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


Audio Quality

Here is where the AN8 has a chance to shine. It comes packed with "Audio MAX", which moves the codec to a riser card in an attempt to eliminate noise caused by other components on the motherboard.

However, no matter what steps Abit take to improve the quality of sound, the lacklustre AC'97 controller used by the NF4 chipset is going to hold it back to a certain level. The riser may not serve a purpose at all...

To serve as a baseline to compare against these onboard sound controllers, we included an Audigy 2 in the tests. This card can be had for as low as $50 at stores like Shop around, and you can find it for as low as $40.

To test Audio Quality, we used Rightmark Audio Analyzer 5.5 on an Audigy 2 ZS connected to a second PC. We tested in both 16 bit/44.1 kHz mode (to replicate listening to CDs and MP3s) and 24 bit 96 kHz (to replicate high quality DVD Audio and DTS soundtracks)

RMAA uses a word-based scale to describe performance. We translated these words to a scale of 1-6; 1 being "Very Poor" and 6 being "Excellent".

The Abit uses the exact same codec as the Soltek board (Realtek ALC850), so if you're looking to see what kind of effect the audio riser card has, you want to compare to that board. The ECS board uses a Realtek ALC655 codec, which is pretty much the same as the 850, but with 6 channel output instead of 8 channel.

In 16 bit mode, the riser offers absolutely no benefit in our tests. Even the ALC655 outperforms the ALC850 used on the AN8 and Soltek boards.

In 24 bit mode, which should yield even higher quality results, the riser card doesn't offer any benefit either. However you can see a noticable benefit by going with an addon card like the Audigy 2.

Audio Performance

Going with a gaming oriented card (Creative Labs pretty much owns that market now), you'll see an even more perceivable improvement over onboard audio.

Rightmark 3DSound was used to test peak CPU utilization under several scenarios. All of the onboard sound controllers peak at 25 buffers, so we only tested up to 24. The Audigy 2 supports up to 64 buffers.

This time the AN8 outperforms its NF4 competition. This is probably a driver issue more than anything else (the latest drivers from each manufacturer were used).

Real World Audio Performance

To see how each sound controller affects real world gaming performance, we ran several tests using UT2K4's various audio settings. First a control was run with no sound, then each test was run, using 640x480 and the lowest detail settings. Consider any performance loss to be 'worst case scenario' because nobody would ever play with these settings.

As you can see, you suffer a huge performance penalty when using onboard sound with either NF4 board or VIA board. Adding a $40-50 Audigy 2 gives you an immediate and noticable benefit in framerate. That is why I always recommend NOT to use onboard sound.

If Abit was serious about audio quality and performance, and wanted more than something to add to the features checklist of this board, they would have gone with something other than the basic AC'97 controller.

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