nForce 680i motherboards are now starting to pop up from all the major players in the motherboard industry. ASUS, MSI and Gigabyte have already released boards that differ from the nVidia reference design. We have tested the ASUS board, the MSI product is on its way and now more are starting to flow in. While there are plenty of motherboards out there based on this chipset, we are really only interested in checking out boards that differ from the reference design as with these products the only difference is what is included inside the box.Since ABIT has managed to get new backing for their motherboard label, we are starting to see new boards finally coming out of Universal ABIT's production factory. While it's taking them some time to recover with many new changes inside the company itself, it appears as if things are gradually getting back to normal for the Taiwanese company.Today we are going to put their latest board, the IN9 32X-MAX Wi-Fi, based on the still newish nForce 680i chipset designed to take Core 2 platform to the next level, can it handle this or will it fizzle out under pressure? When we first had a chance to preview this board back a few months ago, we were very excited about the possibilities with claims that the board could reach around 550MHz FSB under the right conditions but now that we have a retail sample in our labs for testing, does it stand up to the hype?It comes with some extra features such as the AirPace Wi-Fi 802.11g wireless kit and revised digital power management but how does it stack up when we overclock?Let's take a look and find out!
SpecificationsSpecifications of the ABIT IN9 32X-MAX Wi-FiCPU
Supports All Intel Socket T (LGA775) Series CPUSupports Pentium 4 500, 600, Pentium EE, Pentium D, Core 2 Quad, Core 2 Duo.Chipset
nVidia nForce 680i SLI ChipsetnForce C55 680i SPPnForce MCP680 MCPHyper Transport @ 2GHzSystem Memory
4 DDR2 SDRAM 1240pin DIMM SocketsSupports DDR2-533/667/800/1066MHz64/128Bit Dual ChannelSupports up to 4GB Total Memory (4x 1GB)Bus Frequency
133/200/266/333MHz Internal533/800/1066/1333MHz ExternalExpansion Slots
3 PCI Express x162 PCI Express x12 PCIConnectivity
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives6 Serial ATA ports2 Gigabit Ethernet PortExpansion Ports
1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port10 USB 2.0 Ports (4 rear accessible, 6 via expansion bracket)6 Stereo Audio Ports2 SPDIF Toslink Ports2 e.SATA Ports2 Firewire ports (via expansion bracket)
Inside the BoxPackage and Contents
Before we get into the board itself and testing we want to have a look at what ABIT includes inside the box - after all, if you're going to pay big bucks for a high-end board from a company like ABIT, you want something for it. ABIT's new box designs are quite attractive, not a huge array of colours, however, what they have put into it makes it quite attractive. The front of the board is pretty simple with the logo and model number along with some artistry.
The back of the box has a lot of info on the board, its individual features explained as well as a full colour photo showing off the features of the board itself. This helps the consumer decide if this really is the board for them. Nothing worse than getting a board you know nothing about.
ABIT has put a large array of documentation into the board with a total of four user manuals. The first and most colourful of the bunch is the quick install manual. If you're planning to slap this board in without worrying about full explanation of the features and setting of the board, this will help you locate the headers and front panel connectors as well as detail the pin arrangements for the front panel led and switches.The second is the actual full detail manual of the board which will get you setup but has far more info on the board's layout, features and BIOS. The third is a user manual for the included Wireless Ethernet card that ABIT now also sells separate as the first Wireless PCI-E adapter out there; it's about time we have more PCI-E devices on the market.Last but not least on the documentation is a sticker that you can place on the inside of the removable case side panels that also details the layout and the headers on the board for quick summary for others who want to know where things are, like PC technicians at the local shop if you ever need to take it there.
ABIT provides a single driver CD that contains drivers for XP and XP64. Vista drivers haven't shown up here yet, however, when this board was produced and sent to us, Vista wasn't yet mainstream, we can hope that all new boards that come out have Vista drivers included.
ABIT have a fantastic cable bundle for the boards' mass media setup. Out of the total 6 internal SATA ports the board offers there are 6 SATA data cables included, a single IDE cable for the single IDE channel and a FDD cable for the FDD port. Both the parallel cables are rounded so you don't have to worry about air flow with these babies in your case.
The rear I/O shield for the ABIT board contains a Silent OTES cooling port that allows the board to vent hot air out the back of the case thought the slits you can see in the I/IO shield When using SLI, a PCI cover slot is available to hold the SLI bridge connector in place so it doesn't fall off if you transport your case.
ABIT have included an SLI bridge connector for the SLI usage. The connector is quite large in length due to the spacing that ABIT uses for its PCI Express graphics slots to allow much better cooling than previous SLI layouts.
Finally we have PCI Express expansion cards coming. We did have one quite a while ago from Gigabyte using a wired LAN card, but this is the first PCI Express x1 Wireless card available from ABIT. This card uses a Marvell Wireless PCI Express chip and connects to any of the PCI Express x1 slots on the board. If you upgrade your board later on, you can use this card in your new board and it's a nice inclusion as it feels like you're getting something extra for your money.
Now it's down to the motherboard itself, and ABIT's design is eye catching. It uses a full 6 layer 30x24cm ATX board, you need a good size ATX case to fit this board in without having to worry about air flow problems, any case designed to take a E-ATX board will have no problems with this baby. The PCB used is black in colour with black and blue slots and copper heatsinks.ABIT has placed the 24-pin power connector behind the DIMM sockets along with the SATA ports, 4 of them are rotated 90 degrees to the board, and the other 2 are standard up and down. The 4/8 pin power connector gets placed behind the PS/2 towers above the heatsinks that cooled the MosfetsThe IDE connector sits at 90 degrees to the board and is located below the SATA ports on the right hand edge of the board. The FDD connector I am sorry to say finds its place in our most loathed stop, bottom right of the board, which is a shocking position but thankfully most people rarely use the aging floppy drive these days.
ABIT's layout around the CPU is extremely clean, in fact is it has the best landscape we have seen, there are no large capacitors towering up and plenty of room to install large heatsinks if you desire.For juicing up the CPU, ABIT has gone digital with their PWM for longer life and better stability. Using a Puise Digital controller chip, the CPU is fed its voltage though a 5 phase system. The Mosfets are located under the large heatsink pictured. This Silent OTES heatsink also takes the heats from the Northbridge and Southbridge chips though the interconnected heatpipe network. Both the Northbridge and Southbridge on nForce 680i chip get very hot unless cooled properly and the type of heat pipe solution employed by ABIT here is quite good.ABIT has also decided to spend a little extra cash and use higher quality all solid capacitors from Japan which operate at a lower temperature and provide added stability and product life time. This is something that more and more motherboard companies are starting to do now and it's great to see that they are interested in producing higher quality products which could effectively be useful for at least 10 years (compared to around 4 - 6 years with cheaper parts) before the parts such as capacitors start to cause issues for you.
ABIT's rear I/O ports are pretty common with the exception of adding in a couple of e.SATA ports. These are controlled by a Silicon Image 3132 PCI Express chip located just behind the 2 ports. There is also a CMOS reset switch on the back - on one position it keeps CMOS data, switch it over and CMOS is reset back to defaults. It is a good addition indeed for overclockers but keep in mind there are also reset and power button on the board itself which also are great when testing and overclocking.
Lastly on the board layout front is the expansion slots. ABIT has done a very good job on this lot, as well. There are a total of 3 PCI Express x16 slots which is the maximum that the 680i chipset supports with 2 black slots and 1 blue slot. The 2 black slots are full-speed x16 slots for SLI gaming, the top black slot runs off the 680i Northbridge and the other black x16 slot runs off the Southbridge. The blue PCI Express x16 slot is electrically only running at x8. This slot is designed for a third graphics card in order to gain more than 4 monitors or to run nVidia's physics engine off another nVidia graphics card which we may actually end up seeing one of these days - possibly very soon or half way through the year. If you aren't going to run a third graphics card or physics card, you can put in any PCI Express expansion card, great for running RAID controllers out there that use either the x4 or x8 bandwidth. And finishing off the list is 2 PCI Express x1 slots and 2 PCI slots.ABIT has added in two extra peripherals that aren't controlled by the nVidia chipsets. The first we already mentioned the Silicon Image 3132 SATA chip for the 2 e.SATA ports and the other is the Texas Instruments Firewire chip which adds a couple IEEE1394 ports.
BIOS and OverclockingBIOS
Now it's down to where the action starts, the BIOS. ABIT has always used Award BIOS for its setups. ABIT in fact can be credited for starting the big BIOS overclocking phase.ABIT was one of the very first motherboard companies to use a Jumperfree BIOS setups for its early Socket 7 boards based on the TX chipsets and while they weren't too good for overclocking, as they would reset to defaults too much, they were great for setting up the CPU and this has continued to this day, only with a lot better settings and stability. Softmenu was ABIT's first Overclocking BIOS, now they are calling it uGURU.
The uGURU menu is where ABIT houses its overclocking features.FrequenciesFSB (QDR)
: 400MHz to 3000MHz in 1MHz increments MEM (DDR2)
: 400MHz to 1400MHz in 1MHz increments NB PCI-E x16 Clock
: 100MHz to 200MHz in 1MHz increments SB PCI-E x16 Clock
: 100MHz to 200MHz in 1MHz increments SB PCI-E x8 Clock
: 100MHz to 200MHz in 1MHz incrementsSPP MCP Ref Clock
: 200MHz to 500MHz in 1MHz incrementsVoltagesCPU Core Voltage
: 1.3v to 1.95v in 0.01V incrementsDDR2 SDRAM voltage
: 1.8vv to 2.95v in 0.025v incrementsCPU VTT Voltage:
1.5v to 1.8v in 0.1v incrementsNB Voltage
: 1.35v to 1.55v in 0.05v incrementsSB Voltage
: 1.5v to 1.7v in 0.05v incrementsHyper Transport Voltage
: 1.2v to 1.4v in 0.05v incrementsOverclocking
Until now everything was looking really good for the IN9 32X-MAX Wi-Fi motherboard but this is where things get a little sour for ABIT.
We only managed to get 467MHz FSB stable out of the motherboard with the latest BIOS sent to us. Now this does sound good but we had to raise the voltages to get this far. But even all the voltages in the world that the board had we couldn't get it stable beyond this, in fact it was like a huge brick wall was put in the board's road.We were told up front by ABIT that the digital PWM area of the motherboard requires additional active fan cooling if you are to go any higher than 450MHz FSB. We added a couple of extra fans to this area of the motherboard to try and aid in FSB overclocking but 467MHz was the maximum we could get out of the motherboard even with the latest and last ditched attempt tweaked BIOS from ABIT.From our talks with ABIT, it seems as if that much man power has been put into tweaking the BIOS and that's about all you can expect to get out of the IN9 32X-MAX Wi-Fi. It's a mystery why this motherboard cannot match even the nVidia reference boards but clearly something went wrong with the BIOS or production of the motherboard. While over 500MHz FSB would have been nice, around 460MHz FSB might just be enough for some people, so just keep this in mind if you intend on buying this product.Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we don't have enough time to tweak the motherboard to the maximum and find the highest possible FSB as this could take days to properly find. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released or "burn in" time might come into play if you believe in that.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and Memory PerformanceTest System SetupProcessor
: Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 (Supplied by Intel
: 2x 1GB DDR2-1066 Corsair (Supplied by Corsair
: 500GB Seagate 7200.9 SATA (Supplied by Seagate Australia
: MSI Radeon X1950 Pro (Supplied by MSI
: Gigabyte Neon775 (Supplied by Gigabyte
: Microsoft Windows XP SP2Drivers
: nForce Platform Driver 9.53, ATI Catalyst 7.1 and DX9cOur test systems are comprised of the ABIT IN9 32X-MAX Wi-Fi motherboard and our reference board from eVGA which is based on the nVidia reference design.Like normal we run both boards at stock speeds as well as overclocked. Our overclocked settings were 468MHz FSB with a multiplier of 7x for the ABIT motherboard providing a clock speed of 3270MHz and 503MHz FSB with a multiplier of 7x for the eVGA motherboard providing a clock speed of 3507MHz.Clearly the eVGA reference motherboard has an advantage not just in processor clock speed but also FSB. Let's get into the benchmark and see what type of affect this has on overall performance. The IN9 32X-MAX Wi-Fi has plenty of great features and visual appeal but what does this mean if it cannot perform?Let's get started!EVEREST Ultimate EditionVersion and / or Patch Used:
2006Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.comBuy It Here
EVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems.
We can see that in the memory performance side of things the ABIT board's lack of speed and poorly optimised BIOS really lets the board down when overclocked and it'll no doubt be a continued trend.
Benchmarks - PCMarkPCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.2.0Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/Buy It Here
PCMark is a multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.
Again with low memory bandwidth we see the ABIT board lagging behind when overclocked.
Benchmarks - WorldBenchWorldBenchVersion and / or Patch Used:
5.0Developer Homepage: http://www.pcworld.com Product Homepage: http://www.pcworld.comBuy It Here
WorldBench 5.0 is the fifth generation of PC World's industry-standard benchmarking application. Designed to measure the performance of today's wide range of personal computers, WorldBench has been in continuous use at PC World for nine years.WorldBench 5.0 uses the following applications to gauge system performance: ACD Systems ACDSee PowerPack 5.0, Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1, Adobe Premiere 6.5, Ahead Software Nero Express 126.96.36.199, Discreet 3ds max 5.1 (DirectX), Discreet 3ds max 5.1 (OpenGL), Microsoft Office XP with SP-2, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9.0, Mozilla 1.4, Musicmatch Jukebox 7.10, Roxio VideoWave Movie Creator 1.5 and WinZip Computing WinZip 8.1.
With a lower clock speed and poor memory performance we see the IN9 32X-MAX Wi-Fi fall behind again when in an overclocked state.
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere ElementsAdobe Premiere ElementsVersion and / or Patch Used:
2.0Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/Buy It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 is performed with a raw two hour AVI file. It is then compressed into DivX format using the latest version codec. We measure the time it takes to encode and then record CPU usage.
With lower clock and RAM speeds the ABIT board really isn't getting a good run here either.
Benchmarks - 3DMark063DMark06Version and / or Patch Used:
Build 110Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/Buy It Here
3DMark06 is the very latest version of the "Gamers Benchmark" from FutureMark. The newest version of 3DMark expands on the tests in 3DMark05 by adding graphical effects using Shader Model 3.0 and HDR (High Dynamic Range lighting) which will push even the best DX9 graphics cards to the extremes.3DMark06 also focuses on not just the GPU but the CPU using the AGEIA PhysX software physics library to effectively test single and Dual Core processors.
In our first synthetic game test we see the ABIT motherboard behind the eight ball like our application tests.
Benchmarks - PREYPREYVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.2Timedemo or Level Used:
Hardware OC Demo Developer Homepage: http://www.humanhead.com Product Homepage: http://www.prey.comBuy It Here
PREY is one of the newest games to be added to our benchmark line-up. It is based off the Doom 3 engine and offers stunning graphics passing what we've seen in Quake 4 and does put quite a lot of strain on our test systems.
PREY also gives ABIT a kick in the teeth.
Benchmarks - Far CryFar CryVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.3Timedemo or Level Used:
Benchemall DefaultDeveloper Homepage: http://www.crytek.comProduct Homepage: http://www.farcrygame.comBuy It Here
While Far Cry is now one of our older benchmarking games, it is still able to put pressure on most computers systems as it is able to utilize all parts of the system. Utilizing PS2.0 technology with the latest versions supporting Shader Model 3.0 with DX9c and offering an exceptional visual experience, there is no denying that even some of the faster graphics cards get a bit of a workout.
Our last test also doesn't give ABIT a good show in the graphs.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
One thing we really weren't expecting from ABIT was a motherboard that didn't overclock at least as well as the competition. ABIT has always put a lot of time and research into their boards, and being such a high profile chipset like the nVidia nForce 680i, we were hoping to see one of the highest overclocking Core 2 motherboards on the market. Unfortunately we have been let down here in the overclocking department.While most of the features come off the nVidia chipset, ABIT has gone the extra mile to try and make their motherboard standout by including extras such as the 802.11G wireless PCI Express adapter and antenna along with features to extend longevity and stability such as an enhanced digital PWM and all solid capacitors. You've also got a bunch of cables for all the data ports and the older style cables are even rounded to help aid in improved air flow inside your case. If you don't intend on overclocking past the 400MHz FSB mark, it's actually quite an attractive motherboard.The overclocking part we were extremely disappointed in and that has to be said since we always place such a big emphasis on overclocking in our motherboard reviews. While we managed to hit 450MHz FSB without having to change voltages to their limits, once 450 was reached, it took extreme efforts to get 460MHz and above out of the board. In fact to reach 455MHz FSB, we had to max out all the voltages on the board, which leads us to believe there is either a BIOS or design issue here. While ABIT did send us a new BIOS to use that improved things slightly, it only allowed us around 10MHz extra FSB to 468MHz FSB.Even though the ABIT IN9 32X-MAX Wi-Fi motherboard has an extensive pros list, it is let down by a few major key points such as poor overclocking and price. While it's cheaper than something like the ASUS Striker Extreme by around $70 AUD (about $54 USD), if you're spending that much money you're probably better off spending a little more. While it has improved features and extras over the reference design, is it really spending an extra $80 AUD (about $60 USD) on the ABIT motherboard? That's up for you to decide and it depends greatly on your overclocking requirements but this time around your money might be better spent elsewhere on a different brand of nForce 680i motherboards.- Pros
Included 802.11G wireless adapter and antennaEnhanced digital PWMAll solid capacitorsDual full-speed PCI Express x16 slotsThird PCI Express x16 slot for physics system or Mass Storage ControllersRounded cables and enough included for all portsA couple e.SATA ports for external storageSilent heat pipe cooling- Cons
Limited OverclockingDigital PWM might be require additional coolingExpensive- Latest Pricing Rating - 7.5 out of 10