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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [09.18.08]
Manufactured by: Abit


Board Layout

If there's one thing Abit does as well or better than anyone else, it's designing a clever layout, especially on tricky mATX boards.

We are constantly impressed by their layouts, and while some may think that such things are trivial, trust me when I say that is not the case. If you have installed systems using various motherboards, you'd know that a good layout can make the job MUCH easier. It can also help with tweaking and upgrading as well.

So let's see if the A-N78HD maintains Abit's winning streak of layout designs:

Being a mATX board, there is not much that can be done to avoid placing the x16 PCI-E slot and PCI slot so close together. Well, the one thing they could have done is place the x16 slot above the x1 slot, using the seldom-used x1 as a spacer between the x16 and PCI slots. Luckily, the onboard GPU is perfectly capable of doing everything but video games, so it's unlikely you will need to make use of that slot.

The internal audio and FireWire ports are awkwardly placed in line with the PCI slots. Making use of those headers along with a pair of PCI cards will be troublesome. This is another step down from the NF-M2 nView, which had the audio port sitting at the bottom edge, where it should be.

Abit did a much better job with the plentiful USB headers, placing them at the far corner of the board, out of the way of almost everything. Making use of these ports can potentially bring the total USB port count to 12, including the 4 that are onboard. However, to do so you would need to install this mATX board in a full ATX case. Also, Abit doesn't include ANY USB or FireWire brackets with this board.

Aside from that, the A-N78HD has a nice clearly-labeled colour-coded FP header, a usable CMOS reset header that is not blocked by anything when installed in a standard case, and the SATA headers are reasonably placed above the X16 graphics slot.

The DIMM area is well laid-out, with the floppy and IDE headers facing the right direction, and not in the way of anything. The dimm slots are in a 1-1-2-2 layout, making them unusable with larger DIMMs like the OCZ ReaperX series.

In the CPU area, you can see that there is plenty of room for a large heatsink, which is good because bigger is better in the world of silent computing. To the right, you can see that while Abit didn't give us a lot of tweaking options in the BIOS, they did manage to include a nice 4-phase PWM for the CPU. I really don't know why, but at least it will lead to the highest stability and reliability even at stock speeds.

Finally the rear panel. It actually looks much the same as the rear panel on the NF-M2 nView, but with one major difference - the optical input/output header are replaced by an HDMI port. Now I can't complain too much about the inclusion of HDMI. After all, it is what most people will use when connecting to an HDTV. However, to get rid of the optical output port is really the stupidest decision I have seen a manufacturer make when updating a motherboard model. For a lot of people, HTPC is still a PC. Not everyone will use HDMI (which really has no advantage to using DVI), and those that don't will have no form of digital audio - unless they search around and find the optical header that is compatible with this board (most should be - they all use the same layout).

I don't know if Abit absolutely had to include PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports - they easily could have replaced those with an optical header. Putting one above the HDMI port probably would have required custom hardware, which would have driven up the price.

In the end, I have to say that I am somewhat disappointed with the A-N78HD's layout. They hit a home-run with the NF-M2 Nview, but took a few steps backwards with this one. They didn't even including Silent OTES this time! They made some wise decisions, and clearly they have experience with designing a well laid-out mATX board. But there are certainly some mis-steps occuring here.

Next Page: (Test Setup; Memory Performance)