Abit AS8 review
In spite of its 865PE chipset, the Abit AS8 is one of the better-featured boards on test this month. One of the key advantages of 865 and 915 motherboards is their support for the older Pentium 4 processors with a 533MHz FSB (front side bus), allowing the use of cheaper chips for those unable to afford the luxuries of the latest Pentium 4E series chips. The Abit also has four DDR sockets, allowing up to 4GB of dual-channel RAM, and an 8x AGP slot.
Despite being one of the more expensive 865-based boards, the AS8 has only 10/100 Ethernet. This won’t pose a major problem to most users however, and is made up for by the dedicated outputs for the six-channel audio, unlike other boards that make you share the line-in and microphone inputs. Plus, there are four USB ports on the I/O backplane and two more on a backplate in the box.
The AS8 makes use of Intel’s ICH5R south bridge. It supports only two devices in RAID0 or RAID1 configurations, but we doubt that many people will need anything more complex on a desktop PC.
We were disappointed not to see Abit’s 3rd Eye (as seen with the AV8 on p150) in the box, but there’s a version of the AS8-3rd Eye available. It allows on-the-fly overclocking, and the AS8 is one of the most overclocker-friendly boards we’ve seen. It features a vertically mounted cooling fan for the north bridge that blows away hot air from the chipset and processor without it heating any passively cooled devices such as the RAM or the south bridge. The BIOS allows CPU clock speed and voltage settings, while favourite settings can be saved and quickly recalled, although not from within Windows.
The AS8’s Ultra ATA connectors face sideways, on the edge of the board, meaning that the wide ribbon cables don’t have to drag across the board and obstruct airflow. There’s also an LED display that shows POST codes – a glorified version of the traditional morse-code-like beeps emitted from a malfunctioning system.
One feature that most of the other boards don’t offer is optical S/PDIF in and outs, which will endear the AS8 to anyone connecting their PC to their hi-fi. Just be warned that Microsoft intends us all to be streaming media wirelessly through our homes within the next 18 months, making the days of physical connections between computers and speakers numbered.
Other than its audio connectivity, the chief advantage that the AS8 holds over the much cheaper ECS 865PE-A7 is FireWire. This is hardly an essential for most people, which is why the AS8 isn’t challenging for awards.