975X Express Motherboard Round-Up: Foxconn, Abit, and MSI
Abit AW9D-MAX: The Motherboard
Its all-black PCB, and black and blue expansion slots and connectors give the Abit AW9D-MAX a somewhat menacing appearance. Just by looking at the AW9D-MAX, it's clear Abit had Intel enthusiasts in mind when they designed this motherboard.
The Abit AW9D-MAX has custom, passive heatsinks and heatpipes mounted to its VRM, and Northbridge and Southbridge chips. Due to the fact that the cooling apparatus on this board is passive, it obviously doesn't generate any noise. But it also doesn't promote air circulation over the heatsink's fins. However, to enhance its cooling performance vents in the included I/O shield line up with the upper-most heatsink on the board in an effort to provide increased circulation.
Overall the AW9D-MAX's layout it generally good, except for the odd placement of a SATA port between the CPU socket and I/O backplane. It features useful integrated power and reset switches, a POST code error reporter and a host of LEDs that cast a blue glow around the PCB's edges. The board looks great in a windowed case.
The AW9D-MAX does have a major shortcoming in our opinion though. The board is equipped with two PEG slots, two PCI Express x1 slots, a single PCI slot, and one proprietary AudioMAX slot to accommodate the included 7.1-channel audio riser card. This all sounds pretty good at first, but with a pair of double-wide graphics cards installed for CrossFire, users have to sacrifice the only PCI slot on the board and one its PCI Express x1 slots. That doesn't leave a lot of expansion possibilities for power users. Want high-end CrossFire with an X-Fi, or a NIC, or even an AGEIA PhysX card? Sorry - No can do...
Audio on the AW9D-MAX is powered by Realtek's ALC882M (8-channel) HD CODEC, and dual-Gigabit LAN ports are powered by a pair of Realtek RTL8111Bs. Seven SATA Ports and one eSATA port come by way of integrated Intel and SiI3132 SATA controllers.
The AW9D-MAX's I/O backplane is legacy-free and almost looks as if something is missing. The left side of the backplane is devoid of any connectors whatsoever. This of course is due to the fact that the board includes an audio riser card, which houses all of its audio-related ports and connectors. Instead of using the freed-up real estate in the backplane to add additional USB or FireWire ports though, Abit left the space bare to aid in the cooling of the heatsink affixed to the VRM, visible behind the CPU socket. Available in the I/O backplane are only PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, a single eSATA port, four USB 2.0 ports, and dual RJ45 GigE LAN jacks.