Right before my trip to E3, ABIT sent out a press release talking about their Silent OTES cooling solution. Taking a look at the specs, I was excited at the potential of motherboards using this product, especially for HTPC owners. At the convention, I talked with one of the reps about this as well as their SLI lineup. Well ABIT just sent along a product that combines both and we’ll see if the AN8 SLI
continues with ABIT’s tradition of quality motherboards.
The ABIT AN8 SLI
contains the nForce4 SLI chip and is a Socket 939 motherboard supporting AMD Semprons, AMD Athlon64, AMD Athlon64 FX, and the new dual core Athlon64s. Four DIMM slots support up to a maximum of 4GB of DDR ram. The pairs are color coded so you can easily tell which ones you need to populate for dual channel mode.
Area around the chipset is pretty free of capacitors and the heat pipe is bent around so that you should be able to use large coolers with the system. Any capacitors situated near the CPU are shorter than the HSF housing so they won't get in the way. That's good news for people like me who like to experiment with coolers and change parts out a lot. There's a good amount of free room so that I don't have to worry I might bump into something when changing parts.
Speaking of capacitors, ABIT has decided to go with high grade Japanese capacitors in this board. We've all heard about the problems of cheap capacitors and how they would leak and fail. ABIT's aim at quality led them to this decision and this should help ease the minds of people who want a long lasting and stable motherboard.
As the name of the chipset suggests, the board is SLI capable so there are two PCI-E 16X slots spaced for two NVIDIA SLI capable cards. In between two of the slots sits one PCI-E 1X slot with another just above the first PCI-E slot. Finally, two PCI slots round out the expansion capabilities of this motherboard. One thing I do like about the PCI-E slot placements is that longer cards don’t interfere with areas I might change such as memory clips. The only thing that the top card hovers over is the nForce4 chipset cooler and there’s not too much room between that and the release clip for the card. If you need to change out longer cards, you’ll be better off to use some tool to pop the clip than to try and use your fingers.
In between the two PCI-E 16X slots is the SLI configuration card. As with a few other motherboards, you have to insert the card in a certain orientation depending on if you have single or dual video cards. I would’ve liked to have seen the card done away with for an automated detection solution though. Boards such as the ECS KN1 Extreme SLI
have done away with the SLI configuration card.
Two more PCI slots and two PCI-E 1x slot round out the expansion slots. One PCI-E 1x slot is situated between the two PCI-E 16x slots and if you are using two NVIDIA cards, that slot will be unusable due to the retention clip.
For the rest of the layout, the board earns some good marks. Color wise, the PCB and connectors consist of red and blacks. Nothing is lined up with the two PCI-E x16 slots whereas some boards had memory clips or SATA connects that could be interfered with if you had long cards. The two IDE connectors are situated horizontally rather than vertically. All four of the SATA connectors are situated near the bottom corner of the board and near the IDE connectors so most of your optical drive connectors are in once place. One connector that I am puzzled about its location is the extra one to provide more juice to the PCI-E area. It's located far down on the edge of the board next to the PCI slot. You'll have to string a power cable down there. Position wise, it's not the best that I've seen but that's a small gripe considering the rest of the board layout's pretty good.
Now, this isn’t the Fatal1ty version with the dual OTES cooling, different motherboard color scheme, and the uGuru panel display among a few other minor changes. But if you look at the layout of both the Fatal1ty version and the regular version, they are pretty much identical. And the board is $50 less than the Fatal1ty version so that’s something else to consider when choosing between the two versions.
The Silent OTES cooling solution provides just what the name suggests. Normally, there’s a fan covering the northbridge to help cool it down. That’s been eliminated in favor of a heatpipe solution. An aluminum heatsink with a copper base on the nForce4 chip transfers heat to a large copper heat exchanger via a heatpipe. Heat is then exhausted out the back by air flowing from the CPU fan. No fans are on the northbridge or the heat exchanger. Placing my hand at the rear of the board when in operation, I could feel the heat emanating so I knew it was working. I can really see this board in an HTPC solution with it's silent cooling. I hope more boards take advantage of the Silent OTES cooling technology.
The heat exchanger takes up a good amount of room on the back panel eliminating a few serial ports and a parallel port from the board. What are left on the back panel are two PS/2 connectors, one firewire connector, four USB connectors, and one Ethernet connector. I was a little disappointed that there’s only one Ethernet connector as many boards these days are being shipped with two. But I am glad to see a few of the legacy connections were done away with.
For audio, the AN8 SLI
includes ABIT’s AudioMaxHD. It’s a riser card that’s Dolby certified and delivers up to 7.1 channels of surround sound. The card holds the Realtek ALC850 and has one optical S/PDIF connector and six audio jacks. While they do heavily market the riser card, it’s still just the ALC850 moved off the board. I do like the amount of connectors on the riser card and the space that the heat exchanger takes up in the back does warrant the move of the audio plugs to an expansion bay. Taken from Realtek's website: Featuring four 16-bit two-channel DACs and a stereo 16-bit ADC, the ALC850 is an AC'97 Rev 2.3 compatible multi-channel audio CODEC designed for PC multimedia systems. The ALC850 incorporates proprietary converter technology and fully meets performance requirements for PC99/2001 systems.
Included with the package are four SATA cables, one USB bracket, the audio riser card, an SLI bridge, an SLI retention clip, one floppy, and one IDE cable. I would’ve liked to have seen rounded floppy and IDE cables rather than the flat ones that are in this package. It would help the air flow and I was a little surprised that they weren’t included. The package doesn’t include as much as say the ECS KN1 Extreme
but does give you the basics you need to connect your peripherals.
Overclocking has been a big factor in ABIT boards and the ABIT AN8 SLI
continues the tradition. A plethora of options in changing memory and CPU settings are available for you in the BIOS. There are options available will let you tweak your CPU and memory in very small increments. Even the CPU multiplier can be changed at .5x increments giving you a lot of flexibility and allow you to push the CPU inch by inch until you hit the max. As you would expect from an ABIT board, there are plenty of ways to push your computer. For overclocking options, it's hard to beat ABIT.
uGuru is a major plus on this board and one of the great technologies of ABIT. This hardware monitoring and tweaking solution really helps you easily keep tabs on your board and adjust the settings as well. Besides encompassing the overclocking features mentioned above, uGuru also monitors voltage, fan speed, and temperatures. The software suite lets you change these settings in Windows and you can also purchase an external device to monitor the system as well. For troubleshooting, there's an option to send your setup to ABIT so they can help diagnose your problem. uGuru doesn’t slow the system down and it’s a big advantage to have in a motherboard.
For testing, here are the specs of the components that were used:
2 sticks of 256MB OCZ PC3200 ram
2 Leadtek PX6600 in SLI configuration
Maxtor 80 GB 7200RPM HD
Windows XP Professional w/ Service Pack 2
I am going to compare the performance of this board to MSI’s NEO 8 Platinum SLI
board using the same chipset.
For comparisons, here are the scores against an MSI K8N Neo4 SLI Platinum. All tests were done at 640x480.So let’s start of with Futuremark’s 3DMark05
is one of two synethetic benchmarks we are using today. From their website: It is the first benchmark to require a DirectX9.0 compliant hardware with support for Pixel Shaders 2.0 or higher! By combining high quality 3D tests, CPU tests, feature tests, image quality tools, and much more, 3DMark05 is a premium benchmark for evaluating the latest generation of gaming hardware.PC Mark 05
is the latest version of the popular PCMark series. PCMark05 is an application-based benchmark and a premium tool for measuring overall PC performance. It will run through a series of tests from memory to CPU. Half-Life 2
is Valve's sequel to the mega hit of five years ago. The game features incredible physics and highly detailed graphics. We used to built in benchmark to test the board out.Doom 3
is iD Software’s re-invention of the classic game that started the deathmatch craze. The engine really taxes a system and the graphics are phenomenal for a computer game. For the tests, we ran the game with Max settings here.Far Cry
is an impressive first person shooter from Ubi Soft with great outdoor levels and some awesome effects. The vehicles and the ability to explore the entire island makes this one of the best games of the past year. Settings were maxed out and we used the default demo.
Across the board, the performance is pretty close. The ABIT board did come out on top in most of the tests but didn't win by a wide gap. The performance is on par and that's what you should expect since both boards use the nForce 4 SLI chipset. That being said, the performance of the board is great just like all the nForce boards I've tried. Game wise, the SLI performance is on the money and the board ran stable through all the tests.
To test the onboard sound, we ran two benchmarks with and without the sound enabled. Halo
is the Microsoft/Bungie/Gearbox first person shooter originally appearing on the Xbox. Featuring great graphics, vehicles, and good gameplay Halo
was ran at 1024x768 with sound on and then with sound off. Comanche 4
is Novalogic’s helicopter simulator. The classic game has a built in benchmark process where you can change a few settings.
A loss of 12 frames per second in Halo
suggests that the AudioMax still needs some work so that it doesn't interfere with performance. Perhaps with ABIT's partnering with Creative Labs recently, we might see the AudioMax boards use Sound Blaster technology. Until then, you can use the AudioMax daughter card but you might be better off with a third party sound provider.
For long term stability and at normal settings, the board ran through 3DMark05 at a continuous cycle for 24 hours without a problem. I came back after a day and the benchmark was still strolling along in SLI mode. Also the system ran without a hitch with all four memory slots filled with two different brands of memory at PC3200 speed. For stability, the AN8 SLI
pass our test and should give you a solid motherboard to build from.
I had problems overclocking but I am attributing that to the memory and partly the CPU. I have never had much success with these parts to overclock. Once I get some memory greater than PC3200 speeds, I’ll run through the board again but reports from other sites do suggest this is a good overclocking board. I’ve had great success in the past with other ABIT boards to do some acceptable overclocking and while I can’t currently say that with the AN8 SLI
, I’m sure that the board should be able to perform well once I have the necessary parts.
Overall, the AN8 SLI
from ABIT is a solid SLI motherboard and at a very good price. The uGuru technology help you keep tabs on your system and offers a plethora of overclocking options. Quiet computer owners will definitely appreciate the Silent OTES cooling system especially if you have two NVIDIA cards installed as that’s one less fan to add to the noise factor. The layout is done well and everything is easily accessible. Checking the prices, this board comes in at a very, very affordable $125 on NewEgg.com. That’s a damn good price for what you get. All in all, the AN8 SLI
should be on your list if you are searching for a good and inexpensive SLI motherboard.