The More Things Change
It's been 2 years now since USI bought Abit. I have to say, they seem to have been doing very well. For instance, the last Universal Abit motherboard we reviewed, the NF-M2 nView earned an award from us for its incredible versatility and quality design for a compact motherboard.
However, it seems that the days of the over-the-top FSB ratings and absurd cooling systems are gone. Instead, Universal Abit are focusing more on stable boards with sufficient overclocking and great layout, for a great price. That certainly seems to be the case when you first look at the IP35 Pro.
Abit IP35 Pro
I can say this about the "new" Abit - their boxes are as whacky as ever! Gone are the abstract designs, at least in the 'gamer class' boards. This class of boards from Abit also feature a blue PCB with basic black and blue expansion slots. Quite classy I must say! The packaging itself is the same that Abit has been using since they introduced the MAX. Everything is nicely packaged in individual boxes, instead of throwing a bunch of cables and accessories in the box on top of the motherboard. Note that ever since USI bought Abit, their boards have been fully manufactured in China as opposed to Taiwan. We have been on factory tours in both countries, and I think the quality of boards from both countries are equal.
Let's take a look at the specs, compiled by myself as opposed to cutting and pasting from the website. Sometimes it pays to look closely at the board itself, as fully detailed information isn't always made available on product websites. Also, I cut out the buzzwords, and only include the important things ;)
The IP35 Pro is about as full-featured as you're going to get for $179.99. From the top, you have support for all Intel processors using up to a 1333 MHz Frontside Bus. Officially, the P35 chipset doesn't support 45nm Yorkfield processors, but with the latest beto BIOS, the IP35 Pro supports these. I have tested this board using both an Intel Core 2 Extreme 9650, and 9770 (which I don't think exists anymore). You will have to ask Abit for a beta bios however, because it doesn't look like they are offering one newer than 5 months or so.
There are plenty of storage options, thanks to the robust ICH9R's six SATA ports with all flavours of RAID supported. The JMB363 controller is added, because Intel dropped the PATA port long ago. Because most boards don't really need more than six internal drives, the two SATA ports added by the JMB363 are used as eSATA ports.
The P35 Express chipset also sports a ton of USB 2.0 ports - 10 in fact. However, Abit only put 4 on the rear panel. The remaining 6 have to be added using PCI brackets. Also requiring external PCI brackets are the two FireWire ports. Unfortunately, Abit only includes a single bracket with a FireWire port and two USB ports. You'll be on your own if you want to use more than that.
Since PCI-E cards are pretty much exclusively graphics adapters, it's nice to see Abit offer more PCI slots than PCI-E slots. We'll take a look at the placement on the next page.
Audio is handled by the Realtek ALC888 HD Audio codec. Nothing too special, at least in terms of gaming. If you're using Vista however, you won't miss the lack of hardware acceleration.
Finally, the IP35 pro offers not one but TWO Gigabit ethernet ports. Unfortunately, the Realtek RTL8110SC controllers used reside on the bandwidth-limited PCI bus rather than PCI-E. We'll take a look at how this affects ethernet performance later in the article.
The BIOS on the IP35 Pro, like Abit boards of the past, is nothing short of awesome. Here's a list of compiled settings:
Just an incredible array of settings are available for overclockers and hardcore tweakers. With that many multipliers and voltage settings, there are few other boards that will take your CPU as far as the IP35 Pro can. And we'll find out later on whether this is true ;)
If you've used Abit boards before, then the "uGuru" interface will be familiar. Most of the settings are found within this section of the BIOS. As you can see in the specs list above, there is an incredible amount of versatility in the way you can monitor and cool your system. Every single fan has its own monitoring and warning settings, as does every single voltage and temperature monitor. The amount of control you have over the fan speeds can be best described using a screenshot from the BIOS:
Every single fan has a screen like this.
Another aspect I really appreciate about the IP35 Pro BIOS is the simplicity when controlling FSB and multiplier settings. Have a look:
Not only is the CPU model given for reference, you can also see exactly what speed it will be running at with the current settings. The same goes for Memory speed, which is extremely helpful when trying to figure out exactly how fast you want your RAM to run.
Speaking of RAM, the IP35 Pro gives access to a ton of settings; tCL, tRCD, tRP, tRAS, tRFC, tWR, tWTR, tRRD, tRTP, and Command Rate can all be set, bypassing the SPD modules on the memory.
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