Abit's Fatal1ty AA8XE
Abit has incorporated a couple of subtle design features into the Fatal1ty AA8XE that make it somewhat unique when compared to other products in its class. At first glance, only the OTES (Outside Thermal Exhaust System) cooling apparatus stands out, but Abit has done a lot more than install a couple of fans and heatsinks on the AA8XE...
The Fatal1ty AA8XE has avery good layout; there are only a few minor issues to contend with. The ATX12V and 24-Pin ATX power connectors are both in decent locations, with the 12V connector placed along the top edge of the board next to the DIMM slots and the larger ATX connector along the front edge adjacent to the single PATA IDE channel. The DIMM slots are located out of the path of the PEG slot, so removing / installing RAM is possible when a graphics card is installed, and the DIMM slots are color coded to indicate each of the two channels. Along the bottom edge of the board you'll see all of the case connectors, which also happen to be color coded, along with the very useful POST Error code LCD display, and the floppy connector. While we know floppy drives are becoming increasingly less common, the AA8XE's floppy connector placement isn't ideal. We would have preferred if it was located adjacent to the IDE connector.
Another minor gripe is the placement of the additional USB and Firewire headers just behind the PCI slots. These headers should have been situated the lower edge of the board, to make hiding the necessary cable along the bottom of the case easier. The Fatal1ty AA8XE has a single x16 PEG slot, dual PCI Express X1 slots, two standard PCI slots, and tucked away in the lower-left corner is another slot that accommodates the included audio riser card. In the opposite corner, by the POST Error code display, you can see a pair of small power and reset switches, which make it very easy to test the board without wiring all of the case switches, and near the Southbridge, the AA8XE's four SATA connectors are visible. These SATA ports are powered by Intel ICH6 Southbridge with support for RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and MATRIX RAID. And underneath the board, along every edge, are a series of red LED's, which make the board glow in low light.
The rear I/O panel is home to a pair of PS/2 connectors (mouse & keyboard), four USB 2.0 ports, and two RJ45 jacks - one of which is powered by an Intel 10/100 controller, the other by an Intel 10/100/1000 Gigabit ethernet controller. Both of the AA8XE's ethernet controllers are PCI based, which means there are limited by the bandwidth offered by the shared PCI bus, but this shouldn't be an issue in most situations. Also visible in the backplane are the two thermally-controlled fans that are part of the OTES exhaust system...
Abit's latest OTES implementation is very effective. The system is designed in such a way, that most of the hot air being expelled by the CPU cooler is immediately expelled out of the case, and the small Northbridge fan also directs heated air towards the OTES shroud, to be removed from the inside of the system as well. The FETs in the VRM, the Northbridge and even the Southbridge are adorned with aluminum heatsinks, and the underside of the board is equipped with "OC strips". All of these items aim to cool the hottest parts of the motherboards, and they seem to do their jobs quite well. The Fatal1ty AA8XE is one of the first i9xx based motherboard we've tested whose VRM didn't get excessively hot, even while overclocking.
The only disadvantage to Abit's OTES apparatus is that some third-party CPU coolers won't fit on the AA8XE. Intel's stock cooler fits just right, and so should most other round LGA775 coolers. But Thermaltake's CL-P0092 wouldn't fit because it has a square base, and we suspect Zalman's huge CNPS7700 would be a tight fit as well.
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