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Abit SLI Motherboard Showcase
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Date: Dec 15, 2005
Section:Motherboards
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Intro, Specs & Bundle: Fatal1ty AN8 SLI

Abit has earned a reputation over the years, as a builder of top-quality motherboards geared for high-performance enthusiasts and extreme overclockers. They've produced some exceedingly popular products in the past, like the legendary BX6 and long-time favorite the TH7-II RAID, and the company continues to innovate today. In our tenure here at HotHardware, we've taken a look dozens of products from Abit, and save for a few rare exceptions, they've all been very good and deserving of consideration. That's something we can't always say about a few other motherboard manufacturers.

Today, we're going to evaluate not one, but two motherboards from Abit, both based on NVIDIA's nForce 4 SLI chipset. First up, we have the top-of-the-line Fatal1ty AN8 SLI for the AMD platform, followed up but the NI8 SLI for the Intel platform. The Fatal1ty AN8 SLI is targeted squarely at hardcore overclockers with its actively-cooled VRM and well appointed BIOS and bundle. The NI8 SLI, while targeted at a similar audience, goes about things differently with its Q-OTES silent chipset cooling and more subdued accessory bundle. There's a lot to see on the proceeding pages, so let's get started.

 

Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI: Specifications & Features
Abit Does SLI
Processor
·_Supports AMD Socket 939 Athlon 64/64FX & Athlon 64 X2 dual-core Processors
·_With 2GHz system bus using Hyper Transport technology
·_Supports AMD CPU Cool 'n' Quiet Technology

Chipset
·_NVIDIA NF4 SLI single chip
·_Integrated NVIDIA Gigabit Ethernet and NVIDIA Firewall
·_Supports NV SATA 3G RAID

NVIDIA SLI Technology
·_Two PCI-Express X16 slot support NVIDIA Scalable Link Interface
·_Increase bandwidth of the PCI Express bus providing 60x the bandwidth of PCI

Memory
·_Four 184-pin DIMM sockets
·_Supports dual channel DDR400 non-ECC un-buffered memory
·_Supports maximum memory capacity up to 4GB

ABIT Engineered Technology
·_ABIT uGuru 2003 Technology
·_ABIT OTES Technology
·_ABIT AudioMAX Technology
·_ABIT CPU ThermalGuard Technology

NV SATA RAID
·_Serial ATA 3Gbps data transfer rate
·_Supports SATA150 RAID 0/1/0+1

NV GbE LAN

·_NVIDIA Gigabit Ethernet
·_NVIDIA Secure Networking Engine

NV Firewall
·_Native NVIDIA Firewall
IEEE 1394
·_Support IEEE 1394 at 400Mb/s transfer rate

ABIT AudioMAX
·_High quality 7.1-channel Audio Card
·_Optical S/P DIF Input/Output
·_Supports auto jack sensing

Internal I/O Connectors
·_2 x PCI Express X16
·
_2 x PCI Express X1
·
_2 x PCI slots
·
_1 x AudioMAX
·_Floppy Port supports up to 2.88MB
·_2 x Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 IDE Connectors
·_4 x SATA 3G Connectors
·_3 x USB headers, 1 x IEEE 1394 header

Back Panel I/O
·_ABIT Dual OTES
·_1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1 x PS/2 mouse
·_1 x IEEE 1394
·_4 x USB, 1 x RJ-45 LAN Connector

Dimension
·_ATX form factor 305 x 245mm

Package
·_OTES Slipstream
·_Guru Panel
·_ABIT AudioMAX Card
·_SLI Connector Bridge / ·_SLI Switch
·_SATA cable x 4
·
_ATA 100 IDE Cable x 1
·
_FDD cable x 1
·_I/O shield x 1
·_CD Title x 1
·
_SATA Utility Disk x 1
·_User's Manual x 1
·
_Quick Installation Guide x 1
·_Jumper Setting Label x 1

   

Abit bundled a slew of extras in with the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI. Included with the board itself, we found a custom I/O shield, an SLI switch card and bridge (and retention bracket), four locking SATA cables, a Molex-to-SATA power adapter, and rounded floppy and IDE cables. There was also a very complete user's manual, a quick installation guide, and a sticker for a case in there as well, highlighting many of the board's jumpers and headers. Of course, driver disks were included too, such as a floppy with RAID drivers, and a CD with chipset drivers and other assorted utilities.

The utilities that reside on the CD include a few very useful proprietary Abit applications, namely AbitEQ, OC Guru, FlashMenu, BlackBox and Guru Clock. As you'll see later, the AbitEQ section of this motherboard's BIOS houses a myriad of hardware monitoring tools. The AbitEQ application essentially gives user's access to all of these same tools through Windows. OC Guru is similar, in that it gives users access to all of the overclocking tools that are also available within the OC Guru portion of the system BIOS, voltages, fan speeds, clock speeds, etc. FlashMenu is for updating the system BIOS from within Windows, and BlackBox is an application used to gather data about the system should users need technical support. Lastly, Guru Clock is used to configure the uGuru Panel that's also included with the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI.

  

The uGuru Panel is an excellent addition to the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI's bundle. It's essentially a multi-function device that mounts in any available 5.25" bay. It houses headphone and microphone jacks, USB and Firewire ports, and underneath a hinged guard, a clear-CMOS button. It's also equipped with a relatively large screen that can be configured to display various information about the system. The uGuru panel is easily installed by simply plugging in the included cables to the appropriate header on the motherboard, but all is not perfect. The four cables necessary for the uGuru panel all run to different parts of the mobo, which makes it difficult to keep the internal wiring neat and clean. Another issue is that the uGuru panel is only available in black, so it won't match every case out there.

  

The last few items included with the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI were the AudioMax 7.1 audio module and the OTES Slipstream fan. The AudioMax 7.1 is essentially a riser card equipped with Realtek's ALC850 audio codec, and all of the requisite ports. Moving the codec to a separate riser card serves two purposes. One, it frees up a ton of real-estate in the board's I/O backplane, and two, it isolates the audio circuitry from the motherboard to decrease the chance of noise / interference. The OTES Slipstream fan is a simple accessory that can be mounted over a pair of video cards to circulate the air between them.

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Fatal1ty AN8 SLI: The Board

The Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI has some very distinct physical attributes, like its dark-red PCB, active OTES (Outside Thermal Exhaust System) VRM cooling, and POST code error reporter...

Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI: Exploring the Board
NVIDIA nForce 4 SLI AMD Edition

   

For the most part, the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI has a good layout. There are two PEG (PCI Express Graphics) slots, two PCI Express x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots on the board, plus a custom slot for the proprietary audio riser card pictured on the previous page. The ATX12v and ATX power connectors are located just above the CPU socket, and just behind the 4 DIMM slots, respectively. Follow the front edge of the board, below the ATX power connector, and you'll see the two horizontally mounted IDE connectors, four SATA 3.0Gb ports, and three additional USB headers (the board has a total of 10 USB ports).  All of these ports are powered by the nForce 4 chipset. Just below the SATA connectors is the board's useful POST code error reported display, which is a handy tool for diagnosing problems upon initial start-up.

To the left of the POST reporter, along the bottom edge of the board beneath the slots, you'll find the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI's floppy connector and an additional power connector. These two items aren't in ideal locations in our opinion, and may difficult for some users to contend with should their floppy drives be mounted at the top of their case, or if their PSU's cables aren't long enough to reach the bottom of the board without being draped directly over all of the componentry.

   

The Fatal1ty AN8 SLI's nForce 4 chipset and VRM are both actively cooled. The nForce 4 is adorned with a circular, slim-line copper cooler, that resides just behind the first PEG slot, and the VRM is equipped with a pair of aluminum heatsinks and a fan shroud. At the front of the shroud are two 60mm fans that pull air over the heatsinks and exhaust it from the rear of the system.

Between the two PEG slots you can see another small slot which accommodates the board's SLI PCI Express lane configuration switch. Insert the switch card one way and one of the PEG slots get's configured for full-bandwidth, 16-lane operation, but flip it the other way and the pair of PEG slots each get 8 PCI Express lanes. Newer nForce 4 SLIX16 based motherboards don't require this switch because each PEG slot always has 16 lanes available, and some boards have solid-state switches, but the manual switch card is not an issue to us. Once it's configured properly, you never have to go in and change it unless you change the number of graphics cards in the system

 

Because the audio ports reside on the AudioMax 7.1 riser card, and the bulk of the real-estate if taken up by the OTES exhaust fans, the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI's I/O backplane is relatively devoid of ports. In the backplane you'll find a pair of PS/2 ports (mouse & keyboard), four USB ports, a single Firewire port, and an RJ-45 Gigabit LAN jack. Firewire functionality comes by way of a Texas Instruments controller, but the USB and Ethernet capabilities are controlled by the nForce 4 chipset.

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Fatal1ty AN8 SLI: BIOS & Overclocking

In typical Abit fashion, they did an excellent job with the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI's BIOS. They've incorporated all of the tools necessary to tweak performance and overclock a system, along with some additional features that make it extremely easy to monitor numerous aspects of the hardware.

Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI: Exploring the BIOS
Just What You'd Expect From Abit

   

  

The standard BIOS menus house all of the common tools necessary to enable, disable or tweak all of the Fatal1ty AN8's on-board peripherals. Most of these menus look just like most other motherboards that are equipped with a Phoenix / Award BIOS derivative. There is one area in the BIOS that stands out amongst the competition though, the uGuru Utility menu.

Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI: Overclocking Tools
As Good As They Get

   

   

   

There are a ton of user-modifiable options available in the uGuru section of the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI's BIOS, hence the large number of screenshots above. As you can see, the uGuru menu - or more specifically the OC Guru menu - is home to all of the board's overclocking related tools, which are quite extensive.

The external clock (which some of you may think of as the "FSB" speed) can be set as high as 410MHz, in 1MHz increments, and PCIe clock speeds as high as 145MHz are available as well. Multipliers as low as 6.5 are available with appropriate processors, and there are a full array of adjustable voltages with good granularity too. The CPU core voltage can be increased up to 1.8v, the memory voltage can be brought all the way up to 3.25v, and the DDR VTT voltage up to 1.75v. Chipset and HyperTransport voltages can also be increased to 1.8v and 1.35v, respectively. On top of the already extensive number of voltage choices available, Abit also incorporated a sort of "voltage offset" feature into the BIOS that'll allow for some insanely high CPU and Memory voltages.

Also in the uGuru menu, is the Abit EQ section of the BIOS. The Abit EQ menu is home to all of the board's hardware monitoring data. There is a slew of option available here; too much to list. Basically, if there's a component on-board that generates heat and has voltage running to it, Abit EQ is monitoring it. Don't believe us?  Check out the pics.


As we've come to expect from Abit, the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI was a very adept overclocker. To test the board's "overclockability", we set out to see just how far we could push the ABIT Fatal1ty AN8 SLI while keeping the system stable.  We should mention that all of the overclocking tests were performed using a stock AMD copper / aluminum heatsink and fan combo in an open air environment.  With more exotic cooling, our overclocking results would likely have been different. Keep that in mind, as your mileage may vary as well.

We bumped the CPU voltage to 1.7v and the memory voltage to 2.85v and gave all of the other on-board peripherals a .1v bump, for good measure. Then we dropped the CPU multiplier and lowered the speed of the HT link, and raised the processor's external clock speed until the test system was no longer stable.  In the end, we hit a maximum stable HT speed of 310MHz. The Fatal1ty AN8 SLI actually booted with higher external clock speeds, but we couldn't stabilize Windows until we dropped things back down to 310MHz.  We also focused on overclocking just our CPU itself and found that this board had no trouble hitting the same 2.6GHz+ speeds we had attained with this particular CPU when we first tested it.

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Intro, Specs & Bundle: NI8 SLI

NVIDIA's two-chip nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition chipset is at the heart of Abit's NI8 SLI motherboard. The NI8 SLI is for LGA775 single or dual-core Pentium processors, and requires DDR2 RAM. Other than support for different processors and the different memory requirements though, the feature set of the nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition used on the NI8 SLI remains largely unchanged from the AMD version of the chipset used on the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI. The two motherboards are quite different, however, as you'll see on the next few pages.

 

Abit NI8 SLI: Specifications & Features
NVIDIA nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition
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 Technology

Chipset
·_NVIDIA C19/ MCP-04
·_NVIDIA Gigabit Ethernet with NVIDIA Firewall
·_Supports NV SATA 3G RAID

NVIDIA SLI Technology
·_Two PCI-Express X16 slots support NVIDIA Scalable Link Interface

Memory
·_Four 240-pin DIMM sockets
·_Supports dual channel DDR2 667 non-ECC un-buffered memory
·_Supports maximum memory capacity up to 8GB

ABIT Engineered
·_ABIT uGuru Technology
·_ABIT Q-OTES Technology
·_ABIT AudioMAX Technology
·_ABIT CPU ThermalGuard Technology

NV SATA RAID
·_Serial ATA 3Gbps data transfer rate
·_Supports SATA RAID 0/1/0+1

2nd SATA RAID
·_Serial ATA 3Gbps by Sil 3132 PCIE controller
·_Supports SATA RAID 0/1 NCQ

NV GbE LAN
·_NVIDIA Gigabit Ethernet
·_NVIDIA Secure Networking Engine
NV Firewall
·_Native NVIDIA Firewall

ABIT AudioMAX
·_High quality 7.1 channel Audio Solution
·_Optical S/P DIF Input/Output
·_Supports auto jack sensing

Internal I/O Connectors
·_2 x PCI Express X16
·_2 x PCI Express X1
·_2 x PCI slots
·_1 x AudioMAX
·_Floppy Port supports up to 2.88MB
·_2 x Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 IDE Connectors
·_6 x SATA 3G Connectors
·_3 x USB headers

Back Panel I/O
·_ABIT Q-OTES
·_1 x PS/2 Keyboard
·_1 x PS/2 mouse
·_4 x USB, 1 x RJ-45 LAN Connector

Dimension
·_ATX form factor 305 x 245mm

Accessories
·_ABIT AudioMAX Card
·_SLI Connector Bridge
·_SLI Switch
·_SATA cable x 4
·_ATA 100 IDE Cable x 1
·_FDD cable x 1
·_USB Bracket
·_I/O shield x 1
·_CD Title x 1, SATA Utility Disk x 1
·_User's Manual x 1, Quick Installation Guide x 1
·_Jumper Setting Label x 1

   

 

The NI8 SLI's accessory bundle is not quite as exciting as the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI's, but all of the necessities are there, and then some. Included with the board, we found two very complete user's manuals (one for the board, the other for its proprietary software), a quick installation guide, and a case sticker that highlights the board's various headers and connectors. There were also a couple of floppies included with NVIDIA and Silicon Image RAID drivers, and a driver / utility CD that contained chipset drivers and all of the same proprietary application we talked about in regard to the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI's bundle (AbitEQ, OC Guru, FlashMenu, BlackBox, and Guru Clock).

On the hardware front, the same AudioMax 7.1 channel rise card mentioned earlier was also included with the NI8 SLI (Realtek ALC850), along with six SATA cables, black floppy and IDE cables, a custom I/O shield, and an SLI bridge connector and retention bracket.

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NI8 SLI: The Board

The Abit NI8 SLI has a rather unique look, and is much more colorful than the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI. The NI8 SLI's PCB is a dark-orange, with brightly colored DIMMs slots, heatsinks, and connectors. There are quite a few similarities between the NI8 SLI and the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI, however.

Abit NI8 SLI: Exploring the Board
This One's Fully Loaded

   

 

The NI8 SLI and Fatal1ty AN8 SLI share the exact same slot configuration. The very first slot is the proprietary one for the audio riser card, followed by two pairs of alternating PCI Express x1 and PEG slots, and lastly a couple of standard PCI slots. PEG slot PCI Express lane configuration is handled by the same type of manual switch-card as the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI.

Beneath the slots, in the same unfortunate location as the AN8, you can see the NI8's floppy and supplemental power connectors. And right next to them, is the board's POST code error reporter. Not the best spot for it in our opinion, because its difficult or impossible to read the display with certain PCI cards installed.

There are a few other layout issues to speak about as well. The ATX power connector is in a good location just behind the board's four DDR2 DIMM slots, but the ATX12V connector positioning isn't in an ideal. It's actually mounted just behind the PS/2 ports below the CPU socket, which means draping cables above the CPU cooler. Below the ATX power connector are a pair of horizontally mounted IDE connectors, and just behind them are four of the board's six SATA ports. The IDE ports and this cluster of 4 SATA ports are powered by the nForce 4 chipset (with support for SATA RAID 0/1/0+1). Along the bottom edge of the board are the majority of its additional headers and connectors, which are all neatly color coded.

   

Two more SATA ports are situated between the Northbridge and the rear-edge of the board, but these two are controlled by a Silicon Image Sil 3132 PCIE controller with supports far SATA RAID 0/1 and NCQ. Perhaps the NI8 SLI's most distinctive feature is its custom Q-OTES Northbridge cooler. A heat-plate is mounted to the Northbridge, with a heat-pipe that leads to a copper radiator situated in the board's backplane. Heat from the Northbridge is carried to the radiator, where it is supposed to be exhausted form the system by the air rushing from the CPU cooler mounted just behind it. We did not experience any heat-related instability during our testing, but the heat-plate and radiator did get rather hot. With passive cooling like this, we still recommend having an additional fan or two in your case to circulate air over the radiator's fins. The Southbridge and the FETs in the VRM are also passively cooled, but by simple light-blue anodized aluminum heatsinks.

  

The NI8 SLI's I/O backplane is home to a pair of PS/2 connectors (keyboard & mouse), four USB ports, and a single RJ45 Ethernet LAN jack. Like the AN8, the NI8's audio related connectors reside on the AudioMax riser card, freeing up real-estate for the Northbridge cooler's copper radiator.

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NI8 SLI: BIOS & Overclocking

Abit also did a good job with the NI8 SLI's BIOS. Almost everything that hardcore overclockers look for in an nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition motherboard is there, along with most of the useful extras found on the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI we looked at earlier in this article.

Abit NI8 SLI: Exploring the BIOS
More Abit Goodness

    

  

Just like the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI, and virtually every other motherboard currently available come to think of it, the standard BIOS menus on the NI8 SLI house all of the common tools necessary to enable, disable or tweak all of the board's integrated peripherals. These menus look just like any other motherboard that is equipped with a Phoenix / Award BIOS. But, like the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI, it's in the "uGuru Utility" menu that you'll find all of the real juicy stuff.

Abit NI8 SLI: Overclocking Tools
A Decent Selection of Tools

    

   

   

As we mentioned earlier, the NI8 SLI's uGuru Utility menu is home to all of the board's overclocking and hardware monitoring tools. The menu is split into two sections, OC Guru and Abit EQ. From the OC Guru menu, users can lock the PCIe clock, alter voltages, and alter Front Side Bus speeds. The CPU voltage can be set as high as 1.8v in .025v increments, and FSB speeds between 100MHz and 325MHz are available in 1MHz increments. The DDR2 memory voltage can be set as high as 2.3v, in .1v increments, and the memory clock is asynchronous and can be set in 1MHz increments as well, up to 1400MHz. We should note that there are no extreme voltage options available, and the chipset voltage cannot be altered at all, so we wouldn't consider the NI8 SLI's BIOS perfect for hardcore overclockers. But it is still quite good. We suspect that with its passively cooled Northbridge, Abit didn't want to give users the ability to raise chipset voltages to high and risk doing permanent damage due to excessive heat.

And on top of the options available in the OC Guru section, the NI8 SLI features all of the same hardware monitoring tools featured on the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI. The list of hardware monitoring options is huge; check out the last few screenshots above and you'll see what we mean.


To overclock with the NI8 SLI, we stuck with good old front side bus overclocking. Armed with the highest-clocked Pentium 4 processor released to date, the 3.8GHz Pentium 4 670J, we slowly raised the FSB frequency until our test system was no longer stable. To assist in our overclocking efforts, we also bumped the CPU core voltage up to 1.525v and the DDR2 memory voltage up to 2.2v. When all was said and done, we were able to raise the front side bus speed to 229MHz (916MHz quad-pumped), for an effective CPU core clock speed of over 4.3GHz. Not too bad at all. We should mention that this was done with the stock Intel cooler, so with more exotic cooling we could possibly have taken things even higher.

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Our Test Systems & SANDRA

 

How we configured our test systems: When configuring the test systems for this review, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High-Performance Defaults."  The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows XP Professional (SP2) was installed. When the installation was complete, we installed all of the necessary drivers and removed Windows Messenger from the system.  Auto-Updating and System Restore were then disabled, and we set up a 768MB 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.

Test System Specifications
"Intel & AMD Inside!"
SYSTEM 1:
AMD Athlon 64 4000+

(2.4GHz)

Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI
NVIDIA nForce 4 SLI

2x512MB Corsair PC3200
CL 2-2-2-10

GeForce 6800 GT (x2 for SLI)
Onboard Ethernet
Onboard Audio

WD "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro SP2
nForce 4 Drivers v6.70

Forceware v81.89
DirectX 9.0c
SYSTEM 2:
Pentium 4 670J
(3.8GHz)

Abit NI8 SLI

NVIDIA nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition

2x512MB Corsair DDR2-667
CL 3-2-2-7

GeForce 6800 GT (x2 for SLI)
On-board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro SP2
nForce 4 Drivers v7.15

Forceware v81.89
DirectX 9.0c
SYSTEM 3:
AMD Athlon 64 4000+

(2.4GHz)

Sapphire PI-A9RX480
Radeon Xpress 200

2x512MB Corsair PC3200
CL 2-2-2-10

GeForce 6800 GT
Onboard Ethernet
Onboard Audio

WD "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro SP2
Radeon Xpress 200 v1

Forceware v81.89
DirectX 9.0c
Preliminary Benchmarks with SiSoft SANDRA 2005
Synthetic Testing

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 provide a host of useful information about your hardware and operating system. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2005 suite (CPU, Multimedia, Memory and File System). On the Abit NI8 SLI board, we clocked the system memory at DDR2-667 speeds, but all other clocks were left at their default values.


Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI
CPU Benchmark
AMD Athon 64 4000+


Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI
Multimedia Benchmark
AMD Athon 64 4000+


Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI
Memory Benchmark
1GB DDR400


Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI
File System Benchmark
WD Raptor 36GB


Abit NI8 SLI
CPU Benchmark
Pentium 4 670J (3.8GHz)

Abit NI8 SLI
Multimedia Benchmark
Pentium 4 670J (3.8GHz)

Abit NI8 SLI
Memory Benchmark
1GB PC25400

Abit NI8 SLI
File System Benchmark
WD Raptor 36GB

The various sub-system benchmarks built into SiSoft SANDRA 2005 don't report anything out of ordinary. The AMD Athlon 64 4000+ powered Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI performed right in-line with similarly configured systems in SANDRA's database, as did the Intel Pentium 4 670J powered NI8 SLI. The CPU, multimedia, and memory bandwidth benchmark results for both boards were also on par with what we've seen in the past from competing products. SANDRA's file system benchmark also reported similar scores for both platforms as well; which was to be expected considering they were benchmarked using the exact same drive.

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PCMark05: CPU & Memory

 

For our next round of synthetic benchmarks, we ran the CPU and Memory performance modules built into Futuremark's relatively new PCMark05. The CPU and Memory test modules we used for comparison below are very similar to the 04 version of the test suite, but results are not comparable - please keep that in mind if you are referencing older articles. 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.

Futuremark PCMark05
More Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks

"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.

From this point forward, we'll be comparing the performance of the two Abit SLI motherboards we tested against the Radeon Xpress 200 based Sapphire PI-A9RX480. The Sapphire board and the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI were tested using the exact same CPU, Memory, and Hard Drive, but because the NI8 SLI is for the Intel platform, it obviously was powered by different supporting hardware.

Due to the fact that the CPU benchmark built into PCMark05 is multi-threaded, the Pentium 4 670J / NI8 SLI combo jumped out to a commanding lead in this test, besting the AMD based systems by about 1400 points. The Fatal1ty AN8 SLI and PI-A9RX480, however, are much more evenly matched, finishing within a few points of one another.


"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.

PCMark05's memory bandwidth benchmark reports much more competitive scores. In this test, the AMD based systems performed similarly with the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI coming out just ahead of the Sapphire board. The Intel powered Abit NI8 SLI, however, was once again the victor here. The NI8 SLI finished the benchmark with a score almost 200 points higher than either the AN8 SLI or PI-A9RX480.

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Photoshop 7 & Office XP

 

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.

PC World's WorldBench 5.0: Photoshop 7 & Office XP Modules
More Real-World Application Performance

 

All three of the systems we tested performed similarly in Worldbench 5.0's Office XP SP2 and Photoshop 7 benchmarks. The Intel powered Abit NI8 SLI was the top-dog in the Office XP SP2 test, where it finished 16 seconds faster than the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI, and 18 seconds faster than the Sapphire PI-A9RX480. The tables turned in the Photoshop test, though. In the Photoshop test, the Sapphire board took the top spot by a minuscule margin of 1 second, followed by the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI, and then the NI8 SLI.

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Windows Media Encoder & LAME

 

We continued testing the Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI and NI8 SLI motherboards with a benchmark 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.

Windows Media Encoder 9
More Digital Video Encoding

Video encoding performance has historically been one of the Pentium 4's strong suits, so it comes as no surprise that the NI8 SLI was the highest performing platform here. Its encoding time of 328 seconds was 39 and 40 seconds faster than the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI and Sapphire PI-A9RX480, respectively.

LAME MP3 Encoding Test
Converting a Large WAV To MP3

In our custom Lame MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a very popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis, to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  In this test, we created our own 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.

In stark contrast to the Windows Media Encoder benchmark, our custom LAME MP3 encoding test shows the AMD powered Fatal1ty AN8 SLI finishing in first place with a time of 1 minute and 37 seconds. The NI8 SLI, on the other hand took 1 minute and 44 seconds to complete the same task.

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KribiBench v1.1

 

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...

Kribibench v1.1
Details: www.adeptdevelopment.com

 

The Intel powered Abit NI8 SLI came away with a pair of victories in the two Kribibench tests we ran, thanks to its higher-clocked, Hyper-Threaded processor. The two AMD powered systems ran neck-and-neck in both tests, with the Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI finishing just shy of the Sapphire PI-A9RX480 in both. The Abit NI8 SLI, however, was 10% to 12% faster than either in both tests.

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Cinebench 2003 & 3DMark05: CPU

 

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). 

Cinebench 2003 Performance Tests
3D Modeling & Rendering Tests

Cinebench 2003's single-threaded test reported very similar performance across all three of the systems we benchmarked. The AMD Athlon 64 4000+ / Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI combo finished with the best score, 77.6 seconds, in the single-threaded test, followed by the Sapphire board and then the NI8 SLI.  The performance delta was quite small though; only 1.3 seconds separated the "fastest" and "slowest" systems. The Hyper-Threading feature incorporated into the Pentium 4 670J powering the NI8 SLI, however, gives it the ability to run Cinebench in two threads.  And when we ran the multi-threaded test, the NI8 SLI smoked the AMD powered systems by about 12 seconds.

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 are used to determine the final score.

Like the CPU test built into PCMark05, the one incorporated into 3DMark05 is multi-threaded, hence the relatively large performance advantage for the Hyper-Threaded Pentium 4 670J powered Abit NI8 SLI. In this test the NI8 SLI was about 10% "faster" than either of the AMD based systems. Taking second place was the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI, followed closely behind by the Sapphire PI-A9RX480.

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UT 2004 & Doom 3

 

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.

Unreal Tournament 2004
DirectX 8 Gaming Performance

By now you've all heard that the Athlon 64 is an excellent gaming CPU, and we concur. Both of the Athlon 64 powered systems outpaced the NI8 SLI here, but their margins of victory weren't terribly large. Nonetheless, the Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI came out on top here, followed by the Sapphire board and then the NI8 SLI.

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.

Our custom Doom 3 benchmark results mirror what we saw with Unreal Tournament 2004, although the deltas separating the Intel powered Abit NI8 SLI from the AMD based systems was a bit smaller. Regardless, the story is pretty much the same, with the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI taking the top spot, trailed by the PI-A9RX480 and then the NI8 SLI.

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Multi-GPU SLI Performance

Before wrapping up our testing, we installed a second graphics card into each of the Abit motherboards featured in this article and benchmarked them while running in SLI mode using a couple of popular tests.

Performance Comparisons with 3DMark05 v1.2.0 - SLI
Dual GeForce 6800 GT Cards at Work

3DMark05
3DMark05 is the latest installment in a long line of synthetic 3D graphics benchmarks, dating back to late 1998. 3DMark05 is a synthetic benchmark that requires a DirectX 9.0 compliant video card, with support for Shader Model 2.0 or higher, to render all of the various modules that comprise the suite. To generate its final "score", 3DMark05 runs three different simulated game tests and uses each test's framerate in the final tabulation. Fillrate, Memory bandwidth, and compute performance especially have a measurable impact on performance in this benchmark. We ran 3DMark05's default test (1,024 x 768) here, and have the overall results posted for you below.

Both the Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI and NI8 SLI performed well in the default 3DMark05 test, but adding in a second GeForce boosted performance dramatically. The AMD powered Fatal1ty AN8 SLI posted the highest 3DMark05 score while running in SLI mode, but both boards showed a marked increase in performance, as expected. The NI8 SLI's score jumped by 68% and the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI's score increased by 75%.

Benchmarks & Comparisons with Doom 3 - SLI
Dual GeForce 6800GT Cards in Action!

Doom 3
id Software's games have long been pushing the limits of 3D graphics.  Quake, Quake 2, and Quake 3 were all instrumental in the success of 3D accelerators on the PC.  Now, years later, with virtually every new desktop computer shipping with a 3D accelerator, id is at it again with the release of the visually stunning Doom 3.  Doom 3 is an OpenGL based game that uses extremely high-detailed textures and a ton of dynamic lighting and shadows.  We ran this benchmark using a custom timedemo with Doom 3 set to its "High-Quality" mode, at a resolution of 1,600 x 1,200 with 4X anti-aliasing and 8X anisotropic filtering both enabled.  (Note: Doom 3 enables 8X anisotropic filtering automatically when set to "High Quality" in the game's control panel.)

A high-resolution batch of Doom 3 benchmarks again showed similar performance improvements for both of the boards. Here, the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI's framerate jumped by almost 50 frames per second, or about 79%, and the NI8 SLI's performance increased from 57.6 FPS to 104.6 FPS, an approximate 81% boost.

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Our Summary & Conclusion

 

Benchmark Summary: The Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI and NI8 SLI motherboards both performed very well throughout our entire battery of tests. Due to the fact that each board is designed for a different platform, the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI for AMD processors and the NI8 SLI for Intel processors, each one excelled in different areas, however. Video encoding, synthetic benchmarks, and 3D rendering applications ran best on the NI8 SLI / Intel P4 670J combo, while the gaming tests, content creation applications, and audio encoding tests ran best on the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI / AMD A64 4000+ combo.

Fatal1ty AN8 SLI: We really liked the Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI. This is a very streamlined motherboard with just the right feature set for hardcore gamers or overclockers. All of the features of NVIDIA's nForce 4 SLI chipset are put to use, like Gigabit Ethernet and SATA RAID, and Abit uses one of the better AC'97 audio codecs on the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI, namely Realtek's ALC850. The actively cooled Northbridge and power array are also excellent additions, and make this board a very good candidate for those of you that are into liquid-cooling your processors. At about $195+ on up, the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI is one of the more expensive AMD-based SLI motherboards on the market, but the board's top-notch performance, great overclockability, and jam-packed accessory bundle justify the somewhat higher price tag in our opinion. After using this motherboard for quite some time, with a variety of processors and video cards, we can also say with conviction that the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI is rock-solid stable. When used in conjunction with the right assortment of other hardware, the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI would make an excellent foundation to a high-end rig. We're giving the Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI a solid 8.5 on the Heat Meter.

_Actively Cooled VRM & Northbridge
_High Performance
_Very Good Accessory Bundle
_Great BIOS
_Excellent Overclocker
_Above Average Price

NI8 SLI: The Abit NI8 SLI doesn't have the "flash" or refinement of the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI, but its unique features make it a motherboard also worthy of your consideration. The NI8 SLI remained stable throughout all of our testing, and its performance is right up there with other motherboards in its class. We took issue with some aspects of this motherboard's layout, like the placement of the floppy and additional power connectors, and its bundle was a little light, but those issues aren't deal-breakers by any means. The silent "Q-OTES" Northbridge cooler appealed to us, as did the heatsinks in the VRM and on the Southbridge. The NI8 SLI also has a top-notch BIOS, its feature set is very complete, and perhaps best of all, the board is priced well at about $150. Intel fans looking to move to an SLI capable motherboard should certainly take a look at the Abit NI8 SLI. We're giving this board a 7.5 on the Heat Meter.

_Good Price
_Good Performance
_Great BIOS
_Silent Cooling
_Some Layout Issues
_Accessory Bundle

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