Hybrid vs Native Dual X16 SLI: Asus P5N32-E SLI Plus vs Abit IN9 32X-MAX
Abit IN9 32X-MAX: BIOS & Overclocking
The IN9 32X-MAX uses a Phoenix-Award BIOS with a pretty "classic" layout. Unlike the P5N32-E SLI Plus' BIOS which was heavily modified from the basic Award layout to support a plethora of sub-menus, the IN9's BIOS looks a lot like other Phoenix-Award based BIOS used on lots of other boards. The most noticeable difference is the addition of the uGuru Utility menu. The advantage of sticking with the basic Phoenix-Award BIOS interface is that it's instantly recognizable and usable. This is particularly important since the included user manual only has a useless one page description of the BIOS.
Anyone who has worked with enthusiast boards before will know their way around a Phoenix-Award derived BIOS. Excluding heavily modified versions such as those commonly employed by ASUS, the BIOS installed in the IN9 will probably be the most feature packed Phoenix-Award based BIOS you have ever seen. Never have those familiar menus contained so many options.
The standard options are all there, in their usual spots. In the "Advanced Chipset Features" menu are three options for controlling the board's ECC memory support. LDT frequency multiplier and SLI related settings can also be found there as well as the memory timing sub-menu. The memory timing submenu is very similar to the one found on the P5N32-E SLI Plus. The five most common options are grouped at the top with a couple additional, more advanced, options at the bottom.
As with the P5N32-E SLI Plus, the real fun begins when we enter the overclocking menu, in this case the "uGuru Utility". This menu has two tabs labeled "OC Guru" and "ABIT EQ". The "OC Guru" is full of overclocking options while the "ABIT EQ" menu provides hardware monitoring for voltages, fan speeds and temperatures. The settings for the board's built-in aesthetic LEDs are also found in the "ABIT EQ" menu.
Like the P5N32-E SLI Plus, the FSB adjustment is done with the quad-pumped value, which means you need to divide by four to get the actual FSB. The quad-pumped FSB can be adjusted between 400MHz (100MHz actual) and 3000MHz (750MHz actual). The CPU multiplier option is available but you will only be able to decrease the multiplier from its stock setting unless you have an unlocked processor. The memory clock can be "linked" to the FSB via a ratio such as 1:1, 5:4 and 3:2. As with the P5N32-E SLI Plus, the memory clock can also operate unlinked from the FSB, allowing individual adjustment regardless of the FSB frequency. In unlinked mode, the memory frequency can be adjusted anywhere from 400MHz to 1400MHz. The frequency of all three PCI-E slots can be set individually from as low as 100MHz to as high as 200MHz.
A voltage control sub-menu can be accessed from the main OC Guru menu and it offers CPU, memory, nothrbridge, southbridge and HyperTransport voltage adjustments. The CPU voltage can be set as high as 1.925V, in 0.01V intervals. Memory voltage can be set from 1.8V to 3.0V in 0.025V intervals. The HyperTransport voltage can be increased to 1.40V in 0.05V intervals. The north bridge can only be fed up to 1.55V, in 0.05V intervals, while the south bridge only goes up to 1.50V. These voltages are significantly lower than what many other enthusiast boards are capable of providing. The P5N32-E SLI Plus is capable of providing significantly higher HyperTransport, northbridge and southbridge voltages.
The ABIT EQ menu is divided into four sub-menus. One for monitoring temperatures, one for voltages, another for fan speed and the final for controlling fan speeds. The on-board aesthetic LED's can also be controlled with the main ABIT EQ menu. The LED effect can be chosen from six different preset patterns, or the LEDs can be set so they are all on, or off. Unfortunately you must save the BIOS settings and restart the machine before changes to the LED settings take effect. This is very inconvenient since you need to restart the machine six times in order to see all the effects.
Overall, the IN9 32X-MAX's BIOS is well laid out and high functional. There are plenty of overclocking options and the voltage settings weren't bad either, although the chipset voltages were lower than expected. Abit's decision to keep the traditional Phoenix-Award BIOS layout makes it very easy to use and the interface will be instantly familiar to anyone who has worked with a motherboard or two in the last ten years.
We took a Core 2 E6400 processor and set out to see if the IN9 32X-MAX could match the P5N32-E SLU Plus' overclocking results. We loaded the BIOS' optimized defaults, then increased the FSB as far as we could go without having to increase voltages to achieve stability. The frequency of our Corsair TWIN2X1024-8500 modules were locked to their rated speed of 1066MHz in the BIOS' memory multiplier settings.
We were able to take our E6400 CPU to 3.24GHz, by raising the FSB to 405MHz. This is the highest speed our system was able to handle with perfect stability. That's a 200MHz higher CPU overclock than the P5N32-E SLI Plus was able to achieve. Like we had done with the P5N32-E SLI Plus, we decided to lower the CPU multiplier to 6 so it would no longer be a potential bottleneck for the system. Then we went about overclocking the FSB further. We finally settled on a FSB clock of 435MHz (1740MHz effective) at stock voltages with stock cooling.
That is a 169MHz (676MHz effective) overclock from the stock FSB of 266MHz (1066MHz effective), which is very impressive at stock voltages. The IN9 32X-MAX was clearly superior to the P5N32-E SLI when it comes to overclocking. Unfortunately, at that frequency, our particular E6400 could not keep up with the board's FSB overclock and we were forced to use a CPU multiplier of 7. However, when paired with the right hardware, the Abit IN9 32X-MAX would make a deadly overclocking board.