Socket 939 Motherboard Roundup: ABIT, MSI, Gigabyte
ABIT AV8: The Board & Layout
ABIT gives us a lot to talk about with regard to the AV8's layout and general appearance. Like most of the company's new motherboards, the AV8 is built upon ABIT's signature reddish PCB, and it seems their engineers have been paying attention to the enthusiast community because connector placement is very good. In the right hands, the AV8 could be the base of a very clean system, with the kind of wiring that'll make even the system builders at Voodoo green with envy...
Although the AV8 boasts no fancy lights or brightly colored slots, we still think it is fairly attractive and won't seem bland in a windowed case. The placement of the ATX and 12V power connectors just behind the external I/O connectors and CPU socket is good, and the flush-mounted IDE connectors make neatly wiring a case quite easy. When routed properly, the wiring shouldn't hinder airflow around the CPU or slots at all, and IDE cables will lay flush against the motherboard try. The floppy connector is mounted just behind the four color-coded DIMM slots, which allow for a maximum of 4GB of RAM. The rear I/O connectors are plentiful, with two PS/2 ports (keyboard & mouse), a parallel port, a serial port, four USB ports, a single FireWire connector, an RJ-45 Ethernet jack, and analog and digital audio in / out connectors. Audio duties are handled by Realtek's ALC658 codec, and VIA's VT6122 and VT6306 respectively handle Gigabit Ethernet and USB 2.0 functionality. Down below the CMOS battery, you'll find the diagnostic LEDs along with two SATA connectors powered by the VIA southbridge, which provide the AV8 with its RAID functionality. The case connectors and other headers in this section of the board are clearly labeled, and in quite a few of the shots, ABIT's "overclocking strips" can be seen strewn about the top and underside of the board. ABIT's uGuru chip, which is actually a Winbond W83L950D embedded controller, is located below the CMOS battery, as well. The uGuru chip gives users the ability to monitor and tweak fan speeds, temperatures, and voltages from within the BIOS and Windows.
There are a few slight issues to speak of, however. Although there is enough clearance behind the AGP slot and DIMM slots to make it possible to swap out RAM without removing the video card, it is very tight. And we were surprised ABIT opted for a passive northbridge heatsink on a motherboard that's built for overclockers. In all fairness, the northbridge heatsink didn't get very hot during normal operation, but when overclocked for extended periods, an actively cooled northbridge would be preferable.