Intel P965 Showdown - Abit vs. GIGABYTE
Abit AB9 Pro: Board and Bundle
Compared to the DQ6, the AB9 Pro is less flashy, lacking the DQ6's huge copper heatsinks. It's also a bit more color coordinated. The AB9 Pro's bright blue Silent OTES cooling system contrasts against the orange PCB, catching your eye immediately. The AB9 Pro has a total of five heatsinks covering the voltage regulators, northbridge and southbridge. However, only two of these heatsinks are connected via heatpipes.
Contrary to what you might expect, the largest heatsink is not on the northbridge. Instead, it covers some voltage regulators near the rear I/O panel. It is connected to the small northbridge heatsink by a fluid filled heatpipe. The idea is that the heat produced by the northbridge will be transferred to the large heatsink where it can be expelled from the system via vents on the I/O shield.
Unlike the DQ6, the heatsinks on the AB9 Pro are well located and unobtrusive. This is mostly thanks to the low profile of the north and southbridge heatsinks. The AB9 Pro uses a 24-pin ATX connector and a 4-pin ATX12V connector to provide its power. Both power connectors are conveniently located on the left edge of the board. The AB9 Pro's documentation states that a 20-pin connector may be used in the 24-pin port, although stability may be compromised. However, the board will refuse to boot if the 4-pin ATX12V power connector is missing. Like the DQ6, a molex port is provided on the board which can optionally provide additional juice to especially power-hungry graphics devices. The molex port is located under the CPU, near the left edge of the board. This could result in minor cable routing problems.
The I/O panel of the AB9 Pro appears a bit barren, something just seems missing. That's right, the AB9 Pro has no legacy connector support. Parallel and serial ports are no where to be found. Where the parallel port usually sits is now a pass-through for the large OTES heatsink. The area directly under, traditionally occupied by serial port(s), now houses an eSATA port and two optical S/PDIF ports. The lack of legacy connectors may be inconvenient for those of us who still need them for older devices but it shouldn't be a huge setback in this day and age of USB domination.
Firewire ports are also missing from the AB9 Pro's rear I/O panel, however two firewire connectors can be found on the board itself. They are meant to be used with the USB/Firewire header included with the board. There are also additional USB connectors on the board, allowing for another six USB ports, which can be used by the included header and/or to connect USB ports on the front of the case.
In order to drive all ten of its SATA ports, the AB9 Pro uses two SATA controllers in addition to the ICH8R's built-in functionality. The same JMicron JMB363 used by the DQ6 controls the AB9 Pro's IDE channel and two of its SATA ports. The ICH8R controls six SATA ports and a Silicon Image 3132 chip is used to drive the eSATA port on the rear I/O panel and the last SATA port.
The six SATA ports controlled by the ICH8R are located in a cluster near the bottom-right of the board, similar to the DQ6. We like this position since its conveniently near the area where most cases have their hard drive bays.
While it's great that there are so many SATA ports available on the AB9 Pro, the placement of some of them is a bit awkward. The two ports controlled by the JMB363 and the single port controlled by the Silicon Image are located on the left side of the board. This is a bit inconvenient since the drives they are meant to connect to are usually located off to the right of the board. However, this isn't a huge problem given the sheer amount of SATA ports to choose from. The placement of the JMB363 and the IDE connector presents a layout problem. They sit right where we wished a PCI-E X4 slot was.
The AB9 Pro suffers from a strange layout anomaly involving the placement of the IDE and floppy connectors. The IDE connector is placed between the PCI-E and PCI slots while the floppy drive connector is at the very bottom of the board, crammed against the lowest PCI slot. The location of the IDE connector is inconvenient since most users will need it to connect their optical drives which are usually located around the top-right edge of the board. This is especially true for full-tower cases, where the optical drives are often above the board. This problem is amplified when expansion cards are installed in the PCI-E slots, since the cable would need to be long enough to clear them. A similar problem occurs with the floppy connector.
We installed the AB9 Pro into a standard mid-tower case and using the included IDE cable, we were just barely able to connect an optical drive installed in the top 5.25" bay when a PCI-E X16 card was installed. With a PCI-E X1 card installed, the cable isn't long enough to reach the top bay. A similar problem occurs when the included floppy cable is used to connect a floppy drive while there are PCI cards installed.
While the placement of the IDE and floppy connectors is irritating, it's certainly not a show stopper. Fortunately, the AB9 Pro does not suffer from DIMM slot clearance problems and RAM may be installed/removed without first removing the PCI-E X16 card.
The AB9 Pro's bundle includes a generous nine SATA cables. Also included are a USB/Firewire header, IDE cable, floppy cable, I/O shield, driver CD and four RAID driver diskettes. The disks are for installing the drivers for the SATA controllers and RAID functionality. This must be done when installing the OS. The USB/Firewire header supports two USB 2.0 ports, a 6-pin Firewire port, and a 4-pin Firewire port. Also included in the bundle is a bunch of reading material including a quick installation guide, user manual, uGuru manual and a jumper settings sticker. Noticably absent is an Abit case badge.
The driver CD includes a digital copy of the user manual in Adobe pdf format, Adobe Reader to view said manual, uGuru software and other Abit proprietary utilities as well as, well...drivers.