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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [04.11.02]
Manufactured by: Abit


The Sound Card

Abit chose to use VIA's next gen onboard 5.1 sound card, dubbed "Avance".  It looks good on paper, being a 5.1 AC97 sound chip, with digital capabilities.  Abit certainly makes use of some of the digital capabilities by putting a TOSlink Out adapter on the board, allowing you to make a digital connection to an external decoder for movies, or to a digital set of speakers.  TOSlink In looks like it might be an option, but wasn't on our board.

I have noticed that more and more board manufacturers are shying away from VIA's onboard sound as their integrated option, and going for third party options such as those by C-Media or even Creative Labs.  There may be many reasons for this, and I think I may have found a few of them...

First off, let's have a quick look at performance, using ZD's Audio WinBench 99.  We are only looking at the 44 kHz tests, and only those using 32 hardware voices; basically the most demanding situations possible.

Test A - DirectSound 44.1 kHz, 16 bit, Static, 32 Voices
Test B - DirectSound 44.1 kHz, 16 bit, Streaming, 32 Voices
Test C - DirectSound 3D 44.1 kHz, 16 bit, Static, 32 Voices
Test D - DirectSound 3D 44.1 kHz, 16 bit, Streaming, 32 Voices

Remember on this test, Lower = better.  Now I am not going to go nuts and say this will give seriously hinder your performance, in fact I went through some game benchmarks with sound turned off and on, and performance differences were negligible.  However it is worth noting that in the most stressful situations, the VIA onboard sound isn't quite up to the task compared to a solution like C-Media, which Shuttle has recently switched to.

One more nasty issue I have with the sound card regards, I think, the drivers.  During testing, we used a Philips MMS306 5.1 speaker set.  We connected the speakers to the jacks just like on any sound card, and the sounds seemed to be coming from the wrong speakers... I used the alternate setting, using Line-In for the Centre/Woofer channel, and Line-Out for the Rear channels, and everything worked fine.  It seems kind of silly that Abit ditched a parallel port to make room for some speaker outputs that are completely useless.

The Layout

If you have a keen eye, you might have noticed a glaring issue with the layout design of the board... I saved this for the rant page...

That's right, the 'clip' end, where you would normally try to install the heatsink, is on the TOP of the board.  When installed in a regular sized case, such as 17" or 18", it will likely be impossible to install or uninstall a heatsink - you will need to take the motherboard right out of the case if you don't have a full removable tray!

I have seen a few boards do this before, and it always seems to be a mistake... I have no idea why Abit would consciously choose to design their board like this - it seems to go right against their usual support for the hardware community...

If your other eye is just as keen as the first one, perhaps you noticed this:

That's right, the memory slots are extremely close to the AGP slot, making ram installation pretty difficult with a video card installed.  This is a very minor concern however, and I am not going to make much noise about this.  After all, you could easily use DIMM3 and/or DIMM4 if you only have one or two stick of memory (of course even these will likely be blocked by a GeForce 4 Ti4400 or Ti4600, but then again, most memory slots will be in all likelihood).  Also, most boards with 4 DIMMs tend to have this problem.  It may be worth mentioning that the Shuttle AK35GTR doesn't have this problem though...

With those rather minor gripes out of the way, let's get to the final conclusion!

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