlessly.  However, we've heard stories of other readers who have used similar utilities with other products and they killed their board, even though the process appeared to complete without error.  When it comes to flashing the BIOS, I recommend using the boot disk technique to play it safe.  Regardless, especially for the novice users out there, this is a nice complement to the product.

All-in-all, MSI has put together a fine package to accompany a fine looking motherboard but we all know that you can't judge a book by its cover.  So let us roll up our sleeves and delve a little deeper, taking a closer look at the MSI KT3 Ultra-ARU's finer points.

Quality, Setup and the BIOS