ABit AB9 Pro review
Intel has finally followed up the Pentium series in a typically aggressive fashion. To partner the stellar new Core 2 chip, there’s also a new chipset, the P965 (which will be followed by variants over the next few months). Motherboards based around it are already appearing, so you can start building your next-generation PC as soon as possible.
THE P965/975X CHIPSET
Both the P965 and newer, slightly tweaked 975X chipsets feature essentially a memory controller upgrade. The major feature is support for 800MHz (PC 8000) memory. In addition, Intel’s Fast Memory Access system means the north bridge can monitor every pending read or write request and rearrange the order to maximise efficiency. It can also perform writes to memory on-the-fly, slotting write requests in between the higher priority read requests. This is preferable to queuing write requests and flushing the queue periodically, which renders the memory inaccessible until the flush is complete.
If you want to use two 3D graphics cards with Core 2 Duo, you’ll need one of the revised 975X boards, and you can only use ATi cards – SLI isn’t currently supported on Intel core logic. The revision only affects the power supply circuitry, though, so the 975X isn’t really worth the premium unless you want a high-end CrossFire rig. For upgraders on a budget, the P965 also offers plenty of flexibility.
If you decide to wait before splashing out on a Core 2 Duo CPU, these boards will also accommodate any other LGA775 processors: Pentium 4, Pentium D, or Extreme Editions of either. And with all of these likely to be in line for price cuts, there’s a huge amount of choice.
The Abit AB9 Pro is one of the oddest motherboards we’ve seen. Where most would have a third PCI or PCI Express slot, there’s an IDE connector and two SATA headers. Another SATA header sits near the CPU socket, but this is a throw-off from the external SATA port you can see on the I/O block. The only real need for the two hard disk headers sitting among the expansion slots is to have two separate RAID arrays.
Apart from the oddly placed IDE controller, the board is well laid out. The six SATA controllers from the Intel south bridge are to the bottom right, as are the three USB and two FireWire headers. The ATX power connector is well placed to the top right, with the auxiliary 12V power connector nearby. These bulky cables are easily tucked away once the board is installed into a standard case. Finally, a heatpipe routes heat from the north bridge to a large heatsink that sits in the I/O panel, helping to remove heat from your system, at the cost of the backplane’s serial and parallel ports.
For a more conventional layout, the Gigabyte GA-965P-DQ6 is a good bet. Gigabyte justifies the high price with all manner of novelties. The voltage regulation circuitry is 12-phase for a solid supply to the CPU. You’ll only see the benefit of this when overclocking the board to its limits, though. There’s also a snaking heatsink arrangement to get heat from the bowels of your PC up to the exhaust fan. And with all the headers and connectors placed to the extremities of the board, airflow within your case should be unrestricted. Gigabyte also goes some way to justifying the price with the generous bundle, with SATA cables and two external SATA backplates.
Strangely, the board has two 16x-sized graphics slots, although you’ll struggle to get CrossFire working properly, as the second slot has only 4x (1GB/sec) bandwidth. It could come in handy if and when ATi launches its ATi Physics, though, which uses an X1600 Pro or above as a dedicated physics processor. The driver may not follow for a few months, with games supporting the Havok FX physics API it uses some time after that.