NF4 Ultra Shoot-Out: Abit vs. MSI vs. ECS
Abit Fatal1ty AN8: The Board
The Abit Fatal1ty AN8 is a well laid out, streamlined motherboard with a very distinct appearance. Like the Fatal1ty AA8XE, the AN8 is built upon a dark red PCB and is equipped with an active cooling system on its VRM and a group of red LEDs on its underside that illuminate the board from behind...
NVIDIA's nForce 4 Ultra chipset, which is placed in an ideal position at the center of the board, out of the way of the graphics slot, is cooled by a copper heatsink / fan combo. The board's voltage regulator module is also actively cooled, thanks to the AN8's OTES (Outside Thermal Exhaust System) implementation. Unlike the Fatal1ty AA8XE though, the AN8's OTES apparatus is relatively small, and doesn't interfere with the installation or removal of the CPU cooler. While we're on the subject, we should also note that there is ample room around the CPU socket to fit an oversized CPU cooler. There are no large capacitors or other components on-board that will interfere with the CPU cooler's installation.
The Fatal1ty AN8's slots are configured in an ideal manner, with two PCI Express x1 slots at the top-most positions, followed by the PCI Express x16 PEG slot, and three standard PCI slots. Below the PCI slots though, you'll see the floppy connector, which is tucked way at the bottom of the board. Behind the slots you'll find the Fatal1ty's well laid out extra USB and Firewire headers, and all of the headers for the case connectors. Abit does a great job of color coding all of these connectors / headers, so installation should be a snap for all but the most inexperienced users.
A pair of IDE connectors are aligned in a parallel configuration along the front edge of the board, in front of the 4 excellent SATA connectors. Abit used a new style of connector that locks the included reinforced data cables in place, and prevents them from jostling loose when in transit. The IDE and SATA controllers are driven by the nForce 4 Ultra chipset, and support multiple RAID configuration (even across SATA and IDE drives). Also visible behind the IDE connectors is the Fatal1ty AN8's POST code error reporter.
The Fatal1ty AN8 is also equipped with a custom slot just behind the backplane to accommodate the audio riser card. Behind the four DIMM slots, you can see the ATX power connector. Flipping the board around, you can see the pair of OTES exhaust fans on the backplane, along with the PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors, four USB 2.0 ports, single Firewire port, and RJ-45 LAN jack. All of the capabilities of the board are powered by the nForce 4 Ultra chipset (USB 2.0, IDE, SATA, Gigabit LAN), a Realtek ALC658 audio codec and a Ti IEEE1394 controller.