Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI

Written by John Chen    Saturday, 01 October 2005 11:00
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Introduction

Abit's release of the Fatal1ty line started out pretty well.  It overclocked to great speeds and was stacked with cool features.  The only thing bad about the Fatal1ty AN8 was the lack of VDIMM options.  2.8v to memory simply wasn't enough.  Enthusiasts with TCCD based memory can get away with just 2.8v but sometimes 2.8v won't be enough.  Then there are the Winbond based memory that just screams for increased voltages.  A measly 2.8v simply won't unleash the power behind Winbond memory.  Hardware enthusiasts and overclockers have submitted many complaints to Abit and they've heard it and finally responded.  The new Fatal1ty AN8 SLI not only brings increased voltage options for memory, but also uses the Nvidia nForce4 SLI chipset for SLI capability.

The Fatal1ty AN8 SLI is not the only motherboard to see VDIMM changes.  The regular AN8 SLI and AN8 Ultra both will have better VDIMM options as well.  However, because the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI is the new Abit flagship motherboard, it will be the motherboard to go through our testing procedures and overclocking tortures.  I continue to use the Fatal1ty AN8 in one of my gaming systems.  If the additional changes to the Fatal1ty SLI version is for the better, then I'll be forced to build another great gaming system.

 


 

Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI Package

Abit's Fatal1ty line of motherboards cater towards gamers who need cutting edge performance.  One of the main things that gamers worry about is heat, whether they're overclocking or not.  Because computer parts are so advanced nowadays, the BIOS of the motherboard can be adjusted to force the CPU to slow down the clock speed when temperatures are getting too hot.  With that in mind, the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI comes with a nice bundle to help keep the airflow abundant to help keep things cool.  Included are rounded cables to help reduce airflow restriction to a minimum.  The usual accessories like the SATA cables, instruction manuals, SATA to 4pin Molex connector, and I/O backplate are all included.  The one unique inclusion is the SLIpstream cooler.  Since the board is SLI capable, running two video cards will cause the system heat to rise at a rapid rate, especially if you're using two high end video cards.  The SLIpstream will direct airflow right over the video cards for immediate cooling assistance.  The SLI bridge and SLI switch key are included and come with red PCB to match the fiery red of the Fatal1ty motherboard.

Another great accessory included with the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI is the new uGuru panel, which installs into a free 5.25" drive bay.  The uGuru panel allows front connections for USB and IEEE 1394.  There is also an audio jack and microphone jack for headphones.  The uGuru panel provides information about your CPU speed, voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures.  Personally, I find the great thing about the uGuru panel to be the CMOS clear button.  Overclockers no longer have to open up the side panel to clear the CMOS whenever the system is pushed too far.  Who likes getting on their knees to open theirz side panel, just to clear CMOS?  All the cables are easy to connect and very straightforward.  To make sure that the clear CMOS button works, connect the CMOS cable with the red cable connected to pin 1. 

One cool thing that Abit started doing with their Fatal1ty series is they added a separate daughter sound card.  According to Abit, this reduces noise interference and provides better system performance.  The daughter sound card is powered by the ever popular Realtek ALC850 chipset.  The sound card provides 8 channel surround sound and delivers great sound quality for typical gaming, music, or movies.  For audiophiles, you'll want to upgrade to a better solution.


 

Motherboard Layout

The Fatal1ty AN8 was a great motherboard with great physical layout.  The Fatal1ty AN8 SLI is no different.  One thing that cannot be helped is the placement of the motherboard chipset.  There is just no better place than the lower right corner of the motherboard.  The sad thing about that is that enthusiasts can't replace the chipset cooler for a better aftermarket solution.  Then again they don't really have to worry about it since it's an all copper heatsink and does a great job at keeping the chipset cool.  Next to the chipset are the IDE ports and 4 SATA connectors.  The SATA connectors are well placed vertically so that the SATA cables can be easily managed and tied up.

The DIMM slots are color coded black and red to allow users to know which slots to use to enable dual channel--installing memory in both black or both red or all 4 DIMM slots will enable dual channel.  The ATX power connector is conveniently located at the edge of the motherboard so that the large power connector can be easily tucked out of the way.  The 4pin power connector is located above the CPU socket area, a little to the left side of the motherboard.  There seems to be plenty of space around the CPU socket area for large aftermarket coolers. 

 


 

Motherboard Layout Continued

Obviously, the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI comes with two PCI-E x16 slots for dual video card action.  There are two PCI-E x1 slots available for future add-on cards.  Currently, there's no need for these, but it's always good to have it if you plan to keep the motherboard for a long time.  There are two regular PCI slots for those of you who need to install add-on cards like a wireless NIC.  Below the PCI slots is the 4pin Molex connector.  You must be wondering what this power connector is used for.  With dual video cards running in SLI mode, the video cards will need extra power.  This is where the power connector comes into play.  In between the two PCI-E x16 slots is the location of the SLI key switch.  When running SLI mode, the key must be inserted with the "SLI Mode" showing.  If you're using a single video card, the "Normal Mode" must be showing.

At the back I/O are the two 40mm fans, one IEEE 1394 port, four USB ports, PS2 keyboard and mouse ports, and a single RJ45 jack.  The two 40mm fans can be adjusted in the BIOS.  Don't think that disabling it will cause the fans to turn off; it actually forces the fans to run at full speed.  Underneath the shroud, you can see that the MOSFET's have heatsinks attached.  This is to further help the MOSFET's release heat.  At the bottom right corner are the front I/O connectors.  All the jumpers are nicely color coded and labeled to allow easy installations of appropriate cables.  To the right of the front I/O connectors is the uGuru panel connector.  To the left of the front I/O connectors are the motherboard diagnostic LED's, three additional USB headers for six additional USB ports, and a single IEEE 1394 connector. 

 


 

BIOS

Abit is one of the few motherboard companies that provide great BIOS options for overclocking enthusiasts.  The Fatal1ty AN8 SLI came with pretty much the same exact BIOS layout and options as the Fatal1ty AN8.  The two are almost twins.

  • VCore:  1.4v - 1.75v
  • VDIMM:  2.5v - 3.4v
  • DDR VTT:  1.25v - 1.75v, DDR/2
  • DDR Ref Voltage:  -60 to default to +60
  • CPU Ref Voltage:  -60 to default to +60
  • Chipset Voltage:  1.5v - 1.8v
  • HyperTransport Voltage:  1.2v - 1.35v
  • LDT Multipliers:  1x, 1.5x, 2x, 2.5x, 3x, 4x, 5x, AUTO
  • Memory Dividers:  AUTO, DDR200, DDR266, DDR333, DDR400, DDR433, DDR466, DDR500
  • PCI-E Frequency:  100MHz - 145MHz
  • HyperTransport Frequency (HTT):  200MHz - 410MHz
  • CPU Multiplier:  4x - highest your CPU allows

Abit continues to provide memory timing adjustments to satisfy the overclocker's itch for tweaking memory speeds.  The great thing about the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI is that it now comes with higher VDIMM options.  Abit has heard the cries of overclockers and they are now supplying VDIMM up to 3.4v.  It is not as high as what DFI offers, but it sure beats out the rest of the competition.  3.4v is good enough for Winbond UTT memory and sure is more than enough for TCCD memory. 

One addition made in the BIOS is the higher memory dividers.  With a higher memory divider, you can run your memory at faster speeds without having to overclock the HTT megahertz.  I find these dividers to be quite useless.  If you are planning on overclocking your memory speeds, why wouldn't you want to overclock the HTT speeds?  I guess someone out there will find a use for these dividers.

 


 

Software

Abit's software bundle is not known to provide numerous programs that you will never use.  Instead, Abit includes useful utilities that enthusiasts can use to monitor their system and keep their system up-to-date.  There is only one CD provided, and that's for the motherboard drivers and the Abit uGuru utility. The uGuru utility includes, Abit EQ, FlashMenu, BlackBox, and OC Guru. Abit EQ is Abit's hardware monitoring utility. It provides temperature readouts, voltage lines, and fan RPM speeds. The BlackBox utility is Abit's technical support feature. If you have something wrong with your system and can't figure it out, let BlackBox detect your hardware and send it in to Abit for support. Within 24 hours, Abit will send you a response. The FlashMenu is an in-Windows BIOS flash utility. I generally don't like to use Windows based flashing utilities. If the system becomes unstable under Windows, you're screwed. DOS is still my preferred method. Lastly, the OC Guru is Abit's overclocking on the fly utility.

 


 

Test Setup and Overclocking

Test Setup:

  • AMD Athlon 64 3000+ Venice
  • Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI
  • DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D
  • 2 x 512MB Centon Advanced PC4400 2-2-2-5 1T
  • Sapphire Radeon X800
  • Nvidia nForce4 AMD drivers 6.66
  • ATI Catalyst 5.7
  • Hitachi 80GB SATA
  • Thermaltake PurePower 680W
  • Arctic Cooling Freezer 64

Overclocking:

The regular Fatal1ty AN8 was a pretty good overclocker and continues to be a great performing motherboard.  The Fatal1ty AN8 SLI is no different from the previous board.  I proceeded to find the highest HTT allowed with dual sticks of memory installed. The first test will be conducted with the memory divider at 1:1. The second test will be with a divider, so that the RAM wouldn't pose as a bottleneck. All memory timings were left at 3-4-4-8 2T and the LDT multiplier at 1x and CPU multiplier at 6x. I made sure that nothing would bottleneck the chipset and motherboard potential.

  • Highest overclock 1:1:  315HTT
  • Highest overclock with divider:  385HTT

The Fatal1ty AN8 SLI overclocked rather well with the use of a divider.  315HTT seems to be the max when it comes to 1:1 ratio, even when the memory is capable of much more. 

Compatibility Issue:

There is one problem with the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI that many enthusiasts have been encountering.  The sample I received also has this problem.  It seems to vary from board to board, depending on your luck.  As usual, my bad luck punched me in the face and refused to let me run 2x512MB memory at 1T command rate.  This seems to ONLY happen with an AMD Athlon 64 3000+ Venice core CPU.  At first I thought it was the BIOS, but I quickly found out that it was not the cause.  I went through four different versions before concluding that it was my CPU.  I figured that it might be my old date/week CPU since there have been enthusiasts who were able to run a 3000+ Venice without a problem.  I switched my week 04 Venice to a week 17 Venice.  The problem was still there.  This compatibility issue is very specific to AMD Athlon 64 3000+ Venice core CPUs and using 2x512MB memory and a command rate of 1T.  I tried different kits of memory, both TCCD and Winbond UTT and they all refused to run 1T.  The strange thing is that running 2x256MB solved the problem.  I was able to push well beyond 300HTT with 2x256MB and 1T, but who runs 2x256MB nowadays?  This compatibility issue is extremely annoying, yet minor.  The problem is very specific to a certain CPU and the use of 2x512MB memory.  Unfortunately, the specific CPU is an extremely popular processor.  Many enthusiasts purchase a 3000+ Venice for the low price and the high overclocking potential.  Just make sure that you keep this problem in mind when you make your purchase decision.  If you're not using a 3000+ Venice, no need to sweat bricks.  You will certainly not have a problem with the board.  The funny thing is that I have the regular AN8 SLI sitting here and it does not have this problem.  The boards are identical in design, layout, and BIOS.  There is no difference other than the Fatal1ty name and the chipset cooling.  Perhaps Abit can fix this problem in the near future.  It is very disappointing.

UPDATE:

We just received word from a fellow enthusiast in Australia who reported that he encountered similar problems.  The CPU he was using was an AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+.  The memory he was using was 2x512MB of Corsair's PC3200 XL TCCD.  He was forced to run the command rate at 2T and loosening his timings to 2.5-4-3-7 in order to run a stock 200HTT.  This further extends the problem with the motherboard.  It just goes to show that the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI has problems with more than just a specific CPU.  I hope Abit realizes this problem and quickly fixes it, because quite frankly, it has angered many loyal Abit fans, myself included.

 

 

 

Results

During testing, all HTT are manually set to 200MHZ.  Command rate was set at 1T and only the normal CAS, TRCD, TRP, TRAS were adjusted to 2-2-2-5.  Due to the compatibility issue of the 3000+ Venice and 2x512MB memory and command rate of 1T, all tests for the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI will be run at a command rate of 2T.

Sysmark 2004

Sysmark2004 is a very common benchmark used to measure a system's potential in performance.  It goes through long and grueling tests that include compression and decompression and office intensive programs.

3DMark2001SE

3DMark is probably the overclocker's favorite benchmark.  Unlike 3DMark2003, which stresses mainly the video card, 3DMark2001SE tests all of the system's main components.  Increasing the CPU speed, memory speed, and video card speeds will result in higher results in the final score. 

PCMark2004

The PCMark2004 system benchmark puts the entire system to work.  It is quite surprising that the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI won in this department with a slower command rate of 2T.

PCMark2002

PCMark2002 is older than PCMark2004 but still very similar.  Ouch!  The Fatal1ty AN8 SLI was badly beaten in the memory benchmark department.  It can't be helped though; the 2T command rate will lower your memory bandwidth by quite a bit.

 


 

Results Continued

Everest Home Edition

Everest Home Edition is a good benchmark for testing memory performance.  Since the motherboard's overclocking potential and memory bandwidth is closely related, I find this benchmark to be trustable.  With the slower command rate of 2T, expect memory bandwidth performance to be a lot slower.

SiSoft Sandra

Like Everest Home Edition, SiSoft Sandra memory bandwidth tests the motherboard's memory bandwidth performance.  Again, the slower command rate of 2T just kills performance.  This is the reason why I stay away from the use of 2T.

Super PI

Since the value of PI is an infinite value, Super PI is a speed test to find the digit you're looking for.  In this case, we chose the millionth digit.  Super PI benefits greatly from higher FSB as well as low latencies.

PiFast

PiFast is similar to Super PI and the results can be greatly affected by a slight adjustment to the memory megahertz and latency. 

Unreal Tournament 2004

Unreal Tournament 2004 is a very popular game that is highly effected by the system's performance.  Testing was done under the resolution of 640x480 to minimize the dependency of GPU and CPU power.


 

Conclusion and Thoughts

The Fatal1ty AN8 SLI is a good SLI motherboard solution from a well known company, Abit.  Like the rest of the Fatal1ty motherboards, the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI comes with pretty red LEDs that glow when the system is turned on.  It adds a great look for cases with side panel windows.  The motherboard has a great BIOS, with options to adjust fans speeds and voltage options to satisfy your overclocking needs.  The motherboard does have some problems though.  The mentioned compatibility issue with the use of a 3000+ Venice and 2x512MB and command rate of 1T can be a real huge turn-off.  Perhaps the annoying part about that compatibility issue is the hit-or-miss probability.  If you're using a CPU other than the 3000+ Venice, you will end up with one great system.

While the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI provides great voltage options, especially VDIMM, the board does not seem to like Winbond UTT memory.  I used the OCZ Gold PC3500 GX and was only able to get up to 230HTT with 2T.  This is with the VDIMM varying from 2.8v to 3.4v.  I tried 2x256MB of Winbond UTT memory and saw the same fate.  The board just does not respond well to Winbond UTT memory.

Abit seems to be encountering some motherboard issues that can be resolved with BIOS updates.  The AW8 did not have a working 1:2 memory divider, the AL8 did not overclock well without playing with a lot of the settings and adjusting the PCI-E frequency and now the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI has a compatibility issue with a popular processor.  All of these issues can be fixed with a simple BIOS update.  Come on Abit engineers, help us help you!

Pros:

  • uGuru panel provides voltage, fan speeds, and front connections
  • Beautiful red PCB
  • Pretty red LEDs
  • Overclocks very well
  • Daughter sound card reduces noise signal interference
  • VDIMM up to 3.4v

Cons:

  • Compatibility issue with 3000+ Venice, 2x512MB, and 1T
  • Does not like Winbond UTT based memory
  • A bit expensive

We would like to thank Abit for providing us the sample.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to hit us up in the forums. You can also check out more of our latest reviews on the front page.

 

 

 

 

 

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