The RD580 is not only ATI's answer to NVIDIA's high end SLI chipsets, it also boasts of being the first true single chip dual x16 chipset around carrying a whopping 40 PCI Express lanes (the nForce4 SLI X16 and nForce 590 SLI both use a PCIe tunnel chip for extra PCIe lanes). However, ATI has always been hampered by Southbridge issues, forcing many manufacturers to rely on ULi for a more powerful solution. With arch-rival NVIDIA's acquisition of ULi Electronics, ATI needed to get their act together and the KA3 MVP is the first motherboard to cross our path bearing the new SB600 Southbridge. The SB600 is the first available component in ATI's upcoming 600 series chipsets (which we've had the opportunity of a glimpse of it at the recent Computex Taipei 2006 trade show). Not only does it fix the USB 2.0 performance issues, the SB600 will now feature all of ten USB 2.0 ports to match rival offerings.
With the SB600 onboard, the KA3 MVP's four main SATA ports support SATA 3.0Gbps speeds and advanced features including NCQ, AHCI and RAID 0, 1, and 10 functionality. ATI's block diagram shows RAID 5 support as well, though this doesn't seem evident on the KA3 MVP. The SB600 is also the latest chipset to reduce IDE support to a single channel. However, ECS rectifies this on the KA3 MVP with a JMicron controller providing an extra Ultra ATA-133 channel and two more SATA 3.0Gbps ports with RAID 0/1 support. Just like the KA1 MVP, ECS has included an eSATA bracket as part of the standard packaging. Seeing how the industry is trying to push eSATA as the next hot-pluggable storage medium of choice, this is a good little freebie even if you do not need it now.
HD Audio is a native feature as well and the KA3 MVP will support it through Realtek's ALC883 controller. This time, ECS provides both 8-channel analog line-outs plus coaxial and optical S/PDIF connectivity, an upgrade to the KA1 MVP. One of the surprises of the beefy SB600 Southbridge however, is its lack of any network features. The KA3 MVP overcomes this by using an Agere ET1310 PCIe controller for Gigabit LAN and also features a secondary Realtek RTL8100C Fast Ethernet controller. FireWire-400 is also available on the board through a VIA 6308P chipset.
Despite being an enthusiast motherboard, the KA3 MVP sports a clean an well spaced layout. One of the reasons for this is the missing ECS Extreme plaque, which now allows them to better use PCB real estate. Another reason, which also turns out to be a negative point is the board's lack of expansion slots. Most motherboards carry a six to seven slot configuration, but the KA3 MVP only has five; two PCI, one PCIe x1 and two PCIe x16 for CrossFire. When you take into account how thick high end Radeon X1000 series cards are, you'd probably be left with one usable PCI slot after installation, a nightmare for those who rely on the many after market add-on cards for audio, video or physics. Of course, with ATI touting their CrossFire physics, KA3 MVP users might be spared one less headache, but that is still one slot too little to satisfy the power user.