ABIT is back after some time in the dark and after the merge with USI it has not only presented some interesting plans for the future, but also finances to support these. We will take a closer look at one of the first new motherboards from ABIT, a board where you can clearly see the enthusiast intentions.
During the last six months, there have been a lot of discussions about Abit’s financial situation, which ended this spring with the merging of Abit and USI. Returning visitors have surely seen our follow-ups concerning this subject, through news and interviews with key persons at Abit. Just a few weeks ago, the deal was set in stone and Abit can once again fully concentrate on doing what it does best, producing motherboards of high quality. The timing could certainly not have been better, as the forthcoming six months is an exciting time on the motherboard market, where both AMD and Intel will be presenting substantial news in the shape of Socket AM2 and new chipsets for the approaching Core architecture.
Today we’ll be taking a closer look at Abit’s latest creation for AMD’s Socket939 platform – the Abit AN8 32X. The motherboard is based on nVidia’s latest edition of nForce4 chipsets that have been maturing considerably during the last six months, and now possess a stable position on the AMD market. Just like the name alludes to, we’re talking about a motherboard with two sets of 16x PCI-Express lanes for a total quantity of 32. This enables full bandwidth for two graphics cards in SLI mode. To set its own mark on the card, Abit has combined these specifications with passively cooled components and the uGuru software for optimal control over temperatures and sound levels.
We’ll go on in customary order and begin by studying the specifications.
Abit AN8 32X – Specifications
|CPU support||AMD Socket939|
Athlon64, Athlon64 X2, Athlon FX, Sempron
|Chipset||NVIDIA nForce4 SLI X16|
|Memory||4 x 184-pin DIMM modules |
Dual DDR 400/333/266 channels
Up to 8GB
|Expansion slots|| 2 x PCI-Express x16|
2 x PCI-Express x1
2 x PCI
|Storage|| 1 x floppy disk drive |
2 x Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 IDE
6 x SATA 3G (RAID 0/1/0+1/5/JBOD)
|Internal connections|| 6 x USB|
1 x IEEE-1394 (Firewire)
1 x CD/AUX input
1 x uGuru Link
|External connection|| 1 x PS/2 keyboard |
1 x PS/2 mouse
4 x USB
1 x RJ-45 (10/100/1000Mbit)
2 x S/PDIF (optical)
1 x IEEE-1394 (Firewire)
6 x sound connectors
|Size||305 x 245mm|
Compatible with all uGuru-compatible hardware
There are no real surprises here. It’s been a while since Abit chose to throw out the parallel port and serial ports to the benefit of other equipment, which is something that we’re not mourning. In this case it adds a ventilation hole for the OTES cooling (we’ll get back to that during the Layout part of the review). Moving on, we have something that we’re expecting from a motherboard nowadays – 6 SATA ports, a Gigabit network card, multi-channeled audio, Firewire among other things. In comparisons with competitors, we see that Abit has chosen to use only one network card, where many others would offer two. We would have liked to move the Firewire connector to an expansion slot, and equipping the board with two network ports. In the end, it’s the consumer that gets to decide whether two network ports is important or not. In some cases, using 2 GB of memory can be nice, and some applications can even want 4 GB. To guarantee that the memory amount won’t become a problem, the AN8 32X supports up to 8 GB of it, unlike any other manufacturer today.
It’s time to check the accessories that are included with the board.
All of the accessories arrive stylishly packed in two boxes, one with the manual and drivers, and the other with cables and the I/O faceplate. When unpacking the boxes, we can see six SATA cables, one IDE cable and one floppy cable. For the expansion slots, there’s an expansion plate to get external access to an additional Firewire connection and two USB ports. There’s also the fore-mentioned I/O faceplate, an SLI bridge and a bracket to keep the SLI bridge in place.
A well-made set of documentation comes with the board, consisting of a thinner quick installation guide and a thicker, more complete manual. There’s also a tutorial for the uGuru software. The third manual is a welcome addition as Abit’s uGuru chip packs a lot of interesting features and settings. We’ll treat this chip separately in a few pages from this one. Finally, we have an interesting little detail which has been included in the majority of Abit’s motherboards sold in the last few years, which is a little sticky note with the most common internal connections. This sticker is meant to stick on the inside of the computer case to always keep it easily accessible.
We’ll move on and study the layout of the motherboard.
It’s easy to get confused by Abit’s own webpage where there the board is red, because it’s actually a bit orange. The motherboard gives a well structured first impression with a layout that many associate with the ATX motherboard standard. The heatpipe cooler’s heatsinks have a common blue-greenish color, as do the tilted IDE connectors and it’s only the external connectors that have a deviating color scheme. As many other manufacturers, Abit has placed some of the SATA connectors a bit oddly and the floppy connector is placed at the bottom of the board. The distance between the PCI-Express connectors is minimal which makes the space between video cards with big coolers slim, the airflow between them will also be reduced.
The board is powered by a 24-pin ATX-connector placed in the right edge of the board, a 4-pin ATX12V connector place left of the CPU Socket and a 4-pin MOLEX connector placed in the lower edge of the board. We would have liked to see the ATX12V connector placed at the top of the board to avoid collisions with large CPU coolers.
As usual, the majority of the motherboard’s internal connectors are placed at the lower right. At the bottom we have the Power On, Reset, Power Led, HDD Led, Sleep Led and Speaker connectors, all marked with different colors and with text on the motherboard itself. To the right of these, the connectors used by uGuru hardware, which we will talk more about later, are placed. Above these, we have 4 of 6 SATA connectors and to the right we have the USB and FireWire connectors. Previously we have commented Abit’s wonderful logic used when numbering the SATA connectors and as you can se, the order is, starting from the top: 3, 4, 1 and 2. The remaining SATA connectors are placed to the left of the CPU socket. And last we have the sound card’s internal connectors placed in the left edge of the card.
Let’s take a closer look at the upper part of the board.
Abit has gone with a completely passively cooled motherboard, which we welcome as fans have the tendency to start making more and more noise as time goes by. The southbridge cooling is linked with the cooling of the MOSFETs, next to the CPU, by a heatpipe. The northbridge has its own heatsink, cooled by the airflow from the CPU cooler. In the third picture, finally we have a large heatsink that is supposed to radiate heat off the southbridge and also off the MOSFETs beneath it.
As seen here Abit has chosen a 3 stage power design for supplying the CPU, something we find surprising. The fact that Abit was one of the first to utilize a 4 stage power design and has used that design on several generations of motherboards makes us even more confused. Unfortunately we see the same tendency with the power design to the memory where they have gone from a PWM based solution, as seen on earlier AN8 motherboards, to a linear power regulator. The advantage with a PWM regulated power design is that it is more efficient and allows for more precise adjustments of the voltage. This is the time to point out that the majority of motherboards use a linear power regulator so Abit’s design is in good company, but it’s a pity they have taken a step back from the design of earlier AN8 motherboards. In the picture are also visible what Abit calls ”OC Stripes”, they are to help increase the heat transfer from the circuit board.
Next we’ll take a look at the BIOS.
Anyone who ever owned an Abit motherboard before and has taken a look at the BIOS will recognize themselves. The first menu is the same as every other Abit BIOS and once acquainted you find what you need nice and easy. Seen above are the adjustments of CPU multiple, HTT and PCI Express frequencies, also the voltage adjustments to the CPU and memory.
The two topmost pictures show the layout of the memory adjustments. you will find quite some adjustment room of the memory parameters. Furthermore we find the adjustments of IDE, SATA, USB, sound, network, FireWire and floppy disc and also the adjustments of the boot-up sequence.
|CPU frequency||200 – 400MHz (increments of 1MHz)|
|Memory frequency||100/133/166/183/200/216/233/250MHz (relative a 200MHz CPU frequency and provided the CPU supports it)|
|PCI-Express||100MHz – 145MHz (increments of 1MHz)|
|CPU voltage (vcore)||1.400v – 1.800v (increments of 0.025v)|
|Memory voltage (vdimm)||2.50v – 3.20v (increments of 0.1v)|
|Reference voltage memory||-60mv – +60mv (increments of 10mv)|
On next page we’ll take a peek at the uGuru adjustments in the BIOS.
A couple of years ago Abit introduced a new circuit on their motherboards called uGuru. This little circuit has the specific purpose to monitor voltage, temperature and fans. Not only does it monitor all that, but also warns when any problems arise and can regulate the voltage to the fan connectors dynamically relative to different reference temperatures. First picture shows the main menu with all the sub menus. uGuru can read three different temperature and as seen in the second picture it is possible to activate a warning alarm at a certain temperature and a shutdown sequence at another. In the third picture we see the monitoring part of many different voltages. The ”on-board” readings on most motherboards are not very accurate and can seldom be trusted. We decided to verify a number of these with a high quality multimeter to see how well the uGuru handles itself.
|CPU voltage (vcore)||1.43V||1.426V||4mV|
|Memory voltage (vdimm)||3.01V||2.996V||14mV|
uGuru handles the task quite well with a relative readout error of well below 1%. We have seen other motherboard showing readout errors as much as 10%, something that can bring serious consequences if taken at face value.
In the first picture we see a readout of the fan RPM of all fan connectors on the board and also the readout for the warning alarm and shutdown sequence temperature. Second picture shows the FanEQ menu where you adjust fan RPM for all the fan connectors. The Last picture shows the different adjustments you can do to every fan. You can disable the FanEQ, forcing all fans to run at full speed (+12V) or you can activate the FanEQ and decide witch temperatures the fans are to be controlled by, also how it should react depending on the temperature. In other words, you can decide at what temperature the fan is to run at low speed and when the preset temperature is achieved the fan RPMs are raised linearly from +8V to +12V.
We have a quick look at the test setup before the actual test.
|Motherboard||Abit AN8 32X||Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe|
|Processor||AMD Athlon64 FX-57|
|Memory||Corsair XMS 3200 (2x512MB)|
|Video card||ATI Radeon X1900XTX|
|Power supply||OCZ PowerStream 520W|
|Operating system||Windows XP (SP2)|
|Chipset drivers||nVidia nForce 6.82 (x16)|
|Graphics drivers||ATI Catalyst 6.2|
|Monitoring program||Abit EQ||Asus AI Booster|
|Benchmarking programs||SiSoft Sandra 2005 SR3|
Everest Ultimate 2.80
|Idle||One hour in Windows without load|
|Load||One hour with Prime95 running|
|Stable||No errors reported by Prime during load|
|Processor temperature||The temperature reported by AIBooster|
We’ll use Asus counterpart as a reference, the A8N32-SLI Deluxe, which we reviewed here recently. To keep our comparison as similar as possible, we use identical hardware and drivers. Settings have also been kept as similar as possible. The frequencies and memory settings were set at the same values and checked in CPU-z and A64 Tweaker.
We will begin by looking a bit more on the uGuru Windows software.
Abit’s motherboards have used uGuru for a few generations now and its development has hardly been on halt since its introduction. More sensor variables and settings has been added which has made it a bit easier to use. The first two images show readings from the different sensors on the board. The last image shows the profile settings, where you either can choose a standard setting or three different groups of settings you can configure on your own.
Here the settings for what sensors to be used and if the program should set of a warning signal or shut down the computer if the maximum value is exceeded is shown.
The first image shows AutoDrive, it makes it possible to use different profiles depending on what program you run. In this example, we have told uGuru to use the profile User1 when the game NFS Most Wanted is started. The profile User1 increases the fans rpm, the voltage to the CPU and memory and the clock frequency of the CPU. uGuru can also be set to decrease the fans rpm and the CPU frequency when you start programs that require a low noise level. The second image shows FanEQ which gives you the same settings as in the BIOS. In the last image we have settings for the CPU bus and the voltage to the CPU and memory. In other words, you can bind both FanEQ and the overclocking settings to a certain profile.
Next we will test the performance of the board.
We will use IPERF to test the performance of the integrated network circuit, which is a program that measures the transfer rate between two computers. We used another computer with Gigabit LAN and a crossover cable in order to eliminate disturbance from other equipment.
|nVidia NIC||Intel CSA||830MBit/s|
|Intel CSA||nVidia NIC||790MBit/s|
As we have established in earlier test, we don’t have access to a network card that is verified to handle 1Gbit, so we can’t be certain that the network circuit on the motherboard is the bottleneck. What we can say is that this is the least the network circuit can handle.
This test was performed with the help of a USB-memory from Corsair that was connected to the respective USB connectors on the motherboard at which the transfer rate was tested in SiSoft Sandra. All connectors managed to reach the maximal transfer rate without any problems, which is the restricting factor in this test. 16MB/s corresponds to 128Mbit/s which means that this board is guaranteed to use the USB 2.0 specifications top transfer category.
On to the CPU and memory tests.
The Abit card performs well when reading from the memory, but the ASUS is quite faster when it comes to writing to the memory. The memory latencies with the ASUS board also is slightly faster than that of the Abit.
|Abit AN8 32X||Asus A8N32|
|8M||5m 34.031s||5m 29.343s|
|32M||27m 00.453s||26m 47.484s|
SuperPI’s known to be very picky when it comes to RAM latencies and the results from Everest’s latency benchmark clearly reflects each of the boards score with SuperPI.
We’ve upgraded to a newer version of WinRAR so these results aren’t comparable to former results. The performance in which WinRAR extract files is dependant on the performance of the memory and we can clearly see here that the AN8 32X isn’t quite as fast as the A8N32. But as the board still is quite new to the market there may come some BIOS tweaks to reduce the performance gap between the two.
Next up are the well known 3DMark and Aquamark
With almost identical hardware and settings it’s not surprising to see that such abysmal differences. We didn’t see any differences like the ones we saw with the previous page. All results are within the margin of error with each test and we simply can’t say that one card’s better than the other.
Let’s move on and look at some other games
The results show us that the difference in performance is very small, but the results do favor ASUS.
Let’s end this review and conclude our thoughts on these two cards.
The card has a variety of both tweaks and overclocking features. A humongous amount of memory settings, HT adjustments and multiplier selections. The board is capable of delivering 1.8V to the CPU, which is quite enough for most of us. 3.2V to the memories isn’t that bad but it’s not the best we’ve seen. We would’ve loved to have up to 3.4V or 3.5V instead like this card predecessor the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI had. Anyhow, we started investigating how high HTT we could accomplish with this motherboard.
Using memory dividers we attained a stable HTT frequency of 350MHz, which clearly is good enough. A high HTT bus is necessary when one owns a CPU with a low multiplier. As test number two, we wanted to see how high we could go with the memories. These are equipped with Winbond’s BH-6 circuits and demand a very high voltage to overclock properly. We chose of course the highest the BIOS could offer, 3.2V.
When measured the real voltage was 3.18V and this was enough for us to attain a frequency of 243MHz, which is precisely what they should do with this voltage. All the tests were conducted using 1T Command Rate and using 2-2-2-5, this show us that the board has no problems running tight latencies.
Layout, Design and Accessories
The layout and design of the AN8 32X are overall good. Abit has used an orange color on some of its latest boards and a clean design. Together with the board you get all kinds of cables and thorough manuals. We would like to see the ATX12V connector placed at the top of the board, because its current placement isn’t the best. The motherboard is completely passively cooled which is something we highly appreciate.
BIOS and software
Ever since computer overclocking first surfaced, Abit has been known for their reliable BIOSes and this motherboard is no exception. All settings and configurations are available and easy to navigate. Abit have chosen not to include all the different voltages which other manufacturers have, but all the important ones are available. When the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI showed up we were very positive because it had a higher max voltage than previous cards, but unfortunately they have now changed the max voltage to a more conservative 3.2V. Another important aspect of the board is Abit’s excellent uGuru. Abit is way ahead of its competitors and it offers a complete package of settings to lower the noise level of the computer. Everything is included directly in the circuits which is a big plus and means that there’s no need to run the software to use the fan control of uGuru.
Performance and stability
Bulletproof technology is a slogan that Abit started to use a couple of years ago to express how much effort they give in to build stable products. During our test of this motherboard, we didn’t run into any stability problems not even when we overclocked it. The performance of the board isn’t quite as good as our reference board in all areas though. This motherboard is relatively new on the market and we have no reason to believe that they won’t work hard to tweak the board for more performance.
There are lots of memory settings to get optimal performance and the only thing we’re missing is what we discussed above, higher memory voltage. Recently we have seen samples of new circuits that overclock well with low voltages and also with relatively high frequencies. When it comes to heavier overclocking, we would like to have seen a 4 stage power supply for the CPU voltage to get more stable voltages. Our tests show that the motherboard can work stable @ 350MHz HTT which gives us a wide margin when it comes to CPU and memory overclocking.
We’ve established that Abit have manufactured a very stable AMD Socket939 series motherboard. The motherboard is completely passively cooled and can cope with everything you would expect from a motherboard of today. This board lack some of the more extreme overclocking settings, but on the other hand it’s not that target group it’s aimed for. The board perform very well with the settings available and the problem with the 1T Command Rate found in previous cards has been fixed. This is a very competent motherboard.
We would like to thank Abit for sending us this motherboard for evaluation.