Board Layout and Features
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.