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| Board Layout And Quality Of the Abit IC7-MAX3 |
| This is one PHAT board but there are a couple of sticky spots |
One of the first notables with the IC7-MAX3, are its rounded corners on the PCB itself. We realize this is just esthetics more than anything but we feel it adds to the overall quality feel of the board and cleans up the design that much more. Shuttle has been doing this for years and we're happy to see Abit follow suit. Working our way in from the edges, there is almost too much to cover on the IC7-MAX3. This is one board that has just about every option we've ever seen configured on an i875 Canterwood board, except they're all rolled up into one neat package in the IC7-MAX3.
We'll take a close look at the OTES cooling system shortly but for now lets focus on other areas. The IC7-MAX3's Northbridge chip is actively cooled by a great looking orb-like cooler running at around 4K RPM. This is fantastic upgrade over the original IC7-G board we looked at here recently. We knocked Abit back then a bit, for installing a snazzy looking but meager chipset cooler on the first IC7 and it seems they took things to heart. This cooler does an excellent job of keeping the chipset and surrounding motherboard area cool and comfortable. The downside here is that the sink itself is a bit close to the CPU socket. As a result, working with a stock retail Intel CPU heat-sink, can be a bit frustrating when trying to disassemble things. Installation is not a problem, since the heat-sink should snap easily in to place. However, if you're working with a stock P4 cooler, don't expect to get it back off the socket easily.
That's right kids, six, count 'em SIX SATA ports are available on the IC7-MAX3. Two SATA ports are powered by the Intel Southbridge and Abit went with the RAID capable version of this chip. The other 4 ports are supported by a Silicon Image Sil3114CT, which is also RAID capable. If you're into massive amounts of storage space (and who isn't?), as well as RAID 0 or 1 setups, then the IC7-MAX3 is sheer Serial ATA nirvana. There are also dual Firewire ports on board (brought out on an included back-plate) with TI's FW controller, for direct attach of your favorite Digital Camcorder. What else do we have here... Let's see. 6 USB 2.0 ports (4 on the IO panel), GigE and 6 channel audio with optical output. Did I hear "kitchen sink" anyone? Like that girl you always admired from afar (or guy for our lady PC enthusiasts out there) the IC7-MAX3 is the complete "package deal". Then there is the cool breeze, easy livin' OTES fan, drawing out the hot air from the CPU's MOSFET array. The board is sweet; there is no doubt.
However, the grass is always greener on the other side, as they say. There are just a few small weeds that slipped into the mix for the IC7-MAX3, no show-stoppers by any stretch but just a few things to consider.
Abit's OTES In Action:
Typically, high end cooling solutions for motherboards, graphics cards, hard drives or what have you, often consume precious real-estate inside your case. The OTES setup on Abit's IC7-MAX3 is no exception. The elaborate shroud that encases the CPU power FET array, encroaches significantly on the CPU socket area. As a result, if you are using a stock Intel heat sink for the Pentium 4, chances are it's going to be an extremely tight squeeze, getting it to snap down on the socket retention clips, resulting in an even more frustrating time getting the cooler off, if you ever want to swap out your CPU.
We're not saying removal of a stock Intel cooler can't be accomplished. It can be done for sure. However, break out the small flat head screwdriver, exercise patients, finesse and be careful not to snap the tabs off your P4 retention clips. It's definitely not an easy ride, even on the open air test-bench setup we worked with. We can't even imagine having to work this thing off, while installed in a case. However, the type of person that would be interested in the IC7-MAX3, would most likely not be working with a stock Intel cooler. Just make sure you chose your heat-sinks wisely.
Here's a good example of one that fits in easily and pops off equally as easily.
Don't let the label on this fan deceive you. The heatsink above is a Thermaltake Volcano 7 for the P4 and it fits like a glove. Notice the green LEDs glaring at you in the top left shot. The OTES party lights are on and functional; a nice touch for those with windowed cases.
At this point, we almost screamed out loud the word "sacrilege"! As you can see, the bottom of the FET heat sinks, inside the IC7-MAX3's OTES casing, are covered with a thin layer of thermal grease. This was after we took the time to apply grease, since Abit did not. Perhaps these little sinks, with their small contact area, don't absolutely need a TIM (thermal interface material) applied but if you're going the distance to include something like the OTES, why not?
System Temps with and without OTES enabled
In this quick test, we took readings from the included Winbond Hardware Doctor utility, to see if the OTES was making a difference. Our test was performed on an open air bench and as such, the whole motherboard was much cooler than it would be inside a case. This situation will actually show the OTES at its most modest performance levels, since the MOSFET array is already relatively cool. We then took readings with the OTES fan active and also unplugged. As you can see, even under open air conditions, the OTES system on the IC7-MAX3, especially while overclocked, can have a significant effect on the temperature of the power array. Looking at the temperature for the PWM circuit, you can see a 4C drop, with the OTES fan activated.
Secure IDE, PATA Only:
We never actually got a chance to try out the Secure IDE daughter board and authentication key, since we were working exclusively with SATA drives. As you'll note in the shot above, this is a feature that is only available for Parallel ATA drives, at this point in time. Since SATA drives are hardly mainstream however, this functionality should prove useful, for those looking to secure their PC from co-workers, friends, roommates, or nosey family members. If the flash ROM based key is not plugged into the link cable at all times, the system's hard drive is rendered complete inaccessible. This is a unique and valuable feature for sure and securing your data will only become more and more important, as technology and information accessibility rolls on.
BIOS Setup, Sandra Scores and Overclocking