Asus A7N8X Deluxe Motherboard Review

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The Asus A7N8X Deluxe Motherboard Review
May the 'nForce2' be with you

By, Jeff Bouton
January 9, 2003


ASUS PC Probe:

PC Probe is a great utility for monitoring the overall status of the system.  The software provides instant information on system voltages, CPU temperature and Fan speeds, which proves to be invaluable when overclocking.  The software can be configured to trigger an alarm if any one of a dozen different functions are running out of acceptable ranges. 

The software can monitor the voltages of key components such as CPU, AGP and memory and also monitors the RPM of CPU, case and power supply fans.  We found this to be a substantial piece of software that gave us clear insight into the inner functions of the system.  We often find that "free" utilities fall short on delivering anything truly useful, however, ASUS proved that they are a rare exception to the rule.  We found the ASUS PC Probe to be very useful and deliver where it counts.
 

Quality and Setup of the Asus A7N8X Deluxe
Looking Good...

The Board:

The A7N8X Deluxe is a well versed motherboard that offers a great balance between design and features.  Aside from new and improved features enabled by the nForce2 SPP Northbridge and the nForce2 MCP-T Southbridge, some uncommon design practices were put into effect as well.  One of the most obvious of these practices is the position of the Northbridge.  Note how it is positioned in such a manner that the traces have the shortest path to adjoining components.  This layout helps to eliminate instabilities in the system and add higher tolerances under load.  This also helps reduce temperature by minimizing the amount of resistance to the electrical current going to and from the Northbridge.  ASUS added a hefty heat sink to the Northbridge to help keep temperatures under control.  We were disappointed to see that, when we removed the heat sink, a low quality thermal pad was used instead of higher quality thermal paste or grease.

The most significant improvement to the Northbridge, versus the original nForce, is the introduction of official support for DualDDR 333 or 400 Memory speeds.  DualDDR utilizes 2 separate memory controllers to boost the memory bus from 64-Bit to 128-Bit.  This increase in bandwidth is enabled by separating the controller between the first two memory banks and the 3rd.  With one module installed into DIMM slot 1 or 2 and the other into slot 3, DualDDR is enabled.  With two PC3200 modules installed, bandwidth peaks at 6.4GB/s.   Unlike other features we've seen in the past, this is an automatic process that is enabled by simply installing the memory into the proper DIMM slots.  We liked the fact that no changes were needed as far as jumpers on the board or BIOS settings, making the process simple to implement.  ASUS placed the third DIMM slightly further apart from the second to make it clear which would be needed to enable DualDDR.  Later on we'll run some tests at both 64-Bit and 128-Bit to see what kind of performance increase we can expect.

The board comes with 5 PCI slots and an AGP Pro slot for ample expandability.  Normally we prefer to see a total of 6 PCI slots, however, when you factor in all of the integrated components, we doubt anyone would miss the 6th PCI slot.  This is the first chipset by nVidia to offer AGP 3.0 support, providing a full 2.1GB per second of bandwidth across the AGP bus.  Although this bandwidth will be under utilized by most of today's software, the system is equipped to grow as new products are introduced.  We were pleased that the CPU socket was given ample room to support even the largest of heat sink packages.  4 holes were also available for use with such coolers as the Alpha PAL8045, which require added structural support when mounting.  The floppy and IDE connectors were placed neatly behind the DIMM area to insure the cabling does not impede proper airflow.  The same was true for the ATX power connector whose placement was not only friendly to the CPU's airflow, but also ideal for powering the DIMMS and CPU by reducing the distance the current needs to travel.

When we look at the rear of the system, we see something that is not a common sight, 2 integrated Ethernet ports.  The nForce2 is the only chipset that can offer two independent Ethernet controllers integrated into a single system.  This is an excellent feature for the workstation, server, or home computer.  The added functionality of two Ethernet ports includes configuring a system as a gateway by installing a broadband connection to one port and the rest of the LAN to the other.  To be honest, this adds a lot of networking flexibility to the system that could end up being an article by itself.  nVidia even offers its own controller for one port and a 3Com controller for the other to help differentiate between the two.  We were a bit disappointed, however, to see that the two were rated at 10/100Mbit.  There are quite a few motherboards on the market that offer 1000Mbit Ethernet without affecting the overall cost of the system.  It would have been nice to see ASUS follow suit and give the user the most speed available.  Obviously, as the current trend shows, it's just a matter of time before this becomes the norm.  In the end, this is a very minor strike against an otherwise beautiful board.

The system provides a total of 4 USB 2.0 connectors on the rear of the system which can be increased to 6 with the included hardware.  The unit also comes with NVIDIA's Soundstorm Dolby Digital Audio which offers performance previously reserved for more expensive add-on cards.  With an integrated Dolby Digital 5.1 encoder, true cinematic sound quality can be achieved.  This reviewer is quite fond of the Hercules Game Theater 7.1 and the Soundstorm seemed to perform on the same level, if not better.


BIOS and the HH Test Rig

Tags:  Asus, Motherboard, N8, review, board, UX, view, IE, A7, AR

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