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Tyan Tyan Thunder K7 SMP Motherboard Review
Date Posted: Jun 27 2001
Author: Joe
Posting Type: Review
Category: Motherboard Reviews
Page: 1 of 4
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Note: This is a legacy article, imported from old code. Due to this some items on the page may not function as expected. Links, Colors, and some images may not be set correctly.
Tyan Thunder K7 SMP Motherboard Review By: Joe

By : Joe     6/27/01

 A Project started by AMD and Tyan in a joint partnership well over a year and a half ago has produced the first Dual AMD motherboard.

This next step for Intel sibling AMD allows them to propel into the markets only Intel, and other server architectures have played before - Server and Workstations. 

The AMD/Tyan partnership is not unique as AMD in the past has used various companies to pilot and engineer their reference boards for new and emerging platforms. When AMD rolled out their first generation Athlon in SlotA format FIC was the company AMD

picked to partner up with.   At that point in time FIC designed the "Fester" reference design, which was used by a good majority of all the first gen Slot A motherboards using the AMD 751- Irongate chip. When the first Slot A motherboards were released the rumor was that they would support SMP operation. AMD made a few statements about the Duron and the Athlon being SMP compatible, but until now have not been able to prove it.

Since those days back in July and August of 1999, AMD has gone from roughly 5% of the market to 20+% of Silicon in machines.  Now with this next step they have a goal of 30%. In today's shaky economy, fiercely competitive price wars, rapidly evolving technology, AMD is in for the fight of its life against industry giant Intel.   AMD recognizes this and is exactly why they are looking to diversify their target markets from more then the mainstream / low end machines.

June 4th 2001 AMD and Tyan announced officially the Tyan Thunder K7 mother board based on the AMD 762MP chipset. This is the new reference platform for AMD, the "Guiness" board as it was called for over a year of testing it went though.  Even though AMD and Tyan never officially "announced" this board/chip set before June 4th 2001, This board was being tested all around the country and world for many many months.  Since this is a platform to be used in a Server/Workstation market, a flawed product is just totally not acceptable.  AMD's future in the server and workstation market depends on releasing a stable, fast, and feature rich product on the first try.

Why Tyan? Simple. Since this is AMD's first chance to play with the big boys in a extremely lucrative, and make/break market, it needed to partner up with a name that stands for Quality, and Stability. Tyan has long been known for its extremely powerful and capable Dual processor mother boars all the way since the Pentium 1 days.
Tyan has a few families of mother boards:

  • TomCat - Integrated, all in one Economy solutions
  • Trinity - Versatile Economy, Mainstream single CPU Motherboards
  • Tiger - SOHO, Economy Dual CPU Motherboards
  • Thunder - Industrial, Professional Dual CPU Motherboards

The Tiger and Thunder motherboards are 2 totally different beasts.   The Tiger boards for the most part Lack integrated features like LAN, SCSI, Firewire.  They are strictly just dual CPU boards, but with the lack of additional features, they are very economical for the stability and performance you get.

The Thunder Motherboards are serious business.   These are the corwn jewel to Tyan.  These are highly integrated Dual CPU motherboards with some of the best hardware in the industry onboard. These boards normally sport better chipsets, higher ram limits, more PCI slots, and more kinds of PCI slots.  They may lack tweaking features from the other boards, but they are meant for one thing only - Stability, and Power.

Tyan has dabbled in AMD motherboards for a while with their Trinity family of single cpu Slot A and Socket A motherboards.  None of which really stand out in an already over diluted market of single CPU socket A motherboard.   Since Tyan and AMD have so much resting on the success of the Thunder K7 mother board launch, you have to know that both companies did everything in their power to make sure the product was fully cooked before releasing it. Numerous colleges, companies, and websites received demo preview boards to use and test.  The results?  well lets see.

 

Well... so now, after that lengthy historical look at how we got here, lets see what we got to show for it.

There is the lil board that I bought from ENPC along with the PSU and case for it.

It was a worthy investment and a absolute rush to get :)

As you can see this is no small board, its a Full EATX size wall to wall workstation/server board.  Tyan spared little expense on developing this board with AMD and the quality is seen in the image to the left.

Well there we have it folks.   The Thunder K7 in all its glory.  This board is clearly a departure from the stripped down "Thank god it even works" type first rollout of a chipset and a technology.  If you think back to the days of the FIC Fester ref board, there were no bells, no whistles, you were lucky to get ATA 66, USB and AGP. That rollout of a totally new technology was a slow ramp up to where we are today with the ATA100, Firewire, RAID all added features. That took a year to get to.  Not so for the Tyan Thunder K7.

This board comes out on its planned release date, on time ( well sorta... it was really anticipated about a year before it actually came out.. but I digress), and with most every bell and whistle ( minus an onboard Nv Quaddro video chip :) you could want.

  • Dual 3Com Server Class Ether link 3C920 Nics
  • Onboard ATI Rage XL
  • Dual Adaptec AIC 7899W Ultra 160 SCSI
  • ATA/100 IDE
  • AGP Pro5v 4x
  • 4 DDR Dimm Slots.

Now the stuff like the DDR may seem small, but its quite a feat.   Most boards have been limited to 3 DDR slots as the technology is still young, and they are JUST now able to get 4 DDR slots with no signal degradation issues.  The fact that was rolled out already on a chipset this new seems amazing.    But then again as the theme of this board is to make a big splash in the SMP market... they had to. 3DDR slots just doesn't cut it on a big machine.  This is no slim down pre-run board, this is the real deal, and Tyan is making it known.

Facts about the Board-

The Tyan Thunder K7 is a picky board.  The selection of CPU's and RAM it will accept is very slim.  This is done for a few reasons, one is that AMD doesn't want to support every DIY guy bitching that his Durons wont run a Enterprise DB fast enough, and also wants to maintain a very high system integrity.

The Specs are this:

CPU's Supported: Athlon MP 1.2Ghz ( currently)
Ram Supported : ( Various MFG's) Registered PC2100 DDR ( 72x ECC optional).


Q: What is Registered Ram? is it just s certified chip or what?
A: NO. It is a different technology all together.  DDR/SDRAM come in Registered, Buffered, and UnBuffered Versions.   These are all ways to allow the Chipset time to process data or expedite the data movement.  The UnBuffered is the fastest, but also is the least "secure".  Registered delays all data transactions by 1 clock cycle. This is in order to let the Data move in a more regulated and stable stream.  It takes a special chipset to handle Buffered or Registered DDR or SDR SDRAM.  While Registered DDR may not be the fastest in burst reads/writes it is the most stable and reliable. This is why most server class boards use this ram technology.  You CANNOT use Buffered, Registered, or UnBuffered in a board/chipset that does not support it. It will NOT work.

The Chipset-

NorthBridge -

SouthBridge -

Basically the heart of the whole SMP system is the AMD 762MP chipset. This is what hosts the Point to Point EV6 266Mhz DDR CPU Bus.  Since its Point to point, there are roughly 2x as many trances for a SMP board running to the chipset Vs. the Intel AGTL+ Bus architecture.  This also is what manages the PC2100 DDR ram, and the AGP Pro slot

From the top it looks like a mini K62, but its actually much thicker, about 2x as thick as a K62.  Its about exactly the size of a 486 chip.

This sucker gets insanely HOT, yet does not require a HSF.

The I/O controller is AMD's new 766 Viper Southbridge. This chip controls everything the Northbridge doesn't :).  its mainly responsible for the ATA 100,and all the 64Bit 33Mhz/5v PCI slots.  It also feeds the Winbond IO Controller

Combined they offer a very robust, and stable system.  AMD's "Super Bypass" memory enhancement is something that arrived on the Irongate chipset in a later batch. This gives AMD a real boost in the memory scores only paralleled by Via's Interleave technology.   Something unique about the north bridge is while it functions at 266Mhz, and runs 2 CPU's and 4 DDR slots, it does NOT need a hsf! No small feat for AMD who is lately getting the reputation Cyrix once had of the "hottest CPU around". ( which is ironic since Via/Cyricx are releasing the C3 and its able to run without a HSF... How times have changed.)

The Other Chipsets-

SCSI -

Prolly one of the coolest aspects of the board, is its Dual U160 SCSI. It gives this already robust machine the ability to also use some of the fastest SCSI drives on the market. While this chip contains NO raid capabilities, it does offer performance that will make people running ATA100 RAID arrays cry.  a Simple example is that a single 15Krpm Seagate HD moves more data per second on one of these controllers then a 2+ disk ATA 100 RAID set with 7200RPM drives would.

But the performance comes at a price, and that's is one of the main reasons this board is so expensive. Adding Dual U160 SCSI add's 100+ $ to the price tag for the board.

PCI OnBoard Video -

Onboard Ethernet -

Super I/O and HW Diag -

The integrated video is nothing to jump up and down about. Its a PCI Rage XL with 4mb of SDRAM.   This is meant strictly so that the board can be used in a 1U rack situation so it doesn't need a AGP video card.

One thing I did find out, you CANNOT use this video controller if you have one in the AGP slot.. so no Dual monitors with only one video card in. ( unless the video card has 2 ports). Not much else to say.. this video board works, but I disabled it ASAP Via its lil jumper.

The Onboard Dual Ethernet Controllers are a SWEET SWEET deal.  These are essentially 3C980C-TXM Server class Nic's.  I only have one enabled as I don't need the other right now.  But if you wanted to run your Internet connection in one port and your LAN into the other, it would make the perfect firewall / Router.

3Com has been long known as one of , if not the best Nic car Mfg. on the market, these dual Nics are no different. They both have WOL support, and are powered up any time the plug is in the PSU.

A Chip that goes largely unknown but plays a huge role in how your machine works, is the Winbond Super IO controller. This Controls all your ports ( Ser. Par. PS2), as well as Floppy, and USB.   This also runs all your monitoring for the CPU temps, CPU Fans,  Bus conditions ( Voltage readings).  Pretty funny how most of the time the south bridge is given the credit for those functions.. when the Winbond chip really does the work while the Southbridge just feeds it the PCI bus.

Someone Stole my Freak'n Chips -

The Missing Chip.... the Server Management chip... This is a QLogic Zircon for I2C management, IPMI and FRU management.  These are useless to a normal workstation person, but for a geek, or if you manage a server farm you WANT THIS.  Unfortunately you can only get the "M" rev board that has the management from a OEM distro, or order a big Qty of boards from Tyan yourself.  All the boards sent to the review sites in the first wave got the Management chips on them.  I bought this one my self so No go on the management. Oh well... Sucks cause I am a server geek who would really enjoy to have it to mess around with.

Now that we got the board chips explained lets look at the rest of it. and get into OC'n on the board

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