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Abit AI7 865PE Motherboard
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Date: Dec 21, 2003
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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Abit AI7 865PE Motherboard - Page 1

 

ABIT AI7 865PE Motherboard Review
The i865PE board with "µGuru"

By: Jeff Bouton
December 18th, 2003


When it comes to overclocking an Intel based system, no processor has shown more potential than the Pentium 4-C.  More specifically, Intel's Pentium 4-C at 2.4GHz has proven to have a ton of headroom, with many user's hitting 3.2GHz with stock cooling and the right motherboard.  With increased bus speeds and advanced overclocking features in today's performance motherboards, access to a processor's multiplier is proving to no longer be a major factor.

Today, we are going to take a look at an affordable Intel based motherboard that offers a good selection of features at a great price point.  The Abit AI7 is an 865PE based motherboard with great features, high-end performance and a lot of overclocking options to tweak the board to its limit.  With a well equipped BIOS and ABIT's "µGuru" processor, the AI7 shows a lot of promise and should be a great match for our Pentium 4-C.  Let's get started and see what ABIT has in store for us this time around.
 

Features of the ABIT AI7 865PE Motherboard
Features and Functionality


Processor
- Supports Intel Pentium 4 /Celeron CPU (Northwood)
- Supports Intel Hyper-Threading Technology
- New power design for Prescott CPU
- Front Side Bus: 800/533/400MHz

Chipset
- Intel 865PE / ICH5-R
- Supports Dual Channel DDR 400 Memory
- Supports Advanced Configuration and Power Management Interface (ACPI) & FMB 1.5

Memory
- Four 184-pin DIMM sockets
- Supports 4 DIMM Dual Channel DDR 400 memory (. 4GB)

AGP
- Accelerated Graphics Port connector supports AGP 8X/4X (0.8V/1.5V)

Serial ATA RAID
- 2 channels Serial ATA 150MB/s data transfer rate with RAID 0 / 1

LAN
- On board Realtek 10/100 LAN

USB 2.0
- 8 ports USB 2.0 Supports 480 Mb/s data transfer rate

IEEE 1394
- 3 ports IEEE1394 Supports 400 Mb/s data transfer rate

Audio
- On board Realtek ALC658 6-channel CODEC
- Automatically Audio Jack Sensing
- S/PDIF Input & Output Interface
ABIT Engineered Technology
-SoftMenu? Technology
-ABIT uGuru Technology
-ABIT EQ?
-FanEQ?
-ABIT OC Guru
-ABIT Audio EQ
-FlashMenu?
-Black box

Internal I/O Connectors
- 1 x AGP, 5 x PCI slots
- 1 x Floppy Port supports up to 2.88MB
- 2 x Ultra DMA 33/66/100 Connectors
- 2 x SATA 150 Connectors
- 2 x USB 2.0 headers
- 2 x IEEE 1394 headers
- 1 x CD-IN, 1 x AUX-IN
- Front Panel Audio Connector
- CPU/Classis/Power/FAN1/FAN2 FAN Connector
- 20-pin ATX Power Connector
- 4-pin ATX Power Connector

Back Panel I/O
- 1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1 x PS/2 mouse
- 1 x Printer Port, 1 x COM port
- 1 x S/PDIF In connector, 1 x S/PDIF Out connector
- 1 x Audio connector (For Front Speaker, Line-in, Mic-in)
- 1 x Audio connector (For Center/Sub, Surround Speaker)
- 2 x USB 2.0, 1X IEEE 1394 Connector
- 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x RJ-45 LAN Connector

Miscellaneous
- ATX form factor (305 x 245 mm)
- Hardware Monitoring ? Including Fan speed, Voltages, CPU and System temperature


The Bundle:

The ABIT AI7 is complimented by a solid bundle with a complete collection of hardware, software and documentation.  The system comes with three guides, a Quick Guide, User's Manual and Quick Installation Guide.  The Quick Installation Guide is a brief document that covers installing the board, CPU and identifying each of the board's components.  The User's Manual is a more thorough guide that covers the board's functions, features and setup.  The Quick Guide focuses on the ABIT µGuru software that integrates with the processor of the same name that syncs up with the BIOS for access to monitoring and overclocking options from within Windows.  The Driver CD included all of the necessary drivers for the board including Chipset, LAN and Audio.

Click to Enlarge

The board also included a number of items to help ensure an easy, quick installation.  The board came with a single floppy and 80-pin IDE cable as well as a single SATA cable and Y Molex to SATA power adapter.  The package also included an I/O shield and USB bracket to attach to the additional USB headers on the board.

One of the main selling points of the AI7 is the ABIT µGuru software, which allows for a number of key functions to be accessed from within the Windows interface.  The software is comprised of several separate components, all of which are easily accessible from the taskbar.  The first module is the ABIT EQ which is a monitoring tool for observing the system's key voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures.  The software can be configured to sound an alarm if any of the components reach a specific threshold.  This is useful when overclocking, monitoring each critical component and possibly uncovering an item that would cause instability due to temperature or voltage fluctuations.  The next component is the ABIT OC Guru which allows for the adjustment of the FSB on the fly from within Windows.  This module has two sections based on how aggressive the system memory is set.  In Turbo mode, the system FSB can be set using a slider and then simply clicking apply.  In F1 mode, the most aggressive setting, the interface provides the same FSB slider and also offers access to the CPU, AGP and DDR voltages.

ABIT µGuru software

The next module is the ABIT FlashMenu, which allows for easy BIOS updating from within Windows.  With a single click the software can locate the latest BIOS available, download it and update the CMOS.  This was a nice little application that worked great.  The ABIT Audio EQ works with the on-board audio to allow easy adjustment of the audio output and advanced settings. The ABIT FanEQ allows for the adjusting of the system fan to throttle as needed, minimizing power consumption and system noise.  Lastly, the ABIT Blackbox feature is a hardware cataloguing package that can auto detect the system hardware and record important information after a crash which can then be submitted to ABIT for analysis.

The ABIT FlashMenu was the most useful as it made locating and updating the BIOS as easy as can be.  From a monitoring standpoint, the ABIT EQ was useful in fine tuning the overclocking of the system and letting us know if anything was running too hot or if voltages were not within proper tolerances.  We found the ABIT OC menu a little flakey and it didn't work at all, until we flashed the BIOS with the latest update.  The ABIT Blackbox never auto detected any of the board's components as it was supposed to, requiring us to manually enter the system information.  If an error occurred, it's great to know that you can submit certain information to ABIT for analysis, but the real kicker is Abit's response time getting back to you with assistance, which is ultimately what the user needs if they are sending the information in the first place.  We can't pass judgment here but we're hopeful that this would only improve Abit's ability to resolve issues with their product.
 

 

The Board and The BIOS

 

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Abit AI7 865PE Motherboard - Page 2

 

ABIT AI7 865PE Motherboard Review
The i865PE board with "µGuru"

By: Jeff Bouton
December 18th, 2003

The Abit AI7 865PE Motherboard
Not What You Would Expect

The Board:

The board itself has a clean layout with a well thought out floor plan.  The board doesn't suffer from any of the common issues found with motherboard designs.  The ATX power connector is situated nicely on the edge of the board which helps route the cabling away from the CPU.  The Northbridge came with active cooling to help maintain acceptable temperatures which is critical, especially when overclocking the AI7.  Notice the position of the CPU socket which allows for shorter paths to its key components.  The AGP slot has the preferable hinged locking mechanism for keeping the card seated while adequate spacing was provided to allow the DIMM hinges to move freely even when a video card is in place.  The board's DIMM slots are situated in banks of two, each grouping with their own memory channel.  With a stick in one of each bank, Dual Mode is enabled.  The AI7 is equipped with an ample 5 PCI slots which should be more than sufficient for expansion, especially with the integrated components included on the board. 

Next to the ATX power connector, the board's IDE connectors are situated yet the floppy connection was shifted to the edge of the board, adjacent to the 5th PCI slot.  This particular board comes with dual SATA connectors driven by the Southbridge.  There is a blank space available for an additional SATA controller with future versions of the AI7.  One of the more useful options on this board is the Post Code Display which can offer clues if the system is experience errors.  The User's Guide has a full list of common codes that help to translate what is happening with the system at any given time.  The board has the standard PS2 ports for mouse and keyboard as well as one LPT1 and one Serial port.  Next to the Serial connection lies two Optical SPDIF connectors followed by sub-woofer and center channel outputs.  The next cluster housed the Line-In, Line-Out and Mic connections.  The board also has a total of 4 USB ports, a FireWire port and Gigabit Ethernet port.
 

The Bios:

The brains behind the brawn of the AI7 is a robust Phoneix AwardBIOS.  This version of the popular BIOS has a lot of options available for manipulating and tweaking the board's performance.  The bulk of the features are located in the SoftMenu Setup screen which houses most of the advanced performance settings.  This is the first stop for the overclocker for access to the FSB setting as well as component voltage controls.  The FSB of the AI7 has a broad range from 100MHz to 412MHz.  To help reach the maximum balance of performance, the CPU voltage can be adjusted from 1..525v to 1.9v in increments of .25v.  The DDR voltage can be go from 2.5v to a hefty 3.2v in .10 increments while the AGP voltage ranges from 1.5v to 1.65v in .05 increments.  Lastly, the DRAM Ratio can by adjusted for By SPD, 1:1, 5:4, and 3:2.  To round out the overclocking features was the F8 key for overclocking the system on the fly, making the settings take effect instantly.  The use of this however is limited since you won't notice if there is a problem until you attempt to fully boot the system into the OS..

The Advanced Chipset Features page has more memory related settings including advanced timings and AGP aperture settings.  For system performance enhancement, the Game Accelerator option provides several profiles for increased performance.  The default option is Auto, followed by Turbo, StreetRacer and F1, with each stage increasing the memory performance by tightening the timings.  The final two options are very aggressive with few memory modules actually able to run under these conditions.  When everything is all set, you have the option to save up to 5 BIOS profiles that can easily be toggled with the F6 and F7 keys.
 

Overclocking the ABIT AI7 865PE Motherboard
Turning Up the MHz.

Now that we've covered the standard performance of the ABIT AI7, it's time to see what extra performance lurked within the heart of the board.  It's no secret that the Pentium 4-C at 2.4GHz is an excellent overclocker, with typical results exceeding 3GHz.  With the AI7, we didn't waste any time, pushing the FSB to 250MHz at the start and the system booted without error.  We did set the memory divider to 5:4 knowing that the Kingston HyperX modules would not hit the 500MHz the 1:1 setting would demand.  We continued raising the FSB until we finally had failures at 270MHz.  We could boot into Windows but most programs would not load and the system would eventually hang.  We toned things down to 265MHz FSB and the system stabilized quite nicely.  All this and we were able to leave the Game Accelerator setting in "Turbo" mode for the memory timing setup.  When we put this to the test, we loaded Comanche4 and let the default test run with "No Audio" selected and we saw performance gains in excess of 25% over the standard results found on Page 4, hitting 69.71FPS.
 

Time For Sandra & Futuremark's Finest

 

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Abit AI7 865PE Motherboard - Page 3

 

ABIT AI7 865PE Motherboard Review
The i865PE board with "µGuru"

By: Jeff Bouton
December 18th, 2003

UT2003 & Comanche 4
Gaming Tests

We also tested the two motherboards with a couple of games.  In this case we ran two popular tests, UT 2003 and Comanche 4.  With UT 2003 we set the application to 640x480 to take the video card out of the performance picture, focusing on CPU output. With Comanche 4, an extremely CPU limited application, we ran the default test with "No Audio" selected.

For the most part each board was on the same page with the results tipped slightly in favor of the ASUS comparison board.
 

Content Creation 2003 and Business Winstone 2003
Real World Application Testing

With our last round of tests we ran both Business Winstone 2002 and Content Creation Winstone 2003.  Each application gauges a system's overall performance with workstation and multimedia applications.  Content Creation 2003 tests multimedia intensive applications, while Business Winstone 2002 compares performance with common workstation applications.  Below is a list of the programs each test uses to calculate its final score.
 

Content Creation 2003

  • Adobe Photoshop 7

  • Adobe Premiere 6.0

  • Macromedia Director 8.5.1

  • Macromedia Dreamweaver UltraDev 4

  • Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 7.01.00.3055

  • Netscape Navigator 6.2.3

  • Sonic Foundry Sound Forge 6.0

  • LightWave 7

Business Winstone 2002

  • Lotus Notes® R5

  • Microsoft® FrontPage® 2002 SP-1

  • Microsoft® PowerPoint® 2002 SP-1

  • Microsoft® Excel 2002 SP-1

  • Microsoft® Access 2002 SP-1

  • Microsoft® Word 2002 SP-1

  • Microsoft® Project 2000

  • WinZip® 8.0

  • Norton AntiVirusTM from Symantec

  • Netscape® 6.2.1

Once again the picture remained the same with each board running a tight race with the ASUS having the slightest edge over the ABIT AI7.

After spending an extended period of time with the AI7, it became harder and harder to come up with a rating for this board.  Given the amount of trouble we had with our Kingston HyperX and Corsair TwinX memory modules, the initial impression was pretty sour.  But in the end, with a lot of fussing, the system did stabilize with a BIOS upgrade and making some manual changes, with the system running well with the Kingston HyperX.  To be fair, we must be open to the idea that this can be an issue with our specific combination of hardware, but we did not see this occur with other hardware reviewed in the past.  We also paid a visit to the ABIT forum and found several users having memory issues with other MAX series boards.  So with that said, we took a step back and looked at the board's overall feature set and its performance and things sweetened up a bit.

The AI7 has an excellent base set of features including SATA RAID, onboard Audio, Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0 and the list goes on.  We also cannot ignore the excellent overclocking results we achieved with this board, although it was on par with its competitors.  The AI7 performed well in the benchmarking arena, competing well with a similarly equipped ASUS 865PE motherboard.  The layout and on-board features were very good with the only thing lacking being the second SATA controller.  When you factor in all of the integrated components, the AI7 leaves little to be desired.  We were quite impressed with the robust BIOS features as well, but were less than impressed with ABIT µGuru due to its current state of maturity on this board.  Nonetheless, the ABIT µGuru had some compelling features such as the ABIT FlashMenu and ABIT EQ which worked well.  In the end, it doesn't hurt to have the µGuru features of the ABIT AI7, but it should not be the deciding factor for purchasing this motherboard.
 

We'll give the ABIT AI7 a HotHardware Heat Meter Rating of a 7.5


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