Abit Fatal1ty AN8

Written by John Chen    Tuesday, 22 March 2005 11:00
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Introduction


I found it a little strange that Abit seemed to be behind in producing quality motherboards as they've done in the past. A couple of months ago, the only motherboard you could find for Socket 754 would be the KV8 series and for the AV8 Socket 939. Well that has changed with Abit's new announcements. To increase the selection for Socket 754, a NV8 with PCI-E will be released. The AX8 and AN8 series increase the options for Socket 939.  

Abit's name has been synonymous with overclocking since the days of the KT7. It's no surprise that they would release a motherboard dedicated to overclocking. Teaming up with professional gamer Johnathan Wendel, Abit dedicated themselves to creating the best gaming motherboard available. The goal was to eliminate all the unnecessary BIOS options and extras that gamers do not use and create the best overclocking board to provide the cutting edge performance. Not many will agree, but the motherboard is actually the most crucial part of a system, in terms of performance and overclocking. There wouldn't be a need for high end memory if your motherboard could not handle high HTT/FSB. There wouldn't be a need for a good CPU stepping because of insufficient VCore. We've had good results with the NF8 and we're hoping to obtain even better results with the Fatal1ty AN8.

 


 

Abit Fatal1ty AN8 Package

The Fatal1ty AN8 comes in a fiery red PCB for extra appeal. The box art of the Fatal1ty AN8 is also very attractive. The box represents Abit's BulletProof Technology and is evident from the bullet holes on the box art. Abit's BulletProof Technology ensures users stability as well as endurance with the use of high quality components, such as 100% Japanese capacitors. The package comes with all the required accessories to build a gaming system. There are the usual rounded cables, SATA cables, manuals, drivers CD, NVRaid drivers in floppy, I/O backplate, and the OTES RAMFlow. The great thing about the OTES RAMFlow is that it allows dedicated cooling for memory. With memory capable of running outrageously high frequencies, some kind of cooling is necessary to maintain stability. The RAMFlow also installs very easily with the spring loaded clips.

 


 

Motherboard Layout

Right off the bat, I can tell you that the AN8 has a great motherboard layout. The Fatal1ty AN8 and the regular AN8 differ in only a few areas. The main difference is the chipset used. The Fatal1ty AN8 features the nForce4 Ultra while the AN8 features the regular nForce4. What's the difference between the two? In case you missed Nvidia's nForce4 launch, the vanilla nForce4 lacks SATA2 and ActiveArmor support. The regular AN8 also doesn't include red motherboard LED's, OTES RAMFlow, a fiery red PCB, and a few accessories. Whether the AN8 will be as good as the Fatal1ty version in terms of overclocking and performance, we won't know until later.

For the sake of avoiding confusion, I'll refer to the Fatal1ty AN8 as “Fatal1ty”. I mentioned earlier that the motherboard has a great layout because of the position of the motherboard chipset. Unlike nForce3 and some nForce4 motherboards that have the chipset sitting at the corner of the AGP/PCI-E slot, the chipset on the Fatal1ty sits above the PCI-E slot. This allows enthusiasts to swap out for a better aftermarket cooling solution, like the Swiftech MCX159 or Thermalright NB-1, without interfering with the graphic card. The stock chipset cooler is all copper and does a good job at cooling the chipset. The noise level of the cooler isn't a major factor. It's quiet when the system is idle and speeds up when the system is under full load. The noise level did go up, but not enough to be heard inside a case.

Because this is a Socket 939 motherboard, there are four DIMM slots available. The slots are color coded for dual channel identification. Memory can be installed in slots 1 & 2 or 3 & 4 for dual channel. The 24pin ATX power connector is located at the edge of the motherboard, near the middle. This allows for easy tucking of the large power cable. The 4pin 12v connector is located right above the CPU socket, towards the top left corner of the motherboard. Right next to 12v connector is the CPU fan header.

The Fatal1ty offers two IDE ports and 4 SATA ports. The IDE ports are placed at a 0° angle, instead of the usual 90° angle. This usually allows for better tucking of IDE cables depending on the case you use. The SATA ports are located near the edge of the PCI-E slot, which is not ideal if you have a large graphic card. The SATA ports support the new SATA2 interface and allows the use of RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and JBOD. Below the SATA ports are the 3 additional USB headers. The USB headers are one of the two things I didn't like about the board placement. It's located below the PCI-E slot, so if your 6800GT/Ultra has an Arctic Cooling Silencer, you can pretty much rule out the use of all USB headers. Speaking of the onboard slots, the Fatal1ty provides one PCI-E x16, two PCI-E x1, three PCI, and one Abit audio slot. There are basically no PCI-E x1 add on cards available, so having too many would be useless. It would be better to provide regular PCI slots, and Abit provides a total of three. If you plan to use a large graphic cooler that takes up a PCI slot, you're left with two. These two can be used for a wireless NIC and a separate sound solution. At the very bottom of the board, next to the floppy, is an indication of where a 12v 4pin connector would be on their SLI motherboard. This is only an assumption, but if they stick to it, it would be a poor location. Having a power cable stretch all the way down to the bottom of the motherboard isn't ideal at all.

 


 

Motherboard Layout Continued

On the back I/O panel are the Dual OTES exhaust system, where two 40mm fans draw heat away from the heatsinks that sit on the MOSFET's. The top left corner screw hole is covered by the duct and requires the duct to be removed for proper installation. Underneath the two 40mm fans are the PS2 keyboard and mouse ports, 4 USB, and 1 RJ45 jack for Gigabit connection. You won't see the serial and parallel ports. Although I do have an old printer that still uses parallel connection, it's time I upgrade anyway. Notice anything else different about the back I/O? There are no audio ports. This is because Abit includes a daughter card called AudioMax specifically for sound. Abit claims that with sound on a separate card, noise interference will be greatly reduced. The AudioMax comes with SPDIF In/Out as well as 6 channel support. It's rather strange to see the use of lower end Realtek ALC658 as the audio codec when there is the higher ALC850. I wouldn't say Realtek is high quality sound, but ALC850 should be the very least used. On the daughter card, there are the front I/O connectors, in case you want to extend your audio ports to the front of the case. I'm not too sure if I like the position of the audio slot way up at the top of the PCI slots. If the enthusiast wanted to connect an audio cable, it might get in the way of large heatsinks. I'll be using a separate sound card.

As for the rest of the usual IEEE1394 and USB ports, those are included on PCI brackets and connected to the appropriate ports shown earlier. Moving along, there are diagnostic LED's at the lower right corner, a great feature to have. If the system doesn't boot, you'll see why and be able to figure out the problem. Next to the diagnostic LED's is the IEEE1394 port. To the right of the floppy connector is the CMOS jumper. Throughout all testing and overclocking, I didn't have to clear CMOS a single time. At the bottom right corner of the board are the front connections. The pins are color coded and allow for easy installation without referring to the manual.

The CPU socket is clear of tall capacitors. Installing large heatsinks, like the Thermalright XP-120, won't be a problem. Unlike other Abit motherboards that have the uGuru chip located near the bottom portion of the motherboard, the Fatal1ty has the chip at the very top. It's not a big deal and doesn't make a difference.

 


 

BIOS

Now that we're done with the motherboard layout, we can move on to the BIOS. Abit's BIOS is the most user-friendly BIOS. All the tweaking is located under a single section. Instead of taking a crapload of pictures to show the voltage options, I'll just list it out.

  • VCore:  1.4v-1.75v
  • VDIMM:  2.5v-2.8v
  • DDR VTT:  1.25v-1.4v
  • DDR Ref Voltage:  -60 to 0 to +60
  • CPU Ref Voltage:  -60 to 0 to +60
  • Chipset Voltage:  1.5v-1.8v
  • HyperTransport Voltage:  1.2v-1.35v
  • LDT Multipliers:  1x-5x, AUTO
  • Memory Dividers:  DDR400, DDR333, DDR266, DDR200
  • PCI-E Frequency:  100MHZ-145MHZ
  • HyperTransport Frequency (HTT):  200MHZ-410MHZ
  • CPU Multiplier:  4x-highest your CPU allows

The Fatal1ty has memory tweaking options similar to the DFI LANParty motherboards. Since this motherboard is dedicated to the gamer, they'll want to customize and tweak as much as possible. I generally don't like the idea that everything is left to the user, in the sense that the majority of the users out there won't have a clue as to what values to set. Last time we checked, the DFI LANParty UT nF3 was the slowest motherboard without manual tweaking. It the fastest with tweaking, but not everyone can or will do it.

Every part of the BIOS is great, except for the VDIMM. 2.8v to memory is just not enough these days. While the majority of the gamers out there probably own TCCD based memory and don't need outrageous 3.2v+, it's still good to have the voltage options available. The benchers and those who use old BH5 or OCZ's new VX certainly will benefit from having high VDIMM options.

One oddity to note about the BIOS is the DDR and CPU Ref Voltages. At first I thought it was a way to increase the voltage ceiling for each department, but the values of -60 to 60 provide no help. I checked in the user's manual and gained nothing. The manual said it allows change of DDR and CPU Ref Voltage. Shame on you, Abit. Please provide clarity. If the option is available, please let us know what it's for.

 


 

Software

As with all other Abit motherboards, the software bundle is rather light. 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. You can overclock you're system without the repeated restart of your system. You can also create profiles for each overclock and link them to a specified program. Let's say that you don't want to overclock when you're doing your typical net surfing and emails; you can set the system to boot with all stock speeds. Then if you want to play your games and want to overclock to get more frames, the OC Guru will do it automatically for you. An example would be that you created a profile with all the overclocking done. Link that to the game you want it to associate with, like Counter-Strike: Source. When you execute the game, the system will be overclocked and ready to go. Neat, huh?

 


 

Test Setup and Overclocking

Test Setup:

  • AMD Athlon64 3000+ Winchester
  • Abit Fatal1ty AN8
  • MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum
  • 2 x 512MB Centon Low Latency PC3200 2-2-2-5 1T
  • ATI Radeon X800 (400/490)
  • Nvidia unified platform drivers 6.39
  • ATI Catalyst 5.3
  • Hitachi 80GB SATA

Overclocking:

Ahhh, here comes the good section. Overclocking the Fatal1ty was like nothing I've ever experienced with any other motherboard. The CMOS jumper was not used a single time during the overclocking process. If the overclock failed, a restart of the system allowed me to go back into the BIOS. 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. I tested with dual channel sticks in slots 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 with the same results. Unlike some motherboards that are DIMM slot picky, this board can take whatever you throw at it.

  • Highest overclock 1:1:  315HTT
  • Highest overclock with divider:  350HTT

The results are amazing.  The TCCD based Centon Low Latency memory was able to run well over 315HTT, but comes with the cost of loosened timings. The most impressive achievement was the chipset hitting 350HTT easily, with no additional crazed cooling. The system ran fine and booted into Windows, even finishing Super PI. I have to stress over and over that I never had to clear CMOS. The first time I tried 300HTT with loosened timings, the board worked fine. Simply exceptional.


 
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. 

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.  The difference is minute, but the Fatal1ty still takes the lead.

PCMark2004

The PCMark2004 system benchmark puts the entire system to work.  Again the difference is minimal but the Fatal1ty wins by a nose.

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 trustable.

SiSoft Sandra

Like Everest Home Edition, SiSoft Sandra memory bandwidth tests the motherboard's memory bandwidth performance.

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.  The Fatal1ty was 1 frame slower than the Neo4, which can be attributed to the need for memory tweaking.  Although the difference wasn't huge, the board should take the lead since it's dedicated to the gamers.

 


 

Conclusion and Thoughts

There you have it. The rundown of the Fatal1ty's performance and overclocking potential is definitely exceptional. While the board lacks great VDIMM options, the BIOS allows other great voltage ranges and many memory adjustments. I'm pretty sure that most of you are interested in the comparison against DFI's Ultra-D, and our review of that motherboard will arrive soon. As for now, the Fatal1ty provides great performance and overclocking headroom for the gamers. The board is free from unused peripherals and provides features that the gamers actually find use for. The OTES RAMFlow is great for cooling memory, but with lacking VDIMM, I didn't find a need for it. If you want better cooling for memory, by all means use it. The OTES for MOSFET's is a great help. It only turns on and exhausts heat when the motherboard senses high temperatures. When on, the fans do put out extra noise, but not enough to put on ear muffs. If I could hardly notice a difference on my testbed next to me, you won't notice anything in a case on the floor. The most attractive part of the motherboard is the fiery red PCB paired with the red LED's. Gamers like to have modded cases and windows to show off internal parts of the system. The motherboard LED's add to the overall effect. Its glow is nothing like a mod you can do inside a case. Pair it with the Corsair Xpert or Crucial Ballistix Tracer memory and you'll have one dazzling gaming system. In the end, despite the lacking VDIMM, the board was awesome. It's definitely the motherboard to use for your gaming rig.

Pros:

  • Beautiful fiery red PCB
  • Red motherboard LED's
  • Extremely high overclock potential
  • Great BIOS options
  • Good voltage options
  • OTES RAMFlow helps keep memory running cool
  • OTES at the back I/O helps keep MOSFET's running cool and stable
  • Excellent location of nForce4 Ultra chipset

Cons:

  • VDIMM lacking
  • AudioMax doesn't provide highest onboard sound solution
  • Bad location of floppy connector

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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