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| Quality and Setup of the Abit BGE7 |
| This board won't give you the blues |
The board was a bit of a "Plain Jane". No fancy coloring of the PCB, no custom graphics or colors on the components, and the heatsink cooling the Northbridge was a standard passive finned type. The layout of the board was simple and clean, even on what appeared to be smaller dimensions than usual (30 x 21.5cm). This was made possible by the relatively few "extra" features found on the board. As I mentioned in the introduction, there were no RAID ports on the board, and no Serial ATA connections either. As far as drive controllers go, we were left with the two ATA100 ports and the floppy port. These were placed on the board in close to ideal locations, however. The IDE ports were on the edge of the board, close to where the drives would be mounted in a mid-tower case. The floppy port was a bit further down towards the corner, placed perpendicular to airflow from a front-mounted case fan. While I did not have any problems using this board in my case, this positioning of the port could cause problems in a larger tower.
The P4 socket had a metal latch, making it a bit sturdier than the plastic ones used by some other manufacturers and was lined on one side by a row of capacitors. These were perhaps placed a bit too close to the bracket, making it trickier to remove the heatsink / fan once it was mounted to the CPU. As we mentioned earlier, the nearby Northbridge was passively cooled by a large aluminum heatsink. This was held down tightly using a two clip method. A thermal pad was placed between the two which should provide for good heat transfer. Although it was held down tightly, a little pressure with your thumb on the black pad on one of the clips allowed for easy removal for upgrading if necessary. In the search for quieter systems, passive cooling probably does the job well enough, and without extra fan headers it would be hard to install a, additional heatsink / fan combo anyway. We found three fan headers on the board, one by the CPU, one in the middle for a rear-mounted case fan, and the other in a far corner, possibly for a front-mounted case fan. Any other cooling methods would require Molex connections off of the Power Supply. Speaking of which, the ATX power connectors were in good positions as well. The 20-pin ATX connection was mounted at the corner of the board, above the DIMM slots. This prevented the thick mass of cables from interfering with other components and / or possibly restricting airflow around the CPU. The smaller 12V ATX connection was on the far side of the CPU, which meant we had to snake the cables around or over the CPU's heatsink. It wasn't hidden in with other components, however, and we really didn't find any problems with this placement.
Integrated components are what this board is all about, and a complete solution of video, audio, and LAN capabilities were found. The on-board 6-channel audio was provided by the Realtek ALC650 Chip found near the edge of the board. While the quality of the sound might not be as impressive as a secondary add-in card like an Audigy or Hercules soundcard, but it still holds its own. The ALC650 also supports S/PDIF out and 5.1 speaker output using connections already on the board. No extra brackets or breakout boxes are required. Placed right near the ALC650 chip were the two black CD-IN connectors. The 10/100 Mbit LAN was provided by another Realtek chip, this being the RTL8100. This chip was placed more towards the middle next to the clock generator, also made by Realtek.
The external connections included the standard PS/2, parallel, and serial ports. One serial port, however, was sacrificed in order to provide the 15-pin VGA output for the on-board Intel Extreme Graphics. Another major noticeable feature was the full audio output support. There were 3 jacks for mic-in, line-in, and line-out, but additionally we found additional jacks for a center / subwoofer speaker as well as rear speakers. There was also an optical plug for S/PDIF output. Only 2 USB 2.0 ports came standard, although a bracket provided in the box allowed for the use of two additional ports. To complete the setup an RJ-45 LAN jack was used for networking purposes.
THE BIOS AND SETUP:
Abit has incorporated the well known and respected SoftMenu III into the AWARD Phoenix v6.00PG BIOS. In SoftMenu III, we had options to allow the CPU speed to be automatically detected, or user can define their own settings and change the front side bus to any speed between 100 and 250 MHz. It is here where most, if not all, of the overclocking choices were found, such as changing the PCI bus frequency using dividers or locked speeds, and raising voltage levels for the CPU and DRAM. The CPU Vcore was raised using percentages (+5, +10, +15%) rather than defined voltages, which is somewhat different than what we are normally accustomed to seeing. The DRAM voltage is more standard, and can be raised from 2.5v to 2.7v, if needed. In the Advanced Chipset section of the BIOS we found basic timings for the DRAM, offering options for the CAS Latency Time, Precharge Delay, DRAM RAS to CAS delay and DRAM RAS Precharge. There were also settings for caching the video or system BIOS and setting the AGP mode. The PC Health Status screen provided us with a few options to protect the system from accidental overheating. We found an alarm setting should the CPU fan fail, as well as an option to shutdown the system entirely should such an event occur. These settings can be used in conjunction with the monitoring of the CPU temperature using the built-n thermal diode in the CPU. Should the CPU's core reach the specified temperature, either an alarm will sound, or the system can be automatically turned off.
While most of the setup was uneventful, we ran into a snag when trying to boot the system for the first time. The POST operations got as far as reading the CPU and RAM, but before we could even enter the BIOS, we were left at a mostly blank screen with a blue bar running across the bottom. We tried this a few times, and even were able to get into the BIOS every now and then with some frantic hitting of the Delete key. We were able to update the appropriate settings, but it seemed that whenever we got to the PC Health section, the BIOS would lock up. We then set out to find the source of our problems. We cleared the CMOS and tried re-flashing the BIOS, we even took apart the system and ran just the board and video card without being attached to the chassis, but never got any further. Finally, one time while we were in the PC Health section, we noticed that the Enermax case fan we had attached to the middle fan header was causing the system temperature to be listed at 125 degrees F (?) and then the system locked again. We then removed the case fan from the header, and that solved the problem. It was quite odd to see a fan, simply drawing power from the board through the pins, cause such instability. With our revision of the board and BIOS there was an issue in how system temperatures were being "read" by the BIOS, but later BIOS revisions should take care of this problem.
Testing Configuration and Overclocking