- Board Layout
The AK35GTR motherboard features a pretty standard setup as far as actual layout is concerned. Besides the AGP slot, it has the full compliment of six PCI slots. This will allow for maximum expandability when it comes time to add on all those fun new toys that are hitting the market. I was able to have an oversized cooler on my video board and still have plenty of room to install a SoundBlaster card, TV Tuner, MPEG Hardware card and a NIC. All without any conflicts within the operating system too. Also noted was the omission of the ACR/CNR slot. It seems that Shuttle has the same opinion of these little items as most overclockers...they're worthless!
Looking elsewhere on the board, we see a logical placement of the different features. RAID connectors sit away from the others to eliminate the chance of your cabling getting all knotted up, the fan headers are actually placed close to the items that will have need for them, and the use of jumpers has been kept to a minimum.
The chipset that handles duties of this board is the tried and true VIA KT266A. It has proven itself to be one of the premiere chipsets currently available, and manages to handle the job of overclocking very well also. Since this is a motherboard with the true enthusiast in mind, Shuttle started with a firm foundation and went from there.
The VT8366A Northbridge will handle the communications between memory and processor, and the VT8233 Southbridge will take charge of the chatting between the system and peripherals. This is the same combination of chips that are used on other KT266A based boards, so there should be no surprises when setting everything up. Also noted was the active cooling on the Northbridge. This should help out nicely when it comes time to use some of the more aggressive performance settings.
- Onboard Sound
I remember the old days when even the mention of onboard sound was an instant cause to rebuke a motherboard used by a Power User. Come to think of it, those olden days were only a couple of years ago, but you get the idea. Onboard sound was strictly for a business machine since the output quality was absolutely horrible. Static, strange sounds added in and no bass were pretty standard for these inbred features, but things have changed considerably since then.
With the advent of the AC'97 sound standard, onboard sound took a huge leap forward. While the quality still wasn't better than most add-on sound cards, it was to a point where it was acceptable. But users were wanting something better, and to try to accommodate this, Shuttle has added in the C-Media 8738 sound processor. Though still not quite as good as a full blown SoundBlaster Live rig, it does manage to offer very good sound quality and has support for 5.1 speaker systems. And for those who happen to have a separate subwoofer, we have this nifty little feature:
This little gem allows you to add that subwoofer and have all the bass effects you want. It uses up a peripheral slot, but it can easily be placed in the first slot by the AGP port since that is a pretty useless slot anyway.
- Onboard RAID
With everything else that this board has to offer, what could make it better? Onboard RAID, of course. And not only do we have RAID built right in, we also have the newest of the controller chips handling the chores. Enter the Highpoint HPT 372 RAID controller. It takes the same HPT 370 controller that has been working so well in previous boards and adds in ATA133 support. While ATA133 drives are still pretty rare right now, it is being accepted as the next step in hard drive speeds. The addition of this controller now will allow you to jump right into the new drives when they start hitting the market in force.
But we don't want this controller just for the faster speeds, we want RAID! The Highpoint chip delivers just that. Whether you want the added capacity and speed of a RAID 0 setup, the redundancy of a RAID 1 array, or a combination of both in a RAID 0+1 rig, you're ready to roll from the start. The Highpoint controller allows you to use up to four drives in the array, so capacity and/or redundancy shouldn't be any concern at all.
As noted previously, the RAID connectors are set apart from the other IDE connections. This will help make sure that you don't end up with a huge mess of cabling on your hands when you try to get everything hooked up. Since these slots are at the bottom end of the board, the cabling won't get in the way, and can easily be tucked neatly in the bottom of the case to help with airflow.