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Abit AW8-MAX i955X Motherboard
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Date: Aug 29, 2005
Section:Motherboards
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction

Looking back over the course of PC history, as processor clock speeds have risen, we've seen larger and typically louder heatsinks, fans, and other cooling measures implemented, with the singular goal of keeping temperatures in check.  Some would say it's a small price to pay for the performance gained, but an increasing number of PC users are looking for ways to keep temps down without all of the extra noise.  

Abit has long been using the OTES name for the customized cooling components installed on their motherboards.  And their latest release, the AW8-MAX, combines a number of new methods that are effective, yet produce no noise.  Based on the i955X chipset, the AW8-MAX is situated at the top of the Intel food-chain, offering support for dual-core CPUs, DDR2-667 memory, SATA-II RAID configurations, and on-board 7.1 channel hi-def audio.  What makes the board stand out from the others are the innovative cooling concepts employed, such as a heatpipe running from the Northbridge to an externally located radiator, and specially designed copper heat strips placed within the board itself.  These methods are all passive, meaning no fans are used in the cooling process, which keeps the noise down.  Abit is also well known for their overclocking potential, so it will be interesting to see if their OTES cooling system helps or hinders our attempts with the AW8-MAX.  There's only one way to find out...

       

       
CLICK ON ANY IMAGE FOR A CLOSER VIEW

Specifications of the Abit AW8-MAX Motherboard
It's full steam ahead for the i955x Express
Processor
- Supports Socket 775 for Intel
Pentium 4 / Pentium 4 EE / Pentium D / Pentium XE / Celeron D processors
- Supports 1066/800MHz FSB
- Supports Intel
Hyper-Threading / XD-bit / EM64T / EIST Technology

Chipset
- Intel 955X / Intel ICH7R Express Chipset

Memory
- Four 240-pin DIMM sockets
- Supports Dual channel DDR2 667/533 Un-buffered Non-ECC memory
- Supports maximum memory capacity up to 8GB

PCI-E Gigabit LAN
- On board Dual PCI-E Gigabit LAN controller supports 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet


PCI-E X16 graphic
- Delivers up to 8GB/s per direction for 3.5 times more bandwidth than AGP8X

SATAII 3G RAID
- Intel Matrix Storage Technology supports RAID 0/1/5/10
- Supports SATA AHCI, providing native command queuing and native hot plug

2nd PCIE SATA 3G
- On board Silicon Image PCIE SATA 3G RAID controller

IEEE 1394
- Supports 2 ports IEEE 1394b at 800Mb/s transfer rate and 1 port 1394a

Audio (Dolby Master Studio Support)
- Abit AudioMAX HD 7.1 channels Intel High Definition Audio with Dolby Master Studio
- Supports auto jack sensing and optical S/PDIF In/Out

ABIT Engineered
- ABIT uGuru™ 2005 Technology (ABIT OC Guru / ABIT EQ / ABIT Flash Menu / ABIT Black Box)
- ABIT CPU ThermalGuard™ Technology
- ABIT AudioMAX HD 7.1 Technology


Internal I/O Connectors
- 1 x PCI-E X16 slot, 2 x PCI-E X1 slots
- 2 x PCI slots
- 1 x AudioMAX slot
- 1 x Floppy port
- 1 x UDMA 100/66/33 connector
- 6 x SATA connectors
- 2 x USB 2.0 headers, 2 x IEEE1394b headers
- 1 x FP-Audio header, 1 x CD-IN


Back Panel I/O
- ABIT SilentOTES™ Technology
- 1 x IEEE1394a
- 1 x PS/2 keyboard, 1 x PS/2 mouse
- 4 x USB 2.0
- 2 x RJ-45 Gigabit LAN

Dimensions

- ATX form factor 305 x 245mm




The Bundle: For a board that comes with many integrated features, we expect that a healthy dose of reading will be needed to document how to use it all.  The AW8-MAX bundle has two User's Manuals; one for the board itself, and another that clearly describes how to use the various software components that truly make the package complete.  For a quick setup or refresher, another booklet covers basic installation steps and jumper settings with a handy decal that graphically displays some of the same information.  The decal can be applied to the inside of a sliding chassis door or another in-sight location for later reference.  Of course, there's a CD-ROM that contains the software needed to get the AW8-MAX up and running, including the device drivers and a few proprietary titles from Abit that we will take a look at later.

Abit was no slouch when it came to supplying the various cables for installation of the AW8-MAX either.  There were rounded cables for both P-ATA and floppy drives, which may almost be considered legacy devices in today's modern setups.  The focus instead is on SATA, as Abit has provided 6 SATA data cables, all with retention clips meant to provide a sturdier connection to the drive and motherboard.  To supply power to these drives, two SATA splitter cables were also thrown into the bundle, although most modern PSU's come with at least one set of SATA cables standard.  Rounding out the package were a bracket with USB and FireWire headers, an optical audio cable, and a specialized I/O shield, with an open grating to accommodate the OTES cooling.

 

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Board Layout and Features

Layout and Features of the Abit AW8-MAX
Silent, but deadly

      

      

The AW8-MAX, like other 955X models, has a standard set of features including a single 16x PCI-e graphics slot, two 1x PCI-e and 2 PCI slots, as well as 4 DIMM slots.  8GB of total RAM is supported, which is double the amount available on the 945 models.  The real highlights are the components of the Silent-OTES technology.  The single, most obvious addition is the passive heatsink placed over the Northbridge, which connects to a mini-radiator placed on the rear plate via a crooked heatpipe.  The placement of the heatpipe should prevent any problems with large CPU heatsinks, as it runs close alongside the top of the board and takes a path out away from the closest screwhole for CPU coolers.  The radiator necessitates the creation of a specific I/O shield, and also cuts down on the number of available ports.  Gone are many older, seldom used ports such as those used with serial and parallel devices.

Along with the heatpipe strategy, Abit has placed a larger than usual aluminum heatsink over the Southbridge, and wide-finned heatinks over the MOSFETS nearest to the processor.  In addition, there are "OC Strips" placed on the motherboard - specially designed copper strips used to pull heat away from the PCB.  These are ideal methods, as they should provide better cooling and stability, without adding to the noise levels.  

 

    

    

The rest of the components are laid out in satisfactory fashion, without any one corner winding up more over-crowded with headers than another.  Power regulation is a huge issue with the increased power consumption of today's devices, so small and large capacitors are found in greater numbers throughout the board.  The layout did create one issue, however, when removing a larger GeForce 6800GT Video card.  Although the space surrounding the main PCI-e slot appeared to be sufficient, when we attempted to remove the card we found that three caps, seen in the picture above, prevented us from accessing the retention clip.  In fact, it was not even possible to see the clip, and we had to go to the backside of the 6800GT, and try to push down the clip using a screwdriver.  This worked, but had we slipped when applying pressure on the small bit of the clip we could push on, untold damage to components nearby could have occurred. 

Other than that issue, overall component layout was superb.  Power cables need not run over and around heatsinks or other devices, with both connectors placed in the same corner near the DIMM slots, right in line with the PSU.  All drive connections are handled primarily by the four red SATA ports in the other corner, with a single, side-mounted IDE port for optical drives.  Should these prove to be insufficient, there were another two SATA ports placed further in, along side the first PCI slot.

Now, you may have noticed that there were no audio ports on the truncated back I/O plate.  As we mentioned, the radiator had a grating back there for the heat to escape, leaving room only for PS/2 and USB ports, as well as the dual Ethernet jacks.  To counter this, Abit has provided a daughterboard for the on-board AudioMAX High Definition 7.1 channel audio.  It plugs into a specifically placed slot on the end of the board.  The placement of the slot, and isolation of the audio codec on a separate daughtercard should improve the quality of the output by reducing noise interference.  The daughtercard has 6 jack-sensing ports as well as an optical jack placed at the top for S/PDIF In/Out.

 

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The BIOS of the AW8-MAX

Examining the BIOS of the Abit AW8-MAX
The "brains" behind the operation

       

      

      

The first thing we noticed when setting up the AW8-MAX were the familiar blue screens that signified this was some Phoenix Award BIOS variant.  Many of the screens had typical offerings, such as displaying drive information and boot order. It was interesting to see that the Standard CMOS features listed two IDE channels, when the AW8-MAX only comes with one.  As SATA is the order of the day, we find more and more choices available to us, such as when to add the on-board SATA 3G support to the existing channels from the ICH7R Southbridge, and whether or not either set of controllers are to be used in a RAID configuration.  The ICH7R supports RAID 0,1,5, and 10 setups offering speed and/or security benefits.

What sets this BIOS apart from the others is a section called the uGuru Utility, which is closely integrated with the GURU processor on the board.  There are many options for controlling fan speeds and voltages, and is where we would also find the tools we needed to overclock the AW8-MAX.  There's enough inside to warrant its own section, so that's what we have done, and you'll find that information in the overclocking section below.  The only major tweaking of the board that's done outside of the uGuru utility would be on the Advanced Chipset Features page.  In here, the memory timings can be left to be detected by SPD, or manually set to lower latencies to improve performance.   

The BIOS that came originally on the board seemed to give us a few problems with our setup.  Using v10 of the BIOS, we found that the CPU speed would often be forgotten on a cold boot, requiring us to enter the BIOS and re-save our information.  This appears to be corrected with v11, as this message no longer appeared.  However, for our testing purposes we left the DRAM to be detected by SPD, which should have been at a 3:5 ratio (DDR2-667).  This was how it appeared on the OC Guru page, and the estimated clock was correct as well.  When we booted into Windows and checked the memory using CPU-Z, the speed was always off.  To correct this, we had to manually set the DDR2 speed to 667MHz.  We also noticed that the voltages were never displayed on the mainboard tab in CPU-Z as well.  Whether this is an issue with the way the AW8-MAX reports its voltage, or an issue with the detection engine of CPU-Z, we are not certain.

Overclocking Tools
The "guru" of overclocking

      

      

Opening up the uGuru utility was akin to opening up Pandora's Box.  There's so many options and screens to choose from that the novice PC enthusiast can easily get lost.  It's a wise move on Abit's part to include nearly 10 pages of the User's Manual on this section of the BIOS alone.  The first move to make would be to change the CPU Operating Speed, which by default was set at 204MHz, four MHZ faster than standard.  It's not a heady overclock for sure, but Abit has given a slight boost for the owner's of their boards.  Setting the CPU Operating Speed to 'User Define' activates the rest of the options on this page. 

The External Clock or front side bus allowed us to type in a new speed, anywhere 133MHz to 400MHz.  We also had options to change the N/B CPU Strap, which could be set for 1066, 800 and 533 MHz depending on the CPU installed, and the DRAM had 6 dividers to choose from depending on the CPU Strap.  For 800MHz FSB CPUs like our Pentium 4 550, we could choose speeds of 533MHz or 667MHz for the DRAM.  Missing, we feel, from these options was any way to change or lock-down the PCI-e bus speeds.

CPU core voltage ranged from 1.4V to 1.75V in increments of .025V, but there were no undervoltage options that we sometimes see on boards like this.  DDR voltage was also adjustable, ranging from 1.75V through 2.3V in .05v increments.  As some of the newer DDR2 we've seen has recommended voltages of 2.1V or greater, this is a good range to choose from.  Finally, we find that the MCH/PCIe Voltage could adjusted from 1.5V to 2.0V in .05v or 0.1V steps.

 

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Abit's uGuru Software and Overclocking Results

Abit's uGuru Software
Overclocking the easy way!

The ABIT uGuru software is provided on the included driver CD-ROM, and will actually be used to install the drivers for an unknown device that appears in Device Manager (the GURU chip).  The main purpose behind the uGuru suite is to provide up to the moment feedback on the system, such as fan speeds, voltages, and current status.  When the program is first run, the system's settings are displayed, mirroring choices that were initially made in the BIOS.  A quick check can determine whether or not the temperatures or voltages are running within normal operation limits, how long the system has been running based on cycles and/or time, and what the current clock speed is set to.

    

Besides reporting, the uGuru software can make changes to anything shown, including overclocking the CPU.  All one needs to decide is which area they would like to modify: temperature reporting, fan speed, or front side bus settings.  The first section we headed to was the OC Guru to see what tools were available for overclocking the AW8-MAX.  The screen is almost overly simplistic with a slider bar for choosing the clock speed, and drop-down menus for the individual voltages.  Similar to graphic card utilities, once a speed is chosen, clicking on 'Apply' performs a trial run, and if successful, changes the BIOS settings to the desired effects.  Unlike other programs of this type, however, these choices are immediately saved, and will remain in effect after restarting the system.

        

AbitEQ is the next section we checked, which determines how the uGuru status is displayed.  Here it can be determined which voltages or temperatures are to be monitored, and in what format, Celsius or Fahrenheit.  Finally, the Fan EQ allows for complete control over the system fans.  There are a few preset modes such as Cool, Quiet, and Normal which cover anything from full-speed cooling to nearly silent operation.  If set to User Define, the fans can be programmed to start or stop at certain cut-off temperatures, while the reference temperature can be determined from the CPU, ambient, PWM Average Temp or PWM Highest Temp. 


CPU-Z 1.30 Results
P4 550 CPU OC'ed to 4.0 GHz
SANDRA CPU-Arithmetic Results
P4 550 CPU OC'ed to 4.0 GHz

Using the uGuru OC Guru utility, we were able to take some of the chore out of overclocking the AW8-MAX.  We could pull the slider over to a higher front side bus, apply the settings, and test our benchmarks for performance gains and stability.  Should the need arise, we could raise the voltages and try again.  Although the system crashed a few times, even after the speeds has been verified, we never had any problems getting back into the BIOS and lowering our settings to get into Windows and try again.  Unfortunately, even with the extensive cooling and handy utility that Abit offers, we couldn't get over 236MHz for the FSB and remain stable.  We had the voltage set at 1.525V in the BIOS, although the AW8-MAX repeatedly reported the voltage about a half Volt lower.  RAM dividers were set to AUTO, which changed the ratio from 3:5 to 3:4, and had the memory running at 312MHz.  While this FSB speed is in the range of what we've become accustomed to with this particular CPU, it was actually lower than what we had achieved on the Asus P5WD2 Premium (239 MHz).  It's still a decent overclock, adding an extra 600MHz to our CPU speed, and we increased our SANDRA CPU results by nearly 1700 MIPS.

 

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Testing Setup and SANDRA

How we configured our test systems: When configuring the test systems for this review, we first entered the system BIOS and set each board to their "Optimized" or "High-Performance Defaults".  The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 was installed. Then we installed all of the necessary drivers, and removed Windows Messenger from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were also disabled, and we setup a 1536MB permanent page file on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance", installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives and ran all of the tests.

NOTES: 1) As the i955X chipset supports both DDR2-533 and DDR2-667, we chose a set of Corsair XMS2 Pro DDR2 that was rated for 667MHz at 4-4-4-12 for testing.  Normally, we configure the memory using the SPD settings within the BIOS.  While this worked on the Asus P5WD2 Premium, we found that the memory was always detected as 533MHz on the Abit AW8-MAX.  As such, we manually set the memory speed to 667MHz.

2) By default, the front side bus of the Abit AW8-MAX was shown as 204MHz in CPU-Z.  As this would give an immediate advantage over the Asus P5WD2, we opted to manually lower the bus speed to 201MHz in the BIOS.  This was then reported as 200.8 MHz in CPU-Z - the same speed that the P5WD2 was operating. 

Test System Specifications
It's a Clash of the Titans!
Motherboards Tested:
Abit AW8-MAX (Intel i955X)
Asus P5WD2 Premium (Intel i955X)


Common Hardware:
Intel Pentium 4 550 Processor @ 3.4GHz
2x512MB Corsair XMS2 Pro DDR2-667 (CL 4-4-4-12)
nVidia GeForce 6800GT

On-board audio & LAN
Seagate Barracuda V SATA Hard Drive

Software / System Drivers:
Windows XP with Service Pack 2
DirectX 9.0c
Intel Chipset Software, v7.21.1003
nVidia ForceWare Drivers v77.77

Preliminary Benchmarks With SiSoft SANDRA 2005 SR2
http://www.sisoftware.net

We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. SANDRA consists of a set of information and diagnostic utilities that can provide a host of useful information about your hardware and operating system. We ran three of the built-in sub-system tests (CPU Arithmetic, CPU Multimedia, and Memory Bandwidth) that partially comprise the SANDRA 2005 suite of benchmarks.  All of these tests were run with the Abit AW8-MAX powered by an Intel Pentium 4 550 3.4 GHz CPU with 1GB of Corsair XMS2 Pro DDR2 and compared against similar systems from SANDRA's database.



SANDRA CPU Arithmetic Benchmark
Pentium 4 550 @ 3.4GHz
1024MB DDR2 (CL4)


SANDRA Memory Benchmark
Pentium 4 550 @ 3.4GHz
1024MB DDR2 (CL4)


SANDRA CPU Multimedia Benchmark
Pentium 4 550 @ 3.4GHz
1024MB DDR2 (CL4)

The results of SANDRA's CPU Arithmetic benchmark showed the Arithmetic Logic Unit performance almost directly on par with the database CPU, yet the Floating Point was off just a tad, about 100 MFLOPS behind for the Abit AW8-MAX.  Likewise, the Multi-Media performance was close to expected results for a Pentium 4 550, just a few points behind in both the Integer and Floating-Point benchmarks.  The memory bandwidth was just slightly higher than a 955X board in SANDRA's database, although the only comparable choice was set to CL5 while we were running at CL4.  As we can see, the higher latencies of DDR2 are holding back the 945 and 955 boards, but this has started to change as Corsair, OCZ, and other manufacturers are starting to push out lower latency DIMMS.

 

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PCMark05 Metrics

Futuremark's PCMark05
http://www.futuremark.com/

For our next round of synthetic benchmarks, we ran the CPU and Memory performance modules built into Futuremark's brand new PCMark05.   We just recently began working with PCMark 05 and have found it to be even more robust in terms of test features than its predecessor.  That said, the CPU and Memory test modules we use for comparison are very similar to the '04 version of the test suite.  For those interested in more than just the graphs, we've got a couple of quotes directly from Futuremark that explain exactly what these tests do, and how they work:

"The CPU Test suite is a collection of tests that are run to isolate the performance of the CPU. The CPU Test Suite also includes multithreading: two of the test scenarios are run multithreaded; the other including two simultaneous tests and the other running four tests simultaneously. The remaining six tests are run single threaded. Operations include, File Compression/Decompression, Encryption/Decryption, Image Decompression, and Audio Compression" - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.

The PCMark05 CPU module's results were a close match between the Abit AW8-MAX and the Asus P5WD2 Premium.  A mere five points puts the AW8-Max ahead, but this difference could possibly be attributed to the higher FSB speed that we entered into the BIOS in an attempt to level the playing field.  At any rate, the difference between the two is too minor to make a definitive call on which board is better.


"The Memory test suite is a collection of tests that isolate the performance of the memory subsystem. The memory subsystem consists of various devices on the PC. This includes the main memory, the CPU internal cache (known as the L1 cache) and the external cache (known as the L2 cache). As it is difficult to find applications that only stress the memory, we explicitly developed a set of tests geared for this purpose. The tests are written in C++ and assembly. They include: Reading data blocks from memory, Writing data blocks to memory performing copy operations on data blocks, random access to data items and latency testing."  - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.

The memory module performance was also a toss-up, with the Asus P5WD2 barely beating out the Abit AW8-MAX by 26 points - less than a percent difference between the two.  We had figured that the Asus board might come out on top, since the DDR2 frequency was reported to be slightly lower on the AW8-MAX (333MHz on the P5WD2 compared to 332.5MHz on the AW8-MAX).

 

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World Bench 5: Photoshop 7 and Office XP

PC World's World Bench 5.0: Photoshop 7 & Office XP Modules
http://www.pcworld.com/pcwtools/worldbench.asp

PC World Magazine's WorldBench 5.0 is a new breed of Business and Professional application benchmark, poised to replace the aging and no-longer supported Content Creation and Business Winstone tests. WorldBench 5.0 consists of a number of performance modules that each utilize one, or a group of, popular applications to gauge performance.  Below we have the results from WB 5's Photoshop 7 and Office XP SP2 modules, recorded in seconds.  Lower times indicate better performance.


 

 

In our testing with WorldBench 5.0, we saw that the Abit AW8-MAX Premium outpaced the Asus P5WD2 by roughly 15 seconds in both modules.  While 15 seconds may not sound like a huge amount in a real-world sense, in the PC world that could be an eternity. Just imagine waiting that long each time you edited a picture or saved a document.  This is the largest advantage for the Abit AW8-MAX so far in our testing.

 

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Encoding Tests: WME9 and LAME MP3

 

Windows Media Encoder 9
Digital Video Encoding

We continued testing with another module from World Bench 5, this time based on Windows Media Encoder 9.  PC WorldBench 5's Windows Media Encoding test reports encoding times in seconds, and like the tests on the previous page, lower times indicate better performance here.

In this encoding test, we still have the AW8-MAX in the lead, although the margin of difference has dropped to only four seconds.  Time and time again we've seen the AW8-MAX outperform the P5WD2, which was one of the earliest boards based on the i955X chipset.  It looks like Abit might have had more time to tinker with their board and eke out a little better performance. 

LAME MP3 Encoding Tests
Breaking the Sound Barrier

In our custom Lame MP3 encoding tests, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a very popular scenario that many end users work with on a regular basis, to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  In this test, we chose a large 223MB WAV file (a never-ending Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format.  Processing times are recorded below.  Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.

Only a single second separated the two systems this time around, with the lower time going once again to the Abit AW8-MAX.  It's a much better showing for the Asus P5WD2, and the difference could have easily been written off as an expected variance if we hadn't seen all of the other tests go in Abit's favor.

 

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Kribibench 1.1 Benchmarking

Kribibench v1.1
http:// www.adeptdevelopment.com

Next up, we ran Kribibench, a 3D rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development.  Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer.  A 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU, and the average frame rate is reported.  We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and a gargantuan "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polys...

 

 

 

In Kribibench testing, the Asus P5WD2 Premium took the lead, although only by the very slightest of margins.  That is, if you count 0.1 and 0.004 FPS differences as anything other than negligible.  We'll call this one a push and look for something meatier in the next round.

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Cinebench 2003 and 3DMark05 Results

Cinebench 2003 Performance Tests
3D Modeling & Rendering Tests

The Cinebench 2003 benchmark is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test, based on the commercially available Cinema 4D application.  This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The time it took each test system to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below (listed in seconds). 

 

We've only got single-CPU threaded results for Cinebench, but they probably tell the story well enough.  These two boards are running at similar levels, with the Abit AW8-MAX just nipping the Asus P5WD2 by 0.2 seconds in 3D image rendering.  

Futuremark 3DMark05 - CPU Test
Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance

3DMark05's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded "gaming related" DirectX metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are generated with a software renderer, which is dependant on the host CPU's performance.  This means that the calculations normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the central processor.  The number of frames generated per second in each test is used to determine the final score.

 

We've got opposite results in 3DMark05, where the P5WD2 held an ever so slight advantage.  This kind of similarity really should be expected, as we're basically using same components in both systems. Had we left the Abit AW8-MAX at the default FSB speed it was set at, the results would have been completely skewed in Abit's favor. 

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Real World Gaming : UT2004 and Doom3

Unreal Tournament 2004
DirectX 8 Gaming Performance

To start our in-game testing, we did some low-resolution benchmarking with Unreal Tournament 2004.  When testing with UT 2004, we use a specific set of game engine initialization settings that ensure all of the systems are being benchmarked with the exact same in-game settings and graphical options.  Like the other in-game tests in this review, we used a "Low-Quality" graphical settings and low screen resolution which isolates CPU and memory performance.

Watching timedemos at low quality settings and using the latest hardware is an odd sensation.  The raw power of a system is witnessed during these tests, not bound by a video card limitation.  As such, we were pushing over 130 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 2004.  Asus pulled out a 1% lead here, larger than what we had been used to seeing.

Benchmarks with Doom 3
OpenGL Gaming Performance

For our next game test, we benchmarked all of the test systems using a custom multi-player Doom 3 timedemo. We cranked the resolution down to 640 x 480, and configured the game to run at its "Low-Quality" graphics setting. Although Doom 3 typically taxes today's high-end GPUs, when it's configured at these minimal settings it too is more CPU and memory-bound than anything else.

 

What were we talking about earlier?  Raw power?  Now we're up to nausea-inducing frame rates over 170  FPS with Doom 3.  The Abit AW8-MAX turned the table on the Asus P5WD2 this time, eclipsing its performance by an extra 0.8 frames per second.  But at these speeds, who really cares?  It's just two superb boards battling it out, with the buyer of either board being the real winner.

 

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Benchmark Analysis and Our Rating

   

 

Benchmark Analysis: The results of our testing between the Abit AW8-MAX and the Asus P5WD2 Premium left us with one conclusion: these are two of the finest i955X boards we have come across.  Performance was superb for both boards, but if we had to give an edge to either, it would be the Abit AW8-MAX, although only by the slightest of margins.  In almost all encoding tests, the AW8-MAX completed the tasks quicker that the P5WD2, and we were especially impressed by the lower times in the World Bench 5 application testing.

The Abit AW8-MAX comes in a flashy package touting all of the board's features, and explaining how they benefit hardcore PC enthusiasts.  We're glad to say that Abit's favorable spin is not all hype.  The AW8-MAX's custom cooling equipment, using copper strips and heatpipes, provide sufficient cooling of the motherboard's components without adding unneeded fans and noise.  7.1 channel audio is provided using a daughterboard that sounded just fine in limited testing.  While it might not be the equivalent of high-priced third party cards from the likes of M-Audio or Creative Labs, it's sure to be enough for almost all but the most discerning PC users. 

We were also thoroughly impressed by the software that came with the AW8-MAX.  Usually reserved for less than stellar titles, or programs that offer little else other than making a package "complete", Abit's uGuru software allows the non-technical user a taste of tweaking their system that they might otherwise shy away from.  Giving the user complete control of fan speeds and overclocking options, all done on the fly from within Windows, almost makes the days of looking at arcane BIOS screens a thing of the past.

While we were impressed with the AW8-MAX from top to bottom, we just didn't have the same excitement we first experienced when evaluating the Asus P5WD2 Premium a few months back.  Maybe it's the lack of dual PEG graphics slots, or the fact the P5WD2 shipped with such an impressive bundle.  Regardless, there's no doubt that the Abit AW8-MAX is a great board for the Intel fans out there.  As such, we're giving the AW8-MAX a healthy 9.0 on the Heat Meter.

_Outperformed the Asus P5WD2 Premium
_Quiet, efficient cooling solutions including a heatpipe off of the Northbridge
_Bundled software
_Not the best overclocker in our matchup
_As with almost all i955X boards, price is an issue (~$220-240)
_Single-slot graphics mean no multi-GPU configurations

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