Elite Computer Systems L7VTA Motherboard
Socket A ProcessorVIA KT400 ChipsetVT 82C571 IDE ControllerPromise FastTrak 100-Lite RAIDVT8235 AC'97 AudioVT8235 Rhine-II Ethernet NICVT6202 USB 2.0VT6306 IEEE-1394 Firewire

The L7VTA is a recent ATX Socket A motherboard from ECS (Elite Computer Systems) with almost everything you could need onboard, with the exception of onboard graphics, which is no bad thing.

The board supports both Althon and Duron processors up to Athlon XP 2800+ (3000+ with a BIOS update). It can handle 3 GB of DDR333 RAM (or 2 GB of DDR400, but not all types are supported). There are 4 IDE ports, 2 UDMA/133 (ATA-6) EIDE ports and 2 UDMA/100 ports, backed by a Promise RAID controller. It has 5 PCI slots, 1 PCI/ISA slot, 1 AGP 8x slot. There are also 4 USB 2.0 and 1 IEEE-1394 Firewire port (with a further 2 USB ports and 2 more Firewire ports on a header), 2 PS/2 (mouse + keyboard), 1 Parallel, 2 Serial, 1 10/100 Ethernet port, line-in, line-out and microphone ports and a floppy header. At ??? GBP if offers stonking value for money.

This is probably one of the last boards you will see that includes PS/2 ports and a floppy header - the trend is now towards USB peripherals and floppies are just about obsolete thanks to the 20 GBP CD-Writer!!!

First Impressions
This board offers amazing value for money - there really are very few extras that you might want to add to it, other than the usual RAM, drives, case, PSU etc. As there is no onboard graphics card (a good thing!), I chose to add an nVidia GeForce 4 MX 440 based AGP 8x card with 64 MB of onboard RAM to give pretty good graphics (slightly excessive for a server, but I might want to do something else with it one day!).

Assembly was pretty straight-forward. There is very little to get confused about when connecting everything up. I suppose you might be able to pick the wrong IDE socket to plug your CD-ROM drive into (they don't work well with RAID controllers!), but these are well apart and colour coded. The only area that is likely to cause grief is connecting up the front-panel LEDs and sockets. These all come from a single block of connectors, and if you use a generic case like me, you will find that the leads from the case can be connected any old how, with nothing enforcing the order or way round you can connect them. Mine were labelled, but some of the labels did not match the names given in the manual. The connectors also quite difficult to get on once you have a few of then plugged in, as the cables tend to foul one another. I eventually got all mine connected, but the power LED refuses to light no matter which way round it is connected.

Although translated from Taiwanese into English, the manual is pretty accurate and complete and the all important diagrams are easy to read, with all the important connectons are tabulated.

Socket A Processor
The board can take a wide variety of 32-bit AMD processors, though why you would want to put anything less than an Athlon XP in it, I'm not sure. The maximum clock achievable without a BIOS update is just over 2 GHz.

Care must be take when inserting the processor, as it is very easy to fracture the chip when fitting the heatsink. Take a look at this AMD document for further details.

AMD Athlon XP 2800+ (Barton) 2.08GHz
I chose this as the best processor that I could fit to the board without having to perform an immediate BIOS update. The Barton core was, at the time, the latest Athlon XP and offered a small performance advantage over earlier 2800+ chips. Although the BIOS does not recognize this processor for exactly what it is (it thinks it is an Unknown Athlon processor), it works just fine in the board, and is rock solid. The actual clock speed is 2075 MHz (which is 12.5 x 166 MHZ), and as it is a server machine, I have not and do not intend to try overclocking it. As with all AMD processors, it runs quite hot at around 60°C. lmsensors (using the it87 chip on the ISA bus) tends to report the CPU temp about 10 degrees higher than the BIOS!

VIA KT400-8235 Chipset
The L7VTA pairs the VIA KT400 (VT8368) Northbridge with the VIA8235 Southbridge. The KT400 shipset is well proven, and the 8235 contains many of the standard components found in other VIA chipsets.

Linux recognizes the chipset without any problems whatsoever, though the RAID controller is only recognized by later 2.4 kernels. There is one problem with the chipset that relates to warm-reboots - Linux will hang either at the point where it brings up the USB controller, or at the point where it brings up the onboard LAN (if you disable USB). I have yet to find a resolution to this.

VT8235 AC'97 Audio
Whilst not in the league of some of the add-on sound cards, 4 channel audio from an onboard controller is not bad. Behind the VT8235 AC'97 Audio Controller is an VIA97 Codec, which provides Front, Left and Right output plus an additional S/PDIF output. The sound has a noticable amount of noise in it - this may be a fault with my particualar board - but is one of the few negative points I have come across.

  00:11.5 Multimedia audio: VIA Tech, Inc. VT8233/33A/35/37 AC97 Audio Ctlr
          Subsystem: Elitegroup Computer Systems: Unknown device 0a81

          Class 0401: 1106:3059 (rev 50) Subsystem 1019:0a81

Linux uses either the via8cxxx_audio and ac97_codec OSS drivers, or the snd-via82xx ALSA driver.

VT 82C571 IDE Controller
The standard IDE controller provides anything up to UDMA/133 (ATA-6), which is pretty much about as good as you are going to get without going to SCSI or SATA. It handles my Maxtor 80 GB drive at its maximum UDMA/133. In order to keep the primary channel running maximum performance, my CD-RW is connected to the secondary channel.

  00:11.1 IDE interface: VIA Tech, Inc. 586A/B/686/A/B/823x/A/C/8235 IDE Ctlr
          Subsystem: Elitegroup Computer Systems: Unknown device 0a81

          Class 0101: 1106:0571 (rev 06) Subsystem: 1019:0a81

Promise FastTrak 100-Lite RAID
I can't really comment on the performance of the RAID controller, though I do have a friend with the same board who has two 40 GB drives connected to the RAID controller, and with the correct Linux kernel this performs very well.

VT8235 Rhine-II Ethernet NIC
This is a bog standard 10/100 Mbs Ethernet connection through an RJ45 connector on the rear of the board.

  00:12.0 Ethernet controller: VIA Tech, Inc. VT6102 [Rhine-II]
          Subsystem: VIA Tech, Inc. VT6102 [Rhine II]
                     Embeded Ethernet Controller on VT8235

          Class 0200: 1106:3065 (rev 74) Subsystem: 1106:3065

Under Linux this works like any other network connection, with Linux using the via-rhine module.

VT6202 USB 2.0
The board actually contains three USB 1.1 Controllers which provide a total of 6 ports (4 rear and 2 front via a header), and a single USB 2.0 Controller which adds USB 2.0 capability to all the ports.

  00:10.0 USB Controller: VIA Technologies, Inc. VT6202 USB 1.1 UHCI Ctlr
  00:10.1 USB Controller: VIA Technologies, Inc. VT6202 USB 1.1 UHCI Ctlr
  00:10.2 USB Controller: VIA Technologies, Inc. VT6202 USB 1.1 UHCI Ctlr
          Subsystem: Elitegroup Computer Systems: Unknown device 0a81

       3x Class 0c03: 1106:3038 (rev 80) Subsystem: 1019:0a81

  00:10.3 USB Controller: VIA Technologies, Inc. USB 2.0 EHCI Ctlr
          Subsystem: Elitegroup Computer Systems: Unknown device 0a81

          Class 0c03: 1106:3104 (rev 82) Subsystem: 1019:0a81

Linux supports USB 2.0 quite happily using the usb-uhci module. USB devices can be hotplugged as you would expect

VT6306 IEEE-1394 Firewire
The board has a single Firewire Controller, with a single connector on the rear of the machine and an additional connector on the front (via a header).

  00:0d.0 FireWire (IEEE 1394): VIA Technologies, Inc. IEEE 1394 Host Controller
          Subsystem: VIA Technologies, Inc. IEEE 1394 Host Controller

          Class 0c00: 1106:3044 (rev 46) Subsystem: 1106:3044

It is supported by the ohci1394 module. Apart for a message indicating that the driver loaded successfully and found a controller, I can't comment on its performance.

Fast Infrared Port
The manual suggests that there is an Infrared header on the board, but just what you need to attach to make it work is unclear.