Posted: April 29th, 2002
Written by: Tuan Huynh
Over the past few years, Intel has been trying to promote a new standard that would get rid of the traditional ports used for connecting peripherals such as printers, keyboards, mice and modems. Intel later demonstrated their vision with the Harmonix concept PC that was legacy free and featured Serial ATA, a load of USB ports, and no ports for legacy devices. Though Intel had a solid concept, manufacturers failed to produce a completely legacy free main board as the majority of users still use legacy keyboards and mice.
In the past Abit has been known for being an innovative motherboard manufacturer that introduced new technologies and concepts to the mass. Abit was one of the first to introduce their Soft Menu technology which allowed users to adjust their CPU settings in the BIOS as well as improving upon that to provide the most tweaking options any main board has ever seen. Later on they also were the first to integrate a Highpoint ATA67 controller as well as later on integrating RAID onboard the system, which has now become a defacto standard for high end motherboards.
Well…no one has attempted to produce a Legacy board…until now….
Going where no manufacturer has gone before, Abit latest line of motherboards, the MAX series, is taking a bold step into attempting to get rid of legacy devices. The first board to receive Abit’s so called “MAX” treatment is their AT7. Based around VIA’s latest and greatest AMD based chipset the KT333, the AT7 provides support for AMD’s Athlon XP (Palomino), as well as upcoming support for AMD’s Thoroughbred based processors.
While manufacturers are starting to differentiate their boards for easy recognition compared to other boards on the market by using a different color PCB, Abit has chosen to stick with their dull orange PCB like they always have. This seems to be the only thing Abit is lacking in, as they are one of the very few that haven’t chosen to use a colored PCB yet.
Since the AT7 is legacy free, on the connector side of things, you’ll find no parallel, serial, or PS2 ports. In place of the legacy ports are 4 USB 1.1 ports for your USB mouse, keyboard, printer, and whatever other USB device you’ll have. Abit has also included an extra USB 1.1 header for 2 more USB 1.1 ports for a total of 6 USB 1.1 ports. Next to the USB ports are the 2 Firewire ports, provided by a Texas Instruments controller commonly found on many main boards, for connection to your Digital Camcorder and various external Firewire devices. There’s also an extra Firewire header onboard for Abit’s Media XP 5 ¼ inch bay device. Farther right you’ll find a SPIDF Optical Output as well as the 6 Channel Audio provided by the integrated Realtek ALC650 chip, I’ll talk more about that later.
On the far right you’ll also find the onboard USB 2.0 as well as the onboard 10/100 Ethernet connector. The onboard Ethernet is provided by an integrated Realtek 8100B controller, that is one of the better networking solutions whether it’s onboard or off-board, as it is compatible with a variety of operating systems. As for USB 2.0, there are 2 ports soldered onto the PCB, as well as a header for 2 more USB ports onboard which are provided by the integrated VIA VT6202 USB 2.0 controller.
The integrated USB 2.0 controller is EHCI 0.95 compliant rather then EHCI 1.0 compliant, the only difference between the two are that EHCI 1.0 compliant controllers have up to 20% more effective bandwidth compared to EHCI .95 controllers. But since EHCI 1.0 compliant controllers were only recently announced by NEC, they’ve yet to find a home on any boards or USB 2.0 cards yet.
Since the AT7 features a high level of integration, a few PCI slots had to be sacrificed. Rather then having the traditional 6 PCI slots found on most Abit boards, the AT7 has been reduced to only 3 PCI slots. This could either be a good thing or bad thing. Since the AT7 features onboard Ethernet, USB 2.0, Firewire, 6 Channel Audio, and Highpoint HPT374 4 Channel RAID, this eliminates the use of 4 PCI slots. The majority of us would most likely use 2 PCI slots tops, and that’s for an additional sound card as well as a SCSI controller.