Abit AN8 32X - nForce 4 SLI X16
Let's talk peripherals. First off, Serial ATA. The board has four ports of native Serial ATA-II/300 connectivity through the nForce4 SLI X16 chipset. Of course, RAID is supported over all ports, supporting RAID levels 0, 1, 0+1, and 5, in addition to supporting SATA-II class features like NCQ and hot-pull/swap abilities. The ports are placed in a great spot, as they won't get in the way even in scenarios with two double-sized PCI Express graphics cards are installed. The board also has two more Serial ATA-II/300 ports through an onboard Silicon Image PCI Express controller chip (the 3132), which are strangely placed near the CPU socket. These ports also support RAID-0, and RAID-1, but in most configurations, we would recommend the native nVidia SATA-II/300 ports instead.
The A8N 32X supports 8-channel onboard audio, connected through Realtek's ALC850 CODEC. Unfortunately, this is not an HD audio CODEC, so we're still dealing with AC'97 class audio here. That's not to say AC'97 audio can't be quite good. The board not only supports 8-channel analog outputs, but also has optical S/PDIF digital audio input and outputs. AC'97 is software based, so if you push a lot of 3D positional processing though the motherboard's onboard audio, you will be sucking up some CPU cycles along with it. We still prefer true hardware solutions for gamers, but for basis music playback and movie watching, the onboard 8-channel audio is actually quite good.
As for Ethernet, the board supports Gigabit connectivity speeds through the nForce4 SLI X16's chipset. The nForce4 GigE implementation supports hardware TCP offload and nVidia's questionably-functional ActiveArmor firewall, and is reasonably quick. The PHY for the Gigabit Ethernet is handled by a Vitesse CODEC near the first PCI Express x1 slot. It's actually kind of surprising to see a board of this nature with only one Gigabit Ethernet port, but for the vast majority of users, that's all you need.
All of these ports convey around the I/O panel, which manages to look sparse and dense at the same time. If you'll notice, the legacy parallel and serial ports are removed from this motherboard (good riddance), leaving only legacy PS/2 ports on the left and modern-day connections on the right. In the center, there's a fairly large gap in the I/O panel, which works in conjunction with a perforated I/O panel cover to bring fresh (outside the case) airflow to the heatsink which sits nearby. Hence the term, Outside Thermal Exhaust System (OTES).
Other nifty onboard items include an onboard LED indicator system which flashes different codes during the boot process, letting you know which component is at fault. While not "new", it's still a welcome feature. Also, there's a mysterious "uGuru" chip near the top of the PCB, whose features we shall discuss on the following page.