Hardware Flashback: Asus P5A

Subject: Motherboards | May 15, 2013 - 09:37 PM |
Tagged: asus, P5A, ALi, Aladdin V, 100 MHz, Super 7, amd, K6, K6-2, SDRAM

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Source: Asus
May 15, 2013 | 09:46 PM - Posted by ThorAxe

Now where did I put my old BH6?

May 15, 2013 | 09:58 PM - Posted by praack

o lord these old boards bring back memories.

i still have a soyo running a k6, but my slot a died with the capacitors..

all those pretty pci and isa slots......

May 16, 2013 | 08:07 AM - Posted by collie (not verified)

So beautiful! This reminds me of the olden days when I bought 4 megs of ram and I had ALLLLLLLLL the ram, or the insane joy of switching from a 2400 baud modem all the way up to the 14.4 and watching light speed bbs downloads. Happy days!

May 16, 2013 | 10:18 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Around the time of this board we saw the first PCI based modems... that were all software controlled.  I remember Quake II was unplayable when using my first Diamond SupraMAX PCI 56K modem.  Had to go back to ISA to get my online MP fix.

Speaking of other upgrades... my first upgrade experience was with Compuadd.  I had a NEC 8088 knockoff based system and I upgraded to a 3.5" drive and a serial mouse for... $99 a piece.  $198 netted me a floppy drive and a cheap mouse.  Oh, the 80s were a harsh time for the wallet when it came to computer parts.

May 16, 2013 | 08:26 AM - Posted by Alexw585

I love this new series of articles on older hardware. As someone who works in the industry doing both sales and service, I can appreciate learning about parts from before my time (and I may occasionally come across). I started paying attention in the LGA775/AM2 days, and professionally working in the industry in the 1st Generation Core i series. Although as a kid I can remember using systems running Windows 95...

May 16, 2013 | 10:21 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Overclocking was such a different experience in those days.  Jumpers were pretty fun in ways.  Lots of fiddling with those with your case open, lots of reboots and hangs, then instability sets in once everything was running.  All the while cramping your fingers trying to find the right combination of jumpers that will make your system stable.

May 16, 2013 | 11:40 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I remember when overclocking involved changing jumpers on the motherboards... one jumper in the wrong location and you short the CPU!

May 17, 2013 | 01:57 PM - Posted by Bill (not verified)

I remember when overclocking meant using a Golden Fingers device that you needed to mount on top of a Slot 1 cpu. It required removing the cpu's plastic shell and mounting this jumper device on to the top of the chip. It had wires hanging all over it and looked like a science experiment, but man o man was it cool to see my 500mhz Athlon running at 700!!

May 16, 2013 | 12:48 PM - Posted by Particle (not verified)

I always enjoy these retro articles. As someone who enjoys reliving the fun, fast-paced period in computing that ranged from the mid 90s to the early 2000s, it really resonates. I recently built my first Slot A system--something I never had when it was current. A few years ago, I built a dual Pentium Pro rig for similar reasons.

May 16, 2013 | 03:32 PM - Posted by JMccovery

I still have a P5A around somewhere. The memories with this board: I took a 233MHz MMX Pentium all the way to 350MHz (100x3.5 @ 3.5v!) before that chip went kaput; It even helped me take a legendary AFR/AFX K6-2 350 to 616MHz (112x5.5).

Those were the days...

Funny enough, I had a P5A-B that could easily hit 120MHz FSB, whereas my P5A had issues going over 115 (found out later that the P5A-B boards came with a better revision of the Aladdin V, along with later P5As).

If I could get my hands on a 180nm K6-2+, I might try to see if my old board can take it to 800MHz.

May 16, 2013 | 04:47 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

In my basement I have a K6-2+ 500 or 550... can't remember which.  Sitting on an Epox board and clocked in the 600s.  2 x Voodoo 2s in that particular unit.  I really need to bring that machine upstairs and do some modern testing on it...

May 16, 2013 | 03:50 PM - Posted by caleb72 (not verified)

Remember ordering my FIC VA-503+ and K6-2 400 out of the "Bible" Computer Shopper. :)

May 16, 2013 | 04:50 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Oh man, the VA503+... AT form factor!  I think I was talking about that on Twitter earlier.  I don't miss the AT days.  It was a pretty good board at the time though...

May 17, 2013 | 10:52 PM - Posted by SPBHM

pretty cool, this board is very characteristic of what Asus boards were like in the late 90's

my Asus P2B, although completely different (440BX, Slot 1) looks a lot like this...

I even have the AT model of the P5A (AT format, for old cases, but with ATX connector) on its original box, to bad I killed the board accidentally some 10 years ago....

May 18, 2013 | 12:16 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Wait til next week for Slot 1 action!

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