As we mentioned on another page, at any given time we usually have one or two boards that stand out from the crowd and go into most of our new systems. At the time this page was first prepared (July 1998) we were seeing the Iwill P55XPlus and the hot new FIC VA-503+ gradually take over from FIC VA-502 and the ASUS SP97-V — a pair of boards that through the first part of 1998 gave us the best combination of performance, reliability, value and ease of use: between them they made up about three-quarters of our sales. For some purposes — perhaps for extra high-performance or to suit an unusual CPU — we'd choose something different.

Throughout 1997 our mainstay was the wonderful old FIC PA-2005, with the Gigabyte 586s also playing a major part. Before that, the Chaintech and QDI VX boards were popular, and earlier still it was the PIO-3, the Chaintech 32, the PVT, and the OPTi 895.

FIC PA-2005 detail

FIC PA2005 (revised version)

One of the really great motherboards. This was the definitive version, certified for 75MHz operation and solid as a rock.

A long-term favourite of ours built around the excellent VIA Apollo 585 chipset, it was already quite old by the time things like the PA-2007 came out, but remained one of our best-sellers right up until FIC ceased production in the following year.

The Apollo 585 chipset was manufacturer-certified at 75MHz (almost unique in those days) and the PA-2005 was rock-solid at any speed. They went particularly well with Cyrix and IBM CPUs, especially the often difficult 6x86-200 Classic (which at the time, was the fastest thing money could buy).

→ Like so many FIC products back then in their glory days, the PA-2005 was beautifully built; quality you could see just by looking at the board. There was an earlier version too, which didn't have 75MHz support. The illustration is this earlier one.

  • CPU support: 6x86, 6x86MX, K5, K6, P54C, P55C.
  • Speed: 50, 55, 60, 66 and 75MHz.
  • Slots: 4 PCI, 3 ISA
  • RAM: 4 72-pin FPM, EDO or BEDO, up to 256MB. Like the PA-2002, it could operate with just a single 72-pin SIMM if required.
  • Cache: Surface mount, 512k pipeline burst standard, up to 1MB optional.
  • Chipset: VIA Apollo 585VP, Award BIOS.
  • Best With: Any IBM/Cyrix CPU, especially 686-200 Classic.
  • Status: Legacy.
PC Partner VX illustration

PC Partner VX

An odd-bod for us but very representative of the mature VX board in general. PC Partner did not and still don't have a great reputation as a quality board maker, but although we only used perhaps thirty or forty of this model they gave us no trouble to remember. The VX chipset was almost finished by the end of '96 but the PCP VX boards were quite cheap, simple to work with, and perfectly practical.

By this time it had become mere routine to offer excellent support for all the popular CPUs — the days when you had to pick and choose main boards to run a K5 or a Cyrix chip were long gone — and even the unusual 55MHz bus 6x86-133 just plugged in. The only chip you couldn't run on one of these was the 6x86-200 Classic with its 75MHz bus speed requirement. Some main board makers offered VX versions that supported 75MHz but the chipset was out of spec at that speed and, whether it was for that reason or some other, they rarely ran as reliably as the SiS and VIA based products.

  • CPU support: 6x86, K5, P54C, P55C.
  • Speed: 50, 55, 60, and 66MHz.
  • Slots: 4 PCI, 3 ISA
  • RAM: 4 72-pin fast page or EDO up to 128MB, 64MB cacheable.
  • Cache: Surface mount, 512k pipeline burst.
  • Chipset: Intel VX, AMI BIOS.
  • Best With: Pentium Classic.
  • Date: 16th January 1997.
FIC PA-2007 illustration

FIC PA2007

The fastest motherboard in the world for a long, long time, and it was still amongst the very best even in the twilight of its career.

FIC and VIA have always had very close connections — they are both owned by the giant Formosa Plastics combine — and FIC have often taken advantage of this to be first out with new VIA-based products. The PA-2007 was no exception: it was the first board to feature the VIA Apollo 590 VP-2 chipset. Naturally, it supported all the then-new features like SDRAM, ATA-33, and linear burst mode, and it came with a full 1MB of cache RAM — a very significant factor indeed. They were not cheap, but this sort of quality never is.

With a K6-200 or 233 they were ideal. Although they were supposed to do 75MHz, we were never happy with them at that speed: the cheaper, older PA-2005 was much more dependable. At 66MHz, however, they were just about unbeatable.

  • CPU support: 6x86 to 166, 6x86MX to 200, C6, K5, K6, P54C, P55C.
  • Speed: 50, 55, 60, 66MHz.
  • Slots: 4 PCI, 3 ISA
  • RAM: 4 72-pin FPM, EDO or BEDO and 2 168-pin SDRAM, up to 512MB.
  • Cache: Surface mount, 1Mb pipeline burst (512k optional).
  • Chipset: VIA Apollo 590VP, Award BIOS.
  • Best With: K6-233, Pentium MMX-233
  • Status: Legacy.


An interesting board based on the SiS 5598 single-chip chipset. Performance was excellent for an entry-level board. They had the usual outstanding ASUS build quality and superb documentation.

Their most unusual feature was the optional on-board video. This was not the then-common dedicated video chip added on as an afterthought (always a stupid idea), but actually an integral part of the single massive SiS 5598 chip. It used 1, 2 or 4MB of main system memory for video RAM (user selectable through the BIOS). Theoretically, this should have been slower than a proper stand-alone card, but in practice it was competitive with the common entry-level video chips (Trident 9440, for example) and it was certainly fast enough for most users, even many games players.

We generally discourage over-integration but made an exception for the SP97-V as the extra cost was very small and it was a simple matter to add a different video card and switch off the main board display.

  • CPU support: 6x86, 6x86MX to 200, C6, K5, K6, P54C, P55C.
  • Speed: 50 to 75MHz.
  • Slots: 4 PCI, 3 ISA
  • RAM: 4 72-pin FPM or EDO, up to 256MB.
  • Cache: Surface mount, 512k pipeline burst.
  • Chipset: SiS 5598, Award BIOS.
  • Best With: C6, 6x86MX-200, Pentium MMX, K6
  • Status: Legacy.

PC Chips VX Pro

These appeared towards the end of the most notable period of sleaze the industry had endured so far and were very common in bottom-dwelling dealers' systems around the start of 1997. They remained available at swap meets for some time after that, but the word had spread and most buyers had learned their lesson.

→ An Amptron PM8600 (one of the many aliases PC Chips took to using after their own name had become too tarnished) together with a Pentium 200 Classic. The gentleman who bought this new is a trusting soul who knows little about computers. He was probably told that he was buying the market-leading combination: an Intel VX chipset mainboard and a Pentium 200 MMX before a no-name shop palmed him off with this thing. Oddly enough, this particular one gave trouble free service for five full years. To be sure it got only light-duty use — no games or other stressful applications — but for a VX Pro five years was outstanding.Very few went that long.

By 1997 the price of cache RAM had fallen to a fraction of its former cost and there was little to be gained by faking it. In any case, the fake cache trick was becoming too well known. This board has real cache. Once again the PC Chips mania for relabelling chipsets is at work though: the PM8600 has a VIA chipset, factory relabelled as "VX Two" and that is relabelled VX Pro!

We came to know the variously rebadged VX Pros quite well through 1997 and '98, as people brought systems in to be upgraded or repaired — repaired, mostly, few of them ran reliably, and they were hopeless at their advertised 75MHz. By the end of '98 it had become rare to see one. Most had been replaced already with something less prone to hangs and lockups.

  • CPU support: 6x86 to 166, 6x86MX to 200, K5, K6, P54C, P55C.
  • Speed: 50, 55, 60, or 66MHz.
  • Slots: 4 PCI, 4 ISA
  • RAM: 4 72-pin up to 128MB, 2 168-pin up to 128MB
  • Cache: Surface mount, 512k pipeline burst.
  • Chipset: VIA aka VX Two aka VX Pro, Award BIOS.
  • Best With: Best avoided
  • Date: 22nd August 1997.

Gigabyte 586s2

These improved on the old 586s in several ways: notably support for ATA-33 hard drives and SDRAM, but overall their stability was disappointing. Like the 586s, they officially supported a 75MHz bus but were less solid than the best of the 75MHz Socket 7 boards: the FIC PA-2005 and VA-502, and the ASUS SP97V.

The blue switch block at lower right replaced jumpers — it should be easier to set up but was let down by the usual weak Gigabyte documentation. A couple of extra SIMM sockets would have been nice — SDRAM was still very rare at this time, and EDO remained the norm, so two 72-pin sockets was not really enough.

Overall, not as good as the older 586S but not a bad board, and one which saw us through a couple of shortages.

  • CPU support: 6x86 to 166, 6x86MX to 200, C6, K5, K6, P54C, P55C.
  • Speed: 50 to 75MHz.
  • Slots: 5 PCI, 3 ISA
  • RAM: 2 72-pin FPM or EDO, 2 168-pin DIMM, up to 384MB.
  • Cache: Surface mount, 512k pipeline burst.
  • Chipset: SiS 5582, Award BIOS.
  • Best With:
  • Status: Legacy.

FIC PT2007

One of the several Intel TX chipset boards we had tried over the previous year or so. On the whole, we remained unimpressed by them.

The TX was little faster than the old Intel VX, SiS 5571 and VIA VP-1 chipsets, and was generally inferior to several other competing new-generation Socket 7 products. TX reliability and compatibility was often questionable too: it used a 3 Volt rather than the traditional 5 Volt power supply and in the early days this could play havoc with all sorts of peripheral components. Intel's decision to restrict the TX to 64MB of cached RAM was, if not self-serving and cynical, at the very least dreadfully shortsighted. While Intel-based boards generally provided the best match for Intel CPUs (apart from the very expensive Apollo-based PA-2007), in many ways we still preferred the older but faster HX chipset for the Pentium MMX — notably, with FIC's PT-2200.

  • CPU support: 6x86 to 166, 6x86MX to 200, C6, K5, K6, P54C, P55C.
  • Speed: 50, 55, 60, or 66MHz.
  • Slots: 4 PCI, 3 ISA
  • RAM: 4 72-pin FPM or EDO, up to 256MB, 2 168-pin Synchronous or EDO up to 128MB
  • Cache: Surface mount, 512k pipeline burst.
  • Chipset: Intel Triton 430TX, Award BIOS.
  • Best With: Pentium MMX
  • Status: Legacy.

Shuttle HOT-569

Sooner or later, we had to find a TX board we liked. Almost at the end of the TX chipset's market life, we did: the Shuttle HOT-569. It had the usual TX limitations, of course, but the 569 was quick, beautifully laid out, and as reliable as they come. Easy to work on too. We ended up selling quite a lot of them, mostly with K6-233 CPUs.

Shuttle's documentation was remarkable: there was no manual as such, simply an attractive A5 leaflet on glossy paper card. No PR fluff, no endless pages of useless information, just the essentials in a clear and readable form. In our view, that was perfect. (As a bonus, it was also error-free — unlike all too many much bigger, fancier-looking manuals from firms you would expect to do better.)

  • CPU support: 6x86, 6x86MX 166, 200, 233, 300, C6, K5, any K6 (but not K6-2), P54C, P55C.
  • Speed: 50, 55, 60, or 66MHz.
  • Slots: 4 PCI, 3 ISA
  • RAM: 4 72-pin FPM or EDO, up to 256MB, 2 168-pin Synchronous or EDO up to 128MB
  • Cache: Surface mount, 512k pipeline burst.
  • Chipset: Intel Triton 430TX, Award BIOS.
  • Best With: K6-233, Pentium MMX
  • Status: Legacy.