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


Board Layout

Motherboard layout hasn't been Abit's strong point as of late. While they were busy designing things like uGuru, other manufacturers were leaving them behind in this regard. Let's see if things have improved with time.

The most crucial area for most boards is where expansion headers and ports are placed. Unlike their last few motherboards we've reviewed, Abit did a stellar job of keeping all ports and headers along the bottom edge of the board. This allows installation without having a mess of cables all over the place.

They also finally got around to color-coding the front panel header. There is absolutely no excuse not to do this anymore. Although Abit seems to be late to this feature, I'm glad they finally got around to it.

I also like the inclusion of the CMOS status display. And unlike other manufacturers, Abit actually provides you with plenty of error codes you may come across.

Because Abit went with an audio riser card that takes the place of an expansion slot, the AN8 only provides two PCI slots. In addition, you get a pair of PCI-E X1 slots, although one is going to be blocked if you are running an SLI rig.

Although their BIOS is superb in almost every way, the AN8 still resorts to the first-generation method of switching the PCI-E lanes around to accomodate SLI. This isn't such a huge deal, since you're only likely to do this once, and you'll be installing video cards at that time anyway.

In the above photo, you can see Abit's new "Silent OTES" technology. Using a copper heatpipe, they relocated the heatsink to where the printer port would normally reside, on the rear panel.

Silent OTES allows Abit to maintain a low profile heatsink for the chipset that does not require active cooling.

Looking at the top half of the board, you can see that the superb layout continues. The DIMM slots are placed well above the top PCI-E x16 slot, so ram installation is a breeze with a video card installed. The 2x12 and 2x2 pin headers are also placed well, although I personally like to have them situated closer to one another. Still, they are both out of the way of any other cables, and it should be easy to tuck these airflow-impeding cables out of the way with this layout.

The CPU socket is also free and clear of any tall components; you should be able to install even the biggest aftermarket heatsinks and waterblocks. And as always, only the highest quality 'made-in-japan' electrical components were used.

Audio MAX

One thing not missing from this non-Fatal1ty version of the AN8 is the "Audio MAX" riser card. Abit's first attempt of this feature was on the original Fatal1ty board, the AA8XE. At that time, Abit neglected to put the codec on the riser itself, negating any possible benefit you might get from it. But this time they did it right; we'll find out later if it improves on typical onboard sound from a competing board. In the end, it might not matter at all though, since the audio itself is a stock AC'97 controller from NVIDIA, going through a 16 bit Realtek codec.

Since the Audio MAX riser is a single slot design with 8 channels of output, Abit only had room for one digital output. And this is a SP/Dif TosLink optical output (Coaxial output is preferred in most cases, since the cables are abundant and cheap - you can use a video coax cable, since they carry the exact same specification). Digital input is shared with the analog input port, so in this case the form factor is SP/Dif mini-plug.

Because of Silent OTES, the rear panel is different from what we're used to seeing on most boards. Gone are the printer ports, and any other serial ports. There are also only four USB2.0 ports, so you'll have to use a rear slot adapter. Luckily, there are three more headers on the board, allowing for a total of ten USB ports.

However, this brings up a pet-peeve of mine; including three USB headers on the board is one thing, but why not include enough USB adapters to use these headers? The AN8 only comes with one, so you'll only have access to two of the six extra ports the board supports, without having to buy extra brackets. Although it's obvious the AN8 is cutting costs in many ways, this still bothers me.

Next Page: (The BIOS)