In the Forums...
Posted: May 9, 2006
Woohoo, first try!
Prior to installing the AN8 32X, we had been using an Asus A8N-E -- a single PCI-Express slot equipped nForce4 Ultra motherboard. Upgrading to this ABIT model required the removal of the old motherboard, CPU, heatsink, memory, and video card. Also both power connectors and various front panel switches had to be removed. We still had the onboard sound active on the PC, so it wasn't an issue. It took a couple minutes to carefully remove all the old stuff and thankfully the AN8 32X dropped right in without an issue. It used the same mounting pegs and actually was easier to install than the Asus board (which had required some force). Initially we mounted the motherboard in place with the processor and heatsink already installed, but it had to be removed to connect the 4-pin ATX connector as mentioned earlier. We also had to remove the stock LOTES mounting bracket and install the one that came with our heatsink.
The flimsy rear form factor cover fit without a problem and the motherboard looked great in its new home. The front audio port from the Antec P180 case matched up and the front ports were plugged in using the sticker and manual as a reference. Since the IDE connectors were on the front of th motherboard it made connecting the cables somewhat difficult because of the order we reinstalled the components. It was easier in our situation to install the cables from the backside of the case, but the P180 has the advantage of removable drive bays. Some users may dislike this design feature.
The BFG 7800GT OC fit snugly in the primary PCI-Express slot and all remaining cables installed without a hitch. When installing memory in the AN8 32X it should be noted that the memory slots are matched side-by-side to one another instead of alternating between the pairs. If you install dual channel capable memory in this board, make sure your pairs are matched with the color.
After a quick final inspection the power button was hit and on the first attempt the PC booted up with only a Setups Default Loaded error. We were surprised to see a red glow from under the motherboard -- apparently ABIT hid some LEDs here, too. Since this was a straight swap from another nForce4 board, Windows XP Professional SP2 was left intact and only the chipset drivers were reinstalled. It took a few reboots and the manual removal of the driver in Safe Mode before all the BSODs and errors were eliminated.
Once XP was squared away with the latest chipset drivers from NVIDIA's site, a BIOS update was necessary. The latest BIOS update was readily available on ABIT's homepage. We installed the µGuru utility from the included CD, then ran the ABIT FlashMenu utility to patch the BIOS. A few minutes later we were ready to continue.
Performance and Stability
In most instances, upgrading from a motherboard equipped with one chipset to another motherboard with the same chipset will result in virtually no performance gain. This pattern was observed by a few other web sites that reviewed the AN8 32X before us, such as PC Perspective. The results they gathered indicate that this motherboard is at the middle bracket for performance, with worse sound quality. We noticed that sound does not have bad screeching during mouse-wheel movement (usually audible via headphones), which is enough to ask for with onboard sound. Rather than duplicate what someone else has done better with four pages of benchmarks resulting in 1% performance difference, we decided to spend our time capturing a short video that shows off the cool lights and features of the board. If the benchmarks are more your style, refer to that section of their review as they have done extensive testing.
A video of the motherboard booting up.
A bigger concern between motherboard brands is stability, utilities, and support. ABIT has generally been great in the past at supplying BIOS driven overclocking support and rock solid stability and the AN8 32X is no exception. The PC was configured for a basic stress test, consisting of the following:
This stress test lasted over eight hours. Several times during the test I loaded Photoshop and numerous other moderately-intensive applications. The PC did not shut down or freeze obviously ran slower than molasses at times. The CPU however started to run pretty hot (>70C, 158F) on a second stress test while overclocking higher, but this is better explained by insufficient cooling of the CPU than by a flaw in the motherboard. The test demonstrated there were no major load-based problems with this board or potential chipset overheating from its heatpipe design. Its temperature sensor reported 96.8-99.4F the whole duration of the test. The only problem observed during this period was that Firefox crashed once (when alt-tabbed from a full screen World of Warcraft) and Media Player crashed once. There are many unrelated reasons why this could've happened.
The AN8 32X has been very stable and only exhibited one issue during its week long evaluation. Before updating the BIOS software (which as the screenshot earlier demonstrated was not a retail product), the welcome screen became scrambled and locked up at boot time once. The screen was unreadable and the code on the board reported everything was okay, which clearly was not the case. After power cycling and tinkering inside the case for a minute, the CMOS configuration was reset via jumper, then all was forgiven and the PC resumed normal operation. Since then the PC has been stressed, gamed, and overclocked beyond levels that any poorly designed components would fail, indicating a high quality product that was designed specifically for this type of use ... er abuse?