..:: Package ::..
The P4PA-UL comes along with a decent package including the driver CD, one ATA-66/100/133 ribbon cable, one floppy cable, a two port USB expansion module, a special I/O bracket, a quick installation guide in eight languages, and of course the user manual. I would like to see VIA include a second ATA-66/100/133 cable for users who prefer their CD-ROM’s and Hard Drives to be located on separate cables.
The quick installation guide is a very nice addition to the P4PA package. These can often be seen in packages from Asus. They basically are for the first time builder who isn’t 100% sure on how to go about assembling all of the components for their PC. It is well written and should be useful to all computer building novices. The quick installation guide comes along in eight different languages, such as English, German, French, Italian, etc.
Much like the quick installation guide, the included user manual is very well written and laid out. The I/O bracket that VIA included is very easy to use, simply pop out the old I/O bracket, and pop in the new one. The only difference between the older bracket and the included bracket is that the USB & Ethernet ports are now located at the bottom, instead of between the Serial / Parallel, and PS/2 ports.
..:: Feature Set ::..
The P4PA really shines in the amount of onboard features it offers for the price. The P4PA comes along with an integrated AC97 audio, Realtek LAN, and USB 2.0 provided by VIA’s own VT6202 chip. Many users shy away from utilizing any sort of onboard audio, with the exception of C-Media’s offerings. The AC97 codec does a fairly nice job for sound, as long as you have a quality set of speakers. Audiophiles will still prefer to use their own sound cards, such as I do.
The onboard LAN feature is one that I have really begun to look for in a motherboard. For the general user, the Realtek onboard Ethernet controller will do the job just fine. Some users with high end LAN cards will surely prefer to use their own, but I prefer to utilize the onboard controller. This can help the user avoid those dreaded IRQ problems when using multiple PCI slots.
The last great onboard feature is the inclusion of VIA’s own VT6202 USB 2.0 controller. As more and more USB 2.0 products begin to trickle onto the market, this feature will garner more and more use. I myself still prefer FireWire over USB 2.0, however no one can argue what USB has brought to the table as far as PC’s go. The extra rear two port module brings a total of four USB 2.0 / 1.1 ports. Four ports should be enough to keep most anyone happy. If you use more than 4 USB ports all at once, then you’re S.O.L.
The P4PA-UL also features ATA/133 support provided by VIA’s VT8233A South Bridge. The board comes along with two IDE ports, providing a maximum of 4 IDE devices. The only major feature lacking from the P4PA-UL would have to be onboard RAID. If VIA were to include an onboard RAID controller, and still keep the costs down, the board would definitely be in the running for the ultimate feature set.