EPoX 8K5A3+ Features
True to EPoX style of aiming for a high end enthusiast motherboard rather than concerning themselves with OEM, the 8K5A3+ uses a 1/6/0 (AGP/PCI/Riser) layout; more than enough to fit in all your PCI cards. 4 DIMM slots have been added to this board to give you a maximum of 4GB of memory, definitely enthusiast based. While you might have trouble populating all 4 DIMMs with DDR-333 memory and getting them to work successfully ( I know I did), DDR-266 with 4 DIMMs worked without any problems whatsoever, so it does have its advantages. Layout wise, the IDE connectors for the VIA controlled IDE system are placed a bit further down and on the vertical rather than the horizontal. This takes a bit too much room and restricts the air flow with the cables being in the way of the front of the case. The floppy disk connector is in one of the worst spots available, right down the bottom of the board. This connector should be placed towards the top of the board for more ease of use for cases with FDD cradles up higher than normal.
The power connector is also in a slightly awkward spot. Requiring the cord to be draped over the heatsink and fan, this too reduces air flow to and from the CPU heatsink.
Since the release of the KT333CE Northbridge, just about every motherboard maker has come up with a winner, but what makes this more special than others? Here is the answer. Like only a handful of others out there, this new baby takes advantage of the new VT8235 Southbridge from VIA. This new Southbridge is VIA's latest installment to increase the compatibility with new generation hardware. Supporting 2nd generation V-Link connection, the Link speed of the VT8235 is boosted to 533MB/s rather than the original 266MB/s. A USB 2.0 controller has been built directly into the Southbridge offering 6 USB 2.0 ports (the chip used is the exact same one as the VT6206 PCI controller we have seen for some time now, so it should work flawlessly). Native ATA-133 support has been carried over from the 8233A Southbridge as well as a new Rhine II network controller. All told this adds some great features for low cost boards.
Quad Channel RAID - As if 4 IDE RAID wasn't enough, here comes 8
Now this is brilliant for the high end RAID users. We have seen this controller used on ABIT's Max series boards only so far, but this is no longer the case. EPoX has used the HPT374 Quad channel IDE RAID controller. Basically this is two HPT372 chips allowing you to use eight IDE devices in a single RAID array. Imagine eight WD 120GB HDD's! That's a spicy meatball if you can afford the drives.
Realtek AC'97 2.2 Sound, its getting better
AC'97 from the start was a doomed project. Choppy and very distorted sound plagued the system from the beginning and when it did finally work, it drained so much power out of the system that no one wanted to use it. Times have changed, but not by much. The new AC'97 rev 2.2 standard allows for 6 speaker operations with minimal system resources being used up. The sound that is being produced on this new Codec is getting a lot better than when it originally started out but its still not up to a full on PCI accelerators job.
Networking - Rhine II used
As we mentioned earlier, the VT8235 Southbridge comes with its own LAN controller built into the chipset. This controller runs off the ACR standards that VIA introduced, so this LAN card is a software controlled unit and when running very heavy LAN operations (such as full on live 100mbps streaming), it does suck a bit out of the system. For broadband ADSL, Cable or home networking or even the LAN event, this controller is excellent. It offers everything a 3Com or Intel controller does for the price of the Southbridge.