Abit AW8

Written by John Chen    Sunday, 28 August 2005 11:00
Article Index
Abit AW8
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Page 5
Page 6
Page 7
Page 8
Page 9
Page 10
All Pages
Introduction


There is nothing really exciting about the release of the Intel 955X chipset.  The two key points behind the new release are the support for Intel's dual core processors and the ability to run a 1:2 memory divider.  Personally, the memory divider pulls my main interest.  With such a divider, overclocking enthusiasts can really push their high speed DDR2 to the limits.

Asus was pretty much the first to launch a 955X motherboard, which was quickly followed by Gigabyte's Royal solution.  In terms of overclocking, Asus dominated the field.  Word quickly spread and overclockers snatched up the board just for the sake of playing with new hardware, even if they didn't want to step into Intel territory.  Being an Abit fan, I held back my impulse and waited to see what Abit had to offer.

There was not much hype behind the AW8 before its release.  All I heard about was Abit's C19 solution, which was supposed to be their flagship motherboard.  At least that's what I heard and saw from news all over the world.  When the AW8 was released, Abit quickly promoted the motherboard as their best motherboard.  It received a Dolby certification for great audio and used Abit's newest Silent OTES.  The board looked extremely promising to me.  I was more than anxious to lay my hands on the board. 


 

Abit AW8 Package

The AW8 comes in a typical Abit motherboard box.  There is nothing fancy because the AW8 is the plain vanilla version.  It's not the MAX version or 3rd-eye version.  The package does come with rounded cables though.  There are also the drivers CD, floppy with RAID drivers, user manuals, and a I/O backplate.  The I/O backplate has meshed grills to allow natural air ventilation for the Silent OTES.

 


 

Motherboard Layout

Motherboards based on Intel chipsets usually have a good general layout.  The only time it would be bad was if the motherboard company just didn't care about it.  Intel continues to release a two bridge design.  The 955X Northbridge is passively cooled by a small heatpipe heatsink that stretches to multiple copper fins at the back I/O area.  This passive heatpipe cooling solution is known as Abit's Silent OTES.  It's actually used in quite a few of their other motherboards.  Throughout all intensive tests, the Silent OTES kept the Northbridge cool; it was barely warm to the touch.  It's always a benefit to have one less fan running in your system, especially when your system is dedicated to silence.  Speaking of the back I/O, the AW8 provides the usual keyboard and mouse PS2 ports, four USB ports, and a RJ45 jack for internet connection.

You may not have not realized yet but, Intel platforms are pushing for the use of DDR2 memory.  The AW8 comes with color coded DIMM slots, orange and lime green, to denote dual channel capability.  Right next to the DIMM slots is the 24pin ATX power connector.  It has been conveniently placed at the right edge of the motherboard to allow easy management of the large power cable.  Above the DIMM slots is the CPU-dedicated 4pin 12v connector.  The 4pin 12v connector has also been designed to be placed near the right edge of the motherboard so that no cable stretches across or around the CPU socket area, interfering with the CPU cooler.  Below the DIMM slots is the single IDE port and four SATA ports.  If you purchase the AW8-MAX version, you will have two additional SATA ports right above the PCI slots.  With the vanilla AW8, you will only receive four SATA ports.  It's still more than enough for a high end gaming or workstation system.  The other difference between the MAX version of the AW8 and the vanilla version is the IEEE 1394 port.  The vanilla version does not have any IEEE 1394 connections.  Users who look for that port will have to purchase the MAX version.  The vanilla AW8 does come with two additional USB headers for four additional USB devices.  The floppy port is located at the bottom edge of the motherboard, a location I happen to dislike.  While this placement allows the floppy cable to be stretched to the floppy drive without interfering with anything else, it also makes it difficult to hide the cable from sight.  Perhaps the question with this is:  "Who uses a floppy drive nowadays?"  I certainly do.  It does come in handy for all the RAID arrays on the multiple hard drives. 

 


 

Motherboard Layout Continued

Intel LGA775 processors are known for putting out some outrageous heat, especially when overclocked.  It's a good thing that the AW8 comes with a spacious CPU socket area.  This means that large aftermarket coolers can be used without any compatibility issues.  The Silent OTES heatpipe may look like it would cause an issue when using a large cooler, but it did not, at least not with the big coolers I've used.  The MOSFET's around the CPU area are also passively cooled with aluminum heatsinks. 

The AW8 comes with the usual assortment of slots for your add-on cards.  The 955X chipset does not have SLI capability, so there is only one PCI-E x16 slot for your video card.  Below the PCI-E x16 slot are two PCI-E x1 slots and below that are the regular PCI slots.  At the very bottom is a slot dedicated for Abit's daughter sound card called AudioMAX.  Instead of implementing the audio codec on the motherboard itself, Abit makes a separate sound card to reduce electrical interference and static noise.  At the right corner of the motherboard is the front I/O connections.  The pins are nicely color coded and labeled so that reference to a user manual is unnecessary.  For enthusiasts who want to make the optional purchase of the uGuru clock or use a uGuru panel, the row of four red pins is where the connection is made.  To the left of the front I/O is the onboard diagnostic LED, which I find to be rather useful during overclocking.  If the codes stop flashing and alternating, you know your overclock failed.

Abit AudioMAX:

The audio daughter card provides 7.1 channel surround sound.  The sound card is powered by Realtek's ALC882M audio codec and uses a fiery red PCB, resembling the likes of the Fatal1ty line.  Realtek's audio solutions are not the greatest, but it's certainly not bad either.  If you're not an extreme audiophile who have ears like a rabbit, the Realtek onboard solution is more than enough.  It works perfectly fine for my daily dose of music and games. 

 


 

BIOS

Abit was very well known for their easy navigating BIOS.  All of the overclocking and tweaking features were listed under a section called SoftMenu.  This section has been renamed to the uGuru Utility.  All of the overclocking options are under this section, as well as the Abit EQ which provides voltage monitoring and fan speed adjustments.  The memory timings are located under the Advanced Chipset Features section.  This is where you can lower your latencies to squeeze in the last bit of performance from your memory modules.

  • VCore:  1.3625v - 1.7125v
  • VDIMM:  1.75v - 2.3v
  • MCH @ PCI-E 1.5v voltage:  1.5v - 2.0v
  • FSB Frequency:  133MHz - 400MHz
  • N/B Strap CPU as:
    • PSB 533:  By SPD (2:5), DDR2 533 (1:2)
    • PSB 800:  By SPD (3:5), DDR2 533 (3:4)
    • PSB 1066:  By SPD (4:5), DDR2 533 (1:1)

Intel's overclocking process is fairly simple and the AW8 comes with all the necessary voltage options.  The motherboard allows enthusiasts to pump as much as 2.3v to their DDR2 memory.  Not all DDR2 memory requires that much voltage to operate, even under overclocked environments.  The only DDR2 memory that really takes advantage of increased voltages would be Micron's fatbody D9 IC's.  Everything else works fine and overclocks well with 2.1v or under.  The AW8 comes with multiple PSB strap settings that is adjusted accordingly to your CPU stock FSB.  If your CPU is based on a 133FSB, like a Celeron, then you would set the PSB to 533.  If you happen to have an Extreme Edition with a stock FSB of 266MHz, then the correct setting would be PSB 1066.  The majority of users out there will leave the setting at PSB 800.  Extra memory dividers are provided when choosing a certain PSB.

There is one thing about the AW8 that I found to be a major disappointment.  I have experience with both the Asus P5WD2 and Gigabyte 955X Royal and both of those boards provide a working 1:2 memory divider.  This means that with a default speed of 200FSB, enthusiasts who purchased PC2-6400 memory can run their memory at 400MHz, or DDR2-800, without overclocking the FSB.  The only 1:2 divider provided in the AW8 fell under PSB 533 with the DDR2 533 option.  I was glad there was a 1:2 divider shown, but it failed miserably.  The motherboard failed to boot and did not even pass the beginning stages during POST.  If you have not realized by now, I'm a memory fanatic.  It's quite annoying to know that you purchased extremely fast DDR2 and can't take advantage of it because the motherboard did not provide a working divider.  Now in order to reach DDR2-1000, or 500MHz, I'll have to use the next highest divider of 3:5 and run a high FSB of 300. 



 

Software

Abit's software bundle is not known to include helpful programs like antivirus programs or backup utilities.  What Abit is well known for is their great looking system monitoring program called uGuru.  When installing the Abit exclusive uGuru utility, enthusiasts are open to a bevy of programs that keeps the motherboard updated and informed.  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. Finally, the OC Guru is Abit's overclocking on the fly utility. You can overclock you're system without the repeated restart of your system.  One thing about the uGuru utility is that it has a new GUI from before.  It looks more stylish and is easy to navigate.  Enthusiasts should have no problems getting themselves familiarized with the utility. 

 


 

Test Setup and Overclocking

Test Setup:

  • Intel Pentium 4 560 3.6GHz
  • Abit AW8
  • Asus P5WD2 Premium
  • 2 x 512MB Corsair XMS2 PC2-8000UL 3-2-2-5
  • Sapphire Radeon X800
  • Arctic Cooling Freezer 7
  • Thermaltake PurePower 680W
  • ATI Catalyst 5.7
  • Hitachi 80GB SATA

Overclocking:

The Asus P5WD2 motherboard is one of the 955X motherboards to be released.  It received great hype after its launch about the great performance and overclocking headroom it provided.  After spending some time with the board, I must agree that it is one of the friendliest overclocking motherboards in the Intel department.  The Abit AW8 proved to overclock just the same.  The AW8 came with great overclocking options for enthusiasts to push their system hardware.  Voltage options were abundant and the range of FSB was more than enough.  Equipped with an engineering sample of the Intel 560 3.6GHz processor, I dropped the multiplier to the lowest allowed, which was 14x, and kept memory at a 1:1 ratio and pumped up the FSB.  I made sure that the memory would not be a bottleneck and loosened the timings to 5-5-5-15 and gave it 2.3v. 

  • Highest overclock:  280FSB

The AW8 booted just fine and ran fine with a maximum of 280FSB.  I have no doubts that the motherboard can go further, but unfortunately my CPU seems to be the bottleneck.  Sadly, I cannot afford such an expensive CPU like the Extreme Editions, where even lower multipliers are unlocked.  It would have been great though. 


 


 

Results

Sysmark 2004

Sysmark2004 is a very common benchmark used to measure a system's potential in performance.  It goes through long and grueling tests, including compression, decompression, and office intensive programs.  The AW8 really performed badly in this test.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sysmark and the scores, a difference of 5 points is considered to be a HUGE difference.  Now we consider the AW8 trailing by 12 points.  That is rather bad.

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 final scores.

PCMark2004

The PCMark2004 system benchmark puts the entire system to work.

PCMark2002

PCMark2002 is older than PCMark2004, but still very similar.



 

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 trustworthy.  I was extremely surprised to see such a huge difference between the two motherboards.  It's quite strange to see two motherboards that use the same Northbridge, hence same memory controller, and provide such big difference in performance.  I tested it a couple of times and the results continued to be the same.

SiSoft Sandra

Like Everest Home Edition, SiSoft Sandra memory bandwidth tests the motherboard's memory bandwidth performance.  Again like Everest, the AW8 was behind in performance.

Super PI

Since the value of PI is an infinite value, Super PI is a speed test to find a specified digit.  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 affected by the system's performance.  Testing was conducted with a resolution of 640x480 to minimize the dependency of GPU and CPU power.  This is the only benchmark that the AW8 outperformed the competition, and by a good margin I should say. 

 


 

Conclusion and Thoughts

The AW8 is a good motherboard for those who wish to go the Intel route.  The AW8 sample I received was not the most feature rich, however the AW8-MAX version does come with all the kicks for the enthusiasts who need it.  If you do not need all the extra features, then the AW8 would suffice.  The motherboard's Silent OTES does a great job of cooling the 955X Northbridge.  It is passive so there are no moving parts and that is a huge plus for enthusiasts who look for silent computers.  There are other boards out there like the P5WD2 that also comes with passive cooling solutions, but the heatsinks are rather small and get warmed under full load.  The overclocking options and headroom of the AW8 is magnificent.  The board overclocked so well that it maxed out what my CPU's GHz can handle.  Abit's reputation of making great overclocking motherboards is definitely shown through the AW8.  With all the greatness of the AW8, there are also the weaknesses that might turn off an enthusiast.  My main personal gripe would be the lack of a working 1:2 divider.  This means that enthusiasts won't be able to fully take advantage of their blazing fast DDR2 memory.  The other disappointment would probably be the slower performance when compared to leading competitors.  The AW8 consistently scored lower in the majority of benchmarks tested here today.  While the difference may not seem all that big, the memory controller performance of the AW8 is lacking.  The Everest Home Edition benchmark was the AW8's kryptonite.  It performed horrendously.  One benchmark may not really mean anything, but the difference gap was so big that it was quite shocking.  This can only mean one thing again.  Abit, we need a new BIOS! 

Overall, I found the Abit AW8 to be a good board and a good recommendation.  Abit fans will be happy to know that their flagship Intel motherboard is not a big flop.  It just needs a better working BIOS to fully release the motherboard's potential.

Pros:

  • Sexy black PCB
  • Silent OTES provides great cooling to Northbridge
  • Great overclocking features
  • Great overclocking headroom
  • Uses separate daughter sound card to reduce noise signal interference

Cons:

  • Non-MAX version is not feature rich
  • No working 1:2 memory divider!!!
  • Performance slower than competition

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add comment


Security code
Refresh