The BIOS of the AW8-MAX
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.
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.