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EPOX MVP4A:

While there are those who will settle for nothing but the latest in hardware there are many people out there who are looking for far less in an upgrade. Itís not surprising with the rapidly rising cost of components. Today we are bombarded with the $200 video card upgrade and $100 sound card upgrade. For many out there these prices are completely unreasonable but they are in a situation where they have components left from an older system they could reuse in a new system and donít have the bank account to finance a new store bought system. While these consumers could look for a motherboard and reuse their own video and sound cards there are alternatives for those who would like to upgrade to newer technology without the added expense of a new video and sound card. This problem is especially true for those whose system already came equipped with onboard sound and video as many OEM systems do. Many of you already know that I am talking about a motherboard with onboard video and sound however many of these previous boards have earned dubious reputations.

Recently a friend of mine befell a hard fate when he contracted a virus that destroyed the BIOS of his system. He found himself in the situation where his old system had onboard video and sound and upgrading to a newer setup was looking bleak once the expense of a video and sound card were factored in. His situation was made worse when we found that the manufacturer of his previous board was out of business and could not offer us support or replacement parts. I found a few boards with onboard sound and video (even found some with onboard ethernet and modem) however I settled on the EPOX MVP4A due to EPOXís good reputation. EPOX has been in business for some time now and they offer Super 7 and BX solutions as well as some upcoming i820 boards. For less than $85 the MVP4A may be a very reasonable upgrade for those on a budget or for those without the demands of a system used for gaming.

Features:

  • VIA MVP4 chipset
  • 8 Mb Trident video (64 bit)
  • AC97 sound
  • Onboard UDMA66 support
  • ATX form factor
  • 512 kb L2 cache
  • 2 ISA and 4 PCI slots
  • 3 DIMM slots
  • 2 USB ports onboard
  • PS2 mouse and keyboard configuration
  • Supports AMD, Cyrix, IBM, IDT, and Intel Pentium chips

Installation

I wonít bore you with all the details just suffice it to say that it was a snap to put in. The MVP4A is a full size ATX board but it is approx. 1" narrower than most other ATX boards Iíve encountered. While the IDE connectors are on the right edge of the motherboard EPOX chose to placed the floppy connector towards the bottom of the board in an area that would normally be occupied by an ISA slot. This placement causes the floppy ribbon cable to interfere with airflow if it is not carefully routed out of the way. This could cause problems with full-length cards and a shallow case design. Luckily I was able to scrounge up an extra long ribbon cable that I tied to the IDE ribbon cables thus solving my routing problem.

Thankfully EPOX has installed on board USB and UDMA66 support. The number of USB components is rapidly growing so not having to buy a USB add-in card is great on space and convenience. EPOX was even nice enough to throw in an UDMA66 ribbon cable along with the regular IDE ribbon cable. Nice touch. While I didnít have an UDMA66 drive available during testing itís comforting to know that the consumer is future protected just that little bit more.

Iíll say up front that I donít like motherboards that use jumpers. Itís rare to find a board that doesnít support manipulation of the system bus as well as CPU multiplier from the BIOS setup area. At least EPOX placed all the most commonly adjusted jumpers together at the bottom right of the board where they can be most easily accessed. One thing that struck me as odd is that there is a jumper setting for the AGP and PCI speeds in relation to the system bus speed and there is a similar option in the BIOS setup. I can only assume that the jumper on the board is actually the one that controls this operation as it is hardwired. Perhaps this feature is an aid for overclocking? I honestly didnít try to play with the overclocking capacity of this board because the system was not going to be with me long enough to offer adequate testing for reliability. Just because a CPU can boot into Windows at a certain overclocked speed does not mean that it will be stable once the system is working hard. Give EPOX credit for supporting multiple bus speeds with this board including 95 MHz. In the past I have found this to be a great bus speed to obtain stable overclocking with AMD CPUs. Select 95 MHz and one multiplier setting higher than normal for the CPU and you have an easy overclocking situation. Although the CPU is running beyond spec the AGP and PCI specs are actually operating lower than normal. I had no lockups or strange problems occur with the AMD K6-3 400 I utilized for this build up.

Video and Sound

While onboard sound and video on an $85 motherboard looks like a great deal there are a lot of compromises made to accommodate this layout. There is no AGP slot on the motherboard and the onboard video is not even current generation technology. While 256-bit video cards are beginning to enter the market the MVP4A strolls along with a 64-bit video system that uses 8 MB of shared system memory. This will affect the immediate video performance of systems running this motherboard but there is still some hope left. 3dfx has already announced a PCI version of the Voodoo3 3000. If more manufacturers decide not to abandon the PCI video market completely there will be hope for those who buy a motherboard such the MVP4A. Itís definitely something to consider in the future.

The onboard sound is not state of the art either. Phrases like "dos support" should let you know you are not getting the latest technology available. This again is not an absolute problem. Many users really donít care about EAX or A3D surround sound as long as they can still enjoy sound in their software and the sound is Sound Blaster compatible, which the AC97 sound on this motherboard is. A simple upgrade in the future to better components can easily be accomplished since both the onboard sound and video can be disabled from within the BIOS.

Conclusions

This setup is definitely appealing to those who are strapped for cash or donít require high-end video performance. I think anyone who is intending to play any of the latest or upcoming game titles may be disappointed with the video performance of the onboard Trident chip. The onboard USB and UDMA66 support make this an appealing and overall well-rounded purchase. If I purchased this board Iíd probably consider a video upgrade to a good 128-bit PCI card as soon as possible to enjoy my game titles and boost my 3d performance in other applications. I think that most people would be happy with the onboard sound for some time to come.

Pros:

  • On board video and sound for those on a tight budget
  • USB and UDMA66 on board
  • Low cost

    Cons:
  • Jumpers on the board
  • Low video performance
  • Floppy connector placement
Victor Oshiro
Victor@targetpc.com
99/11/12
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