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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [08.05.05]
Manufactured by: Abit

 

Something for Everyone

There are two main ways to go about designing a hardcore overclocking motherboard. One way is to pack it full of extra features. This includes auxiliary Ethernet controllers, RAID controllers, FireWire, plenty of USB ports, etc. And in the box, you'll usually find things like specialized cabling, 5.25" expansion bays, and even PC transportation bags. Perfect examples of this type are the DFI Lanparty series, and Abit Fatal1ty series of motherboards.

The other way is to forget about all that extra stuff, and just offer a solid, basic motherboard that overclocks like mad, and has a ton of monitoring and tweaking features. The AN8 SLI is Abit's attempt at such a board.

Even at first glance, you can tell the AN8 is unlike most of what we've seen from Abit lately. Gone are the extra gimmicks like red LEDs under the board, extraneous fans, and "OC Strips".

It should be noted that there is a "Fatal1ty" version of this very board. It retails for around $100 more than the basic AN8 SLI. For that $100, you get things like the ones mentioned above, as well as a fan for the dimms, a fan that goes between the video cards, an active-cooled chipset, and active cooling for the MOSFET area, beside the CPU. The one cool thing that version gets that the basic one doesn't is is a uGuru panel. This allows you to control most of the uGuru functions from a 5.25" bay, as opposed to doing it in Windows or the BIOS.

So if you think $100 is a bit much to pay for a lot of noisy fans and silly marketing names, the AN8 is what you should be looking at. It maintains all the uGuru features, which we'll get to in a bit. For now, let's have a look at the specs:

The Specs

CPU Support AMD Athlon64 Socket 939
Chipset NFORCE4 SLI
Storage Support DMA/ATA-133 (Ultra) x 2, Serial ATA x 4
Expansion Ports USB 2.0 x 10
RJ45 Lan Port x 1
FireWire (IEEE1394a) x 2
Serial Port x 0
PS/2 Mouse x 1
PS/2 Keyboard x 1
Parallel Port (ECP/EPP/SPP) x 0
Floppy Port x 1
Expansion Slots PCI Express x16 x 2 (x8 mode when both ports enabled)
PCI x 2
PCI Express x1 x 2
Audio Realtek ALC850 • AC'97 Audio Codec
Output: SPDIF Out • 7.1 Channels • Line Out
Input: Microphone Jack • 1 x Line In
Networking NF4 Ultra 1000 Mbps Ethernet Controller (Vitess VSC8201RX PHY)

Compared to some of the top dollar boards we've been reviewing lately, the spec sheet seems a bit underwhelming. Although there are plenty of USB2.0 ports available, you only get one Ethernet adapter, and no extra drive controllers to compliment NF4's RAID capabilities. Also the Audio support is lacking, only supporting NF4's prosaic AC'97 controller. I do commend them for their attempt at beefing it up a bit though, with a 7.1 codec and the riser card, to keep it sounding as good as possible (we'll get to that later on).

However, you'll find that as much as it seems Abit skimped out on the AN8, they put their full efforts into giving the board features that matter most to overclockers. This keeps the price down; after shopping around, I was able to locate the AN8 SLI for under $150 at stores like mWave.com, and Provantage. Newegg.com has the best price right now, for $139. The only NFORCE4 SLI boards you'll find cheaper are from the likes of Foxconn, Biostar, and MSI.

Next Page: (Board Layout; Audio MAX)