|AOpen AX4SG MaxII Motherboard
The AOpen AX4Sg MaxII ships in a relatively average sized box, although it did seem a bit deeper than normal - and there's a reason for that. Opening up the box reveals all the extras that came along for the ride.
While the motherboard's feature set is impressive, the bundle isn't as flashy, but does have everything one would need to get started. IDE and FDC cables are included along with two SATA cables and power converters. Also included are three rear brackets. One rear bracket allows for USB 2.0 and Firewire connections. A second houses a game port and a COM port while the last provides for a variety of audio connections including digital S/PDIF and up to 8 speakers for 7.1 surround sound. Software included in the bundle is a SATA driver diskette and a 90 day trial version of Norton Antivirus 2004 Professional. A manual and quick setup guide are present and both offer detailed instructions for getting the motherboard up and running.
Under The Scope: Layout and Features
AOpen chose a black PCB for this particular motherboard and also color coded every onboard connector making for an organized look and feel.
Overall the motherboard is well laid out and not cramped in any one particular area. The only minor flaw we saw with this motherboard was the placement of the 4-pin ATX connector right below the CPU retention module. Having to run that 4-pin power connector around the heatsink and down, may be a bit cumbersome for those who like to keep their cases looking tidy. Reaching the 4-pin power connector should not be a problem however, with most standard cable lengths. Beyond that minor gripe, there is plenty of room on this board when it comes to adding and removing components. The memory slots do not interfere with the AGP slot which allows for removal and addition of memory modules without tinkering with an add-in graphics card. The IDE and FDC connectors are placed on the top right part of the motherboard making them easy to reach even in full tower cases.
Pictured above is the ALC-850 audio controller which gives this board its 7.1 surround sound capabilities. Along with that we have the Intel Gigabit LAN controller which does not run on the separate CSA bus that is only found on Canterwood motherboards. Providing this board with its IEEE-1394 connections is the Agere FW323-06 controller. Of the six SATA ports included on this motherboard, four of them are powered by the Silicon Image SATALink Sil3114CT176 controller which works with a few different RAID configurations such as RAID 0, 1, and 0+1. The other two SATA ports are powered via the ICH5 Southbridge chip. This motherboard also comes equipped with dual BIOS chips. One of the chips is labeled AOpen Die Hard BIOS which keeps a copy of the original BIOS and comes in handy for those overclocking adventures gone awry. Speaking of BIOS, let's take a look at the features AOpen packed into this BIOS.
The AOpen AX4SG MaxII motherboard uses Phoenix's AWARD BIOS. The first three screen shots are pretty standard BIOS screens we can find in most BIOS menus these days. The first screen shot in the second row is the hardware monitoring screen which tracks the system's vitals including voltages and temperatures. The Advanced Chipset Features screen offers the user the choice to manually set DRAM timings. There are four timings to choose from here including CAS Latency, Active to Precharge Delay, RAS to CAS delay, and RAS Precharge. These are all options an enthusiast likes to see since the standard setting of "By SPD" doesn't always time the memory perfectly and tends to be more on the conservative side. The last screen shot above is where the fun begins. The Frequency/Voltage control screen is where the overclocking endeavors take place. Let's take a look at these options in detail.
Pretty much every setting can be tweaked here, although some may find the options a bit lacking. When dealing with the AGP port, both voltage and frequency can be altered. The voltages for the AGP slot range from 1.50V all the way up to 1.875V. The PCI bus frequency is also adjustable on this screen and is automatically set to 33.33MHz. First off, it's good to see that the AGP and PCI frequencies can be fixed at their defaults of 66MHz and 33MHz respectively, but also being able to change them independent of one another is a nice feature to have. The CPU frequency can be changed to anywhere between 100MHz to 400MHz by keying in a value within this range. Where the BIOS gets a bit disappointing is in its lack of CPU voltage adjustments. The max CPU voltage adjustment for this motherboard is 1.60V. While it has been argued that Pentium 4 processors should not go much higher than 1.625V, it should ultimately be left up to the user in deciding the processors fate and therefore a wider range of CPU voltages would have been nice to see. What makes this setting even worse is that this motherboard under-volts on the CPU VCore as can be seen from the hardware monitoring screen image where a default setting of 1.525V only comes in at 1.48V. The DDR frequency is also a little short on options with four: Auto, 1.33, 1.60, and 2.00. The DDR voltages are decent with a max setting of 2.85V. Overall, the BIOS on this motherboard has all the options one could want to tailor this motherboard's performance to their liking, but the in the end, it may fall short of expectations for the more aggressive enthusiasts out there.