Motherboard: Asus A7PRO

I’ve got a smallish collection of motherboards, so I thought I would start a series of short posts with photos and a short commentary on each board. So without any further ado, here is the first board.

This one was made by ASUS roughly around 2000. It is a earlier socket A with a VIA Apollo chipset. This came with the hardware donation I received a while ago and was fitted in the large chassis. There is a Duron 800Mhz processor installed, along with some SDRAM. This board could take a fast for the time Athlon processor.

I found the manual for this board here on the ASUS website, in it I found everything needed to set up the board. It supports the technologies you’d expect for the time, but also one I hadn’t heard of. VCM or Virtual Channel Memory was an open standard developed by NEC. It was supposed to increase the memory bandwidth. It’s quite complicated from what I read on Wikipedia, so I won’t go into details, but it clearly wasn’t popular.

This board has a few other unusual features such as an AGP Pro 4x slot and a VRM that usually only made it to more expensive boards. Yet it also has some features that cheaper boards had such as the utterly silly AMR slot and lack of ISA slots.

I’d say this board was probably a middle-of-the-range board, clearly it is better than the cheapest, but not as flash as the most expensive. Usually this is the sensible option, and that seems to be the case here. The choice of processor installed is a little bit of a mystery, as I expected to see something faster here.

From the perspective of a technician, this is a really nice board. It’s easy to set up because all the switches, headers and jumpers have a reference silk-screened on the board. You don’t really need the manual. It has plenty of features and supports faster hardware from the time period. The VRM module may have been a good feature, it could be replaced if it failed. Of course that is assuming you could easily get a replacement. The only downside is lack of legacy ISA support, so it wouldn’t suite upgrading when ISA slots were required.

Thus concludes the first of the Motherboard series, please let me know what you think.

7 Responses to “Motherboard: Asus A7PRO”

  1. March 24, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    I agree with you on this board. seems pretty middle of the road. I kind of hated socket A boards though. Well, not so much the boards but the CPU’s. I just hated the chips without the spreaders on them. They seemed so fragile to me and if you applied the wrong amount of force installing the heat sink then poof! your CPU was dead. I’ve had ancient 486 and Pentium 1 chips that just sat around in a box not even in an anti-static bag and I pop them in a board and they work yet I’ve lost several socket A chips just transferring them from one working board to another. maybe I just suck with socket A heatsinks but I really didn’t appreciate there fragility.

    • March 24, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      Yes the bare chips could be damaged, but with care they usually were ok.The heatsinks were the riskiest part of the setup as you say, but I’ve had several generations of chips like these (both Intel and AMD) and not had any damaged or die on me.

      Speaking of which, Intel was also guilty of doing this, notably the Pentium 3 line and the Celerons based on it. Also pretty much every mobile processor has been in this packaging. Having serviced many laptops, I can tell you removing the heatsink is frequently necessary in laptops even just to do basic servicing and cleaning. Fortunately laptops usually have less risk heatsink set-ups, but the P3 based chips/heatsinks were as bad.

      Perhaps the chips you had were allready borderline? Were you careful not to get thermal paste on anything other than the die? Some components on the top of the package could suffer if thermal paste hit them, some pastes are conductive. Perhaps a factor of age?

      I suspect a number of the chips dying because of this packaging is why they changed it to what we have now. Which I’m sure we can all agree is much better.


      • March 25, 2015 at 4:37 am

        to be fair to the chips I never messed with them new so in all the setups I’ve had with this socket I haven’t exactly taken the greatest care but I do always dread messing with these cpu’s. I think there are some people that like them because you can apparently polish the surface if your careful and get better thermal conductivity that helps with OCing. I look forward to more of these motherboard reviews.

        • March 25, 2015 at 8:18 am

          wow I think polishing those chips is a little extreme given their fragility! I built a few machines with them new, but saw most during repairs. Thermal paste drying out is a surprisingly common problem, which I have seen most on P4 class chips, but also effects anything else that gets quite hot like the socket A Athlons.

  2. March 24, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Installed a few these as graphic workstations at my workplace and even bought one for myself. The AGP Pro slot made it a good choice to work with certain 3DLabs graphic cards we used. Unfortunately that Apollo chipset plus Via drivers combo was buggy and certain hardware configurations were somewhat unreliable. When I retired the workstations most had several caps bulging. Then again, they had been on 24×7 for ages, so can’t really complain.

    • March 24, 2015 at 9:46 pm

      I’d be interested to know which caps failed, and if the boards still worked with the bulging caps. I’ve seen a few machines keep working quite surpisingly with many bad caps. It all depends on the design and load on the boards voltage regulators.

      A way to minimise problems with bulging caps is to ventilate the case as much as possible. Heat is one of the biggest cuplrits, along with PSUs that generate a lot of ripple. A good PSU and well ventilated chassis are a good way to extend the life of a machine before it is even built. Of course these measures only serve to extend the life of what you have, there is no substitute for better quality parts. I’d be interested to see how well Gigabytes Solid Capacitor boards hold up over time.

      Software is certainly another issue that plagued many people back in the day, although I do remember the VIA chipset software got significantly better over time. I had a few VIA chipsets boards that had Intel processors, and despite the rumoured software bugginess they worked ok, I even had a S3 Trio 3d for a time, which was also meant to have buggy drivers. Perhaps I just got lucky.

      Thanks for the comment Pedro 🙂

      • March 28, 2015 at 6:45 am

        Memory is fuzzy, but I think the caps with a bulge were mostly next to the power supply socket connection, while a few were next to the AGP Pro port. This would make sense since those 3dLabs Wildcat Agp Pro cards really needed a lot of power, and not all boards were able to handle them. I believe at peak I had around 10 of these boards operational. The one I had home lasted a few years until I passed it along to my ex-wife.

        These were not the only boards I had with bad caps. They were not even the worst cases. The worst were from Abit, which model I forget. Some had dual Intel Pentium IIs on them. In some of the cases the caps just blew up. Then again, that was the time of that huge scandal with low quality caps on all sorts of brands of motherboards. I even got a few replaced under warranty.

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