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Posted: May 9, 2006
The PCI Express lock mechanism.
The AN8 32X comes packaged exactly like most motherboards: in a standard sized box with some fancy graphics listing its features and supported CPUs. The top side of the box also has logos advertising the µGuru (pronounced micro-guru) software and Silent Otes cooling system. The bottom-side of the box mentions the two 16X PCI Express slots that can be used in SLI mode, which as indicated on the box, requires no additional work except installing the second video card and bridge connector.
Opening the box you'll immediately find two smaller boxes that hold the accessories: six red generic SATA cables (in little ABIT bags), a black IDE cable that says ABIT, a floppy drive cable (also black), and three floppy disks that hold RAID drivers. There will be an ATX form factor adapter so the back panel nicely fits your case, a CD with software and manuals, an SLI bridge connector, and an expansion slot adapter that adds another three ports (2x USB 2.0, 1x Firewire).
There are three books included: a multi-lingual installation manual, an ~80 page instruction manual, and a 30 page booklet that explains how µGuru, ABIT's overclocking/performance microprocessor, works in detail via the software included with the motherboard.
The motherboard also includes a sticker (which you could apply to the inside of your case) that shows you jumper settings and how to hook-up the front switches and USB ports for reference.
The board itself is stylish, but not gaudy. It looks a lot like other motherboards except its turquoise colored IDE and floppy cable connectors, memory slots, and anodized heatsinks. The heatpipe is directed well without being intrusive and the green 2-digit POST code LED is a nice touch.
When a PC first powers up and runs through its Power-On Self Test, it asks various questions to the BIOS such as, "Is there memory installed?" This LED simply indicates which test is being run and within the short time before the operating system starts booting will flash through numerous codes. With this motherboard if you forget the memory all together, it will flash a specific code on this display. Long gone are the days of beeps and Morse code...
The PCI Express slots have the release clips on the outer side of each slot, meaning the primary is easy to release without removing the secondary card. The secondary is easy to release granted there isn't a PCI card in its way.
The heatsinks absorb the heat from the hot chips, then the heat transfers along a pipe to the rear of the motherboard. Once the heat reaches the large heatsink at the back, it vents out the slotted rear form factor adapter. Before overclocking, we touched the various components of the heatpipe while playing a game to test their effectiveness. It was a little warm at the front heatsink and the pipe was hot to the touch. The rear heatsink was plenty warm, but not boiling as the heat was definitely venting out the rear of the case (thanks to the two 120mm fans we have blowing there). Overall this solution is more elegant than fans and helps reduce noise -- which we always appreciate.
Overall the layout is good, but a few things could be changed. There's a 3-pin fan header adjacent to the large power connector. It makes plugging fans in here very difficult. Additionally, the 4-pin ATX power connector is located between the socket and the rear audio ports, making it completely inaccessible if you're using specific CPU heatsink/fans (such as the Thermalright XP-120 used in this review). We had to remove the heatsink from the CPU before we could access this connector to swap out a power supply. If you use the two SATA connectors found in this same area, you'd run into the same problem. Thankfully there are four others on the board. The capacitors in this area were short enough to easily allow clearance of our XP-120 heatsink, which means they will probably be short enough for just about any upgraded heatsink.
The memory slots and their release mechanisms are adequately spaced from the PCI-Express slots. In other words, you can remove the memory without removing the primary video card first -- a huge plus on modern motherboards. Our Asus A8N-E did not have this luxury, which was a huge annoyance.
The board's two PCI slots are about as cramped as on any other SLI PCI-Express board. One slot is so close to the secondary PCI-Express slot that it may be inaccessible with many video cards because the space required for their heatsink/fans.
Typically when you buy an enthusiast motherboard you're expecting a few important qualities. Perhaps most important though is the layout and configuration of the motherboard itself: the tweaker's feng shui. The layout must be ideal for upgrading, removing, and replacing components. Routing cables cannot be a problem nor can accessing specific pieces of the board at any time. ABIT did a great job when they determined the layout of this motherboard. Despite some minor design considerations and choices such as the IDE connectors' front-facing location at the front of the motherboard, not much takes away from the motherboard's glory.