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ABIT back in the game, AN8-32X scrutinised (Page 4)

By: Cameron Johnson from Apr 10, 2006 @ 23:00 CDT
TweakTown Rating: 85%Manufacturer: Universal ABIT

Up close with the board

Now we start to take a look at the board itself. ABIT has gone with a light brown PCB measuring 30x30cm, which is standard ATX sizing. One thing even in the past with ABIT, placement of connectors was always good to excellent, and this is no exception. The 24-pin ATX power connector sits behind the four DIMM sockets. The two IDE are on the right hand edge of the board rotated 90 degrees as to keep the cables flat on the bottom of the case to increase air flow in tight cases.

The 4-pin power connector is located between the heatsink mount on the board and the I/O ports, traditionally not the best place for it. The floppy disk port is also located in a rather poor spot at the bottom of the PCI slots.

The power regulation system that ABIT implied is a 3 phase regulations system. Since AMD do not draw as much as the Intel counterparts, 3 phase is plenty, however, 4 would be better for a more stable voltage when overclocking the CPU to extremes.

ASUS may have started the trend of totally removing fans from the motherboard to keep the system as quiet as possible, but ABIT has moved to the next level. Atop of the Mosfets that control the voltage is a heatpipe assembly. This assembly also cools the heatsink on top of the Southbridge. The Northbridge just uses a small heatsink that is independent of the heat pipe, which we would prefer to see it connected to allow the heat from the Northbridge to be removed by the pipe. This heat is then transmitted outside the case with a small vent in the I/O shield using convection method.

ABIT in the past has revolutionised the rear I/O, it was ABIT who first removed the legacy ports, while not as successful back then when legacy was still being used. ABIT once again uses its own unique setup. Between the PS/2 ports and the SPDIF ports is a small hole that allows air from outside the case to enter through a vent in the I/O shield to keep the heat pipe assembly cool. The rest is pretty self explanatory.

Now we come to the layout of the expansion slots as well as the additional features the board supports thanks to the engineers at ABIT.

For the expansion slots, ABIT follows the nVidia reference layout. There are two full speed PCI Express x16 slots for SLI. The top x16 slot is routed to the Northbridge, the second is routed to the Southbridge and uses the Hyper Transport to link the two at 2000MHz which is the same speed that links the CPU to the nForce4 Northbridge.

There are two PCI Express x1 slots, one above and one below the top most PCI Express x16 slot. Lastly there are two PCI slots for adding in sound cards or other PCI devices like TV tuners.

The board uses a twin nForce4 chipset that supports 32 PCI Express lanes for graphics; these are split equally to two PCI Express x16 slots. There are also six additional PCI Express lanes, two are routed to the PCI Express x1 slots and the rest are used for onboard devices. Using the Hyper Transport link at 2000MHz allows nVidia to place one of the PCI Express x16 slots on the Southbridge.

ABIT also provides a Texas Instruments single chip IEEE-1394a PCI controller chip. Firewire is now being used more and more, and it's a damn good thing to see ABIT put all the bells and whistles on this board. In terms of LAN connectivity, a single Gigabit LAN port is provided using the nVidia onboard Gigabit MAC.

Lastly on the list of additional features is the Silicon Image 3132 PCI Express based two port SATA RAID controller chip. This chip has been popping up on quite a few boards with its native PCI Express interface as well as SATA-II specs. The only problem is it's limited to two SATA ports. We would like to see a PCI Express version of the 3114 with four SATA ports - that would make this the ultimate board, though this isn't ABIT's fault, as there is no four port PCI Express SATA controller available yet.

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