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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [02.27.08]
Manufactured by: Universal Abit


The Layout

There are really only a few things that set one motherboard apart from another, if they're similar in chipset and price. One of them, of course, is the BIOS functions which we talked about on the previous page. Another is onboard components, which we'll look at later on in the article. Overclocking is another thing to consider, although mileage almost always varies. The bulk of this article will contain graphs and charts, comparing performance in programs and games. Of course, most of those numbers will be identical to other similar boards.

So what's the main thing we scrutinize when considering a new motherboard? Layout! A good layout can make or break the deal on a motherboard. Without a good layout, not only is it a pain to work with, it can also hinder the ability to upgrade components. Sometimes you will be limited to what CPU cooler you can use, or even what video card you can install. So let's take a look, and see if the IP35 Pro maintains Abit's reputation for great motherboard layout designs.

First, we have a look at the main expansion area; PCI and PCI-E slots. As you can see, there is plenty of room below the main PCI-E x16 slot for double-sized graphics coolers. The second x16 slot only has x4 worth of PCI-E bandwidth, but is sufficient for Crossfire compatibility, which the IP35 Pro has. If you want to use Crossfire of course, you will be without the PCI slot that is directly below the secondary graphics port.

It will also be a tight squeeze if you plan to use the 4-pin auxilliary power connector that is required for Crossfire. Since it sits right between the secondary graphics slot and a PCI slot, some snaking and weaving will be required. But this only pertains to the select few who will be using Crossfire in the first place. The layout here is superb in every other way.

I always appreciate it when the extra connectors are nicely lined up along the bottom of the board and labeled clearly, and Abit does very well in this regard with the IP35 Pro. Everything from the audio Front Panel adapter to the three USB headers and FireWire headers are found along the bottom of the board, where wiring can be easily managed. Also, everyhing is labeled very clearly, which is always nice.

The Southbridge area is also nicely laid out on the IP35 Pro. The (all but useless) Floppy header is tucked away at the very bottom corner, where it is unlikely to get in the way of anything else. The Front Panel header is colour-coded and very clearly labeled - you will not need to refer to the manual when installing your front panel connections here!

I like having a vertically mounted IDE header, but I'm not so sure about the SATA headers. While it does save space on the board, allowing the installation of a diagnostic LED and power/reset buttons, it will definitely get cluttered if you have more than two SATA devices. On top of that, the labels on the board appear to be incorrect. On our sample board, ports 1 and 2 were actually ports 1 and 4. Port 2 was where Port 3 should have been. Relevant? Maybe not. Confusing? Oh yes.

This is where many-a-board has failed to impress us in past reviews. In many cases, the area around the CPU is too cramped to accomodate anything other than standard OEM heatsinks. In MOST cases, the 4-or-6-pin Auxilliary power header is placed right in the middle of the board, where it is sure to get in the way of coolers and airflow.

However, this is where the IP35 Pro shines. The CPU area is clear of any huge cheap electrolytic capacitors. Instead, they use high quality Japanese caps that provide not only a much longer life span, but a low profile that won't get in the way of CPU coolers. Also, the 6-pin connector is tucked away at the corner of the board, where it will most definitely not get in the way of anything. This is my favourite placement of that particular adapter; in most cases, it will be situated right below the power supply, making cable management a cinch.

The rear panel may be the most disappointing part of the IP35 Pro, if only because the rest of the layout is so great. First, the hits - I like having an external CMOS switch, as it comes in very handy when overclocking on the fly. Also, having both optical digital audio output AND input is great. eSATA is a nice touch too; even though the P35 Express chipset has six of its own SATA ports, why not put the 2 extras that are provided by the PATA adapter to use?

There are a couple misses here though. First of all, only four USB 2.0 ports are found on the rear panel. That is not good, especially when the board supports an awesome 10 ports in total. To make matters worse, Abit only includes a bracket which adds 2 more ports. So if you want to use the remaining 4 ports, you're going to be on your own. Also, there are no FireWire ports at all - again, you'll have to use the included PCI bracket for that. If you run a lot of peripherals, you are probably starting to run out of brackets by now...

I think a better solution would be to just drop the PS/2 ports once and for all, and add a second stack of USB and FireWire ports. There is also plenty of room above the eSATA ports. That clear CMOS switch takes up a lot of space for such a tiny (and unlabeled) feature.

I should note now that the "Silent OTES" cooling system plays a large factor in the overall excellence of the IP35 Pro's layout. It's such a simple design compared to some that we've been seeing lately. Not only does it look great, but manages to keep the chipset cool silently. It manages to stay well out of the way of the CPU and GPU coolers as well, which is a major bonus.

All in all, I'd have to give the Abit IP35 Pro a 9.5/10 in terms of overall layout. After just a few minor complaints, they nail everything else perfectly.

Next Page: (Performance)